Barris Kustom Industries, the soul of SoCal hot rod culture, is up for sale
You may not recognize the address 10811 Riverside Drive, North Hollywood—but you, your grandparents, and maybe some of your children will recognize the wild automobiles that emerged from its doors. From the original Batmobile to the Munster Koach and the Bathtub Buggy, Barris Kustom Industries was the crucible in which George and Sam Barris forged crazy ideas into rolling, rumbling reality.
The Barris family is now preparing to let go of the legendary shop. The 10,000 square foot commercial property—and the showroom, garages, and paint booth in it—are up for sale via Douglas Elliman Real Estate, for the tidy sum of $3.995 million.
Though now fallen silent, Barris Kustom Industries belongs in any story of hot rod and custom car culture. In the early ’50s Barris brothers, George and Sam, cemented their place in the hot rod annals when they accepted a commission from Masato (Bob) Hirohata, who wanted a car that was unmistakably his. Hirohata provided the funds, but he had one critical condition: The car had to be ready for the 1951 Motorama. The Barris brothers rose to the challenge. In 14 days, they had transformed a 1951 Mercury Coupe into a low-slung, sea-green beauty that, upon its reveal, captured the imagination of the custom car community.
As the custom-car age waned and the muscle car era rose, the Barris brothers didn’t confine themselves to lead sleds. In any case, George didn’t; Sam left the custom car gig shortly before his brother established the shop on Riverside Drive. George became known as the King of the Kustomizers until his passing in 2015. He made movie cars: Beloved ones like the original Batmobile, The Munster Koach and Drag-U-La; and the star of one mid-’60s tv show that’s best forgotten. He built celebrity commissions, including this blinged-out, nearly unrecognizable Corvette. He reimagined already revolutionary designs, like the Toronado, into vehicles that, to a youngster today, look like a Hot Wheels come to life. Whether it was a Hemi-powered Bathtub or an Aztec drenched in custom paint and plush with crushed velour—and let’s not forget this Kustom Cougar woody from the ’90s—Barris simply did not do boring.
The collector market today bears out Barris’ legendary status. “Just about anything he built is collectible,” Hagerty valuation editor Andrew Newton said when this Vette hit the block in 2019. Of course, Barris’ dramatic style doesn’t fit everyone’s taste—but his creations would somehow be a lot less fun if they weren’t so risky and polarizing. Even this relatively tame ’71 Fun Buggy is a treasure, as witnessed by the painstaking skill taken to reupholster it.
Though Barris Kustoms Industries will probably disappear under a more lucrative L.A. development, George’s daughter Joji told the Los Angeles Times that she will box up the significant contents of the shop and take them to the Oxnard-Ventura area, eventually opening up the remainder of the Barris collection to the public. We couldn’t approve more, but we can’t help mourning that this factory of crazy is leaving the family. 10811 Riverside Drive is just a place—if you think that Barris’ customs are just cars.