The name George Barris likely rings a bell in the minds of most folks familiar with custom cars. He is perhaps the best-known customizer from an era where over the top was just right, and this 1955 Chevrolet Aztec is an example of how wild such projects could go. This one even made an appearance at the 1959 Detroit Autorama.
Before we get ahead of ourselves, though, it’s worth explaining that there was no Aztec model in the Chevrolet lineup that year, or any year. This custom got its name from Barris and the builders of the car, Bill DeCarr and Bill Carr. DeCarr was a Barris employee and Carr was Barris’ housemate and the car’s owner. The design was all Barris, and the fabrication and creation of the car took place on nights and weekends in the Barris shop with Carr and DeCarr cutting, welding, and leading their way to a wild one-off.
Like many customs of the era, the powertrain is nothing to write home about. A humble small-block V-8 and automatic transmission combine to motivate the striking convertible. On top of that though are innumerable custom details. The taillights are hand-formed red Lucite. The tailfins are pulled from a Studebaker Hawk, similar to how the side trim was pilfered from a Ford. The rear fenders were stretched 18 inches—unimaginable by today’s standards – and got stylized skirts to cover the wheel openings. A new, gaping grille was built from ‘53 Studebaker sheet metal and fitted with a full-width bumper below quad headlights from a ‘57 Mercury Turnpike Cruiser. A matching rear fascia also features a full-width bumper made from DeSoto, Oldsmobile, and Chevy hardware. Inside, crushed velour upholstery on the seats was matched by the headliner in the custom 1/2 top that gave the convertible a Targa look.
The finished product was wild, and it spent the first part of its life on the show circuit, racking up wins and finding its way onto several magazine covers. Bill Carr had his fun though and was ready to sell the car and move on to the next shiny thing. That’s the point where Carr ended up with a big headache.
The buyer was a man who had only recently become independently wealthy, specifically because he held up banks on the east coast of the United States. Carr was ignorant of this at the time, but when the FBI knocked on his door and wanted the money back his eyes were quickly opened. Some say he helped the FBI snare the bank robber, but unfortunately, the car went to auction instead of back to Carr.
After multiple owners, the car degraded over the years before receiving an exacting restoration in 1999. The golden honey paint was matched exactly by House of Kolor after a paint chip was pulled from the interior of the glove box. Now the car stands as a reminder to the wild individualization we can blend into our cars should we choose to. If you want to skip the customization part and just write a check, the Aztec is crossing the auction block as part of Mecum’s Kissimmee, Florida, sale in January 2020. There aren’t many cars that cement true one-of-one status like this classic custom, and that is what makes it so special.