Before There Was Tesla, There Was the Self-Driving Golden Sahara

Created in the '50s, this custom car counts the Munster Koach and the original Batmobile as cousins.

March 22, 2018 5:00 am
The Golden Sahara II (Mecum)
The Golden Sahara II (Mecum)

If we started waxing poetic about a self-driving car with an aerodynamic body, dashboard television and automatic braking system, you’d assume we were talking about one of Elon Musk’s Teslas.

And you’d be wrong.

That’s because the vehicle we’d actually be extolling the virtues of is George Barris’ Golden Sahara.

The Golden Sahara II (Mecum)

Best known for building custom cars like the Munster Koach and the original Batmobile, Barris was commissioned to give a totaled 1953 Lincoln Capri new life by infamous collector Jim Skonzakes, aka Jim Street.

Outfitted with a backseat packing a built-in refrigerator, cocktail bar and mink carpeting, and a dashboard boasting a TV reel-to-reel player and radio, Barris’ creation was named the Golden Sahara thanks to a two-tone finish featuring 24-karat gold in place of chrome.

Designed to get attention, the Golden Sahara didn’t disappoint and landed on the cover of the May issue of Motor Trend in 1955 alongside the nickname “The $25,000 Custom.”

That wasn’t enough for notoriety for Street, so he commissioned $50,000 worth of automotive adjustments to be made on the car the following year. Those improvements included the addition of an automatic braking system connected to antennas, glow-in-the-dark tires and an electronic control system that enabled the car to be operated via voice commands or remote control.

The Golden Sahara II (Mecum)

In addition to earning the $75,000 vehicle the designation of being the most expensive car of its time, those additions effectively classified the car as autonomous since it technically didn’t need a driver.

The aptly named “Golden Sahara II” quickly found mass exposure by appearing in the 1960 Jerry Lewis vehicle “Cinderfella” and on an episode of “I’ve Got a Secret” in 1962, and then, just as quickly, disappeared from the public eye and into Street’s garage.

The Golden Sahara II (Mecum)

That’s where it’s been for past 50-odd years – but that’s not where the Golden Sahara II is going to stay.

Gone but not forgotten for more than five decades, the virtually untouched Golden Sahara II will be available for public viewing from May 15-19 at the Indiana State Fairgrounds in Indianapolis before crossing the block at Mecum’s 31st Original Spring Classic Auction.

The Golden Sahara II (Mecum)

Mecum hasn’t offered any estimates about what the custom car will go for, but we’re guessing it’ll be a good deal more than $75,000.

(Bond girl not included.)

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