Samuel "Sam" J Salapatas-Barris was born on October 6, 1924 in Chicago, Illinois to James Salapatas and Fanicia Barakaris. Sam is a legendary custom builder, and the older brother of George Barris. When Sam was 4 years old, his mother died, and Sam's aunt and uncle, John and Edith Barakaris brought George and Sam to California to raise them as their own. Sam grew up in Roseville, a suburb of Sacramento. In School, Sam and his brother George began to show a great interest in the fine arts, so they were encouraged by their family along these lines. The lower grades in school did not offer too much in the way of music or drama so they began taking special classes after regular hours and on Saturdays. This interest undoubtedly stemmed from their Greek descent, a nationality world famous for its sculpturing, painting, music, and drama. Sam showed a great promise in the way of music, even going so far taking voice lessons. Sam was also very athletic, he could run, jump, and swim nearly as well as boys twice his age.
George and Sam used to hang around local body shops after school. In 1938, when the boys went on to high school, George got his first car together with his brother Sam. George was 13 years old at the time. The car, a 1925 Buick, was a gift from their mother. The Buick became the first Barris Brothers custom car. While George was spending a great deal of his spare time in, and under the car, Sam was busy setting athletic records. A few of the records stood through the years. In 1953 he still held the San Juan High School track record for the 1/4 mile sprint and for the 100 yard dash.
About the same time the boys' training in the arts reached even greater proportion. Their singing in particular won them acclaim at many of the local theaters. That the brothers should have so little regard for the restaurant profession grieved their parents. The theater, they said, was no place for respectable children. When the singing voices of the boys came to the parents over the radio one evening they decided that the theater might not be such a bad idea after all.
After going back and forth to school, music lessons, and various theaters, the brothers had soon run the last bit of use out of the old Buick, so they decided to sell the car and invest in a more recent car, a 1929 Ford Model A Cabriolet.
In 1942 Sam Barris, graduated San Juan High School and joined the Army. Late in 1945 Sam was discharged from the Navy and he returned to civilian life. He looked up his long lost brother in Los Angeles in order to find out what he was up to. George and Sam sat down and talked about old times. The old 1925 Buick came up, and the boys had a good laugh remembering the work they had done to the old jalopy. In the middle of the conversation George said "Hey, man, I've got an idea. Let's go into the custom business together!" Sam reminded him that he had no experience as either a body man or as a painter, except from from the work he had done to the old Buick. George began teaching Sam, and after a few weeks he decided that his older brother would pass for a body man. George and Sam pooled their resources and rented a small shop on Imperial Avenue in Los Angeles. The year was 1946, and Barris Kustoms were born.
Sam was the quiet part of the dynamic duo, while George was the more aggressive and motivating force, Sam lived in his home with his wife and two children. Sam's chief ambitions, except for creating the perfect car, was to become a member of the Los Angeles police force. In 1951 he fulfilled his dream and joined the force. For 15 months he pounded a beat in and around the Lynwood area. Pounding metal all day and walking for half the night proved to be too much of a chore for Sam, so he had to drop the police force job. In Hop Up May 1953 Sam told Spencer Murray that he hoped to be able to return to the force some day, and he had set his sights on the investigation division. Junior Conway, who worked with Sam at Barris Kustoms remembers Sam as a quiet guy. But he could also get mad, like George. It was important for Sam that the workers at Barris Kustoms were loyal to the shop. When Sam found at that Dick Jackson was moonlighting at George Cerny's shop he told him to pack his bags. Junior remembers Sam as a really talented man. He didn't need to have anybody helping him. He could do it all by himself. Everything. He could do the moldings, the chrome, the fit, lead work, paint work, everything. He could cut and weld pot-metal windwings for top chops. Something nobody else in the shop could do.
As Barris Kustoms was progressing in the 1950s, Sam was unhappy with his life. Normal shop hours were 8 a.m. to 6 or 7 p.m. But Sam would quit at 5 p.mp due to the family life. Family pressure, the wants for an easy-paced life and the need to return to Roseville all boiled down, and Sam moved back to northern California in June of 1956. At the time he left there were a lot of projects going on in the shop, the Aztec was one of these. The Aztec was one of the last full custom projects Sam worked on. A Sam continued to do some custom work in Sacramento at Barris North. But Sam wanted out of the industry, and the El Capitola was the last full custom he completed in 1960. After completing the El Capitola Sam became an insurance investigator and the fire commissioner for Charmichael.
Sam Barris Personal Rides
George Barris and Sam Barris' 1925 Buick
George Barris and Sam Barris' 1929 Ford Model A Cabriolet
Sam Barris' 1939 Ford
Sam Barris' 1940 Mercury Convertible
Sam Barris' 1949 Mercury
Sam Barris' 1950 Buick
Sam Barris' 1952 Ford
Sam Barris' 1955 Chevrolet
Cars Restyled by Sam Barris
Did you enjoy this article?
Kustomrama is an encyclopedia dedicated to preserve, share and protect traditional hot rod and custom car history from all over the world.
- Help us keep history alive. For as little as 2.99 USD a month you can become a monthly supporter. Click here to learn more.
- Subscribe to our free newsletter and receive regular updates and stories from Kustomrama.
- Do you know someone who would enjoy this article? Click here to forward it.
Can you help us make this article better?
Please get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have additional information or photos to share about Sam Barris.
This article was made possible by:
SunTec Auto Glass - Auto Glass Services on Vintage and Classic Cars
Finding a replacement windshield, back or side glass can be a difficult task when restoring your vintage or custom classic car. It doesn't have to be though now with auto glass specialist companies like www.suntecautoglass.com. They can source OEM or OEM-equivalent glass for older makes/models; which will ensure a proper fit every time. Check them out for more details!
Do you want to see your company here? Click here for more info about how you can advertise your business on Kustomrama.