The 1966 Batmobile, as we know it, just about didn’t happen. Long before George Barris was involved with the campy 1966 TV show Batman, the producers hired competitor Dean Jeffries, the creator of such cars as the Monkeemobile and the Green Hornet’s Black Beauty, to build the Batmobile. Jeffries was going to use a 1959 Cadillac as the donor car.
A decision at ABC changed everything. Instead of airing a year later, Batman was rushed into pre-production to become a mid-season replacement. Suddenly, the producers of Batman needed a Batmobile in a month instead of the original target date. The producers paid off Dean Jeffries for the design work and turned to George Barris to see what he could do.
They showed him sketches made by Eddie Graves. Barris indicated that he had a car that would be perfect for the job–a rusting 1955 Lincoln Futura prototype car that already had a lot of Batman-like features: it was futuristic, had long fins, and distinctive double bubble windshields. Barris gave the studio three sketches and also four proposals. The studio elected not to purchase the Batmobile from Barris, but rather to rent it.
Barris was given three weeks to modify the 1955 Lincoln Futura to meet the studio’s requirements: remove the center canopy, build an arch with a beacon light and bing bong warning lights, add scallops to the ends of the wings, extend the wings onto the doors, extend the hood scoop onto the nose of the car, include a cable cutter blade, triple rocket tubes, rocket exhaust tube, parachute packs, Batcomputer automatic radio link antenna, the detect-a-scope, a T arm accelerator handle, the batcomputer in the trunk, and a fire extinguisher.
The chrome trim on the flares and the front and rear bumpers had already been removed. Barris was contracted to provide a car for a science fiction movie that fell apart on him. Trianglular holes were cut into the tops of the rear end of the car, and needed to be replaced. The microphone on the trunk lid was removed, but the hole was never filled in.
Barris went to metal maestro Bill Cushenberry to grind off the paint job and make the metal modifications. There were no drawings–Cushenberry says he was told what to do. The wings were extended onto the doors, the wheel wells were cut open and matching curved flares were added, the scallops were added to the ends of the wings, the sides of the headlight buckets were closed in, and the hood scoop was extended down the hood and a triangular nose section was added.
The experimental Lincoln Mark II Lincoln Futura frame was cut with a torch to remove the original transmission. The gear shifter buttons were removed from the center console, and an automatic floor gear shifter was installed. The switches were removed from Dashboard Compartment #3 to make room for what would, with the magic of optical special effects, become a TV screen. A small plate was added under Dashboard Compartment #2 for the headlights, beacon, and other functions.
Barris removed the windshields to install the arch, but apparently it didn’t fit as desired, because the arch was cut in two pieces at the leading edge of the rear windshield. The shape of the bottom panel of the arch was held in place by two wires encased in leather with upholstery ends screwed to the panel. The front windshield frame corners received aluminum corner brackets, presumably to hide cuts made to the framework to remove the windshields.
The six volt 1955 Lincoln Futura electrical system was woefully inadequate to provide the needed power to run the beacon and warning lights. Parts of the wiring were upgraded to the newer twelve volt system. It still couldn’t keep up with the power requirements, because the crew would often operate the gadgets without the engine running for sound recording purposes.
To make the steering wheel more futuristic, Barris cut it at ten and two, to make it more like the controls of an airplane. To cap the wheel where he cut it he installed two black rubber cane tips on the ends. Both Adam West and his stunt double Hubie Kerns complained that the cut steering wheel was hazardous. Between second and third seasons of the Batman show, Barris replaced the one of a kind futura steering wheel with a 1958 Edsel wheel (uncut at the time of the show, cut at 10 and 2 after Batman was cancelled).
The prop department at 20th Century Fox apparently supplied the beacon cage, the two aerial antenna/antlers, the Detect-a-scope, the five light flasher on the dashtop under the arch, the blue triangle knobs on the center console, the Batbeam antenna grid between the front windshields, and the Batphone.
The car was delivered in black primer and white airbrushed stripes for a network screen test presentation reel and publicity photos with Adam West and Berton Gervis, who later became Burt Ward (and presumably with Lyle Waggoner and Peter Dyelle, competitors for the roles, as well). An interesting side note is that Corgi Toys saw the flat black primer car and created its first run of metal Batmobile toys in flat black. Corgi corrected the paint job to gloss black for all subsequent runs.
The Batmobile hood was unfortunately opened while the cable cutter blade was deployed, destroying the perfect point of the hood scoop beak. The beak was never properly repaired during the run of the show, even with several paint jobs applied. Instead, Bondo was hastily applied. Barris received the car with instructions on some changes to striping locations and also the color. Barris painted the car gloss black with the addition of day-glo flourescent cerise paint from a sign shop. With matching color used on the metal door bats and metal wheel bats, the most famous car in the world was born.
Many changes were made to the car during the car of the series. Gadgets were added and removed, and dashboard labels were replaced or moved about the cockpit. Some gadgets were used only once, while others were used multiple times.
After Batman was canceled, the parts that Fox added were apparently removed. Barris replaced these items with facsimiles, many that are still on the car today. Over the years, Barris has made additional changes to the car, like additional labels on the outside of the vehicle, and lawn sprinklers as "gas nozzles."
George Barris still owns the screen-used #1 Futura Batmobile, and it resides at his shop on Riverside in North Hollywood, California.
Sources: Cinefantastique, personal interviews