America has had a life-long love affair with cars, and they certainly turn up in our entertainment often enough. Cars can often be the focal point of a TV show or movie -- Speed Racer. Smokey and the Bandit. Dukes of Hazzard. Herbie the Love Bug. If there's a fancy or somehow unconventional car involved, we take note of it.
And then there's the Batmobile. And I mean THE Batmobile. Certainly, the Caped Crusader, the Dark Knight, the Gotham Guardian, has driven a wide range of vehicles over the years, in the comics, in the movies, in the animated series, and elsewhere. But there's the ONE that stands above all the others for its popularity.
And in a way, it's sort of ironic, given that the TV show it was involved in didn't exactly take the Batman legend as literally as some other incarnations had, or would.
In the mid-1960's, one of the most popular TV series on the air was "Batman". But far from the grim guardian of Gotham City, this Batman was rather decidedly over the top. The show took considerable advantage of the relatively recent advent of color television to present a panoply of colors that put all but the most nightmarishly psychedelic posters of the time to shame.
Batman, played by Adam West, and Robin, played by Burt Ward, were essentially the "straight men" in a series that presented a wide range of lunatic villains, portrayed by assorted guest stars each week, many of them actors of considerable note, who liked the idea of harassing the Caped Crusader and being part of this particular pop culture legend.
Among the more regular villains were Burgess Meredith as the waddling, squawking Penguin; Cesar Romero as a maniacal if not all that homicidal Joker, effective enough despite refusing to shave off his mustache which frequently showed through the make-up; and Frank Gorshin as an insane incarnation of the Riddler, running around in green tights and providing the creepiest laugh on the air at the time.
The show's formula was to set-up the villain's caper in the first part, generally entrapping Batman and Robin at the conclusion of it in some fiendish device that probably had the set builders and prop men tearing their hair out, and then to have the heroes escape at the start of the second part and proceed to round up the bad guys. It managed to work for three seasons of super-hero silliness, not to mention a theatrical movie that pit Batman and Robin against the combined forces of Penguin, Joker, Riddler, and Catwoman.
The closest thing to a revival of this series was a generally-forgotten special in 1979 entitled "Legends of the Super-Heroes", which had Adam West and Burt Ward reprise their roles of Batman and Robin, along with Frank Gorshin as the Riddler, joined by a virtual who's who of DC Comics, including Captain Marvel (Superman was busy with his first Christopher Reeve movie), Hawkman, Green Lantern, the Flash, Black Canary, and several others, going up against a gang of villains led by the wizard Mordru, and featuring the likes of Solomon Grundy (surprisingly effective under the circumstances), Sinestro, Weather Wizard, and more. The show was filmed for chump change on video, with an incredibly annoying laugh track, and the object of this review didn't even appear in it (probably because they couldn't get hold of one of the replicas, let alone the original), and the explanation was that Robin had totaled it joyriding. I don't think saying "Holy -- anything" was going to get him out of that mess.
West and Ward would go on to reprise their roles in several animated outlets, including a "Batman" series produced by Filmation, and subsequently in the "Super Friends/Super Powers" animated series by Hanna-Barbera.
For all the color and campiness, one of the things that the "Batman" show has always been best known for is, of course -- THE BATMOBILE. Far flashier than its comics counterparts, this massive machine remains a hallmark of Batman even to this day. Let's consider the history of this remarkable car:
The Batmobile began life as a Ford concept car called the Lincoln Futura, built over a decade before its conversion for the TV show, in 1955.
The body of the Futura was fabricated by Ghia, whose artisans hammered the car's panels over logs and tree stumps carved as forms to create the sleek manta ray-like car. Hopefully this was not a procedure used for the mass production of the vehicle.
In 1965, ABC-TV chose famed Hollywood customizer George Barris to design a "Batmobile" for their soon-to-go-into production BATMAN show. With only three weeks, Barris decided that rather than build a car from scratch, it would be best to transform the Lincoln Futura into the famous crime-fighting vehicle of TV's caped crusader. Barris hired Dean Jeffries to do the metal modifications to the car.
When filming for the series began, several problems arose due to the age of the car: It overheated, the battery went dead, and the expensive Indy type tires provided by Mickey Thompson kept blowing. By mid-season the drive train and chassis, including a new 428 C.I.D. engine from a 1966 Ford Galaxie, was installed, replacing the original Lincoln Mark II units that were modified to create the Lincoln Futura.
Barris built three fiberglass copies of the original Batmobile for exhibition on the car show circuit (one of which was used for exhibition drag racing). Eventually, the three copies were covered with a black velvet "fuzz" paint, presumably to hide stress cracks in the fiberglass bodies. Later, all three were restored to their gloss black paint job. The 3 replicas are all based on a 1965-1966 Ford Galaxie. Barris has retained ownership of the original TV car, which is currently on display at the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles, California. The three Barris copies all reside in private collections.
The Batmobile was a pretty large car, measuring nearly 20 feet in length, and seven and a half feet wide, with a "curb weight" of over two and a half tons.
Of course, in the show, the Batmobile was loaded with assorted crime-fighting gadgetry. A partial list includes a nose-mounted chain slicer, lasers, rockets, an on-board telephone, radar, dash monitor, on-board computer, police beacon, a smoke emitter, a rear-facing camera, a battering ram, and a nail spreader to discourage pursuit. Presumably none of these were actually functional devices.
My personal favorite was the "Bat-Chute". The Batmobile could deploy a pair of 10' parachutes from the back that would allow the vehicle to complete an otherwise impossible 180° "bat-turn". And just to show what a good citizen Batman was, not wanting to leave a couple of parachutes laying on the road after he detached them, a van labeled "Bat-Chute Retrieval" was often seen dispatched from an unknown location.
Now, there have been toys of the Batmobile before. Arguably the best known was produced by Corgi in the 1960's, around the time of the show's greatest popularity, and indeed, I owned this Batmobile when I was a child. It had little removable Batman and Robin figures, and a number of special features built into the car.
But -- Mattel has had the DC Comics license, especially Batman, for a number of years now. And Mattel is best known for -- what? Hot Wheels cars! What's taken them so long to get around to making any editions of this most popular Batmobile? Well -- legal rights, basically. That particular Batmobile has some connection to George Barris, and as I understand it, there were those and some other particulars to be worked out before Mattel could incorporate it into Hot Wheels or anything else.
However, these were finally dealt with, and the TV series Batmobile finally turned up as a standard 1:64 Hot Wheels car as part of the 2007 line. But Mattel wasn't finished. While they would continue to produce other Batmobiles from other areas -- animation, the more recent movies, and such, they wanted to do something special with the Barris Batmobile. And so, this past year, they released a huge 1:18 scale TV series Batmobile! And I finally got it.
Mattel has done a really superb job with this vehicle, although I am of the opinion that it is slightly smaller than 1:18 scale. At 1:18, a 3-3/4" action figure should just about fit in the driver's or passenger's seat. And they don't -- not easily. So much for using this car with the new DC Infinite Heroes line.
Then again, this isn't meant to be an action figure vehicle. It's a die-cast replica, pretty much of collector level, and in that, it's superb. The vehicle is carefully packaged in a sturdy cardboard box with a viewing window. Upon opening the box, it is obvious that the Batmobile has been mounted on four short struts that are embedded in the cardboard base. I've encountered this before. Fortunately, it's a fairly easy situation to remedy.
The struts contain screws that go into the bottom of the car. A small screwdriver is enough to remove these, and free the vehicle. I should mention that it would be a good idea to use a small but sturdy screwdriver. These things were in pretty tight.
The Batmobile is about 11-1/2" in length, indeed a little smaller than 1:18 scale. If one does the math, an 11-1/2" car at 1:18 scale would be seventeen and a half feet long at full size. The actual Batmobile is closer to twenty feet.
Most of the car is die-cast metal, painted very effectively in gloss black. The underside of the car is plastic, as is -- surprisingly to me -- the hood. What's amazing is how well the plastic hood blends in with the die cast body of the car. You really can't even tell. A word of warning -- THE HOOD IS NOT DESIGNED TO RAISE. Although it is clearly a separate part, this is not designed to be one of its functions. I learned this sort of the hard way. Besides, I don't recall any episodes offhand where the Batmobile was dead on the side of the road with steam pouring out of it while Batman tried to get it going again.
The doors, however, DO open, and display a very nicely detailed interior, that includes the seats, the concealed panels that would raise open to access various Bat-gadgets, the centrally located fire extinguisher, and the Bat-phone direct line to Commissioner Gordon. That's right, folks, Batman had a phone in his car LONG before it was a common practice. Unfortunately, he tended to talk on it while driving, as well. So much for his positive example on that one...
The steering wheel within the car does actually steer the front wheels of the Batmobile. The tires are rubber, and the chrome hubcaps are complete with little red Bat-logos.
The rear of the car displays the rocket jet engine that supposedly powered the Batmobile. I suppose I shouldn't be, but I'm almost disappointed that this Batmobile doesn't have the effect of its Corgi predecessor, that when you rolled that one along on the ground, this little plastic jet flame shot in and out of the rocket jet. The two drag chutes are clearly visible, packaged to either side of the jet.
Of course, the Batmobile has the trademark double canopy, molded from a sturdy clear plastic. The overall paint detailing on this car is excellent, and cannot have been easy. The Batmobile is not just a black car. It has narrow red lines running the length of the car from the front to the back, and over the huge fins, as well. Mess these up and you pretty well ruin the look of the car. Fortunately, Mattel is very good at making excellent cars, and when they get into this Collector grade, they're going to be careful. The trim work is excellent, not only the red lines on the body of the car, but the silver trim around the canopy, as well. And the red lines hold up well going past the doors, which logically were painted separately prior to assembly (although that's speculation on my part). Speaking of the doors, the red Bat-logos with their white borders have been very neatly placed.
If weight is any indication, then this is a well-made vehicle. It weighs a bit over a pound and a half.
So, what's my final word here? Hey, who wouldn't want this? Even people who aren't presently into super-heroes, who have even some knowledge of pop culture, are going to recognize this car. It's been in any number of TV shows and movies, and perhaps its most notable, if bizarre, appearance, was in a TV movie in 2003 entitled "Return to the Batcave: The Misadventures of Adam and Burt", which featured Adam West and Burt Ward reminiscing, rather tongue in cheek, about the production of the original TV series, even as they try to help solve the disappearance of the Batmobile.
So -- this is one popular car. And you don't necessarily have to be a Bat-fan to appreciate it. Of course, that helps. But after all these years, it's really great to have this high-quality a replica of one of the most popular cars of all time. The 1:18 SCALE HOT WHEELS 1966 TV SERIES BATMOBILE definitely has my highest recommendation!
Until next time...atomic batteries to power, turbines to speed, and be sure you fasten your seat belts...!