This was the car of the future long ago…
While many think we’re just lightyears ahead of what anyone thought a car could be back in the 1950s, the Golden Sahara and Golden Sahara II fly in the face of that theory. Not only were both cars completely over-the-top when it came to styling, they were pushing some rather advanced technologies that might blow your mind.
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George Barris built the original Golden Sahara, transforming a crashed 1953 Lincoln Capri into a highly advanced masterpiece. As you might already know, Barris is famous for having created the 1966 Batmobile and other crazy television cars, but this build might be his Michelangelo. With work commencing in 1953, Barris and his team went all-out. Thoroughly changed from the source vehicle the new body sported a wrap-around windshield, half-bubble top, and 4 tail fins. They ground up fish scales and mixed them into the paint for the perfect pearlescent look. Gold-plate trim pieces were added for that extra wow factor, a move which most definitely worked. As many have rightly observed, it looks quite a bit like the Batmobile Barris designed for the Batman TV series, only it’s not black.
So many of the features of Barris’ Golden Sahara were incredible. For example, to access the trunk one had to twist the rear license plate. The interior featured white Naugahyde and Golden frieze upholstery, shag rug floor coverings with a 2-inch pad, and golden trim pieces. There was a refrigerator in the curved backseat, as well as a cocktail bar. A TV was mounted in the dash with a hi-fi radio below it. nestled between the driver and front passenger seats was a built-in tape recorder.
More famous was the Golden Sahara II. Built at the Delphos Machine and Tool shop in Dayton, Ohio in 1956 by car collector Jim Street, the man poured a whopping $75,000 into the project. That’s about $700,000 when you adjust for inflation, showing just how serious the man was about building tomorrow’s car.
The doors on the Golden Sahara II electronically opened. A vibrating massage seat was installed. There was mink carpeting for added luxuriousness. A telephone was installed but didn’t work, however it signaled how Street and others believed one day we would all be making calls from our vehicles.
Instead of turn signals integrated into the side mirrors, the car had them embedded in the wheels. A control yoke similar to what you find in an airplane allowed the driver to steer, brake, and accelerate the Golden Sahara II. There was also a remote control which would start or stop the engine, open the doors, and even manage acceleration or braking, but apparently not steering. What’s more, antennas embedded in the bumpers would detect if the car was going to hit something, automatically applying the brakes.
The most stunning visual element of the Golden Sahara was the translucent tires custom-made by Goodyear. During a time when Americans were optimistic about solving all kinds of problems, the tire company was experimenting with the idea of tires which lit up during bad weather, making vehicles more visible. Another idea was that the tires would light up whenever the driver pressed on the brake pedal. Turbo fan-style wheels just accentuated the exotic look of the car, and with such an over-the-top design they fit right in.
Street toured the Golden Sahara II all over the United States with the press whipping people up into a frenzy about the car, as if that were really necessary. It quickly became one of the most popular automobiles in the United States and that fame spread to other parts of the world.
Then the Golden Sahara II suddenly disappeared in the 1960s and many wondered if Street had chopped it up or done something else dramatic. No answers were given about the famous car until Street died in 2018. The vehicle was just parked at his home in Ohio and needed a full restoration. Klairmont Kollections scooped the Golden Sahara II up at auction for $385,000. As you can see in the video tour of the car, it’s been gussied up again so everyone can enjoy the genius of the forward-thinking design