SEMA eNews Vol. 14, No. 39, September 29, 2011

SEMA Heritage: George Barris Makes Candy

SEMA News—September 2011

The King Shoots Candy

The Barris Brothers were building influential customs just as many enthusiast car magazines were getting their starts, and several magazines, including Road & Track and Motor Trend, put Barris customs on their covers in the late ’40s and early ’50s
Which George Barris are you most familiar with? The King of the Kustomizers who built the Batmobile, the Munster’s Koach and other outrageous vehicles for movies and TV? Or are you better acquainted with the Barris Brothers, George and Sam, who set custom car trends for decades with Sam’s heavily chopped ’49 Mercury and the later Hirohata Merc? Maybe you know Barris for his own custom creations, such as the Ala Kart roadster pickup, which won the America’s Most Beautiful Roadster award two years running.

No matter which Barris you’re familiar with, the fact that you know the name is testament to George’s skill as a promoter. The Barris Brothers were building influential customs just as many enthusiast car magazines were getting their starts, and several magazines, including Road & Track and Motor Trend, put Barris customs on their covers in the late ’40s and early ’50s.

Barris quickly recognized how important these magazines could be in gaining nationwide notoriety for his Southern California business, so he learned how to photograph his cars like the magazine pros. Barris also taught his customizing techniques—on fullsize vehicles and plastic scale models—through how-to articles he wrote for Hot Rod, Car Craft and other magazines.

This is an outtake from a November 1958 photo shoot by Petersen Publishing Company photographer Pat Brollier. The resulting article, “The Secrets of Candy Colors,” ran in the February 1959 issue of Car Craft and demonstrated how to spray what the magazine termed “the new, revolutionary, translucent paints: the healthy, vibrant family which created the headline-making Candy Apple Red.”

Candy colors were so new at the time that there were only a few sources for the special tints and just a handful more for the metallic paints and powders used to formulate the basecoat, or “underbase” as the magazine called it, that went on before the candy topcoat. (The toners Barris used to blend the underbase paints came from companies familiar to today’s painters, including Ditzler and DuPont.) Detailed charts in the story outlined the formulas for blending the underbase colors as well as the candy topcoats, right down to the amount of thinning needed for best flow and how much pressure to put through the spray gun.

Candy may have been new then, but trends were already emerging. The article said that “one painter estimates there are close to 100 possible tones” of the candy topcoat, yet Barris identified the “thirteen shades of translucent paint which have proven popular with custom car owners.” The names of those hot late-’50s candies? Candy Apple Red, Burgundy Mist, Pagan Gold, Golden Honey, Lime Gold, Mint Green, Black Gold, Organic Purple, Wild Cherry, Oriental Blue, Aqua Blue, Mother of Pearl and Platinum Pearl.

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