Sam Barris

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Sam with his younger brother George. Photo Courtesy of Brad Masterson.
Sam's High School picture from San Juan High School in Fair Oaks, California, 1942.[1]
Sam served in the Navy during WWII. Photo Courtesy of Brad Masterson.
This Chevrolet was Sam Barris' first custom attempt after George had taught him the fundamentals of customizing. The photo was published in Hop Up May 1953, in a featured story about the history of Barris Kustoms by Spencer Murray. Photo courtesy of Hop Up Magazine.
An early photo of the Compton shop that was published in Hop Up May 1953, in a featured story about the history about Barris Kustoms. According to the article, the Buick in the photo belonged to Sam. Photo courtesy of Hop Up Magazine.
A photo of Sam brazing.
Jim Kierstead's 1939 Mercury Coupe of Inglewood, California. Jim's Mercury was restyled by Barris Kustoms, and it is rumored to be the first 1939 - 1940 Mercury coupe that the Barris Brothers chopped. The build was started in 1945 and completed in 1947. According to Jim's brother in law, Sam did most of the work on the car.
Dick Owens' 1940 Mercury convertible of Redondo Beach, California. Dick's Mercury was restyled by Barris Kustoms, and the work was sometime between 1945 and 1947. According to Harold Johnson, Dick's brother in law, Sam did most of the work on the car.
Johnny Zaro's 1940 Mercury Coupe of Maywood, California. Johnny's Merc was restyled by Barris Kustoms in 1948 at their Compton Avenue shop. It was Sam who did all of the work on Zaro's Merc.
Dick Jackson's 1938 Chevrolet Sedan of Lynwood, California. Dick was 14 years old when he started to hang around the Barris Kustoms shop in 1949. A rope kept visitors out of the shop so the workers would not be disturbed by curious by-passers. Dick used to stand outside the rope and stare into the shop. One day, Sam Barris said, "Hey, we're getting tired of you staring at us. You want a job here?" At the time, the Manok brothers worked there along with Bill Ortega, Sam, and George. Dick said yes, and he started to sweep the floors. The Chevrolet was Dick's first car in 1951. Under Sam's guidance, the car underwent a series of modifications until it finally got the Barris Kustoms touch.
Sam Barris' 1950 Buick Sedanette, restyled by Sam Barris of Barris Kustoms, was completed in 1953. The car was built from a burnt out wreck, and Sam used it as his daily driver for about a year.
A rear end shot of Dick Jackson's 1954 Mercury Monterey from The Ron Dragoo Collection.Dick restyled the Merch while he was working for Barris Kustoms. Sam Dick chop the top on the Mercury in exchange for after hours labor work on his 1952 Ford convertible.
A photo of Sam and George from a Hop Up Magazine May 1953 story by Spencer Murray. Photo courtesy of Hop Up Magazine.
A photo of Sam as he is staring the chop on Lyle Lake's 1952 Buick. The photo was taken in August of 1956. Photo from The Ron Dragoo Photo Collection.
George Barris' 1955 Chevrolet truck, the Kopper Kart, was built as a promotion vehicle for Barris Kustoms of Lynwood, California. The build was completed in 1957, featuring a 4 inch chop by Sam.
In Hop Up March 1952, Sam was asked what cars they liked best in 1951, and what changes they would like to see in 1952.

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.[2]


According to Keith Christensen, Sam lived in the town of Norwalk in the mid 1950s.[3]

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 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.[2] 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

Click here to see cars restyled by Sam Barris at Barris Kustoms



Rodders Journal Number 39
Hop Up May 1953


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