Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Manta's Shadow, Part V - The Batmobile!

This week, fanboys ( and, presumably, fangurlz) everywhere are eagerly awaiting the cinematic nerdfest known as The Dark Night Rises and the internet is abuzz with Batman news and opinions. In a shameless gambit to snare even one unwary web surfer to My Humble Blog, I present to you a tale of the Batmobile from the critically acclaimed and culturally relevent 1966-1967 TV series, Batman.

In 1966, I was an adorable 9-year old who loved comic books and was thrilled that a live-action TV series featuring the super-cool Batman was a becoming a reality. Unfortunately, even for an optimistic child, this show was a harsh reality. I kept watching every week, believing in my little heart that, surely, this mess would get better. Such was not the case. This incarnation of Batman was a buffoon not a hero. But I kept watching and watching. Soon , I found two Truly Cool things about the show: Catwoman (Julie Newmar version, please. Sorry Eartha.) and the Batmobile. In that order.

Now one would think a vehicle called the Batmobile would be inspired by a bat. But one would be wrong. Mistaken and incorrect to be sure. From whence sprung the inspiration for this menacing design ? From the manta ray, of course, old chum! (The title of the post provided a significant Bat-Clue!).

The vehicle in question started life about a decade earlier as the Lincoln Futura Show Car. A rolling embodiment of gaudy post-war euphoria and impracticality, the Futura was a one-off vehicle that was shown off at auto shows to give folks a glimpse of the bright future ahead of them (Pintos, Pacers and Chevettes being impossible for the 1950's mind to grasp). According to the Futura was "originally designed by William M. Schmidt and his design team at the Lincoln Styling Department. It's rakish lines are said to have been inspired by the mako shark and the manta ray. Turns out, Bill Schmidt was a SCUBA diver back when diving was one of the most macho of activities.

These vintage photos show the Futura in it's pre-batiffied state. Personally, I don't see a lot of manta ray in the design, but I'm going to milk this angle for all it's worth. Did I mention that The Dark Night Rises opens at theaters everywhere on July 20th and that you can  pre-order tickets on-line as soon as you finish reading this post?

Just to assure you that I didn't dredge up the only manta reference on the net, I'd like to cite which says "The body of the Futura was fabricated by Ghia of Italy whose artisans hammered the car's panels over logs and tree stumps to create the sleek manta ray-like car.

According to these websites the Futura was built for a cost of $250,000. That was a butt-load of money in those days and still is.

Sadly, the Futura experienced perhaps the highest rate of depreciation in automotive history. Custom car designer George Barris reportedly bought it for one dollar and had it sitting around his garage when the call came from ABC saying they needed a Batmobile for their upcoming series. Mr. Barris was planning to build a completely original design but ABC stipulated the car had to be ready in three weeks. Suddenly the Futura began to look sufficiently battish. In record time Barris and company made the bat-modifications, gave the car a killer paint job and an automotive legend was born. 

A theatrical footnote: The pre-bat Lincoln Futura was featured in the cinematic masterpiece It Started With a Kiss starring Debbie Reynolds (aka Princess Leia's MOM!) and Glenn Ford (Lincoln/Ford hmmmm). Here Ms. Reynolds demonstrates the future Batmobile's ability to multi-task as furniture.

Personal footnote: Lady in Red looks extremely hot even by today's standards but is most likely dead by now.

So stay tuned for the next episode of The Manta's Shadow on this Bat-Channel!