In late 1965 20th Century Fox Television and William Dozier’s Greenway Productions contracted renowned Hollywood car customizer Dean Jeffries to design and build a “Batmobile” for their upcoming Batman TV series. He started customizing a 1959 Cadillac, but when the studio wanted the program on the air in January 1966, and therefore filming sooner than he could provide the car, Jeffries was paid off, and the project went to George Barris.
What became the iconic Batmobile used in the 1966–1968 live action television show and its film adaptation was a customized vehicle that originated as a one-off 1955 Lincoln Futura concept car, created by Ford Motor Company lead stylists Bill Schmidt, Doug Poole Sr., and John Najjar and their design team at the Lincoln Styling Department.
In 1954, the Futura prototype was built entirely by hand by the Ghia Body Works in Turin, Italy, at a reported cost ofUS$250,000—the equivalent of approximately US$2 million in 2009. It made its debut in pearlescent Frost-Blue white paint on 8 January 1955 at the Chicago Auto Show. In 1959, sporting a fresh red paint job, the Futura was featured in the film It Started with a Kiss, starring Debbie Reynolds and Glenn Ford.
Barris was trying to get Hollywood’s attention with the Futura, which he had purchased from Ford for the nominal sum of $1.00 and “other valuable consideration”, but aside from its film appearance, the Futura had been languishing in his Hollywood shop for several years. With only three weeks to finish the Batmobile (although in recent years Jeffries says that his car was dropped because he was told it was needed in “a week and a half”, he was quoted in 1988 as saying “three weeks” as well), Barris decided that, rather than building a car from scratch, it would be relatively easy to transform the distinctive Futura into the famous crime-fighting vehicle. Design work was conducted by Herb Grasse, working as an associate designer for Barris.
Barris hired Bill Cushenbery to do the metal modifications to the car and its conversion into the Batmobile was completed in just three weeks, at a reported cost of US$30,000. They used the primer-painted, white-striped car in October, 1965, for a network presentation reel. Shortly afterward, the car was painted gloss black with “fluorescent cerise” stripes. Barris retained ownership of the car, estimated to be worth $125,000 in 1966 dollars, leasing it to 20th Century Fox and Greenway Productions for use in the series.
When filming for the series began, several problems arose due to the car’s age: it overheated, the battery went dead, and the expensive Mickey Thompson tires kept blowing. By mid season, the engine and transmission were replaced with those of a Ford Galaxie. The most frequent visual influence of this car is that later Batmobiles usually have a rear rocket thruster that fires as the car makes a fast start.
In November 2012 Barris Kustom and George Barris announced the sale of the Batmobile at the Barrett-Jackson car show and auction held in Scottsdale, Arizona. The vehicle fetched $4.2 million on January 19, 2013.
The live action television series was so popular that its campy humor and its Batmobile (a superficially modified concept car, the decade-old Lincoln Futura, owned by George Barris whose shop did the work) were quickly introduced into the Batman comic books. But the high camp and general silliness of the television show did not sit well with long-time Batman comic book fans. So, when the series was canceled in 1968, the comic books reacted by becoming darker and more serious, including having Batman abandon that Batmobile. Its replacement for a number of years was a much simpler model with a stylized bat’s head silhouette decal on the hood being the only decoration of note. The 1960s TV style Batmobile still appears from time to time in the comic books, most recently in Detective Comics #850 and the issues of Batman Confidential. In the Bronze Age of Comic Books, the source of the cars was explained in The Untold Legend of the Batman as the work of stunt driver Jack Edison who volunteered to personally construct Batmobiles for Batman after being rescued from a burning wreck.