One of the world’s most famous showcars has returned from the dead

One of the world’s most storied show cars has returned from a deep slumber, gracing the 2019 Geneva Motor Show with its presence after sitting in a garage for 50 years. The car in question is called the Golden Sahara II, and those old enough to remember it can attest to its showstopping qualities. The Golden Sahara II was, in many ways, ahead of its time. Designed by the famed Hollywood car customizer George Barris for businessman Jim Street, the 1953 Lincoln Capri-based show car was conceived as a futuristic dream machine when it burst into the custom car circuit in the 1950s. The Golden Sahara II became a celebrity in its own right, appearing in numerous TV shows and movies, including the Jerry Lewis movie, Cinderfella. Then, just as quickly as it shot to fame, the Golden Sahara II vanished as Street tucked it away in a garage and left it there for 50 years. It wasn’t until last year that the Golden Sahara II reemerged from hiding, appearing at the Mecum auctions where it looked worse for wear after a half-a-century in slumber. Despite its condition, the Golden Sahara II still sold for an impressive $350,000 to Chicago-area collector Larry Klairmont, who, after purchasing the car, proceeded to give it the restoration of a lifetime. The car that sat at the 2019 Geneva Motor Show alongside the Ferrari F8 Tributo and the Koenigsegg Jesko is the product of that restoration.

Exterior

  • Started life as a 1953 Lincoln Capri
  • Turned into the Golden Sahara before becoming the Golden Sahara II
  • Split bubble roof
  • Gold-dyed aluminum, satin, and crushed fish scales
1953 Golden Sahara II
- image 831214

The history of the Golden Sahara II is as fascinating as it is unbelievable, at least if you’re the type who doesn’t believe happenstance. The showcar actually didn’t come to life in its current form.

It initially was a 1953 Lincoln Capri that was owned and restyled by none other than George Barris of Barris Kustoms fame.

The celebrated Hollywood custom car builder used the Capri as his daily driver until a car crash decimated the Capri beyond recognition. Instead of writing off the wrecked vehicle, Barris salvaged the remaining usable parts of the car and rebuilt it for a man named Jim Skonzakes, who many in the auto world know as Jim Street.

And so, the original Golden Sahara was born.

1953 Golden Sahara II
- image 831210

It’s hard to come up with the right word to properly describe the Golden Sahara. “Ostentatious” comes to mind, but I’m not opposed to using “flamboyant” or “extravagant” either. However you want to describe it, the Golden Sahara was a car of its era. It was a car from an era where bubble-topped roofs, round fenders, and jet turbine-inspired lighting configurations were considered norms, not oddities.

The Golden Sahara belonged, thanks to massive fenders that extended almost the entire length of the vehicle.

The set of taillights took an odd shape. The rear also housed a molded-in tire cover that looked like the Ford Nucleon, except that the latter configuration was actually a mini nuclear reactor. Gold-dyed aluminum and satin were used to dress up the outlandish exterior, though, at that time, the Golden Sahara actually looked more civilized, at least compared to aforementioned Nucleon, the Cadillac Cyclone, and the Lincoln Futura, which went on to become Adam West’s Batmobile. True story.

Not long after the Golden Sahara was born — five years, in fact — Skonzakes decided to make updates to his car. That led to the Golden Sahara becoming the Golden Sahara II.

1953 Golden Sahara II
- image 831204

It’s hard to really know where the Golden Sahara ended and where the Golden Sahara II started. What matters at this point is that the latter turned out to be more outrageous than its predecessor. The car’s design became even more pompous and bombastic.

The vehicle’s gold body, for example, was repainted in pearlescent white paint that was allegedly created using crushed fish scales.

The Golden Sahara II still featured enough gold trim to blind people who saw it under the sun. The split bubble roof remained as well. The twin tail fins fitted around the taillights were actually taken from a 1954 Kaiser Manhattan. Speaking of sourced materials, the futuristic pre-production wraparound windscreen was sourced from the Lincoln-Mercury dealer parts department and was completed with a glistening gold surround. Likewise, the Golden Sahara II was not immune to the occasional novelty and easter egg. The trunk, for example, had no traditional button or lever to open it. It opens when you twist the license plate. Up front, the headlights, parking lights, and bullet-like bumpers combined to make one arrangement.

1953 Golden Sahara II
- image 831219

The Golden Sahara II was eye-popping in ways similar to most concept cars of that time. Today, it carries with a time capsule-like nostalgia of a time where there became no limits to the industry’s imagination.

Interior

  • Refrigerator with a cocktail bar
  • Mounted TV set and hi-fi radio
  • Tape recorder between the seats
  • Fancy leather materials
  • Rug with two-inch padding
1953 Golden Sahara II
- image 831208

I honestly don’t know where to start with the interior of the Golden Sahara II. I suppose I can start with the curved rear seat that was actually built around a refrigeration unit that came with its own cocktail bar.

Up front, there’s a TV set mounted in the central console, a golden telephone because why not, and a two-way stereophonic radio mounted just below them.

Just between the front seats in something that resembled a pigeon-hole was a reel-to-reel tape recorder, which was included for reasons that I’m still not sure of. But that was the norm at that time.

When it came to the Golden Sahara II, nothing was too ridiculous to the imagination. Even the surface of the interior was made from materials that would make Rolls-Royce blush. Ever heard of Golden frieze and white Naugahyde? No? Me, neither.

Apparently, it’s a mixture of white leatherette sections combined with gold brocade cloth, a material sourced from Glen Hauser of the Carson Top Shop.

These materials were used to cover the seats, dashboard, and side panels. The outrageous details don’t end there. The car’s interior trim was gold-plated and the floor mats came in the form of a white and beige milk rug with two-inch padding.

1953 Golden Sahara II
- image 831211

If you thought the Golden Sahara II’s interior looked like the world’s smallest hotel room, you wouldn’t be wrong. It was that fancy.

Drivetrain

  • Promise of autonomous driving technology
  • 1953 Lincoln Capri came with a 90-degree V-8 engine
  • 225 horsepower
1953 Golden Sahara II
- image 831204

For all the talk about the Golden Sahara II’s design, very little was actually mentioned about what kind of powertrain it used.

Since the one-off shower traces its roots to a 1953 Lincoln Capri, the original Golden Sahara, and the Golden Sahara could’ve been powered by the Capri’s Lincoln 90 degree V-8 engine that produced 225 horsepower.

But since the vehicle was created as a showcase vehicle from an era where jet turbines, propulsion technology, and even compact nuclear reactors were considered the future of automotive powertrains, the Sahara II wasn’t immune from all the absurdity that became prevalent because of all the atomic-age optimism permeating throughout the industry.

1953 Golden Sahara II
- image 831212

In many ways, the Golden Sahara II’s actual powertrain didn’t matter as much as the technologies it promoted. And on that note, the Golden Sahara II touted a lot of state-of-the-art technologies, a lot of which are actually just starting to bear fruit today. Perhaps it’s fitting that the Golden Sahara II resurfaced just last year. As the automotive world starts to venture into new frontiers of electrification and autonomous technology, one of the cars that predicted the future 50 years ago has come back to see that future finally come to life.

Technology

1953 Golden Sahara II
- image 831216

Autonomous driving technology. Jet propulsion. An airplane-like control yoke. Start-stop buttons. The Golden Sahara II had these technologies in some form or fashion. It also had none of them at the same time.

As fancy and futuristic as it looked, it was the technologies the Golden Sahara II tried to envision 50 years ago that makes it feel like a time-travelling car from two different eras.

It featured autonomous driving technology back then, but it wasn’t really autonomous. Instead, it came with a remote control that could start or stop the engine, open the doors, and accelerate and brake the car. It also featured a pair of short antennas integrated into the front end that automatically hit the brakes if they detected an obstacle in the car’s path. Does that system sound familiar these days? The Golden Sahara II even featured a primitive level of voice control, which oddly enough has turned into the go-to technological advancement of the last few years.

1953 Golden Sahara II
- image 831220

Perhaps nothing encapsulated the Golden Sahara II’s eye towards the future more than the set of tires it sat on.

Tire maker Goodyear was involved in the development of the Golden Sahara II 50 years ago, thanks in part to a set of translucent tires made of a synthetic rubber called Neothane.

In so many words, the tires lighted up when a vehicle was under braking or in the middle of bad weather. It also featured crystal hubcaps that doubled as turn signals. Nothing came out of that specific Goodyear tire concept — not yet, at least — but the technology it tried to develop served as a perfect microcosm of the car itself. Nothing was too bold or too outlandish for the Golden Sahara II, even if it seemed that way back in the 1950s.

Final Thoughts

1953 Golden Sahara II
- image 831201

It remains a mystery why Jim Street tucked the Golden Sahara II in his garage in the late 1960s…and left it there for the next 50 years. No one knew where it was. No one had success finding it. For almost 50 years, many people assumed that the Golden Sahara II had been destroyed, cut up for parts, or might have returned to its original alien owners. It wasn’t until his death in 2017 that the Golden Sahara reappeared, looking every bit like a car that hadn’t seen the sun in almost five decades. Incredibly, the car still fetched a staggering sum of $350,000 at a Mecum auction last year. Car collector Larry Klairmont paid that sum to take ownership of the car, and after buying the Golden Sahara II, he commissioned Chicago-based Speakeasy Custom & Classics to rebuild the car back to its former glory.

The restoration was completed in February 2019, which gave Klairmont enough time to bring it to the 2019 Geneva Motor Show where, just like old times, it stole the show.

Talk about making up for lost time, right?

  • Leave it
    • Still a concept
    • Can’t move fast, if it can at all
    • The TV on the dash is still, presumably, black and white
What do you think?
Show Comments
Car Finder: