Batman is back on the big screen, this new movie comes 33 years after the American director Tim Burton revived the character with his haunting and stylish version of the Caped Crusader.
Speaking as a fan, it is always exciting when a new movie pops up but speaking as a gear head, there will always be the expectation about what the Batmobile will look like.
Tim Burton’s movies feature a stylish, armored, rocket car while Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy has a tank-like vehicle; useful, but not particularly charming. But the Batmobile I would like to talk about here is the coolest of them all, the one Batman drove in the 1960s.
The Batman TV show.
The superhero genre had a long journey before becoming mainstream entertainment. The transition from the comics to the big screen wasn’t easy, both Captain Marvel and Batman had their chance in the theatres at the beginning of the 1940s, but thanks to the lack of special effects, those movies were crude and didn’t rightfully portray the superheroes like in the comics.
When The Adventures of Superman aired from 1952 to 1958, it enjoyed a good dose of popularity, as TV sets were becoming more common in the houses of American middle-class families at the time, but it wasn’t until Batman premiered in 1966 that the rest of the world got acquainted with superheroes.
The Batman created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger in 1939 is a dark and sinister character who moves through the shadows and uses fear as his greatest weapon, but you won’t find any of that in this series., Adam West (Batman) and Burt Ward (Robin), play a silly Dynamic Duo, fighting against even sillier evildoers. The series is campy, comical, and psychedelic.
This cartoonish series was designed specifically for kids and it worked for me. As a six-year-old boy, I loved it and never missed a single episode.
Besides all the fist fighting, the crazy villains, and the occasional appearance of the Batgirl, what I loved the most was the Batmobile. For me, it was the coolest car I’ve ever seen.
Years after the more badass versions of the Batmobile appeared in movies, the car created for the TV series is still the most iconic.
The First Batmobile
Batman is a superhero with no superpowers, consequently, he needs a lot of gadgets to fight crime, and a decent car is a must.
When he first appeared in the comics, Batman used to drive a regular late 1930s coupe and then a “supercharged” red roadster that looks like a 1939 Graham “Sharknose” model.
For the TV show, the producers wanted a more impressive car, and in 1965, the ABC-TV hired Dean Jeffries, a custom car builder with deep roots in the TV/movies industry. One of his most popular creations is the “Monkeemobile” a heavily modified 1966 Pontiac GTO for the TV series “The Monkees” (another favorite of mine).
Jeffries worked on the design and initial fabrication for the Batmobile, using a 1959 Cadillac, like the one you see in the picture above (which would be my first choice as well). But as the deadline was looming on the horizon, Jeffries gave the task to the “King of Kustomizers”, Mr. George Barris.
Barris made a name for himself in the California hot rod/custom scene in the 1950s and became legendary in the world of television and motion pictures. He created such iconic cars as The Munster’s Coach (picture above) and KITT from Nightrider.
Barris had a very tight schedule, the ABC studio gave him only 3 weeks to get the Batmobile ready. Fortunately, the perfect car was just sitting on the lot: a decaying Lincoln Futura he bought from Ford a couple of years ago for $ 1,00.
The Lincoln Futura.
The 1950s was an amazing time for industrial design in the USA. The influence of the Space Age was everywhere. American automakers created some of the most impressive concept cars of all time, and one of them was the 1955 Lincoln Futura.
The concept was created by Ford’s lead designers Bil Schmidt and John Naijar and the Ghia Studio in Turin, Italy, was commissioned to hand-build the all-metal body panels. The Italians were also responsible to fit the body on the chassis (most likely the Continental Mark II platform), painting it in “high tech” Pear white, finishing the assembling of all parts, and shipping the car back to the States, at a final cost of $250,000 (around $2,400,000 in 2022).
The Futura was officially presented to the public on January 8, 1955, at the Chicago Auto Show, but Ford had been already touring the car across the USA for a while before that. The Futura’s styling has all the “sci-fi” inspiration one could expect from a 1950s concept car: double clear-plastic canopy top, exaggerated hooded headlight pods, and long tail fins.
Underneath the futuristic body, you will find a pretty conventional car. The Futura was powered by a 368 Lincoln “Y” block V8, bolted to an automatic transmission.
Becoming a Star
Ford has been known for his good connections with Hollywood and since the Futura was almost a fully functional car, it shouldn’t be hard to put one on the silver screen.
The car became the star of the 1959 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer movie, “It started With a Kiss”, starring Glenn Ford as a broken Air Force Sargent and Debbie Reynolds as his sassy nightclub showgirl wife, who won the Lincoln in a contest. For the movie, the Futura was repainted in bright red, in an attempt to make the car’s lines more visible to the public.
The year 1959 also marks the peak of the “Tailfins Era” in auto design. In the following years, American cars would become more and more unpretentious. The Lincoln Futura quickly lost its relevance and a few years later, Ford sold the red Futura to George Barris for a single Dollar!
Becoming the Batmobile.
The Lincoln Futura certainly is the kind of car one would expect to see at George Barris’s shop, but with no use for it, the car sat in the parking lot for years. When he received the task to build the Batmobile, the red Lincoln was less than pristine.
When 20th Century Fox started recording the episodes, the Batmobile wasn’t there, George Barris took a little bit longer than the planned 3 weeks to get it ready. Bill Cushenberry was responsible for the metal modifications, making it more like a “bat looking” than a “shark looking” car, which was the original idea of the Futura.
When the Batmobile was finally delivered, in October 1965, I bet the Dynamic Duo was pleased. The car was slick and elegant, qualities inherited from the Lincoln Futura, but Barris made it look dark and sinister as well.
The Batmobile was there for the debut episode Hi Diddle Diddle, which aired on January 12, 1966, and yes, it was a success. But besides the ultra-cool body and all the bat-gadgets, there was a 10 years old Ford that had been neglected for a while. As soon as the filming began, some mechanical problems like overheating and leaking fluids started plaguing the car. By mid-season, the original 368 Lincoln engine and transmission were replaced with units removed from a Ford Galaxie.
George Barris built 4 replicas, in fiberglass, using the Ford Galaxie chassis, stretched in 11 inches. The # 5 was the stunt car, used for jumps and crashing into buildings.
The # 4 was prepared for drag racing, powered by a high-performance Ford 427 “police interceptor” V8. “Wild” Bill Shrewsberry drove the car at Muholland and several other strips across the country. The #4 car had a working flamethrower and working parachutes, it was able to go down the drag strip in 12 sec.
In 2014 the #4 went through a complete restoration by the Fiberglass Freaks, the only shop in the world officially licensed by DC Comics to build 1966 Batmobile replicas.
The # 3 was exclusively used as a promo car, while the # 2 was a perfect clone of the main Batmobile and was used as a spare.
Upon realizing that he had created something more than just a custom car, Barris applied for a patent for the Batmobile, opening the door to a new source of revenue: licensing the design to toy companies.
George Barris never sold his Batmobiles to the studio, instead he loaned them. When the series came to an end, in 1968, he sold the replicas to collectors but kept the original one.
But the time to part ways with his most iconic creation finally came and on January 19, 2013, the car was taken to Barret-Jackson Collector Car Auction. The Batmobile was pulled into the auction by no other than Mr. Barris himself, to the amazement of hundreds of fans that were there. When the hammer fell, one of the most emblematic pieces of pop culture had changed hands, for the staggering price of US$4.2 million.
Predicting the future
The amount of “Bat paraphernalia” incorporated into the Batmobile is enough to make James Bond jealous. Are you ready for the list? Here we go: nose-mounted aluminum cable cutter blade, Bat Ray projector, an anti-theft device, an Anti-Fire Activator, automatic tire inflation device, detect-a-Scope, Batscope, Bat Eye Switch, Antenna Activator, Police Band Cut-In Switch, mobile Batcomputer, a Batphone, Bat Smoke, and a Bat Photoscope, emergency Bat Turn Lever, which deploys a pair of parachutes, magically allowing the Batmobile to do a quick 180-degree turn.
Among all the silly Bat stuff, there is one item that catches the attention, after almost 60 years of its creation: the mobile Bat computer, constantly connected to the main Bat computer, located in the Bat cave. Whoever came up with this idea, certainly predicted the future, when cars would be equipped with Internet Wi-Fi, keeping the occupants connected to a sort of “Main computer”.
Holy adventure, Batman
The Batman TV series run for 3 seasons, between 1966 and 1968 and it was a success, not only in the USA but all over the world as well. Celebrities of the 1960s, like Bruce Lee, and Jerry Lewis, gladly accepted the invitation for a cameo appearance in the famous “Bat climb” scenes. Even Colonel Klink from Hogan’s Heroes showed up (another one of my favorite TV shows).
Rumor has it that Frank Sinatra wanted a part in the series, as a villain.
As part of the pop culture in the 1960s, the show lives on in the memories of fans and even in the minds of those born many years after the conclusion of the series. the phrase, “Holy______, Batman”, still can be heard every once in a while.
There were many elements that helped to make the series so beloved among the kids around the world, but the Batmobile played a major role in it. It was the third component of the Dynamic Duo.