Dream on Wheels (in loving memory of George Barris)
Batman franchise has been around since 1943 and the first Batman comic book was launched 80 years ago in 1939 and here is a curious fact – an original copy of it was sold not long ago for over one million dollars. Since then, the characters have developed significantly, Batman became way darker in 1989, after a series of small-screen adaptations – they were lighter and more colorful.
One of the signatures that goes along with Batman’s development through various adaptations and different director’s visions is the Batmobile. One often wonders whether these enigmatic cars have been produced by a car company. Are they just very big toys, a part of the setting, are they made for the movies only? The truth varies. One thing is for sure – any Batmobile has always been a real, a very fast fully functioning car, with exquisite design, extraordinary gadgets, and all of it actually works – from the screen wipers to everything we see as effects on screen and creates the feeling of something supernatural. And, as a matter of fact, it is.
There have been eight Batmobiles produced so far, excluding the last one, which we’ll see in over a year. The first Batmobile in “Batman” 1943 was a Cadillac 75 Convertible with a few slight cosmetic changes, so it was pretty ordinary. Then there came the “Batman and Robin” 1949 Mercury Convertible and it left no bigger trace.
In 1966 the first revolutionary Batmobile appeared. The legendary George Barris had so little time to make a new design that he took a ten-year old Ford Lincoln Futura and for the first time added accessories and gadgets and all the toys Batman needed to save the world. The car is emblematic and holds a special place in the hearts of Batman fans. George Barris had 15 days to make the alternations, to come up with a totally different design at the cost of 15 thousand dollars. It was made for the TV series starring Adam West and till 2012 Barris kept the car in his private collection. After that, it was put up for auction and sold for 4.2 million dollars. The creator of the first ever original Batmobile passed away on November, 5th 2020 – a bad year, as we all know.
From then on, with the first big screen adaptations the “Keaton Batmobile” introduced a totally different approach to the role of the car. Since then the different Batmobiles have been made from scratch by a highly specialized team of professionals. The design, the performance, every detail in the car is put together by people who do not work for a car producer, but for the movie industry, which does not make them less professional. One movie needs at least 7 cars, each at the cost of between 500 000 thousand to one million dollars. They are unique, not made for mass consumption, hence they are all the more iconic. They have everything you possibly need in a car, they are extremely fast, they really jump high and their sound is the epitome of adrenaline itself. It takes more than a year to make the first car, and he next few follow easily.
The Batmobile has become a symbol of dark power, of menace and revenge. No matter which actor we prefer most, or who is our favourite Joker, the car will always be there as a symbol of ingenuity.
The Tumblers in “Batman Begins” and “The Dark Knight” can jump up to 30 feet. Before Jay Leno took the Tumbler for a ride, he laughed embarrassed and said: “Here is a dumb question – how do I get in?” He had to climb on top and sink into an interior which literally makes your heart stop: with all the advanced technology inside, the car had that vintage 1930s-vibe, but we all know that Christopher Nolan does not do a half-ass job – everything in his movies has to be real.
In 2016 the DC Universe launched the Ben Affleck “Batman” and his car was produced by Mercedes and well fitted for the movie. The Mercedes Benz Vision Grand Turismo was revealed for the first time by Supercar Blondie. Yet, the DC Universe is a whole different story, as most of the fans will explain and in detail.
However, according to most specialists, the best car, designed and made from scratch was the 1989 Keaton Batmobile. This car was out of this Earth. It was 6.6 meters long and 1.3 meters high. It could accelerate from 0 to 100 km per hour in less than 4 seconds and its speed (in the movie) was 540 km per hour with the help of a booster. Nothing about this car was small, insignificant or worth neglect.
Soon after the movie, a replica was made in Russia and it was offered for 1,1 million dollars. It was praised to be the best replica ever, but… well, not the real thing. Very few people can afford to own a Batmobile. It will be a replica, it will be excruciatingly expensive, but if you are a Batman fan, a car freak, and if you have tons of money, why not? It’s a fantasy, it’s a universe where evil is actually fought, it’s escapism. So what? I am fully aware that many people look condescendingly on movies with heroes, but in a world where we need them badly, sometimes it’s better to hold on to a hope, to a dream.
The whole story of producing a Batmobile from the creation of the design and building it from scratch can be found in books, some of them can be ordered online, all of them are offered at the Batmobile museum in Los Angelis. Yet, if you can’t afford the real thing, which I suppose is the case, you can always go for the Lego models for the humble price of 400 euro.
People have, do and will always love their heroes and all the symbolism coming with them. It’s a great thing to talk about “serious” deep stuff and “thought-provoking” literature, movies, art in general, but at some point it gets a bit boring and some of us choose the fun, the miracles, the unbelievable, especially if you see one such miracle driving down the road with screeching wheels leaving behind the smell of power and justice.