He may have designed the Batmobile, but when it came to building his own personal conveyance, the effort was truly heroic.
George Barris was one of the most famous automobile designers in Hollywood. Credits to his name range from The Beverly Hillbillies’ old timey ride to Knight Rider’s KITT. But last week's Mecum Indy car auction featured his true triumph: The Golden Sahara. The car sold for $350,000 Saturday to close the auction.
The unquestionably unique ride is truly deserving of its grandiose name. Its hulking, futuristic body is covered in sparkling flecks. Its interior includes a white mink carpet, and it even boasts its own minibar, complete with working refrigerator.
But the creation of the wondrous auto was a pure accident—literally.
The Sahara began its life as a simple ‘53 Lincoln Capri. But destiny stepped in one day in the form of a flatbed truck. Blindsided by the vehicle’s appearance on a foggy Northern California highway, Barris accidentally drove the Lincoln underneath the truck’s body. While he walked away unscathed from the incident, the Capri’s top had been peeled back like a tin of sardines.
Inspired by his ownership of a newly-roofless Lincoln, the designer’s famously creative brain turned into high gear. He soon set off on the ultimate choose-your-own-customization adventure.
Teaming up with friend—and financier—Jim Skonzakes, Barris reworked every part of another Lincoln with a topless treatment after liking his old car’s post-accident look. He built a barely recognizable beast with a half-bubble top, high-end tape player (a technological marvel at the time), and an even fancier built-in dash television.
The whole thing cost Skonzakes a cool $25,000 in 1953 money. Sahara was, of course, finished off in 24-karat-gold paint—made from far less glamorous but apparently still effective fish scales.
It wasn’t long before others caught wind of the passion project. After starring on the May 1955 cover of Motor Trend, the Sahara was sent on a cross-country tour, traveling in the automotive show circuit and making pit stops to star in movies like the 1960 Jerry Lewis flick, Cinderfella.
As with many celebrities, the Sahara had a little work done over the years. Skonzakes dished out an additional $75,000 in 1956 for Barris to add some extra mechanical flourishes, including electronic steering and automatic braking.
But shortly after its silver screen debut, Skonzakes, who had taken on ownership of the vehicle, mothballed the Sahara—now called the Sahara II—for still-unknown reasons. Rumors swirled that the old Car Guy would occasionally take the auto out for night drives throughout the 1980s. But, it stayed largely tucked away from public view for nearly 50 years.
In the wake of Skonzakes’ December 2017 death, the sparkling testament to imagination made its public comeback at the Mecum auction. The event took place last week in Indianapolis.
It may not be the Batmobile, but it’s likely the closest any mere mortal can get to riding like a superhero.