Thursday June 29, 2017
Nearly every fan of all fine motor cars, television and superheroes, in general, know that there is only one real Batmobile. Just as the only Batman for me will forever be the late Adam West who died aged 88 on 9th June, the definitive transport for the caped crusader must be accompanied by Neal Hefti’s score, have tail fins and flames emitting from the exhaust pipe.
The car that will forever be associated with captions as ‘Pow!’ flashing up on the screen during the fight scenes began its life as a Lincoln Futura which already looked perfectly suited to any Gotham City superhero of quality. The Futura was a 1955 concept car that was designed to serve as a Ford engineering testbed that offered ‘an exciting peek into America's automotive future’ – one of power steering, power brakes, push button automatic transmission and air conditioning. Access was via an electrically operated plexiglass dome and a refrigeration system was essential as there were no opening windows. The cost of this vision of the motoring was a staggering $250,000 to build and when seen on the streets it genuinely resembled a B-Film spaceship on wheels.
The Futura made a big screen appearance in the 1959 comedy It Started with a Kiss but after that, it lay fallow, its appearance now dated in a new era of the 4th generation Continental. It was acquired by the famed customiser Gorge Barris for just $1 and by 1965, 20th Century Fox Television was planning a series of Batman adventures. His fellow car builder Dean Jeffries had been asked to convert a ’59 Cadillac but when the timescale was reduced to a month he was unable to do so, resulting in Barris and a team of five specialists having just three weeks and a budget of $15,000 to transform the Lincoln into the Batmobile.
At that time, Barris had been planning to use the Futura in a science-fiction project that failed to enter production but with the Batmobile, his company made a car that can genuinely be referred to as ‘iconic’. The extensive modifications included a triangular nose that gave the Futura a bat-like appearance, radically altered wheel arches and a central roll bar with a flashing red police light. The coachwork also now concealed a step so that West and Burt Ward could dramatically leap into the cabin without tangling their capes in the doors – a standard occupational hazard for any hard-working superhero – and there was now a ‘turbine exhaust’ fashioned from a large paint can. A 12 volts electric system was an essential addition as the Futura’s 6-volts were wholly inadequate for the Batmobile’s extra equipment.
On January 12th, 1966, the Batmobile made its television debut when it caused a genuine sensation. Undercranked film was often essential to give the illustration of speed as moving 5,500 lbs of Batman’s company car was no easy matter. The studio hired, rather than bought, the Batmobile from Barris and one challenge was that when filming commenced, the Futura design was over ten years old. Overheating, dying batteries and a cracked chassis were just some of the problems encountered during filming and Barris eventually replaced the running gear with the engine and chassis of a Ford Galaxie. The original steering wheel was replaced in the third season by one from a 1958 Edsel after West and his stunt double found it to be stylish but uncomfortable. Four replicas of the Batmobile were also made and the original car auctioned in 2013 for £2.7 million.
The Batman series ran until 1968 and when I first saw Batman, the show was over ten years old so even the Cadillac Ambulances and Dodge Coronets in the background looked exotic to one raised on a diet of Morris Marinas. As for the Batmobile itself, what future classic enthusiast could fail to thrill with the Batphone, the ‘Homing Receiver Scope, cans of Shark Repellent Bat-Spray and other useful gadgets.
Given that Gotham City’s Police Department was run by Commissioner Gordon and Chief O’Hara, two senior officers with all the law enforcement skills of the Chuckle Brothers, Batman and Robin clearly needed a car capable of making ‘Bat Turns’ with the aid of parachutes and exiting the Batcave at approximately 200mph.
And did we mention Neal Hefti’s theme tune?