In 1943, George Barris was a high school senior in northern California, still years away from designing custom cars like his original Batmobile for the 1960s Batman television series.
As Barris approached graduation, his San Juan High School principal triumphantly announced the names of his classmates who would be future doctors and lawyers. But the principal told Barris — who quit his metal shop class dissatisfied over making drain pipes — that he would be “the least [likely] to ever succeed.”
Nearly 70 years later, San Juan High School invited Barris back in 2012.
“Who do you think they called in to be the guest of honor?” he joked.
Now 87, Barris’ career building custom cars for television shows, movies and celebrities, has made him a legend. And these days, he readily shares his advice with others: “If there’s a will, there’s a way,” he said. “Do it.”
On Saturday, organizers of the Downtown Burbank Car Classic will give him a lifetime achievement award for his work at 7 p.m. on a stage near Orange Grove Avenue.
Barris cherishes winning the recognition in Burbank, a city with smoother streets for cruising compared to surrounding roads in Los Angeles which are riddled with potholes, where “the streets are bumpety, bumpety,” he said.
“Burbank is about the best kept city in all of Southern California,” he said. “It seems to be a great car town and has great car people — both girls and guys.”
For nearby studios, Barris has created iconic cars such as the decrepit one used in “The Beverly Hillbillies” and the Munster Koach for the show, “The Munsters.” Among the cars he still keeps at his North Hollywood shop — dubbed Barris Kustom Industries — is “KITT” from the “Knight Rider” television series and the “Bo Derek Barrister” he built for the actress who became famous in the movie “10.”
He recalls one Friday night when the Batman cars from the television show and films drove in a fleet from the Warner Bros. lot to the Bob’s Big Boy parking lot in Burbank for a night of admiring.
“Everybody was there,” he said, referring to the throng of car enthusiasts and onlookers who gathered around to get an up-close look.
Barris said he seems to attend a car show every week — either locally or as far away as Canada or England.
Looking back on his life, Barris said he’s been fortunate to know and work alongside people who passionately devoted themselves to cars even from his early days.
“We hated drugs,” he said. “It was cars, girls and customizing. That was the fun thing.”
Downtown Burbank Car Classic
When: 3 to 9 p.m. Saturday
Where: Along San Fernando Boulevard, from Magnolia Boulevard to Angeleno Avenue.
More info: www.downtownburbankcarclassic.com