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Memorial services honor George Barris

LOS ANGELES — Complete with a caravan of hot rods and custom cars, funeral services were held Nov. 28 for George Barris, the custom car maker best known for designing the Batmobile made famous in the mid-1960s “Batman” television series.

Barris died Nov. 5 at his Los Angeles home at age 89. He was 15 days shy of his 90th birthday.

In addition to the Batmobile, Barris also created vehicles for the TV shows “Knight Rider,” “The Munsters” and “The Beverly Hillbillies” and the films “North by Northwest” and “Teenage Confidential.”

His funeral service was as much as spectacle as many of his creations. A parade of more than three dozen hot rods and custom cars made its way into Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills for a memorial service, then escorted his casket to Forest Lawn Glendale for burial.

Once the ceremonies were completed, participants made a “last goodbye drive-by” of Barris Kustom Industries in North Hollywood.

Born in Chicago on Nov. 20, 1925, Barris and his brother Sam migrated to California as children and developed a keen interest in automobiles.

Their first rebuilding project was a 1925 Buick given to them for working in a Greek restaurant family members ran in the Sacramento area. They sold it at a profit.

By their teenage years, their hobby was a business.

Barris and his brother moved to the Los Angeles area and in 1945, they started a company that grew into a multimillion-dollar business enterprise still operating in North Hollywood.

His brother — who died in 1967 — left the business in the 1950s, but Barris, aided by his wife, Shirley, pressed on.

His auto creations caught the eye of Hollywood, leading to work for the big and small screen.

The Batmobile — which Barris’ company made in about two weeks from a 1955 Lincoln sedan he bought for $1 — became arguably the most famous car ever created.

It sold in 2013 for more than $4 million.

Barris spokesman Ed Lozzi said the popularity of Barris’ work prompted Detroit automakers in the 1950s to seek his design advice, leading to innovations used in some of the most iconic American car models.

Barris’ work also was the impetus behind the model car rage fueled by young baby boomers in the 1950s and 1960s, according to Lozzi.

“He was the man who started the American pastime of building plastic model cars,” Lozzie said.

In 2002, NASA contacted Barris for permission to incorporate one of his hot rod “funny car” designs from the science fiction film, “The Moonwalker,” into one of the manned Martian vehicles, Lozzi said.

Barris was a generous man who let him drive the original Batmobile on some dates, said Lozzi, who worked with Barris since 1981.

Barris is survived by a daughter, Joji; son, Brett; and grandson, Jared.

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