Golden Sahara II: The Holy Grail of Customs

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The Golden Sahara II 2019 SEMA Show Klairmont Kollection

The Golden Sahara II is back from oblivion. This rarest of the rare is above ground and it stole the show at SEMA this past Fall. The tale of the Golden Sahara II is really a tale of two outstanding customs. The Golden Sahara started as George Barris’ daily driver, a ’53 Lincoln Capri. After a car versus truck accident left the Capri a mangled ruin, Barris decided to dismantle the wreck and use it as the foundation for an “ambitious build”. Jim Skonzakes better known as Jim Street was a customer of Barris’. Upon hearing of the project he wanted in, and offered to the foot the bill “to get it off the ground”. And thus the seeds of Custom history were sown.

From tires to twin tail fins, the build was a complete overhaul. Everything new and everything over the top, the final product was the epitome of opulence. The flamboyantly designed Space Age stunner was an immediate show stopper. With a removable half bubble top, wrap-around windshield, quad tail fins and gold-plated trim parts, Barris and Street achieved their goal of making Golden Sahara look as futuristic as possible.

Despite the success for the Golden Sahara, Street felt there was room for improvement. In 1958, he invested an additional $75,000 transforming the car into a technological marvel. Referring to his newly christened Golden Sahara II as a “laboratory on wheels” the additions to the car were staggering considering it was 1958. Reputed to be the first autonomous car, Street could open the doors, start, accelerate and stop the engine with a remote control. A centered aircraftesque unitrol stick replaced the steering wheel. It controlled steering with side-to-side movement, as well as acceleration and braking by pulling forwards or pushing backwards. Push button controls mounted in the dash could also be used to control the steering, even from the passenger side. 

Working with an early concept of radar breaking and accident avoidance, Street had a pair of short antennas integrated into the front end which would automatically hit the brakes if they detected an obstacle in the car’s path. One last piece of Golden Sahara II folklore, Barris and his team pulverized fish scales and mixed them into the paint to give the Golden Sahara II  ‘true pearlescent’, adding yet another level of luxury to an already staggering vehicle.  It was more glitz, more glam, more over the top than had ever been seen. So much so that Hollywood came calling and the Custom sensation even made an appearance in the Jerry Lewis film “Cinderfella”.

Upon the completion of the Golden Sahara II, Goodyear saw the perfect vehicle for their latest innovation; translucent Neothane synthetic rubber tires. The tires were to light up in inclement weather, or when the driver applied the brakes. Although Neothane never really took off, the tires were the perfect compliment to the the Golden Sahara II. The car of the future needed tires of the future as well. Crystal hubcaps with integrated turn signals completed the look. When Goodyear heard of the Golden Sahara’s reemergence, they eagerly contributed to the restoration by recreating a set of urethane tires, to replicate the look of the original Neothane tires. The contemporary counterparts are equipped with LED lights. The hub-mounted turn signals are even functional again!

During the restoration process, cleaning was the only thing done to the interior. What you see is predominantly the original condition. White mink floor liner and all. During the initial build, no expense was spared. Lavish gold-plated trim accented the plush brocade and leatherette upholstery. Street’s “laboratory on wheels” sported many over the top accessories. Up front, there was an in dash TV, 2 way radio, gold telephone, and reel to reel tape recorder.  To reduce driver fatigue, a massage function was added to the front seats. In case a cocktail was needed on the fly,  a refrigerated mini bar was integrated into the back seat.

The styling on the Golden Sahara II is pure Custom genius.  The all-new jet age and the epitome of excess.

Street pulled the car out of the spotlight in the late 60’s. After the rare appearance at a car show or two in the 80’s, the Golden Sahara II evaporated into the ether and became the subject of countless urban legends. It had simply vanished, until Jim Street’s passing in late 2017. Soon thereafter, Golden Sahara II rolled through the Mecum auction blocks in May of 2018, complete but in rough shape. Purchased by the Chicago-based Klairmont Kollections for $385,000, Speakeasy Customs and Classics undertook the initial restoration. Goodyear was very eager to have the restoration debut at the Geneva International Motor Show. Although the restoration was completed in time for the Geneva debut, the car suffered significant damage in transit just days before the scheduled departure. Imagine the tie down straps coming loose and you can picture what happened in that shipping container.

Five days before the car was set to ship to Geneva, Phil Marotta of DANRR Auto Body was shown a picture of a badly damage Golden Sahara II. He was asked “do you want to fix this?” his swift reply was “yes!”  He jumped at the chance to be a part of the historical legacy of such an iconic car. Phil and team literally saved the day. They put in 20 hour days for five days straight repairing the damage. And repair it they did, finishing a mere three hours before the container arrived to take the car to Switzerland.

After a successful debut in Switzerland, the Golden Sahara II returned to DANRR Auto Body.  The team had a little over 5 months to get her majesty ready for the SEMA Show. It was painstakingly and precisely restored. From the gold plated bumperettes to razor sharp dual tail fins the DANRR team went over every inch of the car, they even pulled the motor.  Per the request of Mr. Klairmont though, they left interior pretty much as they found it, just a deep clean. Phil’s son Nick Marotta painted the car. Let’s just say after 3 coats of clear, he wet sanded it down with 2,000 then 3,000 then applied another coat of clear. Nick’s passion for his craft and respect for the heritage of the Golden Sahara II was greater than his desire profit. Pete Gibson did the majority of body work on the car. Another skilled craftsman, he went above and beyond blocking to car to perfection, resurrecting the smooth, crisp lines that had softened with age.  Their outstanding work coupled with the lore of the car stole the show at SEMA this year. The team considered it an honor to be part of the historical fabric of the Golden Sahara II and it most definitely shows in the final product.

Others have followed but there will be nothing like the Barris/Street vision of the Golden Sahara/Golden Sahara II.

There is so much detail to this Custom Sensation that we have a gallery of a hundred more shots for you total a look at. Head over to the Event Coverage Gallery and cast an eye at the marvel that is the Golden Sahara II

DANRR Auto Body is part of our Builders Nation. As you can see by the work done on the Golden Sahara this shop turns out amazing work. Check out their Builders Showroom.

Thank you Phil from DANRR Autobody for all the information and time contributing to this article. The historical pictures are courtesy of the World Wide Web: thank you Mecum, Haggerty, and AutoWeek.

The Klairmont Kollections consists of hundreds of outstanding classics from an original 1930’s Duesenberg, to a large group of micro-cars and now their latest addition, the Golden Sahara II. It is all housed under one roof, in a 100,000 square foot museum. Head over to their site and make plans to visit.

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If the Golden Sahara II isn’t a Show Stopper I don’t know what is! Head over to the Pony Girl Show Stopper Gallery and peruse the Gallery of stand outs. Like what you see? Sign up and you’ll never miss a single one.

Check out “Cinderfella” and you can see the Golden Sahara II in action.

Till the next time – Keep on Kruzin!