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1955 Lincoln Futura Replica

The restoration of ventriloquist Jeff Dunham's Futura is well underway.

Built by the late Bob Butts in 1991 for use in the TV show Viper, this replica was built on a stretched 1962 Lincoln using a fiberglass 1966 Batmobile body and reverse engineering what George Barris did to the original metal Futura.  Butts filled in everything that Barris cut off, and cut off everything that Barris added to create the world's only completed, driveable replica of the 1955 Lincoln Futura.  It sold to the guy that invented bubble wrap in Chicago, then he passed away and it sold to a man that let his 16-year-old son drive it, then it sold to a guy that didn't consult his wife before making a major purchase (always a bad idea, folks!), and now it is owned by ventriloquist Jeff Dunham, the guy with puppets Achmed, Peanut, and Walter (among many others). 

Originally, Fiberglass Freaks was supposed to just simply gut the interior and install ours, and repair the center canopy.  As with all projects that Fiberglass Freaks does, it didn't stay simple for long.  The hood flipped conventionally, hinged at the rear, and Jeff wanted us to flip it accurately, at the front.  Which required moving the radiator core support.  Then they noticed that the left inner fender wasn't attached to the left outer fender on the driver side.  The frame extension wasn't done very well, and no inner sleeves were attached, so the Freaks replaced and repaired that.  Then they discovered that everywhere that Batmobile items were cut away and filled in, cardboard was  used behind a thin sheet of fiberglass, and then covered in Bondo!

Things really got interesting when eight of the top designers from Ford Motor Company,  in a conference call with Jeff Dunham and Fiberglass Freaks owner Mark Racop, told Jeff if the car was accurate enough that they might do a world tour with the car.  Jeff decided to go all out and make the car as accurately as it possibly could be done.  That meant changing the hinging of the doors, changing out the underside trunk lid, remodeling the rear bumper, and even fiberglassing the doors closed and cutting the body off the floor pan to push the sides in to remove a 3" flare curvature so the chrome side trim would look right.

The restoration is well on its way, and should be completed in early 2018. 

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Stan Thorwaldsen Interview

Stan Thorwaldsen, Interior Designer of the 1955 Lincoln Futura

Mark: Stan, do you have a few minutes to answer some questions about the 1955 Lincoln Futura?

Stan: Yes.

M: How's your memory?

Stan: Oh, not as good as it used to be.

M: Well, see what you can remember. I'm a huge fan of the Futura and of the Batmobile, so this is real treat for me to talk with one of the actual builders of the car.

Stan: (chuckles) OK. I'm glad that someone still remembers it!

M: What was your job regarding the 1955 Lincoln Futura?

Stan: I was in charge of designing and building the entire interior of the car.

M: What were some of the challenges of building this car? Was anything off the shelf?

Stan: Nothing was off-the-shelf. We had to custom-build everything.

M: Switches? Knobs?

Stan: Yeah, everything. It was all one-off. We were experimenting with sculpted door panels for the first time on that car. In the past, we had always used flat masonite, but this car would have a 3D sculpted effect.

M: Were the inner door panels made of fiberglass?

Stan: Probably, although we were also working with a masonite/wood chip/glue mixture that we were heating inside of molds, too, but I expect the Futura was probably fiberglass, yes.

M: Of what material were the chrome door sweeps made? Aluminum? Stainless? Stan: Actually it was brass. We made almost all of the trim from brass because it was more malleable, and then we chrome-plated it.

M: I'll bet the five roll top dash doors were hard.

Stan: Yeah, it took some time. We made some of those parts out of steel.

M: Did you design the steering wheel?

Stan: Yes. It had little pods that hung down with turn signal indicator switches.

M: Did the turnsignal switches work?

Stan: Yes. M: That's great. How about the speedometer? The tachometer? The warning lights? Did they all work, too?

Stan: Oh, yes. All of it worked. It was a driveable car.

M: Did the center of the binnacle stay upright while the outer hub of the steering wheel turned?

Stan: Yes. And we had a compass on the driver side, and there was something on the passenger side, too. Maybe a clock.

M: Yes, the photos show a clock. Did the horn foot pedal work?

Stan: I don't remember. Probably, but I don't remember.

M: That was a couple days ago.

Stan: (Chuckles), yeah--what--fifty almost sixty years ago?

M: What was the silver part of the center console between the seats? Was it a door?

Stan: I'm pretty sure it was a tambor door that opened, yes.

M: Above the silver door was either a light or a speaker. Which was it?

Stan: I can't remember for sure, but I would think an interior light.

M: Did the microphone work on the rear deck? Was there a speaker inside the car?

Stan: No, I don't think so. It wasn't connected to anything. I think that was all for glitz and glamour as a concept car.

M: Do you have any stories or anecdotes about the Futura?

Stan: No, the building of the Futura pretty much went smoothly. At Packard, on the other hand (he laughed)!

M: Was the canopy hard to make work? Did it ever break down?

Stan: It worked all right. I'm sure it had a problem at some point, but it worked when we needed it to. As a concept car, it only had to work a handful of times.

M: Did the air conditioning work? Stan: It did, but that car was always hot.

M: No shades, no blinds...

Stan: Right. It wasn't very practical at all.

M: There were some plastic air funnels coming out of the air conditioning vents in some photos, but not all. Was that early, or late?

Stan: You mean in the rear package tray?

M: Yes, out of the chrome air conditioning vents on the rear package tray.

Stan: I remember those on the 1956 Lincoln, but not on the Futura. Hmmmm. M: Did you ever get to drive the car?

Stan: No, but Bill Schmidt, my boss, did. Along with Benson Ford, I think, in New York.

M: Do you have any photos, models or toys of the car?

Stan: No. Bill Schmidt had someone make a model for him--I don't know, maybe 18 or 20 inches long. I don't know if his family still has it, or if it ended up in a museum in Michigan.

M: What did you think of the Futura?

Stan: It was silly, it was impractical, but it was beautiful. It was one of a kind. Ford was behind Cadillac and trying to catch up.

M: Was the Futura successful for Lincoln?

Stan: Oh yes. The goal was to get attention, and that car was featured in a lot of magazines and newspapers. It did its job.

M: How did you feel about the Futura becoming the Batmobile?

Stan: Oh, all right. Ford was pushing it for use in movies and TVs. It was in a movie--I can't remember the title...

M: It Started With a Kiss with Glenn Ford?

Stan: Yes. And with Debbie Reynolds And it was a few years after that when George Barris turned it into the Batmobile.

M: What else did you do at Ford?

Stan: I designed the interior of the 1956 Lincoln, borrowing a lot from the Futura. I had started designing the Edsel interior--with no idea what the exterior would look like.

M: Did you work on the 57 Lincoln, too?

Stan: No. And Ford ruined the look of the car. But I had already left Ford to go to Packard. I was pretty young at the time--I was 21 or 22. This turned out to be a bad decision, because Packard closed down two years later!

M: Are you aware that there are 3 replicas of the Futura and about 75 of the Batmobile?

Stan: No. You mean full scale?!

M: Yes! Full-scale, 1:1 driveable cars. There are many fans of your work, trying to duplicate it perfectly.

Stan: No, I wasn't aware of that.

M: You should check out 1966batmobile.com, where you will find a section on the Futura, and take a look at some of the wonderful pictures.

Stan: I'll do that.

M: Stan, thanks so much for your time. We are huge fans of your work, and you will forever be remembered. Have a great one, sir.

Stan: Thanks for remembering!

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Steve Tansy Interview

Steve Tansy, custom car builder that made the Coca-Cola Car, worked for George Barris and toured with the #3 Barris Batmobile in the late 1960's.

Mark: What year(s) did you drive the Batmobile?

Steve Tansy: 1967-1968

MR: Was the car flocked when you saw it the first time?

ST: Yes. Can you tell from the photo in the newspaper that it was flocked?

MR: Yes. When did you sand off the flocking and repaint it?

ST: 1967

MR: Was it hard to sand off?

ST: It was very hard to sand off the flocking. I used 80 grit sandpaper on a D.A. and then block sanded it before painting it in my shop.

MR: How long did you have to do the sanding and repainting?

ST: I did it in the off-season, but I still only had a couple of weeks to do it.

MR: What can you tell me about the car?

ST: The car was one of three that Barris built when the TV show was really popular. There was another car, a metal car, that I think was built on a Thunderbird.

MR: A 1958 Thunderbird?

ST: Yeah, I think it was a 1958 Tbird, built by Jim Sermersheim of Indiana. It was a little smaller than the cars that Barris built. Did you know that metal car was confiscated by Barris and federal marshals at a car show in Fort Wayne, Indiana?

MR: I've heard that story, but I've also heard that Barris hired Jim Sermersheim to be his "east coast representative."

ST: So, you've heard of Jim Sermersheim? Not many people have.

MR: Thank you. Do you know why the #5 car sat behind Barris' shop and became so dilapidated?

ST: Not really. Probably because it wasn't the same size as the others.

MR: Did the #3 car have headlights like the one in the photo in the newspaper?

ST: No. It didn't have headlights or tail lights. It only had painted in headlights, painted in silver--or red. I can't remember.

MR: If it didn't have headlights, it might have been the #2 car that you drove instead of the #3 car pictured in the paper.

ST: You know, you might be right.

MR: But the #2 car still had flocking on it when I saw it in 1986, so it was either the #3 or #4 car. Did the car have rear windshields when you first saw it?

ST: No.

MR: Then it probably was the #3 car after all.

ST: You sure know a lot about these cars!

MR: Thank you. It's been my life's passion. Did the trunk always open, or is that something that happened during your tenure with the car?

ST: No. None of the fiberglass cars had opening trunks. Only the Futura Batmobile had a working trunk.

MR: Sometime between when you drove it and when I saw the #3 car in 1992, the trunk was cut and made functional.

ST: Really? I didn't know that.

MR: Did the Batmobile have any mechanical issues while you were driving it?

ST: No.

MR: Was the car you drove ever drag raced?

ST: No. They built another car for drag racing. It was much more souped up than the one I drove.

MR: Do you know why the rear canopy of the #4 car, the dragster, had four holes cut-out in the windshields on each side? Was it to provide air flow so they wouldn't blow off?

ST: Maybe.

MR: Is it possible the car you drove had windshields at one time, and that they tore off on a drag strip?

ST: I don't think so.

MR: Were you ever pulled over by the police while driving the car?

ST: No. What few times I drove the car on the street, I was usually escorted by the police, or had a TV or radio crew with me.

MR: Do you have photos of you with the Batmobile?

ST: No-just the ones in the newspaper. If I would have known the interest level today, I would have taken lots of pictures. At the time, it was just my job. I loved it, but it was a job.

MR: Any mishaps or funny stories you'd like to share?

ST: None that I can remember. It was great meeting lots and lots of movie stars, though!

MR: Thanks so much for taking some time out tonight to answer my questions.

ST: You're welcome, and thank you for your interest.

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Welcome!

The 1966 Batmobile!  Welcome to the family-friendly tothebatmobile.com website! This site aims to be the most accurate, most authoritative 1966 Batmobile website on the internet. Visit the history of the donor car for the Batmobile--the 1955 Lincoln Futura--or the behind-the-scenes story of how George Barris almost didn’t build this iconic car.  Check back often as new photos, new articles, and new stories about Batman and the Batmobile will be posted.

If you would like to submit photos or articles regarding the 1966 Batmobile, please send them to this email address: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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