Turbine-Powered Legend: Barris Kustom Turbo-Sonic

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Every so often, we at Barn Finds get word of a one-of-a-kind vintage automobile up for sale. Oftentimes, they’re a niche-market vehicle known only to a handful of dedicated enthusiasts, but this one was (and still is in some circles) widely known and appreciated. This is the real-deal Turbo-Sonic and it’s up for bids here on ebay in central New Jersey. Big thanks to go to Barn Finds writer Patrick S for the tip!

As many of our readers know, the late George Barris was a tremendous influencer of the automobile customization scene throughout many of his 89 years on Earth. He had a hand in numerous famous works, such as the Munsters coach and original Batmobile, whether or not he actually turned any wrenches. From his humble childhood beginnings in Chicago to worldwide acclaim, he was all about aesthetic improvements to off-the-shelf autos. In fact, he almost didn’t get to do it at all – his family wanted him to carry on the family restaurant business!

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The vehicle itself was built between 1958 and 1964. Barris dreamt it, Tom Daniels and Les Tompkins contributed to design and engineering, Dick Dean built it, and Skip Torgeson was supposed to drive it. I’ll let this article on Barris.com describe it for you: ”

...The Turbo-Sonic was designed as the 25th century three-wheel racing car to develop speeds of 300 mph in a quarter mile racing strip powered by a 50 pound fuel burning turbine engine that can reach 1,000 horsepower.

This car was engineered in a combination of monacoque and crossframe construction using alloy tube frame plus a lunamite sheet stock also fiberglass fireproof light weight wings. Controls are operated on a four stage solenoid electrical system for safety, with inner-cockpit fuel mixture switches, and can be operated with a remote control unit for testing stages 50 feet away from the automobile. Driver sits in a complete safety fireproof cockpit and encased in a unitized cross tube frame roll bar. Two-way radio will be used to transmit dial readings and car controlling effects between driver and pit crew. Total weight of the car dry is 850 pounds with a wing span of 7 feet 9 inches and a v-shaped length of 17 feet encased in a spear-headed delta v-shaped aero-dynamic design fuselage and streamlined wing tip wheel covered pads.

Engine operates through a v-drive gear reduction unit and directly into a reversed ring and pinion rear end which drives each wheel independently turning 92,000 revolutions per minute and reduced 16 to 1 developing 8,000 revolutions per minute at the wheels. For stopping the vehicle, a combination of an offset blown parachute plus four stabilizer wing flaps are used, and for low speed stopping are Airheart spot disc brakes. To finish off this ultra sonic design, the color is 40 coats of transformation in a turbine fire effect flame of pearl and fire frost flakes from a white pearl nose into a translucent yellow into an after-burning orange finishing off into fire red.

The story goes that it was tested but never actually made a pass down a dragway – it had a catastrophic engine failure before it even got to the burnout box!

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The seller doesn’t go into much detail in the listing – but then, they almost don’t need to. The pictures tell us the general story, and information and articles about this insane machine are all over the web. All one needs to do is search “Turbo Sonic” on one’s preferred internet search-engine.

In my research of this vehicle, I found quite a lot of information, including a section in David Fetherston’s book about Barris Kustoms from the ’60s,  this 2016 video from MotoeXotica and some from when it sold at a Barrett-Jackson a few years ago. That sale listing says that it was restored in 2013 but didn’t run at the time of that sale. Full disclosure: I had to snag a few pictures from the Barrett-Jackson listing for this article, as the current seller’s pictures leave quite a bit to be desired.

I personally love the idea behind this thing and dream of someday owning an authentic piece of Automotive history like this. When I win the lottery, I will definitely consider this for my “collection”, how about YOU?


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  1. Grandpa Lou

    Interesting, but man oh man, so dangerous!

    Like 5
  2. Dave, Aust

    Makes a Yaris look even more boring

    Like 2
  3. 86_Vette_Convertible

    That’s a museum only vehicle IMO. It still looks good but totally impractical other than as a coffee table.

    Like 7

    Like an old gun that you can never shoot. It’s nothing more than a wall hanger. Looking for a large opener for a piece of art on wheels.

    Like 1
  5. jerry z

    Wasn’t this restore by the Guild in Canada on an episode of Restoration Garage? Nice lawn art in a museum of course.

    Like 5
    • canadainmarkseh Member

      Yes it was the guild that restored it. They have a high standard of quality reputation. And yes there was an episode about this restoration.

      Like 2
  6. 71FXSuperGlide

    Wow, now that is a unique find!

    Barris was quite a character and his legacy on the car hobby will live on.

    Like 1
  7. Rick Rothermel

    George’s hyperbole in his vehicle descriptions was at times amazing. i Seriously doubt this thing ever turned a wheel outside a trailer bringing it to a car show. I worked with GB for a while in the ’80s, learned a lot…
    This car and many more were sold at a huge auction in 1984, IIRC 100+ of his and others creations were auctioned, some offloaded for pocket change.

    Like 2
  8. Johnmloghry Johnmloghry Member

    To bad the engine didn’t work out, it would have been cool to know if it could have reached the 300 mph. Gas turbine engines never really worked out very well. A lot of money was spent trying to develop them with very little success. Jay Leno has one, that can be seen on video, heat being a big problem.
    This car has great eye appeal, it’s actually a piece of art. It should be kept pristine.
    God bless America

    Like 3
  9. Danh

    40 coats?? Today that would equal 40 cars.

    Like 2
  10. BR

    I’m thinking the catastrophic failure was the V-drive gear reduction or the use of a conventional differential. 8,000 wheel r/m seems insane.

  11. Patrick Huot

    Great to look at. Just the thing to attract attention at a show. All of us “vintage snowmobilers” know about turbos. In the sensational 70’s all the sled companies built these sort of vehicles for speed records (and publicity). Arctic Cat built the Boss Cat in I believe 1971. Theirs was turbo powered also. While attending a competition in Boonville, NY it blew up! 2 others were built after, but non-turbo powered. Just google “The Boss Cat” on bosscatlegacy.com
    There’s even a video of it there in action and on youtube.
    Hail to the great George Barris!!

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