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The CAR Top 10: Wheeled weirdness by George Barris, CAR+ February 2016

Published: 20 January 2016

► CAR's top 10 wheeled weirdness by George Barris
► From the infamous Batmobile, and sidewinder...
► ... to The Car, Super Van and Any Car 

1) The Munsters’ Koach

Built for the TV series from three Model T Fords and featuring a custom hearse body and lanterns for headlights, the Koach was powered by a hopped-up 4.7-litre V8 topped by a ridiculous 10 Stromberg carbs, meaning keeping the thing in tune must have been as scary as the occupants.

The Back to the Future DeLorean

2) The Back to the Future DeLorean

Barris didn’t do the Green Hornet’s Black Beauty, the Monkeemobile or the Back to the Future DeLorean but he often gets the credit. He wasn’t always quick to set things straight, to the extent that Universal threatened to customise his bank balance in 2007.

The Car

3) The Car

Imagine Spielberg’s classic Duel, but with all the believability of the Christmas story and the tension of 70-year-old knicker elastic. That’s The Car, a James Brolin, er, vehicle, in which a demonic coupe terrorises small town America. Barris created the monster from a ’71 Lincoln Continental.

Sidewinder

4) Sidewinder

With a bike wheel up front and a pair of DC-6 passenger plane wheels at the back this terrifying chopper trike looked like a recipe for chronic understeer followed by chronic death. Wheelie bars at the back stopped it flipping over when you uncorked the 400bhp Buick V8.

Super Van

5) Super Van

Hot on the heels of Blaxploitation, low-budget vansploitation flic Super Van set out to cash in on the velvet-lined, porthole-festooned commercial trend. The story’s so thin IMDB lists ‘nipples visible through clothing’ in plot keywords, but Barris still delivered, even if the writers didn’t, creating a futuristic, laser-shooting MPV from a Dodge Sportsman.

Voxmobile!

6) Voxmobile!

Built at the behest of UK-based guitar and amp manufacturer for promo duties, the Voxmobile was a fully driveable two-seat sports car perfect for stringing bends together. The twin giant Vox Phantom guitars were dummies but it featured a trio of working amplifiers capable of powering 32 guitars and a functional Super Continental organ at the rear.

Bathtub buggy

7) Bathtub buggy

Maybe all the paint fumes had addled George’s head by 1970 – it’s hard to see otherwise how he came up with this sanitation-styled sports car. Built for the World’s Fair in Osaka, Japan, it came with a full (bathroom) suite of custom features including a bath, sink and exhausts like Victorian plumbing.

Hirohata Merc

8) Hirohata Merc

Barris is best known for his outlandish TV cars, but he was also a genuinely influential presence in the early 1950s custom car scene. Built for Bob Hirohata, this 1951 Mercury wasn’t the first chopped Merc, but losing the B-pillars turned it into the first hardtop version, and a hot-rod legend. 

Any Car

9) Any Car

Based on a rear-engined Volkswagen but mashed up with parts from 40 different cars, Any Car was designed to promote a major bank’s willingness to lend money for ‘any car’. All very silly, except that under the front bonnet there’s a tiny electric car for urban travel: prophetic stuff for the 1970s.

Batmobile

10) Batmobile

Easily Barris’s most famous creation, the Batmobile was based on a 1955 Lincoln Futura concept bought by George for $1 and turned into the caped crusader’s car in just three weeks. It recently sold for $4.6m, proving that crime (against taste, at least) does pay.

By Chris Chilton

Contributing editor, ace driver, wit supplier, mischief maker

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