The first Batmobile was red, or at least, an early depiction of the classic vehicle was in a DC Comics edition from 1939. Yes, I raised an eyebrow at how long ago that was too. But it wasn’t till much later that the Batmobile that we know, love and envy became the norm with it’s Cadillac-style tailfins.
In fact, tailfins weren’t just an iconic aesthetic of the early Cadillac, they were a stabilisation aid in crosswinds. By placing the centre of pressure as far back on the car as possible, this would apparently reduce the amount of steering correction required by the driver. It got a bit much by the time the Cadillac Eldorado appeared in 1959 though, and their size steadily reduced thereafter. Unless you owned the Batmobile of course..
I guess, depending on your age or love of kitsch, the first iconic Batmobile vehicle you will recall is the one from the sixties Adam West TV series. With flowing lines, a sleek black night-time look, subtle red highlighting and those all important tailfins, this was the benchmark for all future incarnations of what is one of the classic, most recognised superhero cars of all time.
Adam West’s car was in fact a concept car – a Lincoln Futura to be precise, and a quick look at this car (often pictured in white, which was a common colour for the period) it just shouts Batmobile to the onlooker. But I’ve covered this one before, so what of the most recent film versions? These have taken the design concept to the outer limits and deserve a separate look..
Tim Burton directed Michael Keaton as Batman (1989) and Batman Returns. The automobile used for these films is a far cry from the Adam West vehicle, looking far more like a 1980s Formula 1 race car than a Cadillac, this car ran a 0-60mph in just 3.7 seconds on high octane fuel pumped through a jet turbine engine. It had a top speed of 330mph. In fact, the only real nod to the original TV Batmobile was the 2 piece aircraft style cockpit (the Batmobile must have a Robin as well of course).
The only existing jet turbine powered version is a replica built by Putsch Racing in Dublin, Ohio, USA. You can see a static replica of the Batmobile used in these films at various Batman: The Ride rollercoasters.
Joel Schumacher took the Batmobile even further from the original when he directed Batman Forever in 1995. With a Chevrolet 350 ZZ3 engine and a top speed of 330mph, this was a beast – but what type of beast? There’s no getting away from it, this vehicle looks more like a fish than a bat, with enormous black fins. Custom blue lighting add even more moodiness to the old DC classic and a grappling hook allowing the vehicle to climb walls adds an ‘it’s alive’ aura to this Batmobile. The hubcaps are a nice touch on this version – with a counter-rotation gear fitted, the centrecaps will always show a static bat emblem however fast the wheels are rotating. A bit like those old Westerns where the stage coach achieves a speed in harmony with the speed of the film and the wheels appear to be balancing or even going backwards.
For 1997’s Batman and Robin, the Batmobile underwent yet another eye-watering change (not pictured). Featuring the same engine as it’s last incarnation, the top speed was boosted to 350mph. Sleeker than the fish-like Batmobile, this motor at least gave a nod to the Adam West version – though you need to look hard to see it. The tailfins were still here though, and the biggest yet seen too.
It doesn’t end here though, as in 2005 Christopher Nolan then took the reigns to direct Batman Begins, The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises. Unsurprisingly, the need was felt to reinvent the Batmobile once more. Looking more like a military bomb disposal robot, you wouldn’t even be able to tell that this was Batman’s vehicle if he wasn’t actually sitting in it. In fact, this isn’t so far fetched, as in Batman Begins, Batman (aka Bruce Wayne) uses a military vehicle called The Tumbler to base his new Batmobile on. In The Dark Knight, the Batmobile sheds a section to transform part of itself ingeniously into the Batpod, a 2-wheeler that Barry Sheen would be proud of. Despite it’s ungainly looks, this version still had a respectable acceleration of 0-60mph in around 5 seconds.
My favourite? I don’t really have one. I think these classic takes on a vintage 1939 car are more about design one-upmanship and the wow factor than pure enjoyment of a much loved car. And of course, they are all pretty much unreachable for the average consumer – except one.. So go sort your classic car insurance and hunt down a classic fifties Cadillac for that vintage Batmobile look.