“Atomic batteries to power; turbines to speed.” “Roger. Move out.”
For millions of Americans in the late 1960s, those words were as memorable as the “one small step for mankind” remark uttered by Neil Armstrong as he stepped upon the face of the moon. They signified that the Batmobile from the famous TV show was about to take off once more. What few viewers knew, however, is that the legendary vehicle was a one-of-a-kind concept car built more than ten years before, as an attempt to forecast what vehicles would look like in the future.
In 1952 Bill Schmidt, head of Lincoln’s styling division, decided to create a concept car with a body design inspired by the shape of sea creatures he saw firsthand during a trip to the Caribbean. Over the next two years plans were drawn up, models were made, and in 1954 a joint Italian/American team set to work building the actual vehicle, at the Ghia Body Works in Turin, Italy.
Unlike many concept vehicles it was actually fitted with an engine, a V8 with a 4 barrel carb that created 330 HP and tied in to a Turbo Drive Automatic Transmission. The prominent bubble shaped top was Schmidt’s idea of what people in the future would consider chic. It was formed of Plexiglas with chrome trim.
The Futura was 52.8 inches in height and was 227 inches long. The twin air scoops in back cooled the rear brakes and funneled oxygen to the air conditioning intake. The original body color was earlescent
The interior boasted features that would be considered luxurious even today. Besides the aforementioned AC it had a push button transmission with controls on the armrest, padded four-way power seats trimmed in leather, and deep-pile black carpet. While on their way to fight crime Batman and robin could listen to tunes on the AM radio. The horn was activated by a floor pedal. Total cost of construction: $250,000.00 in 1954 dollars.
It made an appearance at an auto show in Chicago in 1955 and another in Detroit later that year. It had a cameo spot on the Ed Sullivan Show and was painted red for a spot in the 1959 Glenn Ford/Debbie Reynolds film It Started With a Kiss.
After that it passed into the hands of private collector George Barris, who in 1965 won the contract to build the Batmobile for the upcoming TV series. With only three weeks to deliver a finished vehicle, he decided to paint the Futura black and modify its exterior somewhat. He got it to the studio on time, and for three seasons the iconic vehicle appeared weekly on ABC.
After the show was cancelled Barris retained possession of the Futura. Every once in a while it showed up at a promotional event. It later found a new home at the Cayman Motor Museum on Grand Cayman Island, a fitting home for a car that was inspired by a trip to the sea.
Written by Bill Wilson