Anyone who is old enough to remember 1960s television has to be familiar with George Barris and his Hollywood custom-built TV cars. Among these memorable relics are the “Batmobile,” the “Munster Koach,” the “General Lee,” the Beverly Hillbillies truck and that hideous green, “Wagon Queen Family Truckster” from the original National Lampoon’s Vacation movie.
Still active in the classic car hobby, the now 89-year old Barris recently witnessed his original Batmobile roll off the auction block at $4.6 million.
One car that has survived through some of the most incredible twists and turns is the Barris Kustom Industry’s 1955 Chevy Aztec, originally built at Barris’ shop by his incredibly talented tin-knocker, Bill DeCarr. It was owned by Barris’ friend and roommate, Bill Carr. (Confusing? You bet!)
RacingJunk.com recently caught-up with Barry Mazza, the current owner of the Aztec, who keeps this amazing car garaged in Ft. Pierce, Florida.
“Bill Carr was an insurance company adjuster who’d become friends with Barris and they shared an apartment together. Carr had been moonlighting as a hot rod customizer in the 1950's,” Mazza explained. “Carr purchased the 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air and started customizing it, but the car wasn’t getting the attention he thought it deserved, so Barris began sketching ideas on paper napkins for Carr each day as they shared breakfast. The work started at Barris’ shop in 1956 and was completed in late 1957.”
Carr and Barris dubbed the finished car the Aztec. It was immediately shipped to Portland, Oregon in December of 1957 to make its debut at a national car show. From the Portland show, the car went on tour, appearing at shows across the US for the next two years.
While the car quickly became a “cover car” for many automotive magazines, it suddenly garnered national attention when a notorious bank robber purchased it.
“In 1961, Carr sold the Aztec to a guy named, “Bob Wilcox", who actually turned out to be a murderer and bank robber,” said Mazza. "One-Eye Bobby Wilcoxson was his real name. He’d lost an eye while serving in the military. He was on the FBI’s 10 Most-Wanted Listfor killing a bank guard during a violent robbery. One-Eye was a John Dillinger-type guy. He was heavily armed and shot a bank guard to death. This guy was so badass, he used a military BAR (Browning automatic rifle) during his robberies.”
A short time after selling the Aztec, FBI agents swarmed into Carr's house. They interrogated Carr with many questions about the money he received from Wilcoxson, since the Aztec had been purchased with money stolen during a bank heist – one that included a murder.
“The FBI wanted that stolen money back,” said Mazza, “but Carr was basically broke. He agreed to help lure Wilcoxson into contacting him by running ads in automotive publications, asking Bobby to contact him in order to help him solve a “title issue” with the Aztec. To his surprise, Wilcoxson responded and was quickly located and arrested by the FBI.
One-Eye Bobby received the death sentence at the ensuing trial.
“Carr was living in fear that Wilcoxson might escape prison or make parole and would eventually return. He had indicated that he’d kill him at one point,” Mazza recalled. “In the meantime, the FBI auctioned the car off in Tucson.” Wilcoxson had stashed the car in a Phoenix garage.
The car was purchased by local Tucson auto dealership and put on display right in front of the sales lot. A Marine soldier on a passing bus spotted the car and immediately recognized it. He hired his cousin to pay the $3,500 asking price and then drive the Aztec to Virginia. The car went missing for two months while his cousin took the car on a nationwide joyride. Eventually, the car arrived in VA.
The Marine repainted and drove the Aztec for a few years before selling it to a man named Bill Holz who owned York US 30 Dragway in PA. Again, the car was repainted and reupholstered and put on the show circuit for another 5 years.
“At a car show in Cleveland, Holz decided to sell-off his car collection. The car was purchased again for $3,500 and this time, it ended up in New Jersey,” said Mazza. “It was put in a body shop in Newton, NJ and completely stripped down. The interior upholstery was stripped, all the chrome and the entire drivetrain was removed, but suddenly the FBI came in on a drug bust and confiscated the entire shop!”
The Aztec –now basically a shell– was dragged off to a federal impound yard. The body shop owner had fled to avoid prosecution – leaving the car’s owner with no idea where it was.
“The owner got a call from an informant who wanted 500 bucks to reveal the whereabouts of the Aztec,” Mazza chuckled. “So he was forced to pay the $500 and drove up to northern New Jersey see his car. The Aztec had no wheels on it and had been dragged around by a forklift. He told the scrapyard to crush the car.”
A Change of Mind
As the car owner drove home, his two children were visibly upset that the car was going to be crushed. They continued to plead with him to save the Aztec until he finally relented and called the scrapyard when he returned home. He told them not to crush the Aztec. He brought the title with him and reclaimed his car.
“The Aztec sat for years in the New Jersey weather until I purchased it from him,” Mazza recalled. “I had the car transported on a flatbed, but the entire top blew off it on the Garden State Parkway!”
Mazza blocked the lane and had his wife help him drag the heavy top and lift it into the bed of his El Camino.
Mazza trailered the Aztec to FL in 1994 and restored it over the next five years to like-new condition. Custom Paint & Body of Ft. Pierce completed the final paint work in 1999.
With its gruesome past behind it, the Aztec was now safely garaged on Hutchinson Island in Ft. Pierce, relegated to local car shows around Florida’s east coast – weather permitting.
It seems the Curse of the Aztec finally been broken.
“I was recently offered $1 million for the Aztec.” Mazza offered, “but there’s no way I’m selling it after all it’s been through. Besides, what would I take to the car shows?”
With a million bucks, Mazza could certainly purchase several nice classic cars, but his decision not to sell the car is provides proof that the Aztec – a car that survived so much – has finally found a safe home.
Bill Carr traveled to see the Aztec in Ft. Pierce in 1999. "Bill and his wife began to cry when they saw the Aztek for the first time in many years," said owner Barry Mazza. Carr died from ALS shortly after this photo was taken.
Much of the car's sheet metal and the roof was custom formed by George Barris' metal-shaping guru, Bill DeCarr in 1956-57. The car is extremely heavy due to lead sheeting that was used to form many body parts.
Is this the tail end of a 1955 Bel Air? The fins were swiped from a Studebaker Hawk, while the taillights were created by Bob Hirohata. The bumpers were created using 1957 DeSoto and ’57 Oldsmobile bumpers.
"One-eye" Bobby Wilcoxson is brought into a court hearing on November 15, 1962. He shot and killed a bank guard in Dec. 1961 and was later sentenced to death. He died while in prison before the sentence was carried out.
Article courtesy of HotRod Hotline, written by Keith MacDonald. Photo credit Steve Coonan.