History of the Batmobile: Hollywood's Hero Car
Just look at a 5-year old child’s doodles and you’ll realize that from a very young age, we’re drawn to the automobile. It fascinates us, sometimes motivates us to do bad things, it inspires us but also scares us in a primeval way.
The young imagine them as something they’re not, something better and more powerful, like a flying machine, a giant robot, a time traveling device or a gun platform. Hollywood has taken advantage of this, but one movie car stands above all others, the Batmobile.
It’s got a jet burner, weapons and armor. Batman is just an ordinary man with a cape, he can’t leap or fly. You simply can not imagine Batman without the Batmobile. A kid will always look at this mythical machine and think to himself: “wow, if I had a Batmobile, I could do anything I wanted.”
The TV Era
Built by legendary car customizer George Barris, this Batmobile appeared in TV series that aired between 1966 and 1968, 120 episodes of butt kicking, crime fighting action. The TV series car actually started life ten years before as the Lincoln Futura concept, designed by Ford and built in Italy by Ghia Body Works.
In those days, there were no computer generated special effects, so every feature on the car had to be real. But all the crime fighting gadgets were a bit silly, named with humor: the Batphone, the Emergency Bat-turn Lever, the Batray, the Bat Beam and best of all, the Bat-tering Ram. No, we’re not making this stuff up!
The TV series car doesn’t have the menacing look of the Tumbler, but it started several trends, like the use of a rear-mounted turbine / thruster, while cementing Batman’s reputation as the hero with the futuristic toys. Also, the parachutes on the back were from a real dragster, which means some of the stunts they pulled were quite dangerous.
Batmobile and Batmobile Returns
The Batmobile is just as powerful and imposing as the legend surrounding Batman himself: “Every punk in this town is scared stiff. They say he can’t be killed, they say he drinks blood.”
As the dark side of freedom and crime fighting, this Batman character is an antihero, pushed to the boundary of what police consider justice in order to purge extremely disturbed criminals such as the Joker.
This sinister symbolism is also visible in the Batmobile, which is almost like an outward expression of his anger. The paint is no longer gloss black, it’s just the sort of gunmetal finish that deters and let’s criminals know he’s there to fight, and fight hard.
The 1989 Batmobile is almost 21 ft. 8 in. (6.7 meters) long. It can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in just 3.7 seconds and reaches a top speed of 330 mph (532 km/h) with the booster on, basically faster than any real car you could buy at that time. The futuristic machine was also packed with plenty of weaponry: machine guns, bombs, smoke projectors, disk throwers and oil slick. It’s also protected by ceramic fractal armor plates. However, the Batmobile of your childhood dreams is in reality based on a Chevy Impala and powered by a V8, not a jet turbine engine.
The Batmobile sprouted huge bat-shaped fins or wings. Just like a Rolls Royce, the Batman emblems on the wheels stayed upright when the wheels were spinning. Place firmly in the realm of fantasy, this vehicle could climb vertical walls and drive perpendicularly (crabbing). The fictional top speed 330 mph (532 km/h), though this 25 foot (7.6 meters) machine actually came with a 350 horsepower Chevrolet engine.
The Dark Knight: the Tumbler Is Born
To make sure none of the old imagery is conjured up, Nolan never calls it a Batmobile throughout the movie, instead naming it the Tumbler. Christian Bale really does play the role of a bored, young billionaire well, a bit childish and bored with his Lamborghinis, which are fun but don’t really speak to his soul. And so, along comes mister Lucius Fox, head of the Applied Sciences Division, with a crime fighting partner.
This is the most realistic Gotham City ever created, and in it Batman can die, the villains are mobsters, pimps and bank robbers. The Tumbler is a means to fight injustice, an equalize that uses fear against those who pray on the fearful.
Because they wanted to keep the jet engine at the back, it’s envisioned not as a tank, but as a bridging vehicle, capable of jumping across rivers. But other that, the Tumber is a urban tank, driving over cars, through walls, up stairs, all the time shooting its heavy cannons and missiles.
The Tumbler doesn’t come with Batrays and Batphones, it’s got very real dual front autocannons, rocket launchers, heavy armor plating.
The Batpod is ejected from the front of the Tumbler, allowing Batman to continue fighting the Joker. The bike is armed to the teeth with a machinegun, a cannon and grappling hooks. Interestingly, there are some technological aspects that might blow your mind: the frame is used as an exhaust and chassis stretches and lowers to allow Batman to slide under a tractor trailer.
The aircraft gives a sort of romantic scale to it all, letting you see Batman and Bane as sort of generals fighting the war over humanity. Scale transforms this from a hero movie to a disaster movie, firmly away from the sort of detective/science fictional character Batman used to be.