George Barris' Five Most Famous Cars

Did you watch TV at any time during the '60s, '70s or '80s?
Then you're probably familiar with George Barris' work. He worked on some of the most instantly recognizable vehicles that have ever graced the small screen. Though the Batmobile is probably his most famous piece, you're sure to recognize some of his other rides as well.

1. The Batmobile from the original Batman TV show. When Adam West needed something suitably superheroey to drive on the 1966 show, Barris was contacted to come up with something on the double. Given a time frame of a mere three weeks, Barris decided it would be much easier to customize an existing car than create something from scratch. He ended up using a Lincoln Futura he already had on hand from the 1959 movie It Started With a Kiss. The parachutes on the back really work - Barris once tested them on the Hollywood Freeway and was pulled over. Photo credit

2. The Munster Koach from The Munsters. Herman and Lily Munster's ride was actually made of three Model Ts. Once again, Barris was working on a pretty tight schedule - the studio gave him just three weeks to Frankenstein the car together, outfit the interior with blood-red velvet and create all of the exterior scrollwork by hand. By the way, should you ever find yourself driving this thing, leave plenty of room for turning corners: the Koach is 18 feet long. Barris' company also created Grandpa's DRAG-U-LA.

3. KITT from Knightrider. To be fair, it seems that Barris only worked on versions of KITT - specifically, the convertible and the Super-Pursuit KITT. Designer Michael Scheffe was responsible for the original.

4. The Beverly Hillbillies' jalopy. "I found a 1922 Ford at a feed store off Interstate 10 in Los Angeles that the owner had cut the back off and made a bed to haul hay," Barris said. "I bought it and fixed a place for Granny's rocking chair, and away it went."

5. "1928 Porter" from My Mother the Car. "Mom" wasn't a real Porter (a very small company that only made a handful of cars), but was actually a Model T Touring car with a Chevy V8 engine.
By the way, My Mother the Car was voted by viewers of the O'Reilly Factor as the worst show in the history of TV. If you've never heard of it, the opening and closing credits will speak volumes (and also give you a good look at Barris' work):

There's some bad blood in the custom car community, it seems - apparently many of them feel Barris takes credit for cars he didn't design, including the General Lee from The Dukes of Hazzard, the Monkeemobile from The Monkees and Black Beauty from The Green Hornet. The problem is that his company has created replicas of many of those famous cars to use at conventions and the like, and Barris doesn't seem to discourage anyone when they assume that he was the original designer. 

Begins and Ends: European Cities
Penn Vet Working Dog Center
Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
New Program Trains Dogs to Sniff Out Art Smugglers
Penn Vet Working Dog Center
Penn Vet Working Dog Center

Soon, the dogs you see sniffing out contraband at airports may not be searching for drugs or smuggled Spanish ham. They might be looking for stolen treasures.

K-9 Artifact Finders, a new collaboration between New Hampshire-based cultural heritage law firm Red Arch and the University of Pennsylvania, is training dogs to root out stolen antiquities looted from archaeological sites and museums. The dogs would be stopping them at borders before the items can be sold elsewhere on the black market.

The illegal antiquities trade nets more than $3 billion per year around the world, and trafficking hits countries dealing with ongoing conflict, like Syria and Iraq today, particularly hard. By one estimate, around half a million artifacts were stolen from museums and archaeological sites throughout Iraq between 2003 and 2005 alone. (Famously, the craft-supply chain Hobby Lobby was fined $3 million in 2017 for buying thousands of ancient artifacts looted from Iraq.) In Syria, the Islamic State has been known to loot and sell ancient artifacts including statues, jewelry, and art to fund its operations.

But the problem spans across the world. Between 2007 and 2016, U.S. Customs and Border Control discovered more than 7800 cultural artifacts in the U.S. looted from 30 different countries.

A yellow Lab sniffs a metal cage designed to train dogs on scent detection.
Penn Vet Working Dog Center

K-9 Artifact Finders is the brainchild of Rick St. Hilaire, the executive director of Red Arch. His non-profit firm researches cultural heritage property law and preservation policy, including studying archaeological site looting and antiquities trafficking. Back in 2015, St. Hilaire was reading an article about a working dog trained to sniff out electronics that was able to find USB drives, SD cards, and other data storage devices. He wondered, if dogs could be trained to identify the scents of inorganic materials that make up electronics, could they be trained to sniff out ancient pottery?

To find out, St. Hilaire tells Mental Floss, he contacted the Penn Vet Working Dog Center, a research and training center for detection dogs. In December 2017, Red Arch, the Working Dog Center, and the Penn Museum (which is providing the artifacts to train the dogs) launched K-9 Artifact Finders, and in late January 2018, the five dogs selected for the project began their training, starting with learning the distinct smell of ancient pottery.

“Our theory is, it is a porous material that’s going to have a lot more odor than, say, a metal,” says Cindy Otto, the executive director of the Penn Vet Working Dog Center and the project’s principal investigator.

As you might imagine, museum curators may not be keen on exposing fragile ancient materials to four Labrador retrievers and a German shepherd, and the Working Dog Center didn’t want to take any risks with the Penn Museum’s priceless artifacts. So instead of letting the dogs have free rein to sniff the materials themselves, the project is using cotton balls. The researchers seal the artifacts (broken shards of Syrian pottery) in airtight bags with a cotton ball for 72 hours, then ask the dogs to find the cotton balls in the lab. They’re being trained to disregard the smell of the cotton ball itself, the smell of the bag it was stored in, and ideally, the smell of modern-day pottery, eventually being able to zero in on the smell that distinguishes ancient pottery specifically.

A dog looks out over the metal "pinhweel" training mechanism.
Penn Vet Working Dog Center

“The dogs are responding well,” Otto tells Mental Floss, explaining that the training program is at the stage of "exposing them to the odor and having them recognize it.”

The dogs involved in the project were chosen for their calm-but-curious demeanors and sensitive noses (one also works as a drug-detection dog when she’s not training on pottery). They had to be motivated enough to want to hunt down the cotton balls, but not aggressive or easily distracted.

Right now, the dogs train three days a week, and will continue to work on their pottery-detection skills for the first stage of the project, which the researchers expect will last for the next nine months. Depending on how the first phase of the training goes, the researchers hope to be able to then take the dogs out into the field to see if they can find the odor of ancient pottery in real-life situations, like in suitcases, rather than in a laboratory setting. Eventually, they also hope to train the dogs on other types of objects, and perhaps even pinpoint the chemical signatures that make artifacts smell distinct.

Pottery-sniffing dogs won’t be showing up at airport customs or on shipping docks soon, but one day, they could be as common as drug-sniffing canines. If dogs can detect low blood sugar or find a tiny USB drive hidden in a house, surely they can figure out if you’re smuggling a sculpture made thousands of years ago in your suitcase.


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