After decades shrouded in uncertainty and shadow, a 1950s custom car legend is about to reemerge into the light. The famed Golden Sahara, that futuristic phenom that first shocked and delighted the world at the 1954 Petersen Motorama in L.A. and was once the darling of the traveling show circuit and silver screen before suddenly evaporating from public view in the late 1960s. Now, following the passing of its owner, the car has emerged from its long basement hibernation to cross the block at Mecum’s May 2018 Indianapolis auction.
You wouldn’t know it based on the car’s visibly rough condition today, but the sparkle of this custom machine once captivated the hearts and minds of America.
The kitted-out, technology-loaded, pearlescent-painted Golden Sahara was once a simple ’53 Lincoln Capri that belonged to famous custom-car magnate George Barris. After the whole top got peeled off like a can of sardines when Barris ran into a truck bed while towing his friend’s car, he got the idea to salvage the wreck with an ambitious custom project. Jim Skonzakes, an Ohio customer of Barris’ better known as Jim Street, coughed up the funding to get the build off the ground, but neither could have predicted the sensation that was to come.
The duo completely overhauled the car from the ground up, from an all-new Space Age body to flamboyant pearlescent 24-karat gold paint (made from fish scales), a half-bubble top, and white mink carpeting. There was also luxurious substance within the style, including lavish accoutrement like a cocktail bar with built-in refrigerator, high-end radio, tape recorder, and in-dash television. All in, it cost a stunning 25-grand, leading to a May 1955 Motor Trend cover story, “The $25,000 Custom”.
After touring around the country to various displays and events, in 1956 Street kicked things up a notch, adding more glitz, glam, and flair with new body cues and a host of new technology. Newly christened the Golden Sahara II, the car now featured advanced goodies like selectable electronic steering, push-button steering, aircraft-style centered uni-controls for acceleration and braking, remote functionality, and front bumper sensors that allowed for automatic braking. This time the bill came in at $75,000, but it didn’t matter—the car was a bona fide celebrity, even landing an appearance in the 1960 Jerry Lewis movie Cinderfella.
By the end of the 1960s, the Golden Sahara II was but a memory. It disappeared from all public appearances, widely rumored to be squirreled away in Street’s garage. Autoweek reports that Street occasionally took it out for night cruises into the 1980s, but since then nobody had seen it, and speculation circled after his death in December 2017.
Mecum will be auctioning off several vehicles from what it’s calling the Jim Street Estate Collection, but there’s no doubt the headliner is the long-lost Golden Sahara. And when it crosses the block at Mecum’s Indianapolis auction on May 15-19, it’ll carry no reserve—so bring your checkbook if you want one of history’s most imaginative custom creations inspired by the future of driving.