Did you know the original Batmobile was based on a 1955 Lincoln showcar?
The Batmobile-to-be was the brainchild of Lincoln Mercury chief stylist Bill Schmidt. Inspired by an encounter with a shark while scuba-diving, Schmidt sketched his futuristic concept car with a chrome shrouded full width grille that resembled a marine predator, especially when combined with hooded headlights and outlandish, canted tail fins. The duco was one of the first pearlescent color treatments, using paint infused with powdered pearl. At a cool $250,000 (over $2 million today) the fighter jet-inspired twin cockpit experimental car would serve as a mobile test bench for new engineering and design concepts. Unlike many show cars of the era, it was fully driveable.
To save on development time, the Futura used the chassis and running gear from the exclusive, yet to be released 1956 Lincoln Continental Mark II, sharing the same 368 cubic inch V8 and automatic transmission. As a result, it took just three months to ready the concept car for its debut at the Chicago Auto Show in January 1955, from where it was driven to a car show in Detroit.
The Futura was a big success for Ford, generating favorable publicity while providing valuable public feedback on styling and features. Released as a model kit and toy, in watered-down form the lidded headlights and canted fins would appear on production Lincolns for 1956 and 1957. The concave grille inspired the design on the '60 Mercury Monterey and '61 Ford Galaxies - released more than half a decade after the Futura debuted.
In 1959, the Futura starred in the MGM movie It Started With A Kiss starring Debbie Reynolds & Glenn Ford. Because the pearl duco didn’t show up well on film, the Futura was painted red for the movie, and treated to a matching red interior. After that, the car might well have been forgotten or worse - destroyed, as was the fate of many show cars. However, FoMoCo later sold it to customiser George Barris...for one dollar. As the car was never titled and therefore uninsurable, it sat behind Barris’ North Hollywood shop where it deteriorated for several years.
Fast forward to 1966 when Barris was asked to design a theme car for the Batman television series – at very short notice. Not having enough time to build from scratch, Barris remembered the Futura sitting forlorn in the rear car park. He hired Bill Cushenberry of famed Cushenberry Custom Shop to do the metal modifications to the car required to turn it in to the iconic Batmobile. Barris went on to build three fiberglass replicas using the frames and running gear from 1966 Ford Galaxies for the show circuit.
After its conversion to the Batmobile, Barris retained ownership of the car, leasing it to the TV studio for filming. After production of the TV series ended, Barris displayed the car in his own museum in California.
The car was eventually sold to Rick Champagne at the Barrett-Jackson collector car auction in 2013 in Scottsdale, Arizona - for a cool $4.6 million. When we consider Barris bought the car for a buck - that’s not a bad return on investment.