George Barris: Memory Of An Icon

6/12/2021
Joe Bortz
Personally, I have found that one of the privileges getting old is that I have been around long enough to know and be friends with many of the pillars of the car collecting community. Similarly, it always strikes me how the great input and energy one of these individuals will now be lost forever for the future. So, it was not long ago on November 6, 2015 that I received the news that George Barris who had been a living icon had passed away. George had become a very close friend and supporter of the Bortz Auto Collection.
 
My almost immediate reaction was to write a story about George to celebrate my memory of George when he visited his favorite semi-Kustom car the 1955 Chevy “Jim Seaton” Kustom.
 
 
George had called to let me know that he was going to be at the Volo Museum for a three day visit in the summer of 2007. Afterwards he asked if I would pick him up and show him the Jim Seaton car that has been in the Bortz Auto Collection for quite some time. George was very excited to find out that Debbie and I were going to take him to view the cars in the Bortz Auto Collection, and afterwards we would go to dinner before taking him to the airport. Volo was about an hour drive from the where the 1955 Jim Seaton Kustom was located. Conversation with George was always interesting and varied between his memories of the many cars that he kustomized—including many of the cars that were used for movies. During our ride, I had mentioned to George that we also had the famous 1957 Ford Custom that was customized by his East Coast competitor John North in 1957 and 1958 which just happened to be the same period that George customized the Jim Seaton 1955 Chevy. John North was in Massachusetts and was considered to be the east coast version of George Barris. I also mentioned that John North, whose nickname was “Moose,” had signed the 1957 Ford custom on the firewall.
 
When we arrived at the warehouse George asked if we would take photos of him showing some of the kustom features that he produced on the Jim Seaton car. (See photos of George pointing out differences between the 1955 Chevrolet “Jim Seaton” Kustom and the 1957 Ford “John North” custom).
 
Shortly thereafter we went to a restaurant in Highwood and had a wonderful dinner where we enjoyed George’s company and more of his recollections of his years in the custom car business. Every so often in the conversation George would remind us that he loved all things beautiful in this world, but especially cars and women.
 
Debbie and myself dropped George off at the airport and realized that we had spent time with a true legend.
 
Fast forward about two weeks later I went to the warehouse where the 1955 Jim Seaton car was stored and as I opened up the door and started to walk in I saw what looked to be graffiti on the center console of the Jim Seaton car and immediately became concerned that there was somebody in the building. I quickly walked out and called Debbie and said if I don’t call you back in thirty seconds and tell you that there is nobody in the building, just call the police. I re-entered the building and turned on the lights and took a good look at the 1955 Chevy center console and realized that it was not graffiti on the console, but George had signed it, “My favorite semi-kustom car. George Barris.” He signed it with a thick black permanent marking pen that struck me as being unattractive. I called Debbie and told her what happened and said that we would have to remove the writing. She said that no matter how unattractive I thought it might look, it was an important commemorative comment signed by George, and therefore, it had to stay. And yes, it is still there today. George loved to sign things, and I am glad he did.
 
The last time that we had a real opportunity with George was when he sold his Batmobile at Barrett-Jackson, and we were with him almost every step of the way and spent time with him the following day.
 
Like I said, growing old for me has its compensation, and certainly having all those years and memories with George is something nobody can ever take away.
 
George’s passing has surely affected the car hobby and will continue to do so in the years to come, and this article in memory of George is just one small speck of sand compared to the impact that George’s passing has left on so many of us.
 
George was a bigger than life personality and made everybody feel like a life long friend and it is great that his memory will live on in his fabulous designs.
 
For everyone, losing a living legend is a great loss. Yet, the gift is the great memories he leaves with us.
 
Thank you George! 
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