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May 21, 2018

By: Jonathan

CARS

Vanished 50+ Years, Legendary Golden Sahara Sold This Past Weekend

The age of The Golden Sahara has long past as technology changes faster than these keys can be punched, but of a generation which had survived the Great Depression and won WWII the Golden Sahara embodied for them all the hope and potential of that new era.

The brainchild of misfortune, an engine failure and ultimately an accident, originally got George Barris thinking about a concept car, but it would take his team, Billy De Carr, and James Skonzakes or Jim Street as he was more commonly known. Barris and De Carr would become the visionaries and builder while Street would take on the role of money man and while no role was particularly easy, Street would find himself putting in $25,000, or over $200,000 today, into the first iteration of the car.

Completed and taken on tour in 1954 the car featured 24K gold in place of chrome, mink carpeting and technology like, “television in the dash, radio, tape recorder and even a refrigerated cocktail lounge in the rear.” The car became an overnight phenomenon and tour until 1956. It was at that time that Street decided to make some changes, changes that would result in The Golden Sahara II and it’s $75,000 all in, or $687,000 and some change today, cost.

Modification after modification which is so in depth and, frankly out there, it’s best described by its Mecum listing:

Delphos Machine and Tool shop out of Dayton, Ohio, to take the car to the next level. Bob Metz took the lead on the rework, altering the windshield, hood and roof, and adding stacked quad headlights with frosted covers. Further gold plating was added to the sides of the fenders, and the car was fitted with new twin-V tail fins and new bumperettes. Jim Rote was brought into the mix to design an electronic control system for the car that would allow for a plethora of steering options, including manual or standard (the steering wheel for which was completely removable—column and all), pushbutton steering on both the driver and passenger side, and a centered uni-control lever (like in an aircraft) that could also regulate acceleration and braking. An automatic braking unit using antennas as sensors to “look” for things in the car’s path was installed in the front bumperettes, and the wheels were made with glass portions that lit up and acted as turn signals, while the tires boasted a revolutionary rubber compound developed by Goodyear that allowed them to actually glow in the dark.

The electronic control system also included voice control and a remote that could open the doors as well as start and kill the engine; the same remote could even compel the car to accelerate and brake—effectively categorizing the car as autonomous, with no need for a driver.

Again, the car became a pop culture phenomenon until the late 1960s when it abruptly disappeared. No, it did not do so as the result of some new feature, but rather Street just parked. Parked it would remain in his garage until it returned to the public arena where it brought in the 9th higest dollar amount at Mecum Indy, selling for $385,000.

[Photography courtesy of Mecum Auctions.]

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