Thursday, November 24, 2011

Travolta Fever!

Travolta Fever Firebird. 
Back in the flashy disco era of the late '70s, extra-wide bias-ply tires and even-wider fender flares was all the rage, especially when a pronounced decal kit covered the car. The King of the Kustoms, George Barris--the master of defining and then riding the wave of trends--modified many cars of the era.The General Lee Charger, Farrah's Foxy Vette, and even a golf cart designed for Bob Hope were all vehicles that rolled out of his shop during this era.

The Travolta Fever is one of six or seven similarly styled Firebirds that received the disco-era treatment at Barris' shop.At least one of them saw movie duty as the "hip" ride for Steve Martin in the movie "The Jerk" Another of the original cars, a solid blue version, was traded by John Travoltas' agent for a conversion van at a Dodge dealer where he was employed in Santa Barbara, California, in 1979.

The Travolta Fever Firebird seen here was built as the full-scale version of the 1/24-scale model kit offered by Revell in 1979 as a cooperative effort between the company, George Barris, and John Travolta. The full-scale version varied slightly from the kit in small details, such as the factory air extractor on the front fender added to the model and the model's tires were Firestones rather than the Mohawks on the real car.

The full-size car was equipped with parts supplied by various manufacturers who were at the forefront in that era and had contracts with Barris, including the Mohawk tires, Western Wheels, Cyclone exhaust and Recaro seats. After a short time of being shown on the West Coast, the car made its way to the Midwest, where it was leased from Barris by another renowned customizer and promoter, Darryl Starbird.

It was at this time that the interior of the car was changed from the original Recaro interior to an Urban Cowboy theme, which was the rage at the time and also coordinated with John Travolta and his prominent role in the movie. It is the interior that remains in the car today.

Interestingly, Barris hadn't seen the car for quite a while and, as we headed from the airport to the photo shoot location, he asked whether the Urban Cowboy cabin was still intact. Mike Standifer, of Kansas, handled the stitching of the Urban Cowboy interior (identified through a label still visible inside the car). Twenty seven years after its completion, we reached him by phone. He told us he covered the seating surfaces with real cowhide that retained the hair from the animal. It was a masterful job of recovering the dash, with all its complex curves, and also added a very detailed cowboy riding a mechanical bull on the center of the rear seat.

The truly unique detail of the interior is the saddle that surrounds the original Pontiac shifter. Starbird told us it had been used by one of his daughters, which she had outgrown for her pony. So yes, it is a real saddle that forms the console.

After traveling the show circuit for a season' which consisted of approximately 15 shows on the ISCA circuit, the car was returned to California and George Barris. It is at this point that the story becomes a mystery:Barris' states that the last time he saw the car prior to our photo shoot was in late 1983, when it was sold at a movie lot auction, by Rick Cole, with other Barris' cars--including the Firebird from "The Jerk".

Certainly, the '70s was an era like no other and George Barris had a knack for taking the pulse of time and transforming it into steel. The Travolta Fever Firebird is a time machine, really-a "Way Back" machine that provides a snapshot of pop culture conveyed in a Pontiac silhouette.

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