By on June 15, 2015

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Collectors are often categorized into completists, generalists, and specialists. Actually, I don’t think the dividing line is that clear when you consider someone who tries to collect one of each model year air-cooled Porsche is simultaneously a completist and a specialist. One of the things that keeps writing about cars interesting is how multifaceted the car hobby is. Some folks collect air-cooled Porsches. Others collect TV and movie cars – vehicles that have had prominent roles in television series or notable motion pictures.

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Even the topic “TV and movie cars” might be a bit too generalist, since there are three or four different levels of collectible show biz cars.

There are the actual vehicles used on camera for principle photography – those are the rarest, the star cars so to speak. Then there are cars prepped to look like the star cars but used for stunts. Because of the nature of stunt driving, few of those cars survive. It’s said the Dukes of Hazzard series went through about 200 Dodge Chargers, but there are only a handful of real General Lees that survived the stunt driving and an even smaller number in restored, show condition. If the series or movie and the car was popular enough, some show cars might have been prepared for the producers, replicas of the star cars, to satisfy demand for public appearances. The fourth category of TV and movie cars are replicas, but privately made – the automotive equivalent, perhaps, of fan fiction. The annual emergency vehicle show in Ferndale, Michigan held in conjunction with the Woodward Dream Cruise usually has a few fan-made Adam 12 and Andy of Mayberry replicas.

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Which brings me to the subject of this post: the Batmobile Covisnt had on display at the recent TU Automotive telematics conference and trade show held in Novi, near Detroit. Either someone at Covisnt is a fan of TV and movie cars, or someone there figured out those vehicles are a good way of attracting people to your booth. At last year’s North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Covisnt had the “Mr. Fusion” powered DeLorean time machine from the second Back To The Future movie.

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As there are so many replica BTTF DeLoreans made that you can buy a ready built Flux Capacitor at O’Reilly Auto Parts, I wasn’t sure if it was the real deal. Consequently, I sent some of my photos to Matt Farah of The Smoking Tire. Matt isn’t just a DeLorean owner and enthusiast, he’s an obsessive BTTF fan. His opinion was the car had the wrong tires – but Covisnt insisted it was authentic and on loan from the Universal Studios Museum.

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In advance of the TU expo, Covisnt sent me PR materials that said they were going to display the actual Batmobile from the 1960s television show. I was a little surprised, as the real Lincoln Futura based Batmobile that came out of George Barris’ shop (most of the work on that car was jobbed out to guys like Bill Cushenberry) was sold by Barris at a Jackson-Barrett auction not long ago. A private collector paid over $4 million for it, and I wasn’t sure if he was renting out the car.

George Barris and 1966 Batmobile #1

George Barris and 1966 Batmobile #1

When I got to the Covisnt booth, though, the Batmobile looked authentic. On the front fenders were badges with Barris’ coat of arms and George had autographed the steering wheel hub, which houses the speedometer, just like on the Futura show car. Everything looked Barris level kitschy, so I figured it was the real deal. When I started writing this post, however, it became clear after comparing photos that it wasn’t the exact car that crossed Jackson-Barrett’s auction block.

That car has prop “Bat Ray” and “Gas” emitters on the front end, as well as some kind of antenna or wind speed indicator just in front of the Batmobile’s cowl (see what I did there?). The Batmobile that Covisnt was showing had none of those things. So why did they say it was the authentic Batmobile?

Well, while it may not be the authentic Batmobile, it is a real Batmobile made by George Barris’ shop for 20th Century Fox Television and Greenway Productions, the studio and production team that made the Adam West/Burt Ward TV series.

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Though there were as many as 200 “General Lees” used to film Dukes of Hazzard, there was only one Batmobile used in the TV series*. However, when the midsummer replacement show turned out to be a surprise hit – and a huge one at that – demand for public appearances caused the studio to contract with Barris to make three replicas. The Barris shop pulled molds off the original and made three fiberglass copies that were then mounted on full-size Ford sedan chassis. The original Batmobile and the first replica were powered by 390 V8s, while #3 used a 352. The first two replicas were exclusively show cars, but Batmobile #4 was given a big block 427 V8 and drag slicks and toured the country, doing exhibition racing at drag strips with “Wild” Bill Shrewsberry at the wheel. The parachutes, dummies on the TV car and other two replicas, were operational, as was the flamethrower for the “turbine” exhaust.

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George Barris autographed the steering wheel hub / speedometer. Note how Barris’ shop “customized” the wheel by just hacking off the top third.

The Bat-Dragster is currently being restored, so I’m pretty sure the car pictured here is either #2 or #3. There’s a website, of course, devoted to the 1966 Batmobile, including the 3 replicas that Barris built. Each of the four Barris Batmobiles has slight differences, but I can’t figure out which one this is, other than the fact that it isn’t #1 and probably isn’t #4, the dragster.

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So which Batmobile do you think this is?

By the way, if you’d like to roleplay (or is it cosplay?) as the Caped Crusader, you can buy your own, officially licensed by DC Comics, Batmobile starting at $80,000 and going up to $220,000 from Fiberglass Freaks. Hammacher-Schlemmer will also sell you one for $200,000. It’s quite possible they’re better built than anything actually made by Barris.

George is a master of self-promotion and the car hobby wouldn’t be the same without him, but he’s a schlockmeister of the highest order and the cars he actually designed or built are generally tacky as can be. Customizers like Dean Jeffries and the Alexander brothers had far better taste, design sense and fabrication skills than Barris ever did. It was the ’49 Mercury “lead sled” that George’s brother Sam built that got Barris Kustoms noticed in the first place. That the Batmobile looks good has more to do with it’s Futura heritage and Bill Cushenberry’s metal working skills than George Barris’ aesthetic vision.

The Alexander Bros’ Dodge Deora and Dean Jeffries’ Mantaray are well beyond anything Barris himself could do in terms of actual innovation, good design, and quality fabrication. There is a true story about Barris showing up at the Detroit Autorama with a non-functioning vehicle, only being able to show the car later after Mike and Larry Alexander fixed it. Still, George cultivated his connections with the movie and television industry and, in doing so, he became a star bigger than the relatively small world of custom cars. You see that when a Barris car comes up for auction. No matter the tacky styling (paint trays as hood scoops?), the indifferent construction and near complete lack of taste, a Barris custom brings big money.

The Dodge Deora has won numerous awards on the show circuit both when it was introduced and more recently when it returned to the show circuit. It was one of the original 16 Hot Wheels cars from Mattel and a popular scale model kit that’s still in production 50 years after the Deora debuted. It may be the most famous custom car or truck not in a TV show or movie. In many ways, it’s a far more significant custom car than the Batmobile. It didn’t, however, star in a TV show and it didn’t have George Barris to promote it. When the Deora most recently changed hands, it’s selling price was $324,500. The Batmobile sold for $4.6 million.

*Part of the drag car appears in the background of one scene in one episode of the TV show.

Photos by the author. You can see the complete photo gallery here.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can get a parallax view at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

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21 Comments on “A Real Batmobile Replica...”


  • avatar
    ajla

    Cool writeup.

    One category you didn’t bring up are factory built tie-ins like the Fast Five Charger, Transformers Camaro, or Terminator 3 Tundra.

  • avatar
    BigOldChryslers

    This looks closer to Batmobile #1 than any of the Barris fibreglass replicas shown on the 1966batmobile.com webpage. I think this may be the “real deal”.

    From the photos, it’s the only one with that style of “beacon” on the roof, though that could’ve been updated on one of the others. It appears to have headlights. Supposedly the only replica with functional headlights is #3. It also has nicer looking amber parking lights than the replicas in the photos. It also has chrome trim around the canopy, while the replicas apparently have black trim. It also has a more detailed dash than the replicas.

    Most difficult to reproduce though, is the speedometer in the middle of the steering column. This was a unique feature of the Lincoln Futura concept car, which became the original Batmobile. (Odd though that the needle is stuck at 50 MPH and the odometer reads “1966”.)

    EDIT: You can also see the parting line just above the amber marker lights / turn signals for the hood, which flips forward on the original Batmobile. The 3 replicas have a 1-piece flip-forward front end with no parting line there.

    I’m convinced that this is either the original Batmobile, or else it is some other (very good) replica and not one of the 3 Barris-built fibreglass replicas.

    • 0 avatar

      The steering wheel is confusing because there are photos of Batmobile #1 without the speedo/wheel.

      • 0 avatar
        BigOldChryslers

        Ignore my comment above about the speedo needle being stuck at 50 MPH and the odometer reading “1966”. I had a few tabs open in my browser to compare pictures at the same time, and got them confused. I was looking at the fake speedometer in someone’s homemade Batmobile.

        At some point the Futura steering column in car #1 was swapped-out for one from an Edsel. From pictures this apparently was done in 1967, and likely the original was tossed. An Edsel column is what most of the replicas got as well. The dome on the dashboard of the original Batmobile is a compass. From pictures, it looks like Replicas #2 and 3 got Edsel speedometers on the dash instead.
        http://www.1966batmobile.com/interior2000.jpg

        The speedometer in the center of the steering wheel in this car doesn’t quite look like pics of the original, and appears to have blue LED displays in the middle, making it a modern interpretation of the original. There is also a compass on the dash, though not the same style as the #1 car.

        Unless the original Batmobile has had some restoration to make it more authentic to it’s TV days, I’m going to revise my conclusion and say that this is a replica that is not by Barris, but is more faithful to the original Batmobile than his replicas.

  • avatar
    MikeTheWheel

    I was driving to work last week, on I-275 between 7 and 8 Mile, and saw a Batmobile driving along in the lane next to the fast lane. I was doing close to 70 when I saw it. It was moving pretty good. I only saw it for a few seconds, and it was several car lengths in front of me.

    It has to be the same car. Which makes seeing it in rush hour traffic even more impressive.

  • avatar
    RideHeight

    That front end always looked like a slightly melted ’56 Mercury to me.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    I saw one of these trolling around Jacksonville beach a few years back.

  • avatar
    pdq

    Ronnie –

    You mentioned Dean Jeffries’ Mantaray show car which got me to wondering if you have any idea what ever happened to it. It was on display at the Petersen Museum on the Streetscape for a long, long time – then it disappeared.

    Interestingly, I heard that Robert Petersen called Dean himself to request that the car be displayed at the museum. My understanding is that Jeffries had the car under a tarp stashed in the corner of his shop and he was astounded that Mr. Petersen thought the car was worth putting on display in a museum.

    Kids LOVED that car! They’d “oooooh” and “ahhhhh” over it – marveling at it’s bubble canopy, curvaceous shape and the tennis balls that sat atop the carburetor intakes.

  • avatar
    readallover

    One word: Monkeemobile

    • 0 avatar

      Two words: In progress.

      Longer version. The authentic Monkeemobile, built by Dean Jeffries and “restored” by George Barris, is owned by a Detroit area collector and I’ve have the opportunity to photography it 2 or 3 times. Last year it was at the Ford PDC Employees’ car show, next to a real General Lee.

      • 0 avatar
        MikeTheWheel

        Was the guy who owned the General Lee named Kevin? An old drinking buddy of mine owns one, and I’m sure he’s been at a Ford employee show with it more than once. (I didn’t know his car was authenticated as a real General, though. I should call people every now and then.)

  • avatar
    redmondjp

    When I was a kid, I saw “The Batmobile” at my local fairground in Eastern WA. I suspect that it was a replica car and not one of the Barris originals. I was too young to even notice the difference.

    • 0 avatar
      ClutchCarGo

      Since I don’t get to drive it, or even sit in it, the provenance of a Batmobile on display doesn’t much matter to me. If it pushes the right memory buttons, my twelve year self would be just as happy with any of them.

  • avatar
    Scoutdude

    You can’t really buy the Flux Capacitor from Orielly’s, the former Shuck’s/Kragen/Checker stores put that on their website as a joke, and when Oreally took it over they continued it. They then added the MrFusion but the last I checked it doesn’t show up as you might be interested in this: once you’ve searched part number 121g.

  • avatar

    Great and ACCURATE write up on the Batmobile! The car in the photos is actually a replica built by Andy Perillo from New York. George Barris had a partnership with Andy and George transferred the original Futura steering wheel to Andy. It’s a solid replica with an actual and important piece of the #1 car.
    Thanks for doing your homework! StarCarCentral.com

  • avatar
    FearAndBullets

    This one had the 352 in it and has the “Futura” plate one center console.

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