A Look At The Things Of Hot Rod Legend
By Hot Rod Jimmy
When I think about Halloween and Hot Rod Legends, the George Barris “Munster Koach“ rings the bell for me. I am sure that I have watched every episode of “The Munsters.” I was eleven years old when it came on TV. The car was without a doubt something I loved seeing.
It always seemed to me that the car had more impact on kids, and filled our fragile eggshell minds to the limit.
In 1965, in the episode “Rock a Bye Munster,” originally aired on October 15th 1964. The great and wonderful car was seen for the first time on television. Lilly Munster goes to Diamond Jim’s used cars to get a new car for Herman. She doesn’t like anything there and starts barking orders at the car salesman. I want this off that and this part of this one. Then take them all to a custom shop and have them fix it together. It is a cool scene as one of the cars is a T-Bucket. Its sale price is $795!! The older Hearse is for sale for $943. Where is this car lot, oh where?
The first Munster Koach was built by George in 1964 for the cost of about $18,000.00. As the story goes, the producers wanted to have a custom car for the TV series getting set to air on CBS. They approched Barris about building the car. George got a hold of Hot Rod designer Tom Danial to design the car. Danial reportedly designed the car for a modest cost of $200. The car was built at Barris shop in North Hollywood. The two main guys involved were Tom Smith and then Dick Dean. Barris kept his hand in the operation as well.
The ten chrome Stromberg single barrel carburetors were the idea of Barris. When you think about it, ten carbs on an eight-cylinder engine is just a bit weird. As you look at the car you will notice that setting in the middle of the engine between the gold-plated air stacks is a Shelby duel carburetor air cleaner. Under that air cleaner is a single Holly four-barrel carburetor. The engine is a 289 CID Ford that Barris was going to use in a SC Cobra build, as I understand it. There are a lot of rumors about everything as well. Some places you will see people saying it is a Ford 427, or that they bored out the 289 and made it a 415 CID engine. Fact of the matter is it is a 289, and nothing more. A 289 or the later 302 could not take that much bore relief. To get that small of a motor up to 415 CID you would run the boring bar bit into the water jackets.
The frame is a customized Model T frame of sorts. In total, the frame and body are made up from three Model Ts. The three different bodies were made whole, with the driver section, the saloon section, and the VIP section. The rear of the car is almost a dead ringer for Limousines of the silent movie era. To set that up even more is the lite colored rear door. Painting the entry door a different color was the trend for limos of the 1920s. The interior of the car is a blood red velvet; I mean blood red. The drag slicks on the back are of the old style non-wrinkle walls. In 1964 it was most likely the last use of these kinds of tires. Above the rear seat is a smaller child’s seat. I tend to remember that Eddie Munster sat in it at times on the series. Before Grandpa got his own car, he sat in the back-jump seat with Eddie.
Fred Gwynn who played Herman Munster was said to have loved to drive the car. I am of the mind that might not have been so. It seems that he was so tall and the makeup so large that he was not able to set in the driver’s seat when he drove the Koach. He had to set on the floor. This just lets you know what things were like for Fred Gwynn while filming the show. When he gets out of the car in the closing credits of the show look how big the man is compared to the car, he makes it look like he is standing next to a Ford GT40! I am also think that driving that was a bit of a chore, too. All hale Fred Gwynne.
It seems they got so many comments and acknowledgements on the Munster Koach that Universal decided a second car was in order. This one was supposed to be spooky, very spooky. Barris and Dean set to work to create just that. Their idea was a casket made into a car. A custom frame was built, as well as going back to the well to get small block Ford power.
The problem was where to get a casket to make the body from. Universal Studios was adamant about the fact they wanted a real casket to be used. So, Dick and George searched the world over to find a solution. They tried funeral parlors all over America. Dean found the solution in going to a casket distributor. Not in the United States though, the laws wouldn’t allow it; but in Mexico they could but one legally.
The car was ready for filming in a short time there after for the episode “Hot Rod Herman.” In this filming Herman goes to the drag strip to race the Munster Koach. He runs a guy in a Nitro powered Front Engine rail. They race for pink slips and Herman loses the Munster Koach. What is Herman to do.
In steps Grandpa and says he knows what to do. He builds DRAG-U-LA. We first see it when grandpa backs it out of the garage. After he backs it out they get in a conversation about the car. Eddie notices that Grandpa has used the organ pipes as headers. To which Grandpa replies with the greatest line ever said on a TV Series anywhere or at any time in my opinion! “That’s right Eddie; this is the only car in the world that can play “My Country Tis of Thee” in second gear!”
They head back to the Dragstrip to race the guy with the rail to win the Koach back. Their competitor is now driving the Munster Koach. Grandpa gates him, and blows him away and they head back home the winner.
A second Munster Koach was built by George Barris and Dick Dean in 1985 for the Hollywood Christmas Parade that year. This one is known as the Barris Koach. It has a few more bells and whistles that the Munster Koach didn’t have. It has white backed gauges. Different carburetors, and different wheels than the original.
Dick Dean and his son, Keith Dean, reportedly built as many as six different Drag-U-Las. It seems they built them for different people and they are scattered throughout the country. The original was destroyed somehow, and has been lost for all of time. The original is different from the others built in that the casket used has rounded corners.
The original Munster Koach was sold for a large amount to a museum in England, the Museum was called the ‘Cars of the Stars Museum’ but the Museum closed several years ago. Many of the cars from it were sold on EBAY. The Koach was sold to a private collection in Florida. There is very little information on it. While it was at the Museum in England it had become somewhat rundown. They replaced the American wheels and put on wheels that looked like something from The Dukes of Hazzard Charger wheels.
In images I’ve seen, it looks like they messed with the paint on the car as well. WHO IN THEIR RIGHT MIND WOULD MESS WITH A GEORGE AND STAN BARRIS PAINT JOB? Who?
There are some great homage cars out there to see as well. One facebook pages stands high above the others. It showcases The Munster Koach, Drag-U-La, and Eddies go kart and they tour the country. Following is a list of the places they will be in the next few months.
Dekalb Motors – Chevrolet, Cadillac, GMC
1925 Mercantile Drive – Sycamore, Illinois
Fanboy Expo Comic Con
Knoxville Convention Center – Knoxville, Tennessee
Fanboy Expo Comic Con
Fables Studios Haunted House
Santa’s Village AZoosment Park – East Dundee, Illinois
Santa’s Village Dundee
Machinists Hall, 12365 St.
Munster Koach Image credit: click here
DRAG-U-LA Image credit: click here