The #5 Batmobile

Barris occasionally told the story that he had federal marshalls confiscate a fan-made Batmobile at an Indiana car show in 1966. But the builder of the car, Jim Sermersheim, told a different story. Barris did not commission Sermersheim to build the replica, but he didn't confiscate it either. Sermersheim, a jeweler by trade, tinkered with automobiles as a hobby.  His original goal was to build a car for himself and take it to fairs as a free attraction. He only had photos of the #1 from magazines and the like.

Sermersheim said that it took nine months to convert a 1958 Thunderbird, with a 289 engine, into the Batmobile. The car was undersized, but still a nice tribute car. Sermersheim commented, "I used a TON of Bondo on that car!"  He says all of the gadgets worked: rockets fired from the triple rocket tubes, the detect-a-scope had a rotating arrow, and he installed a working cable cutter blade in the nose.

In 1966, he took his Batmobile replica to a fair in Terre Haute, Indiana, for its first appearance. He covered the rear half of the car with a giant "bat blanket" to protect the car from sparks from the rockets he fired off every thirty minutes to draw attention to his car. Evidently, the car was drawing large crowds away from the rest of the fair.

Shortly after that, at a car show in Toledo, Ohio, National Periodicals (now DC Comics) took photos of Sermersheim’s Batmobile replica. A month later, Sermersheim received a cease and desist order from Barris’ lawyer. But the letter also came with an offer to purchase the car.  He knew Barris on a casual basis, finding each other at some of the same car shows.

Sermersheim said he was not interested in selling his car, so Barris cut him a deal, making Sermersheim the "East Coast Rep." Barris, Sermersheim, and National Periodicals split the profits three ways, ignoring Greenway Productions completely. National Periodicals built a special trailer to haul the car and to show it. The sides were hinged and folded. A set of stairs and a platform were added beside the trailer to let people get near the car. Sermersheim toured with his car until 1968. When Batman was canceled, demand for appearances declined. Sermersheim said he sold the car to National Periodicals, not to George Barris, and that was the last time he saw his Batmobile replica.

Somehow, the car ended up in Barris’ possession anyway, rusting away in his boneyard. Bob Butts bought the car from Barris for $30,000, and did a very nice job restoring and improving the car. It was sold to Ms. Chinery (now widowed), who bought it for her husband Scott Chinery as a birthday gift (along with a 1966 Batcycle replica). After Scott Chinery passed away, his widow used it for charity events in New Jersey.  It sold on May 12th, 2018 for $165,000 at the RM/Sotheby's Auction in Auburn, Indiana.


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