1955 Lincoln Futura: The '66 Batmobile's Secret Identity
Left: Adam West as Batman in the Batmobile, 1966. Right: The 1955 Lincoln Futura on display in a publicity photo. Sources: Walt Disney Television via Getty Images Photo Archives/Walt Disney Television via Getty Images; Ford Motor Company
The 1955 Lincoln Futura was a one-off, a concept car that demonstrated Ford Motor Company's space-age imagination. And in a way, it did come from the future. A decade later, the Futura became the most famous car on TV as the Batmobile, driven by Adam West's not-so-Dark Knight on the campy Batman series. Indeed, the Lincoln Futura is better known as the Batmobile than it ever was as the Futura.
A Time Of Optimism And Technical Innovation
In the mid-1950s, a decade removed from World War II, Americans saw a limitless future ahead of them. It was the so-called Atomic Age, and though the moniker refers to the deadly detonation of atomic bombs that ended the war, there was a sense that science was changing our lives faster than ever, and for the better, and Ford’s concept car, the Lincoln Futura, embodied that optimistic spirit.
The Atomic Age or mid-century aesthetic often found inspiration in science fiction. Kitchen appliances looked more and more like robots, chandeliers looked like molecules, and cars aspired to be spaceships.
The Futura was designed by Bill Schmidt and John Najjar. It was hand built by Ghia in Turin, Italy at a cost of $250,000 or more than $2.3 million in 2019 dollars.
Design Of The Lincoln Futura
The Futura had exaggerated hooded headlight pods and large outward-canted tailfins. It was painted white, although it was a shimmering white, using one of the first pearlescent paints. This color was created by grinding the scales of thousands of fish, and mixing them in with the paint. According to the Ford public relations department, Schmidt was inspired by a shark encounter while diving in the Bahamas. However, it was also influenced by the design of modern jet fighters, and that influence is evident in the twin-canopy passenger compartment as well as within other features of the car.
The interior was also unique. Its aerial antenna had a microphone, allowing the driver to hear outside sounds. The rear bucket seats were separated by a console that housed a phone.
The Lincoln Futura Becomes A Movie Star
After its run as a car of the future, the Futura was repurposed for the 1959 film It Started With a Kiss, although it was painted red for the movie because the original color was not particularly photogenic. The original paint, which was used to mimic the iridescence of the fish that Schmidt had seen while diving, appears flat in pictures. The car did play a major role in the film.
From The Big Screen To The Small Screen
After the film was over, car customizer George Barris bought it for $1. In 1965, 20th Century Fox contracted Barris to create the car for the television show Batman, but he was only given three weeks and $15,000 to do so. He decided to work with the Futura, modifying it so that it could appear on the show. The modifications were simple: the fin was extended to the windshield, bat-details were added, and it was painted black with fluorescent cerise trim. The customizing crew also added gadgets, such as the “jet drive,” which was simply a butane tank, and the chain cutter that popped out of the car’s nose.
One Futura, Many Batmobiles
One of the stipulations from the Batman producers was that the car be driveable. This car was, technically -- although because it was originally built only as a concept car, drivability had not been a priority. It was not aerodynamic, and very hard to handle. In fact, as Adam West drove it, he crashed it into the side of the Batcave several times. Batmobile replicas were created -- five in all -- by covering Ford Galaxies in lookalike fiberglass exteriors.
How The Futura Lived On
The design for the headlights and tailfins would influence design for the Lincoln Premiere and Lincoln Capri in 1956 and 1957, while the 1960 Mercury Monterey and 1961 Ford Galaxie show the influence of the Futura’s front grille.
After Batman ended, Barris retained ownership of the Batmobile. It appeared in the TV movie Legends of the Superheroes in 1979, along with Adam West.
In the 1990s, Bob Butts got permission from Barris to create replicas of the Futura again -- so if you see a Batmobile at a convention or a Futura at a car show, it's likely a replica. In 2013, Barris sold the original at auction for more than four million dollars.
Tags: 1950s Cars | 1960s Cars | Adam West | Batman | Batmobile | Concept Cars | George Barris | TV In The 1960s
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