Ask any Denizens of Gotham City and they won't have too many kind things to say about the Joel Schumacher-directed movies in the Batman franchise, but they'll love that line. Because it really is the car. It's the freaking Batmobile, the best-known and best-loved weapon in the Caped Crusader's fight against crime.
Like Batman himself, his wheels have assumed many different forms over the years. His first car appeared in Detective Comics #5 and was a red convertible that looked a bit like a 1930s Cord. A bat hood ornament was added and it morphed into something that might strike terror into the hearts of wrongdoers by Batman #5. But it was the 1966 live action TV show that really crystallized the Batmobile into a recognizable star.
We have George Barris to thank for that. He became a celebrity in his own right from the hot-rodding days that sprang up during the 1950s. He also created the Drag-U-La, a souped-up casket-cum-dragster featured in The Munsters. The Adam West Batmobile (can't you hear the music already?) was based on the 1955 Lincoln Futura concept car. The car was entirely hand built at the Ghia factory in Turin, Italy, in time for the Chicago Motor Show that took place in January 1955. It cost the Ford Motor Company $250,000. It was styled by a Lincoln design team under the direction of William B. Schmidt.
It wasn't bats but mako sharks and manta rays that inspired the lines. It even had a bubble-like canopy. And it had already appeared on screen before being co-opted by the Dynamic Duo-a 1959 romance (kind of) starring Debbie Reynolds and Glenn Ford called It Started With A Kiss. But the Futura was an integral part of the story. A star vehicle for a star vehicle, if you will
Six years later, Barris bought it from Ford for a buck. Really. One dollar. And it was hanging around his southern California shop when the call came from 20th Century Fox to make a Batmobile. In three weeks. For $30,000. Barris (quite rightly) decided that the Futura would make a great base and got busy with the black paint and red pinstriping.
Once filming got underway, though, the Futura became something of a supervillain by overheating, blowing tires, and running its battery down. The engine and transmission were soon replaced by those from a Ford Galaxie.
Or were they? Wouldn't it be better to pretend that power came from an atomic turbine engine, that those two parachutes really could help it make quick, 180-degree Bat-turns? Because all the toys like a voice-activated onboard computer, Bat-phone, Bat-tering ram, and Bat-beam would seem all the more convincing. Actually, Bat-lore has it that the Batmobile was constructed in the Batcave by robots. Which would explain how it can get wrecked one moment and then look pristine in the next scene.
Barris had a couple of replicas built (not by robots), but he still owns the original, now valued at $2,000,000. Its influence has seeped into future incarnations; perhaps that's why the Burton/Keaton Batmobile is so cool. Every gadget on it was meant to actually work. So that's machine guns, a grappling hook, and a Bat-disc shooter for starters. But it didn't quite pan out like that in the film. The ceramic fractal armor panels that clicked into action with the spoken command "shields" were helped by stop-motion and computer-generated imagery (CGI) effects.
The great thing is that it really did have a turbine engine. It ran on a gasoline/paraffin mixture and burned fuel at such a rate that it could only run for 15 seconds before the gauge hit Empty. So it was never in a moving shot that lasted longer than that.
The Schumacher cars... well, the Kilmer one looked like some giant mechanized phallus, reinforcing the idea that Batman was over-compensating for something. And the Clooney one looked like something from an arcade game.
It's not until the Nolan/Christian Bale films that the Batmobile takes a more interesting turn. In keeping with the times, it looks more utilitarian, more military, more badass. The design brief was that director Christopher Nolan wanted it to look like a cross between a tank and a Lamborghini.
Nathan Crowley was one of the creators of what has become known as The Tumbler, making four versions-all with 5.7-liter Chevrolet V8 engines, plenty of carbon fiber panels, racing front tires (Hoosier) and mud 4x4 rear tires (Interco), and the same kind of suspension used by Baja racing trucks. Each car cost $250,000 to make, but the design and development costs run into the millions. Stunt drivers practiced for six months prior to filming on Chicago's streets.
In The Dark Knight, half of The Tumbler is an escape pod that becomes a motorcycle. Another super-cool facet. Somehow the Batmobile has managed to remain several steps ahead of real-life technology. Having a phone and voice-activated functions in a car from the '60s is impressively forward-looking. Perhaps one day, we'll all be driving around in Tumblers. Just spare us the tights.