When the original Batmobile rolled across the auction block at last year’s Barrett-Jackson auction, there was a familiar, gold bespectacled face on the stage to help sell the iconic ride. It was George Barris, who took over construction of the original car from Dean Jeffries in 1965. With all that cash, and with all the legitimate credits to his name – the Voxmobile, the Batmobile, the Beverly Hillbillies’ jalopy and hundreds of other cars – what would possess a guy to tarnish his own reputation by reinventing history, taking credit for things he never built? There’s some pathological need to be involved with every automotive creation in the last 50 years that defies explanation.
The Black Beauty
Dean Jeffries designed and built the Black Beauty for the TV show The Green Hornet. According to Karl Kirchner, who owns one of the two Black Beauty cars built for the show and runs the outstanding websiteBlackBeauty.com, “Mr. Jeffires had a crew working on both of these cars pretty much 24 hours a day in order to meet the deadline. Jeffries work is well known for its reliability and functionality.”
In Tom Cotter’s excellent book on Jeffries, there’s a period photograph of a banner from when the car was originally displayed, identifying Jeffries as the car’s builder. Karl Kirchner has a document from William Dozier, the producer of Batman and The Green Hornet on ABC, from 1968, identifying Jeffries as the builder.
Barris pitched a concept for the Black Beauty (left) , a design that Karl Kirchner has on his website, but the design was rejected in favor of Jeffries’ cleaner, classier original sketch.Yet, on Barris’s current web page, the Black Beauty is the first car listed in the TV and Movie Cars section. Barris owns the other Black Beauty, but in a pattern that’s become familiar over the years, it credits Jeffries for starting the car, but takes credit for a lot of its construction:
“The Beauty was sent to George for some final touches. A verticle [sic] grill was formed with a repeative [sic] gun inset concealed into the center. Flap headlights were used to confuse the oncoming villains. A multiple gas nozel [sic] was built into the lower rolled pan and has an electric trap door. The rear section has a center deck trap door through which protrudes rockets to shoot at following villains. The top has been extended 10″ housing a bullet proof simulated glass with slots for armed warfare and a bullet proof steel plating surrounding the Green Hornet and Kato. Rear wheel shields cover the special Formula tires and Crager [sic] styled wheels.”
When CNN interviewed Barris in 2011, it noted in the introduction, “For more than six decades, George Barris has been making custom cars for TV shows, movies and movie stars. He’s responsible for all the famous cars just mentioned, plus “The Beverly Hillbillies’ ” jalopy, “The Green Hornet’s” Black Beauty and many others,” with no apparent argument from Barris.
In an amazing, three-hour interview with the Emmys Foundation’s Archive of American Television (an excerpt of which is above), Barris only identifies Jeffries as a “fabricator,” on the Black Beauty. He also notes “we worked with our colleagues on that car.”
Perhaps the most obvious attempt by Barris to pull the rug out from under Jeffries was with the Monkeemobile, a car that Jeffries built. Jeffries is named in the closing credits of the show as the stylist for the Monkeemobile.
Yet, when Davy Jones died in 2012, TMZ interviewed Barris and identified him thusly: “Famed car customizer George Barris — who built the car for the show — tells TMZ, he’s been getting calls non-stop ever since Davy passed away.” Again, Barris was the owner of the car, but had nothing to do with its creation. Yet, in interview after interview, he diminishes Jeffries’ role to something of an assistant, rather than the guy who actually designed and built the car.
In an interview with K-Earth101’s Gary Brian after Jones passed away, Barris noted: “I worked with Dean Jeffries on it. He was another one of our team guys.”
The interview on K-Earth101 is profoundly misleading, with Barris suggesting that Jeffries simply started the car, and that Barris was involved from the get-go:
Gary Brian: George, can I take you back to like the beginning, when they called you up and said “Look, we got this new TV show and we put this group together, and we need a vehicle for ‘em,” did they say “Come over and meet the boys so you can kind of know what their personalities are like?”
George Barris: Actually, the first car was started by Dean Jeffries, and he put some things together, then the studio called me and wanted to know about “Can we get Pontiac to come up with a vehicle that we can work with” and we wanted to make it more extraordinary”…It was a great challenge for all of us, between Dean and myself, and the studio…We had to put all the instruments in the back, and that’s why we extended it, so they had the room to sit and still carry all the instruments.
George Barris: It is, I think, the second most popular of the cars that we did…
The trouble, of course, is that he never “did” anything to the Monkeemobile at all, aside from taking ownership of it, long after the show wrapped its final season. In a fantastic 2006 issue of Motor Trend Classic, Jeffries told Arthur St. Antoine about it:
MTC: Was it you or George Barris who designed and built the TV car for the Monkees, the Monkeemobile?
Jeffries: That’s one of many bad spots in regards to that man. He sure does take credit, but he had nothing to do with it. I made the car. Every bit of it…He puts his name on a lot of things he had nothing at all to do with.
Even Barris’s account of how the Pontiacs showed up is easily refutable. Don Keefe, writing for Pontiac Enthusiast magazine in 1997, recounts that story:
The catalyst to the project was George Toteff, the CEO of Model Products Corporation, better known as MPC, Keefe wrote.
Toteff had on contract a well-known customizer by the name of Dean Jeffries, who designed custom variations on some MPC model kits and performed other consulting duties as well. At the same time, Jeffries was also contracting to Universal Studios, which would be producing the show. He was chosen to build a customized car for use on the Monkees TV show, which at that point hadn’t begun production, and a car had not yet been chosen.
Jeffries had mentioned these developments to Toteff, who in turn told his friend Jim Wangers about the opportunity. As you probably already know, Wangers was working for Pontiac’s advertising agency, McManus, John & Adams, managing promotion and advertising for the Pontiac account. Wangers instantly saw the show as a huge promotional opportunity for Pontiac and cemented the deal with the show’s producers. As well as providing cars for the personal use of the stars and producers, Wangers also ordered two base-engined, automatic-transmissioned 1966 GTO convertibles that would be converted into Monkeemobiles. For his help getting the deal together, Toteff was granted exclusive rights to market a model kit of the car. More than 7 million MPC Monkeemobiles were sold,
Barris’s only connection to the Monkeemobile? He purchased it years after the show wrapped. Jeffries had the option to buy both cars, but had moved on to other projects. In the Motor Trend Classic article, Jeffries noted:
My contract stated that when filming was done, I had first right of refusal to buy the cars back. So after the shows were over, the producers offered me the Monkeemobile and the Green Hornet for $1000 each. I said, “Heck, I could build new ones cheaper” — this was back in the 1960s, remember. So I turned them down. And George ended up with both cars.
Jeffries never disputed the ownership of the cars. What concerned him was how the cars began to be identified when the model kits were re-issued many years later.
“The company that made a Monkeemobile model ended up saying that legally George now has the rights to the car,” noted Jeffries. “ I said, ‘Yes, the rights to own the car. But not the right to say he built it.’ But they went ahead and put his name on it anyway.”
The original MPC model kits from 1966 don’t bear the Barris name. (left below). But when the kits were reissued by ERTL’s MPC model division (right below), “Barris Kustom” appears, plain as day, right on the box, and instead of calling it the Monkeemobile, it changed the name to the Monkees Mobile.
If you’re noticing a theme here, it should be that Barris uses the word “WE” to describe a lot of things. “We” built this, and “we” talked to directors. That’s the story with the ECTO-1 from the movie Ghostbusters, too.
Watch the video here:
“We got a ’59 Cadillac ambulance,” says Barris. “We had to get four or five cars to do the filming, and we had to scour the whole United States.”
He goes on to identify the car later: “This is what we call the ‘hero car,’ the one that was used by the stars from the show whenever we did some filming in New York.”
The punchline? That car was never used in the movie. The car Barris is talking about was a replica he purchased, a car that was extensively documented in a 1989 issue of Car Craft.
Barris didn’t build the ECTO-1. He didn’t even build a promotional car. He purchased this one from a guy named Peter Mosen. The original idea and concept for the ECTO-1 is credited to Dan Ackroyd and John Daveikis, and the original car was executed by Steven Dane, who was a production designer on the film.
The examples seem endless. According to the L.A. Times on May 4, 2007, Universal Studios sent Barris a cease and desist order, “demanding that Barris never again make misrepresentations regarding any involvement with the ‘Back to the Future’ films. They called upon Barris to remove images of the flying DeLorean from his company’s website.”
In an email this week, Karl Kirshner wrote, “Its sad that Mr. Barris feels to take credit for others work despite having a very expansive resume himself. He should just stick with his own creations.”
In the Motor Trend Classic article a few years before his death in 2013, Dean Jeffries said almost the same thing: “I admire the hell out of what he’s done all these years. I knew his brother, Sam, a very talented man, a very good metal man. I used to hang around their shop. George is not a metal man — I’ve seldom seen him do anything with it. I’m not bad-mouthing him. He’s a good promoter. I just don’t care for somebody who puts their name on something they had no part of.” It makes sense, since a real wrench-turner would know better than to take credit for someone else’s work.
Image Source: MonkeesConcerts.com, TheBlackBeauty.com, YouTube.com, PolarisEffect.com
Article courtesy of BOLDRIDE, by Craig Fitzgerald.
Concept cars are supposed to be the stuff of dreams, and few cars exemplified this better than the 1961 Chrysler Turboflite, a joint venture between Chrysler and Italian design firm Ghia. Giving a nod to America’s fascination with space flight, the Turboflite looked every bit the part of a road-going rocketship, and even its gas turbine engine spoke of a future where piston engines would be reserved for appliances like lawn mowers and snow blowers. Though the future predicted by the Turboflite concept never quite materialized, the car did cast a shadow of influence on the industry that extended well beyond Chrysler’s product line.
Like the GM Firebird concepts of the 1950s, the Chrysler Turboflite borrowed many styling cues from aircraft design. Its frontal area was reduced to cut drag, and to improve airflow even further, the outboard headlamps tucked underneath the leading edge of the fenders when not in use. Instead of a conventional roof, the Turboflite featured a canopy that automatically tilted upward when the recessed door handle was pressed. In conjunction with conventional doors, the canopy allowed for easy entry and exit from the Turboflite’s four-passenger interior, although the design eliminated any possibility of using conventional windows. Instead, the Turboflite’s broad side windows opened outward on roof-mounted hinges to allow additional ventilation (though likely not at speed).
At the rear, a pair of vertical stabilizers rose from the tops of the fenders to form a basket-handle wing, not dissimilar from the one that would later appear on Dodge Daytonas and Plymouth Superbirds built for NASCAR competition. Unlike the later products from Chrysler, the wing on the Turboflite wasn’t there to add downforce to the rear wheels for cornering; instead, it served as an air brake, helping the Turboflite driver scrub off speed quickly by dramatically increasing drag. Activated automatically when the driver applied the brakes, the air brake could be disabled for city driving at (presumably) lower speeds.
The air brake was more than just a gimmick. Turbine engines, such as the third-generation CR2A used in the Turboflite, provided virtually no compression braking when the throttle was released. Instead, all reduction in forward motion essentially came from the car’s hydraulic brakes, so the air brake was seen as a necessary addition to reduce brake fade on repeated high-speed stops. The Turboflite’s rear vertical fins also contained eye-level brake lights that utilized a bright bulb for enhanced daytime visibility, coupled with a dimmer light for nighttime driving. While high-mounted stop lamps became mandated by the Department of Transportation in 1986, another of the Turboflite’s innovative safety systems never caught on: When the driver lifted off the accelerator, an amber light would illuminate on the car’s full-width taillamp panel, advising trailing drivers of a pending change in momentum. The full-width taillamp design would later appear, in modified form, on the 1966 Dodge Charger.
The CR2A engine chosen for use in the Turboflite concept was vastly improved from earlier turbine engine versions, thanks to its innovative variable turbine nozzle design. This reduced the time required for the turbine to spool up to full operating speed from seven seconds (on Chrysler’s original CR1 turbine) to just one and a half seconds, producing acceleration that was nearly akin to a conventional piston engine. The variable turbine nozzle helped reduce fuel consumption as well, and in a coast-to-coast test of the engine (in a 1962 Dodge Dart Turbo prototype), Chrysler claimed that the CR2A returned better fuel economy than the piston-engined support vehicle. Others testing later turbine cars would dispute this claim, reporting fuel economy that in some cases barely topped 10 miles per gallon. High exhaust gas temperatures were another issue, though it’s likely that the automaker could have developed ways to mitigate this.
Virgil Exner introduces the Turboflite concept in this silent video.
Inside, the Turboflite was equally impressive, boasting futuristic seating (trimmed in brushed aluminum) and electroluminescent lighting in door panels and instrumentation. While some gauges (such as the tachometer and speedometer) were conventional, the aircraft-style panel also included a pyrometer for measuring exhaust gas temperatures. Controls were, for the most part, conventional, but accelerator and brake pedals were deliberately oversize; with no dead pedal and limited space in the footwell, a driver had no choice but to rest both feet on the pedals, an odd design that Chrysler insisted would help reduce reaction time by forcing a driver to brake with his left foot. The Turboflite lacked a conventional horn switch as well; instead, a driver gripped the inside of the steering wheel to sound the horn, an idea that never found broad acceptance.
The Turboflite proved to be a sensation on the show circuit, but the striking concept car never reached production. Chrysler did continue to develop the turbine engine for use in passenger cars, but even this eventually proved fruitless, as the engine’s drawbacks ultimately outweighed its benefits. Designs used in the Turboflite (such as its oversize rear wing/air brake) would ultimately surface on other Chrysler products, and concepts like eye level brake lights would ultimately find their way into production across the entire industry.
Even the idea of a high-speed airbrake has resurfaced on modern cars such has the Bugatti Veyron, so perhaps the Turboflite envisioned more of the future than it’s credited for.
Article courtesy of Hemmings Daily. Written by Kurt Ernst.
Studebaker is one of the many, many car companies in American history that may have been just a little too far ahead of its time. As a result, Studebaker folded, and most Americans today probably haven’t even heard of them. Yet they have a small but devoted following, and while it may be hard to find aftermarket support for an old Studebaker like the Champion, a popular if underwhelming coupe that came with an anemic six-cylinder engine.
This completely customized 1953 Champion bears little resemblance to the factory model. Customized from front to back, the “Studester” as it is called is heading to auction next weekend at Barrett-Jackson.
What started as a stock body has been shortened 20-inches, with the front fenders extended, a Porsche windshield, a shaved trunk lid, filled-in vents and much, much, much more. The interior has recieved just as much, if not more attention, with a custom dashboard, steering wheel, seats, center console, so on and so forth. For all intents and purposes, they could have built this car from the ground up.
And you better believe there isn’t any lazy six-cylinder under the hood. Nope, rather its a 523 cubic-inch Ford big block, backed by a beefy C6 and a Ford 9-inch rear end. The ad doesn’t throw any horsepower numbers around, but it the engine is built to run on pump gas…so figure its safe to assume at least 500 horsepower, and a bit more torque.
The introduction of the Continental Mark II at the Paris Motor Show in October of 1955 was no accident, with the Ford Motor Company’s new halo car positioned to go bumper to bumper with the finest luxury automobiles in the world. Proclaiming a new vehicle, “the finest car ever built in America” would be met with snark and derision today, but in 1955 it was met with eager anticipation, as the legendary Continental name had returned to the U.S. market.
Lincoln’s Continental, a car that the Museum of Modern Art once described as an “automotive work of art,” had been absent from dealerships since the end of the 1948 model year. To reintroduce the Continental name, Ford opted to create a separate division; though the car would be sold and serviced through Lincoln dealerships (and would utilize a Lincoln drivetrain), it would be hand-built of the finest materials and styled unlike any other American car of the day. In the eyes of Ford’s Special Products Division and chief stylist John Reinhart, bigger was not necessarily better, and more chrome did not equal more elegance.
In its promotional launch video, Ford described the Continental Mark II in a contradictory manner, calling the car “big and impressive,” yet pointing out the car’s absence of bulk and ornamentation. Instead, the Continental Mark II relied on long and low styling to convey both a sense of motion and a sense of elegance. Compared to the previous Lincoln Continental, designed in the prewar years, the Mark II was positively futuristic in its appearance, and Ford’s description of the car as an “instant classic” was an accurate one.
Power came from a 368-cu.in. Lincoln V-8, rated at 285 horsepower (300 in 1957) and mated to a Turbo-Drive automatic transmission. In keeping with the car’s luxury mission, upholstery blended cloth and imported leather, while the paint consisted of multiple coats of hand-rubbed lacquer and the sole option was air conditioning. The elevated price tag that such amenities demanded only added to the car’s appeal; at $9,960, it was nearly as expensive as a Rolls-Royce and roughly twice as much as a 62 Series Cadillac, yet Ford easily managed to sell all of the 2,550 models produced for 1956.
The Continental Mark II would carry over into 1957, when Ford would construct just 446 examples, including two convertible models. For the 1958 model year, the Mark II was replaced by the Lincoln Continental Mark III, a less expensive (and far more ordinary) automobile that the automaker produced and sold in far larger quantities.
Ultimately, the Continental brand experiment was a commercial failure for Ford, as consumers weren’t able to differentiate between the upscale division and the more common Lincoln division. The loss that Ford reportedly took on each Mark II sold didn’t help, either, and in the decades since then few American automakers have attempted to build a cost-be-damned model to compete with the finest cars in the world. Still, the Mark II remains a coveted prize among collectors today, and serves as a reminder of a time when America was capable of producing both quality and luxury second to none.
Article courtesy of Hemmings Daily. Written by Kurt Ernst.
The first air-suspension car was a Stout muscle car – literally, a Stout car. Car designer William Bushnell Stout designed and produced a small number of cars in the 1930′s and 1940′s under the badge of Stout Motor Car Company of Detroit, Michigan.
Stout combined his interest in cars and planes by building several combination car/planes that he called “Skycars.” During his career he was held in high esteem by fellow engineers, evening serving as president of the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) in 1935.
William Stout’s claim to fame was more of an inventor than a car builder and it showed in the host of innovations in his car designs. One of his last, and most popular cars, the 1946 experimental Stout Scarab, was the first prototype car with air suspension and a fiberglass body shell.
Stout was a well known aviation engineer as well, so it comes as no surprise that he had the chassis designed and constructed like an aircraft fuselage. Stout’s design also featured a low flat floor without the usual transmission and driveshaft hump running down the center of the floor. To accommodate this design, Stout placed the Ford built V8 engine in the rear of the car, over the rear axle. By comparison, the steering wheel was almost directly above the front wheels which gave the passenger area an extended, and spacious area to travel in.
The Ford flathead V8 drove the rear wheels via a custom Stout-built three-speed manual transaxle. Stout’s experimental design is often credited as being the first mini-van. Adding to the mini-van characteristics was the flexible seating system that Stout used in his design. The interior seats could be configured in almost any arrangement imaginable, except for the fixed driver’s seat. There was even a small card table which could be fitted anywhere among the passenger seats.
The Scarab featured independent suspension using coil springs on all four corners, providing a smooth ride for the times. The car exhibited great handling and traction characteristics due to the rear-engine weight bias and coil spring suspension. The suspension’s long coil spring design was again inspired by aircraft landing gear.
The total production of the Scarab amounted to no more than nine units with all of the vehicles completely hand-built. The buyers of these innovative cars were well known figures like tire maker Harvey Firestone, chewing gum magnate Philip Wrigley, and Willard Dow of Dow Chemical. No two Scarabs were identical. Reportedly, there are five surviving Scarabs today.
Stout was working on an ornithopter, a machine that flies by flapping its wings, when he died in 1956.
Article courtesy of Rod Authority, written by Bobby Kimbrough.