Posted by: Jerry Garrett | January 20, 2013

How Many Batmobiles Does Batman Have?

Is this the original Batmobile? (Jerry Garrett Photo)

Is this the original Batmobile? (Jerry Garrett Photo)

HOLLYWOOD

Exactly how many Batmobiles does Batman have?

Good question, and only Batman knows the correct answer.

But, generally speaking, if you are talking about every Batmobile made for television and movie roles in the past 50 years, it depends on what you count. It’s quite a collection – perhaps numbering in the dozens. (There are even more detailed in published accounts, dating back to 1939 when Batman made his first comic book appearance.)

But for purists, there is only one true Batmobile. The rest are just imitations of the original.

What we have come to recognize in popular culture as the Batmobile was built in 1966. But there’s an interesting backstory about how it came to be built, who built it, and what components were used.

Master car customizer George Barris is considered the father of the Batmobile, and probably rightly so. But initial work on the design was done by Dean Jeffries, a famous Hollywood movie car maker and stuntman.

Jeffries, who came up with the Monkeemobile and Green Hornet’s Black Beauty among others, was originally contracted in 1965 to design and build a radical custom ride for a planned Batman TV series. But ABC decided to put the show on the air earlier than originally planned; Jeffries said he would not be able to complete the car fast enough for them. He recommended Barris.

Barris was interested. But there was one catch: The car needed to be designed, built and ready for filming in just 15 days.

Barris, after looking at Jeffries’ initial work, agreed to the insane schedule. He decided he could re-purpose an old auto show concept car that he had sitting around. It was called the Lincoln Futura. It had made its auto salon debut in 1955; he had purchased the car a few years later, after its show car circuit life had come to an end, from a Ford dealer, who was trying mightily to just get rid of it. Purchase price? One ($1.00) dollar!

The Futura had been designed by Ghia and built in Turin, Italy in 1954 at a cost of about $250,000. On the auto show circuit, the Futura Concept was very popular, and its styling cues influenced subsequent Lincoln production car designs of the late 1950s. After its show circuit days were over, the Futura had become a movie car. It had made a cameo appearance in a 1959 Glenn Ford/Debbie Reynolds movie called “It Started With a Kiss.”

Barris bought it shortly thereafter. He estimated he put about $30,000 into transforming it into the Batmobile. But the 10-year-old Lincoln Mark II-based show car underpinning the Batmobile was out-dated, and unreliable because it had never been intended for heavy acceleration and movie stunt work. The original Lincoln 285-horsepower, 365-cubic-inch V-8 and drivetrain was soon replaced with that of a new Ford Galaxie, a 390-cubic-inch V-8 good for 265 horsepower.

Barris used the 1966 Galaxie as the basis for three fiberglass replicas of the original Batmobile, using the Ford’s frame and running gear. These were regulars at car shows, movie premieres and promotional appearances. Barris later acquired a fourth replica, built on a 1958 Thunderbird, with a metal body.

In the 1990s, Barris allowed another customizer to build an unknown number of Batmobile replicas, using body molds that were created by using one of the Galaxie replicas. (One model was even converted back into a Lincoln Futura replica, using old photos and design sketches.)

The waters are further muddied from there, as filmmakers from subsequent Batman movies have created their own unique versions of Batmobiles, Batbikes and Batwings.

But, Barris considers there to be only one authentic original Batmobile, and that is the converted Lincoln Futura show car. He owned the car continuously for more than 40 years until he finally decided to sell it.

It was purchased Jan. 19, 2013, at a Barrett Jackson classic car auction in Scottsdale, Ariz., by local businessman Rick Champagne for $4.62 million (including sales commission). That was a record price paid for any movie car.

Holy smokes, Batman.

Jerry Garrett

January 20, 2013

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