IF THE name is not familiar, the iconic cars will be - starting with the original Batmobile. Built in 10 days, it was based on a Ford Futura concept car George Barris happened to have sitting out the back.
The Batmobile epitomised ''Pow! Bang! Wow!'' so successfully that it launched Barris into the design and construction of TV and movie cars, including the Beverly Hillbillies truck, Munsters chariots Koach and Kargoyle, the Green Hornet's original Black Beauty and iterations of the General Lee and Knight Rider's KITT.
Now 87, Barris still lives the American Graffiti dream by his five-point rule: ''No drink, no drugs, no smoking, just two bad habits: cars and girls.''
At 14 and expelled from school, Barris ditched his dishwashing job with the classic line: ''If it's gotta be round it's gotta be wheels!''
Taking a 1925 Buick sedan in lieu of cash, Barris used pots and pans for hubcaps and raided his gran's kitchen cupboards for the gold knobs he fixed into the front grille. Barris Kustoms was born, spelt with a K because he's Greek and ''we don't like the letter C''.
Barris spent his 20s as an illegal street dragster by night and by day earning a name for his dropped and chopped designs.
In 1957, as Barris Kustoms gained momentum, a fire destroyed 15 cars and most of the workshop. With no insurance, Barris decided to walk away from the business but his wife and staff refused to let him quit.
One car survived the flames and Barris set out to make his name with a show-stopper, based on this 1929 Ford, where ''the underside had to be as nice as the top''.
When he rolled Ala Kart into the Grand National Roadster Show, one of his team ''borrowed'' the mirror from the girls' bathroom and positioned it under the tilted car to show off a completely chrome chassis. Every bolt-on component was chrome.
The coil spring-and-balloon suspension, adopted from trucks, was also a hot-rod first and 30 coats of pearl-white lacquer, with a vinyl and velvet interior, won Ala Kart ''America's Most Beautiful Roadster'' in 1958 and 1959.
Barris had his first movie car break on the 1958 flick High School Confidential!, for which he was commissioned to design, build and then roll a ''street-drag Chevy''.
But it wasn't an easy task; Barris had to lift and hoist his rod to get it to roll over.
Meanwhile, Barris did a neat line in concept cars for Ford because he was creative and cheaper than commissioning one-offs from the Italian design house Carrozzeria Ghia.
He often kept his one-offs after shows, hence the Futura lurking fortuitously in 1966.
So with such an all-American car history, surely Barris is driving something long and low packing V8 punch? Wouldn't he be the last person you would expect to see in, say, a Toyota Prius?
In 2005, The New York Times paid Barris $10,000 to transform a Prius into a ''two-tone metal-flake Rat Fink-mobile''.
Barris says the Prius ''looked like a Ninja Turtle'', so he added LED lights to the front doors and hinged them ''like a Lambo'', dressed it in green and gold and modelled a new nose. He says it was a ''terrible car to drive'' but also a challenge because ''they said it couldn't be done''.
Barris, with a shop in North Hollywood, still designs and makes his low-slung creations the old-school way. ''The way I do it is photograph the car, then get scissors and pen and cut and change and add to come up with a design,'' he says.
''I cut the film and I cut the car on the photograph exactly how I would go ahead and cut the car. We literally cut and paste with scissors and glue and saws and duct tape.''
Barris's latest venture is judging hot rods on Car Warriors, a show on America's Speed channel.
In 1963, Tom Wolfe famously wrote an essay on custom cars titled There Goes (Varoom! Varoom!) That Kandy-Kolored (Thphhhhhh!) Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby (Rahghhh!) Around the Bend (Brummmmmmmmmmmmmm …)
It goes without saying that he was writing about George Barris, still living large and cutting cars.
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