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I’ve had some comments that bashing the staggering array of concept cars that should never had reached the light of day is too easy. They might be right, but it’s so much fun.

Anyway, I thought I’d take heed of these comments and look at something different, but don’t get too used to it, I won’t be doing this very often.

Now, the astute (and those that read the title of this post) will know I’m going to talk about the Lincoln Futura, a Ford concept car from the 50s. It’s tempting to pull apart its concept car excesses: those overhangs, the rear fins that would make a prehistoric shark jealous, and the headlight eyebrows that give the car a permeant questioning grin.

So much fodder … but no, we’re going to give this car some respect.

In 1955, Ford handed a quarter of a million dollars to Ghia to hand make a car to their specifications. The result was the Futura, and for the remainder of the 50s this car toured car shows with some success, and it’s easy to see why.

It was wildly styled, even by the excesses of the 50s, but the whole look is homogeneous – the styling cues are used consistently across the car. One of my favorite features was the double bubble canopy (I’m a sucker for the double bubble look on anything). It would have been ludicrous, you could barely make eye contact with your traveling partner, but it looks so cool. It gives the impression of car travel being something serious, something that requires a massive concentration of engineering just to be able to go from A to B.

The double bubble style has resurfaced on other cars. The most recent example is the Peugeot RCZ, although it’s way less extreme. Sadly, the Peugeot isn’t available in the US (quite why I say that I don’t know, because I couldn’t afford one anyway).

Unlike many concept cars, the Futura was a running example and in 1959 it was sprayed red and stared in the film “It Started with a Kiss.” After that its fortunes declined (the film didn’t do that well either). In the early 60s Ford sold the car for $1 to custom car guru, George Barris (the “King of Kustomizers”). It sat, unloved, on George’s lot for several years, waiting for greatness.

I imagine by 1966 it was getting pretty fed up of waiting, but it was in luck, greatness rapped hard on its double bubble canopy. George was contracted to design a theme car for the Batman show. After a false start with another car, George turned to the rusting Futura. A guy called Bill Cushenberry was contracted to modify the metalwork, and the Batmobile was born, or should I say it emerged from the batcave.

They removed the central section of the plexiglass bubbles, making the car open top and enabling those great scenes of Batman and Robin jumping in and out of the car. I can remember, as a child, leaping over the arm of the sofa, pretending I was leaping from the Batmobile, ready to fight crime and uphold the american way (even though I lived in deepest Oxfordshire at the time).

The transformation of the un-cared-for Futura into the glossy Batmobile was fabulous, but to me, one of the great things they did to make this car iconic was the pinstripes that run around the headlights, the front fenders and down the length of the car. They show off the absurd ledge that runs the length of the car’s side, and give the impression of a piercing glare from the front. Delightfully tacky, yet unrefined as a certain owl-centered chain might say. On anything else these lines would make me shudder, but here they convey the comic innocence the series portrayed brilliantly.

At the time, several copies of the car were made to suit the filming schedule. George retained ownership of the cars and the original is now in his museum.

Newer copies have been made, of course, but somehow they don’t have the innocence that made the original, they’re just too perfect. Mind you, a new generation of crime fighters are finding you can’t stand around with your underpants on the outside without gaining some attention!

There you go. The Futura lives on, Batman style. Or perhaps that should be Batman lives on, Futura style. Either way, one wouldn’t have been famous without the other, and I love them both. After all, who hasn’t dreamt of launching Bat Missiles, Bat Smoke, or best of all, using the the Bat Ray Projector?

Or do you have other hero-mobile aspirations? Do you want to pull wheelies in the A-Team’s GMC? Cruise boulevards in the Monkeemobile? or zap ghosts in the ‘busters Cadillac? Come on, be honest, you know you do.


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