Batmobile, KITT creator's craziest custom car to be sold at Mecum Indianapolis

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"The Golden Sahara" might be the wildest creation to spring from the mind of legendary auto customizer George Barris.

He has provided iconic rides to Adam West's Bruce Wayne, Michael Knight and the Beverly Hillbillies, but George Barris's wildest custom creation will soon be rolling into the Circle City.

The main attraction of Mecum Indy 2018, "The Golden Sahara" started its legendary life as the personal 1953 Lincoln Capri Hardtop of Barris.

But on a foggy day in Sacramento, the car collided with a hay truck as Barris was towing a friend with a stranded Chevrolet.

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“I was towing a guy’s car back because he blew the engine, and we just bumpered it together and back over to Ridge Route — that’s all we had, we didn’t have trailers in those days,” the late Barris said during an interview with Jonnie King in his “Hall of Fame Legends” series. “Regretfully, we slid under a hay truck with it, and we came out of it alright, but the hay truck bed went over the top and peeled the top off, so the rest of the car was good, but the top was gone.”

But instead of sulking, Barris was inspired to craft his most custom creation to date.

The front end was altered to the point it was unrecognizable. A wraparound windshield, a custom half-bubble top and a gold bullet bumper stood out in the new aerodynamic design.

To cap it off, the car was given a two-tone finish of 24-karat gold in place of chrome and paint that glittered. According to Barris, it was “about 20 years ahead of its time,” and its exterior coloring alone was an innovative foray into the creation of what Barris says was one of the first pearlescent paint jobs.

But how exactly did Barris get that paint? The fish market, of course.

“The one thing I wanted to get, was that I wanted a gold pearl, and there was no pearl in those days,” Barris explained. “That was in the early ‘50s, so where would I go to get gold pearl? You can’t just take white and put gold in it. So Shirley and I went down to the fish market, and I remember fish were very ‘pearlish’ looking. And I had the fish guys turn all the sardines over so their bellies were showing till I found the right belly that had the gold. So we took it and scraped the scales off the belly and put it in a jar and took it back to the shop and mixed it in with a natural cellulose clear lacquer and toner lacquers."

"The Golden Sahara" was shown to large crowds throughout the nation.

At the time of its creation, the Golden Sahara was priced at around $25,000, the equivalent of more than  $220,000 in today. It was featured in commercials, print ads and on various magazine covers.

But in 1956, Jim “Street” Skonzakes, an Ohio man who funded the car's creation, commissioned the Delphos Machine and Tool shop out of Dayton, Ohio, to make the car even more outrageous.  

They added an electronic control system that included uni-control lever that could  regulate acceleration and braking, an automatic braking unit using antennas as sensors to “look” for things in the car’s path and voice control.

The team also added a remote that could open the doors, control the engine and accelerate or brake the car, making it one of the earliest autonomous vehicles.

All the new toys pushed the price to more than $75,000 in the 1950s.

Without explanation, Skonzakes pulled the car from the public eye in the 1960s and left what is now known as "The Golden Sahara II" to sit in his garage for 50 years.

You will be able to see it, and bid on it, at Dana Mecum’s 31st Original Spring Classic Auction at the Indiana State Fairgrounds from May 15 to May 19.

Call IndyStar reporter Justin L. Mack at (317) 444-6138. Follow him on Twitter: @justinlmack.


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