A Real Batmobile Replica
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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 the dragster.
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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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
This one had the 352 in it and has the "Futura" plate one center console.