My Car Quest

April 26, 2018

A Treasure Found?

Or are we celebrating what is, after all, just drek?

by Wallace Wyss –

Now, I suppoz, being a Midwestern raised kid, who ate cornflakes and watched Howdy Doody and all that I can’t be blamed for my first love in the car field—custom cars (they didn’t spell it with a “K” until later).

Golden Sahara

I really thought the one-off cars being made by Barris, Cushenberry, Dean Jeffries, Gene Winfield, et all were the cat’s pajamas.

Their workmanship, their daring bubble tops, their exciting white interiors.

But then around 1962 I discovered European magazines like Motorsport and learned about Italian coachbuilders like Bertone, Pininfarina, Ghia, etc.

So I lost interest in the American one off cars, believing them the product of ignorance (for instance having Olds Fiesta spinner hubcaps was featured on many of them, as if that was the height of wheel design).

Now Hagerty, among other sources, is crowing that a great George Barris creation, the Golden Sahara, has been found and will be auctioned.

This is a car that was the star of the 1954 Petersen Motorama in L.A. and was even featured in movies. But it was out of sight for decades and will only be rolled into the sunlight again at Mecum’s May 2018 Indianapolis auction.

Golden Sahara

The car started out as a ’53 Lincoln Capri, which was damaged and Barris found a sucker, er, enthusiast, named Jim Skonzakes (Nickname: Jim Street) to pay for the re-do as a custom.

It had the half bubble top, as opposed to the full bubble he did on the Batcar, and pearlescent 24-karat gold paint made from actual fish scales), and to top off the bad taste: white mink carpeting.

Inside, this was the days before computers but they crammed a lot of popular ‘50s stuff like a cocktail bar with built-in refrigerator, a high-end radio, a tape recorder, and an in-dash television. Back then when you could buy a two bedroom house in the ‘burbs for $17,000 it wowed the rubes that this car was valued at $25,000.

The car was even updated, renamed the Golden Sahara II and fitted with selectable electronic steering, push-button steering, aircraft-style centered uni-controls for acceleration and braking, remote functionality, and front bumper sensors that allowed for automatic braking (hey, isn’t Jim Street’s estate owed some royalties by the automakers using this idea today?).

The car tripled in value and was even gaining more luster because of its appearance in the 1960 Jerry Lewis movie Cinderfella. But then it disappeared. The owner died in 2017 and only now is it re-appearing at an auction. Now my opinion, based on my subsequent self-education in European one off cars created at Karrosserie, carrozzeria and carrosserie, is that the Golden Sahara, I or II, isn’t worth its weight in scrap metal (it might have a lot of Bondo in that metal). It represents a state of ignorance in the State of the Art of car design, and we Americans didn’t know any better.

Oh, I’m not saying all custom cars from the Fifties are not worth owning or restoring, I do have a soft spot for ones owned by famous personalities, for instance a woodie wagon owned by Leo Carillo (“Poncho” in the Cisco Kid) or Frank Lloyd Wright’s opera windowed Continental (a much milder custom) or ones that have a valuable car underneath (Dean Jeffries’ Mantaray has a Maserati underneath).

But I think anyone who pays big dollars for this one is giving the ‘50s too much credit. There was drek created then that is still drek today. And just because it’s 50 years old doesn’t make it any better.

I’m just sayin’….

Let us know what you think in the Comments.

Photos compliments of Hagerty.

Wallace Wyss

Wallace Wyss

 
 
 
The Author: Wallace Wyss is a fine artist doing commissions of privately owned classic cars. For information, write Photojournalistpro2@gmail.com

 
 
 
 

 
 

 

 

Note from the editor: the opinions expressed here are those of the author and not necessarily those of My Car Quest and he is not calling any reader of My Car Quest a “rube”.

Summary
A Treasure Found?
Article Name
A Treasure Found?
Description
Is this find really a treasure - or not?
Author

Comments

  1. Bruce Caron says:

    Wallace -you are the young man watching the parade and shouting “the emperor has no clothes.”

    I couldn’t agree more.

  2. Bob Wachtel says:

    I feel the same way. I’d rather own one of those one off futuristic cars from the GM Motoramas the Joe Boertz currently has. These are truly collectable. Most replacement parts for these cars had to be custom fabricated during the restorations of these vehicles. It’s nice to know that they weren’t scrapped as GM wished. Unfortunately some were scrapped. These are true time capsules and should be preserved as so.

  3. Richard Bartholomew says:

    Wally, if you owned it (fully restored of course) you would still drive it up and down main street in that Mexican town you want to retire at and love it.

  4. wallace wyss says:

    As we say in the horse biz, “different courses for different horses.” My theoretical car to tool about San Miguel de Allende –an artist’s town in Mexico–would be a SCIII dhc atop an old Vic Hickey prepared S10 Chevy.

  5. Randy Cox says:

    I have a soft spot for this car as I am a product of the era, My father had a collision shop on Woodward Avenue in Michigan and we sprayed Candies and Pearls by the boatload.
    After college .I went to work for Ford designing cars, and of course, came to appreciate fine design and craftsmanship.
    Is the Golden Sahara among the great collectables? Not in my opinion, BUT it deserves to be restored and shown. .

    • Raymond Zinn says:

      Perhaps it’s good or perhaps it’s not, but it is a part of a lot of ex-kids daydreams.
      Yes, not everything, everybody grows old gracefully, but that does not mean they / it must exist in the shadows.
      It is or will be worth what someone is willing to pay for it.
      Long live those who think out of the box, even if their thoughts should be left in the box.

  6. While it’s F-A-R from my type of car, anything different that has survived all those years is pretty cool.

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