Barney Korn: Tether Car Craftsman
14 artifacts in this set
Bernard Barney Korn was born in Los Angeles, California, in 1903. His talents were evident from an early age. Korn built this elaborate water-cooled model engine while in his high school shop class. The engine features overhead valves operated by a chain-driven camshaft.
Korn honed his skills partly by working as a machinist for aviation innovator Howard Hughes, whose organization he joined in 1924. As tether cars became more popular, Korn formed B.B. Korn Specialty Manufacturing Company in 1939. The "Meteor" was Korn's first – and rarest – production model. Only 18 examples are believed to have been made.
Korn built this working dynamometer to test his models. Essentially, it was a treadmill for engines that allowed a car's drive wheels to spin while the car itself remained stationary. Korn's dynamometer measured the power and torque of the .60-cubic inch engine as delivered to the drive wheels. The machine was adjustable for rear or front-wheel drive models.
Barney Korn began producing his "Indianapolis" model in 1940. Handsome and well proportioned, the "Indianapolis" was based on real Indianapolis 500 race cars of the time. It was a big model, with a 13-inch wheelbase and an overall length that topped 20 inches. This example has an aluminum body and a working compass in its dashboard.
Korn is believed to have produced just 66 "Indianapolis" cars in total. Most featured rear-wheel drivetrains, and most used aluminum bodies. About 10 of Korn's "Indianapolis" cars were built with lightweight magnesium bodies, frames, and axles instead. When materials became scarce during World War II, Korn mixed and matched aluminum and magnesium components as needed.
Barney Korn hand-carved these wood bucks to cast molds for the frames, drivetrains, and bodies used in production of his company's "Indianapolis" models.
This is one of the molds that Korn produced from wood bucks like those seen above. It shaped the front cowling, cockpit area, and rear end of an "Indianapolis" model's body.
Budget-conscious tether car customers might choose one of Korn's "Indianapolis 29" models instead. Everything about the "29" series was smaller: the .29-cubic inch engines (hence the name), the dimensions, and the price tags.
The buyer could save more money by purchasing an unassembled "Indianapolis 29" kit instead of a fully assembled car. It was up to the buyer to finish the rough edges of the balsa wood body – and to purchase the engine separately.
Most tether car owners raced their models – either against the clock while tethered to a central pivot, or against each other on a scaled-down track. Large size and superb detail – qualities evident in Barney Korn's "Indianapolis" models – weren’t necessarily compatible with high speeds. This promotional model wasn’t meant for racing in any event – it lacks an engine and drivetrain.
Korn's cars weren't just slower, they were more expensive. They often cost twice as much as comparable models from other manufacturers. Poor sales made the B.B. Korn Manufacturing Company unsustainable, and it closed just a few years after its founding.
Barney Korn went on to make special effects models for films like To Please a Lady – a 1950 racing movie starring Clark Gable. He even built some improved versions of his original tether cars in the early 1980s. Korn died in 1996, but his craftsmanship survives. Replica Korn cars are readily available today, and originals are highly prized by collectors.