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Monday, January 7, 2013

Original 1966 Television Car "Batmobile" Started With a Kiss

A concept cars' journey into fame really took off from having the blues, to going in the red, then re-emerging far into the black:

Whereas most tv cars exist in multiple versions with no singular/non-repeatable origin (such as the Monkee Mobile, see:, George Barris' onscreen Batmobile was born from an originally fully-working custom one-off 1955 Lincoln Futura concept car with a cosmetically (but pivotally historical) reworked body. Although never put into mass production (unless you consider the Futura model kits as being mass-produced cars), the Futura concept influenced Lincoln's design ethos throughout the rest of the 1950s, with the tailfin era and motif assuming the controlling design idiom. 

Originally designed by Bill Schmidt, Lincoln-Mercury's chief design stylist at the time, Futura was hand-built for $250,000 in 1954 by Ghia Body Works in Turin, Italy, for an unveiling at the 1955 Detroit Auto Show. Its huge success there ensured Futura would be an excellent publicity generating machine for Ford in the intervening years before Barris' involvement.

But a decade flew by and Batman signaled. 

And with such staggeringly short turnaround time, Barris looked no further than his own prop yard to a rusting red form that once graced the silver screen with Glenn Ford and Debbie Reynolds in an entirely forgettable film entitled It Started With a Kiss, from 1959. Repainted gloss red for the movie, ownership of the Lincoln went from Ford (where it was showcased for a few years to garner publicity) then transferred to Barris where he used it on the Kiss (bought from Ford for $1)whereafter he kept it at his shop, Barris Kustom Industries, in North Hollywood, California (and he has been the owner of the car ever since): 


With most of the work already done for him, Futura's civilian luxury appeal; however, would not pass for a Batmobile. He was so close but so far. Therefore, Barris was then challenged to transform the originally blue-white pearlescent bespoke Lincoln (which was red by the time Barris acquired it) --in only three weeks-- to become one of the main characters in a television series. The final creation had to matter hugely and what resulted in such a short gestation period is nothing short of astonishing.

To meet the looming deadline for its Batman television debut, Baris changed just enough and left just enough to reinvent the wheel into super stardom. Futura is Batmobile is Futura: In other words, there is only one true original 1966 Batmobile, with the following  four extra tv cars built being only replicas. 

Languishing neglected for over ten years after the Kiss, the fate of this machine would go down in history as, perhaps, the most famous car of all time. 

From derelict to dashing, the revamped Futura lived up to its name and transformed, like Bruce Wayne himself, into Batmobile under Barris' deliciously tacky design statement. I must admit, the Batmobile is badass. Its outrageous styling works beautifully as I cannot see it being any other way. Barris didn't do anything wrong or erroneous, with the whole thing coming together in harmony. 

This is a case, too, of a future-looking concept car actually being implemented in the future and then rising to iconic form. But oh the irony -a 1954 design (with the 1950s being a decade supposedly stigmatized as square, staid, and conservative) revived and accelerated to the very topmost levels of fame into mid to late 1960s television culture. With the Batmobile, indeed the space age had come of age (and thus became married to a character concept called "Batman," created by writer and artist Bob Kane, dating originally from issue #27 of DC's Detective Comics in 1939 -the year of Gone With the Wind and Wizard of Oz).

The first appearance of Batman in DC's Detective Comics #27, May, 1939

To collectors of exotica origin is everything, and its rarity will enshrine the Batmobile as its own force of provenance indefinitely, with the new owner to be determined this month at the renowned Barrett-Jackson auction on January 19, in Scottsdale, Arizona (with this article to be updated once the car sells).

At a count of 120 shows and falling ratings, the final Batman episode aired on March 14 on ABC, 1968, with the Batmobile going back into indefinite retirement, but not without possible plans for another tour of duty onscreen. With Batmobile sitting again in Barris' yard, although now cemented in stratospheric fame, there were talks within NBC studios to bring it back. But with 20th Century Fox having already demolished all of the sets, this was not to be. A three-season run was all Batmobile would deliver but that is all it needed. 

Outlasting the show it made famous, Batmobile and Barris' industrial design genius live on and will forevermore. With its 390 cubic inch 1956 Lincoln V8 and B&M Hyrdromatic transmission it will grace the stage for eyes and cameras again as the auctioner's gavel slams down the going value for a historically priceless icon. 

Update to follow soon... 

The first appearance of the Batmobile in DC Detective Comics issue #27, May, 1939

For a detailed history of Batman and the Batmobile appearing in DC Comics, please visit:

Original Batmobile sells for $4.6 million at Barrett-Jackson


"The original 1955 Lincoln Futura concept—that George Barris turned into the Batmobile for the TV show—sold at the Barrett-Jackson auction in Scottdale, Ariz., on Jan. 19 for a final price of $4.62 million, not including fees. The first of six Batmobiles used for the show was the top-selling car in the Barrett-Jackson Salon Collection.
"It was followed by Clark Gable's 1955 Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing Coupe ($2,035,000), a 1947 Talbot-Lago T-26 Grand Sport ($2,035,000), a 1934 Duesenberg J Murphy LWB Custom Beverly Sedan ($1,430,000), a 1956 Chrysler Diablo Concept Convertible ($1,375,000) and a 1971 Plymouth Hemi Cuda' Convertible that went for $1,320,000.

"The winning bidder was Rick Champagne, a business man and car collector from the Phoenix area who has been attending the Barrett-Jackson auctions for years. Champagne told The Hollywood Reporter that he grew up watching the show and was determined to walk away with the car. When asked where he intended to keep the car, Champagne joked he would knock down a wall in his living room."

Read more:


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