The Eddie Munster Chain Bike, as it looked in 1965.
"The Munsters" was a television comedy series that wason the air from 1964 to '66.The show was centered on the life of a middle-class American family whose members resembled famous movie monsters like Frankenstein and Dracula. The Munster family lived in a spooky old mansion, had a fire-breathing dragon under the staircase, and a laboratory in the basement for their "Grandpa". In 1964 hot rods and customized cars were all the rage in California, and the producers of the show approached George Barris "King of the Kustomizers" to build them a wild vehicle that would serve as the Munster's family car.
The Barris kustom shop took on the challenge and came up with a far-out spooky hot rod for the show. It was made with three fiberglass Model-T bodies joined together on an extended frame. It featured all manner of spooky visual additions like coffin-handle adornments and spider web accents; along with a souped-up V8 engine and mag wheels. Dubbed the "Munster Koach", it became famous in its own right, along with another vehicle made by the George Barris studios called "Dragula" which was a dragster sporting a coffin body. The Munsters and their spooky hot rods were wildly popular with the public throughout North America, and would eventually gain fans around the world through television re-runs.
The Chain Bike was a spooky kustom machine, just like the coffin bodied "Dragula" and "Munster Koach" seen here.
Butch Patrick, the talented sixties child star who portrayed Eddie Munster.
At one point during the show's run George Barris came up with the idea that 11-year-old Butch Patrick- who played the series' youngest character "Eddie Munster"- should also have a kustom-styled machine to ride around on. Barris thought it would be a fun thing to do for Butch especially since the two of them got along so well together during his visits to the set. Butch was even invited by George to come over to the Barris kustom shop, where he was free to wander around and check out all the new projects.
George's idea to make a kustom for Butch's character "Eddie Munster" seemed like a great idea, especially since the Barris- made "Koach" and "Dragula" cars had been worth their weight in gold for appeal and publicity. This time around, though, it wasn't going to be a spooky kustom car that would be made,
but a spooky "kustom bicycle". The bike that Barris proposed was not going to be any ordinary pedal-powered machine either, it was going be extraordinary. His expert team of specialists would see to that. A kustom bicycle for "Eddie Munster" had the potential to generate some good publicity; so, Barris gave the green light for the project to begin.
After Barris finalized the basic design concept it was decided that the main fabrication duties would be overseen by one of the shop's most talented employees- Skip Barrett. The bike's general specifications would be based around the popular 20-inch "high-rise" bikes available at the time, the Schwinn Stingray to be specific.
The outstanding feature of "Eddie's" kustom bike would be its frame - which would be completely hand-made from lengths of welded steel chain, using Stingray frame tubes as a template. Of course some original Stingray frame components were used on the build, like the head tube, bottom bracket shell, rear dropouts, and a few inches of the seat post tube.
The legendary Von Dutch (Kenny Howard), in the mid-'60's. Von Dutch along with Skip Barrett shared the fabrication responsibilities for the Barris Chain Bike project.
After getting the OK from Barris, Skip Barrett contacted the well-known fabricator and pin-striper Von Dutch, to see if he could do some of the fabrication work for the project. Von Dutch had done various jobs for the Barris shop over the years and seemed like the kind of guy who might be interested in an unusual project. Curiously, Von Dutch found the Eddie Munster chain bike project quite interesting, and immediately decided to sign onto the task of fabricating the chain link frame himself. Skip could not have been more pleased. In fact (as it turned out) the bike's fabrication eventually wound up being a total collaborative effort between the two men.
The fork used on the Munster chain bike was a stock "Schwinn" unit, like the ones found on the Stingray "Super/Deluxe" model, (but with the chrome truss rods removed), and featured a small tassel hung off the spring bolt next to the rubber bumper.
The wheels were standard Stingray size (20") with the rear sporting a "Sturmey-Archer" 3-speed hub (probably a S.A. "TriCoaster" model) controlled by a S.A. 3-speed trigger shifter mounted to the seat post.
The bike is currently owned by a Munster aficionado in the American West. This photo shows the main paint scheme of the bike, which is gold in color. Some of the original equipment- like the antique lights and Plexiglas windshield are now missing; they appear to have been removed at some point during the '60s.
Once the Chain Bike was completed George Barris took photos of it for documentation purposes.
The handlebars were standard "Wald" high-rise type, with a crossbar installed to serve as a mount for an antique bicycle lamp. A clear round "Plexiglas" windshield was mounted to the upper front section of the handlebars, and featured a spider web design- complete with spider. Arcing at the top of this windscreen was the hand-painted letters of Eddie's name. Finishing off the handlebars were bright red Schwinn-type handle grips with tassels used for streamers, and a small looping bulb horn.
The seat was a plush banana-type featuring black coffin-style upholstery and a decorative band of gold-colored trim running along its lower edge. The sissy bar started off as stock 36-inch "Bill Mathews Corporation" unit, which was factory-made with a bent-back rounded top and a metal ring welded on about 8 inches above the seat mount holes. Von Dutch then gave it some additional metal work. Decorative elements were welded onto the tubes to give it an ornamental "creeping vine" type of effect- finished off with a coating of gold paint- the Chain Bike's sissy bar was as wild as any seen on a chopper motorcycle. Mounted behind the seat was an antique brass tail lamp complete with a red lens. Finally, rounding off the rear of the bike was a chrome plated "Bill Mathews Corporation" nerf bar, similar in style to push bars seen on hot rods and dragsters, the nerf bar was bolt-mounted to the bottom axle holes of the sissy bar and covered the rear tire at the 10 o'clock position.
Here is a curious Chain Bike story I stumbled upon; it's from an entertainment column published in 1965. It states that Butch Patrick had an accident on the bike when he was riding it on the Universal lot, and that he wound up at a first aid station.
Rattling around at Universal Studios
When all these elements were put together it resulted in one of the wildest kustom bicycles made up to that point in time. Unfortunately, the bike never appeared in any episodes of the Munsters TV show. But as long as the series was being filmed, Butch Patrick had exclusive use of the chain bike to explore the back lots of Universal Studios. Between takes Butch would sometimes ride around on the bike in full costume- delighting everybody who saw him, and (supposedly) he even crashed the Chain Bike on at least one occasion.
Kids who watched the "Munsters" in the 1960s never got to see Eddie's chain bike, and only a few insiders knew anything about the chain bike story until about ten years ago. Luckily, the bike itself has survived, along with a couple of vintage snapshots and a few documentation photos taken by Barris after the bike was completed. The main reason we know of the bike today is because a bicycle magazine (Lowrider Bicycle) ran an article on it back in the late 1990s, they managed to locate a few old photos of the chain bike and then speculated on what its significance was, effectively creating an origin myth for the lowrider bicycle movement.
A rare photo of Butch Patrick posing for a publicity shot on the Chain Bike. Butch always hoped that the bike would be written into a Munsters episode, but it was not to be.
The Chain bike's hand-painted sign made by Von Dutch and displayed with the bike at Jim Brucker's "Movie World Cars of the Stars Museum" in California. Von Dutch worked at the museum during the time the bike went on display. He credits Skip Barrett as the fabricator but does not mention himself. The story portion of the sign was just for fun, and did not equate to anything that was on the actual TV show. The sign was sold at auction when the museum eventually closed.
The chain bike as it exists today, side view.
George Barris standing next to his
"Munster Koach". George came up with the idea to make a kustom bicycle for the character of Eddie Munster, and then orchestrated the bike's design and creation.
A larger version of Barris' documentation photo of the finished Munster Chain Bike, to show more detail.
The Eddie Munster Chain Bike is a ghost of the past. It was (and is) a true kustom bicycle made within the hot rod and chopper sensibilities of the mid 1960's. Young Butch Patrick received the most enjoyment from the bike's creation. He fondly remembers the great times he had riding the bike around Universal studios, and the warm friendship he had with the "Kustom King" George Barris.
The Chain Bike Survives
Barris eventually sold the bike a few years after the Munsters series stopped production. It wound up on display at Jim Brucker's "Movieworld- Cars of the Stars" museum in California (where Von Dutch worked) sometime before 1973- and was eventually sold at auction in 1985. The bike has had a few different owners over the years, and is presently in the collection of a Munster aficionado living in the American West. Although the bike is still essentially intact, it is now missing its windshield, head and tail lamps, and rear nerf bar. It appears that these parts were taken off the chain bike sometime in the late 1960's.
I had the great pleasure of meeting George Barris and his son Brett at a large outdoor car show last summer. Through my conversation with George I was able to clear up a few of the missing pieces in the Munster Chain bike story.
I want to thank George and Brett for taking the time to answer a few of the many bike-related questions I had.
Also, the word from Brett is that a fantastic new book is coming out soon on the life and kustom creations of George Barris, and will feature a whole section on his father's bicycle work done in the late 1960s. Now that's front page news! John Brain