Inside USD

Alumnus’ Truck Design Links to Grandpa’s Batmobile

Friday, November 30, 2012

It’s lights, cameras and dreams of fast-moving action as the 10-day Los Angeles International Auto Show begins today at the L.A. Convention Center. This show, featuring a bevy of 2013 makes, models and the latest innovative designs, puts the cars in the celebrity spotlight.

Jared Barris, a 2012 University of San Diego alumnus, will be there among the crowd that checks out what’s new, what’s in and where the automobile industry is headed. But the 23-year-old’s focus will center on one display in the convention center’s Kentia Hall.

He’s eager to gauge reaction to a Ford F-150 truck he designed and helped build as a collaborative project for his family’s business, Barris Kustom Industries, and Galpin Auto Sports (GAS) of MTV’s “Pimp My Ride” fame. The finished product offers a fresh look for the popular truck and pays homage to one of the world’s  most recognizable cars, the Batmobile, from the 1960s “Batman” TV show.

The truck is aptly named the Crime Fighter Ford F-150.

“When people see the truck on display at the auto show, they’re going to see the final product. But what they won’t see is the amount of sweat, stress and other emotions that went into it,” Barris said of the eight weeks it took to complete.

One inspiration for the project was his family’s connection to the Batmobile.

George Barris, the “King of the Kustomizers,” is Jared’s grandfather. He’s been designing and building custom hot rods and celebrity-owned vehicles since the 1940s. George, 87, has contributed to famous Hollywood cars that have appeared in TV shows and movies. The 1966 Batmobile is his signature project.

“It’s the most famous car in the world,” Jared stated. “It’s unbelievable how many people, how many generations, know about it, even young kids who never saw the TV show.”

The Batman franchise has been a marketing force in the entertainment industry with TV, movies, comic books and countless memorabilia items. The L.A. show, in fact, features The Dark Knight Legend exhibit with seven Batmobiles present —from Barris’ TV car to the Tumbler and Bat-Pod from “The Dark Knight Rises.”

When Jared started the design he’d just earned his marketing degree and was busy applying for jobs during the summer. Though  initially done for fun, when he decided to incorporate the Batmobile concept, everything changed.

“After graduation there was a lot of uncertainty, but I had a list of things I wanted to try and this was one,” he said. “I thought I’d be a fool not to at least try it. My grandpa is getting older, too, and I wanted to have this experience with him.”

Jared basically grew up in the Barris Kustom shop in North Hollywood spending time with his grandfather at the behest of Shirley, George’s wife and Jared’s grandmother.

“She wanted me to be there at the shop, cleaning stuff and helping him out,” Jared recalled. “He’d give me little duties to do. We had a routine where we’d get coffee and muffins and then we’d go have some fun at work.”

Jared was born in 1989, but the shop is a museum-worthy documentation of his grandfather’s work. Black and white photos, movie posters and toy car replicas fill the walls and shelves. Celebrity clients include Elvis Presley, John Wayne, Frank Sinatra, John Lennon, Mr. T and Sonny and Cher.

“Back in the day, if a celebrity didn’t have a car that was touched by Barris Kustom, it was said that they shouldn’t bother driving,” Jared said.

But it was a documentary on the evolution of the Batmobile that resonates with Jared most. The clip, scheduled to be a feature on the Dec. 4 Blu-ray release of “The Dark Knight Rises,” shows George discussing how he turned a 1955 Lincoln Futura into the famed vehicle.

“I got so inspired seeing how influential my grandpa was in the process and how he basically set the bar. The whole time I’ve been around him, he’s just my grandpa, you know? He’s not George Barris, ‘King of the Kustomizers.’ I don’t often get to see what makes him that every day.”

With that in mind as well as the full support of his mother, Joji, stepfather Barry, and in tribute to Shirley, who died in 2001, Jared was highly motivated.

He spent hours formulating the design, namely having the unique side rail wings complement a truck’s specifications. When he mentioned the design to friends, they recommended he pitch it to Beau Boeckmann, GAS’ chief designer and son of automobile customizing pioneer Bert Boeckmann. Both men knew George Barris’ work and it gave Jared a valuable connection, but he was adamant that it didn’t mean guaranteed acceptance.

“A foot-in-the-door is one thing, but if you can’t perform, you’re not going to stay there too long,” Jared said. “It’s all about performance and showing them what you can do.”

The Batmobile was an obvious design hook, but he told Beau Boeckmann that the focus should be on the truck itself. “I wanted it to be something that a guy who drives a truck will want to drive, not just a collector.”

Jared used what he learned at USD in his pitch, too. His group and individual class presentation experience gave him confidence in his public speaking, communication and teamwork skills. His Photoshop prowess gave his visual presentation a clean, effective and professional look.

“I went into the meeting confident and I really believed in the truck,” he said. “When (Beau) saw the design and I saw his excitement, that got me excited. It let me know that I wasn’t crazy for doing this.”

From there, Jared, his team, and the GAS staff got to work. Jared’s group did the wings and most of the fabrication while GAS lowered it, installed the exhaust system, rims, upholstery and paint. There were some challenges, as expected, but Jared persevered.

“If there’s a will, there’s a way,” he said. “I’ve grown up hearing that saying. With this car, I knew as long as I wanted it, I’d figure out a way to do it.”

The end result is now on display for 10 days in L.A. The Crime Fighter Ford F-150 will be in the spotlight, but so will the entire crew, including Grandpa Barris, who got to put the Barris Kustom signature crest on the car.

“I wanted this car to be a little bit about everyone,” Jared said. “When I went in and pitched it, everyone had ideas. I’ve had a lot of good talks with my grandpa that I never would have had if not for this project, talks that could have applied to anything in life, but it just so happened to be about a car.”

— Ryan T. Blystone

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