Designer Frank Stephenson Talks the History of the Batmobile, From Goofy Prop to Weapon

Batmobile 9 photos
Photo: Warner Brothers
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Frank Stephenson has applied his genius to car designs from the fantastic Ford Escort RS to models from Maserati, McLaren, Fiat, Ferrari, Alfa Romeo and Lancia.
But the various versions of the Batmobile hold a special place in his heart when it comes to decades of iterations of a single idea.

“For me, there's no more iconic place to start than in Gotham City with Batman himself. Over the years there have been numerous interpretations of the Batmobile and it was a lot of fun to be able to cast my eye over them,” Stephenson says.

According to Stephenson, there are limitless ways a design can communicate the “intention of a vehicle.” He’s made a project of analyzing lines of designs and “looking at them as rolling sculptures” which can influence gaming and the world of cinema

While he’s never done a Batmobile, he would be delighted to apply his pen to that task.

The character of Batman first made an appearance 75 years ago in May of 1939 in Detective Comics #27. The first real Batmobile didn’t make an appearance until two years later, but it now ranks as the Dark Knight's most high-profile weapon.

The Batmobile has gone through many different artists' modifications and has frequently been subject to changes in shape, feel and features. Since 1939, there have been more than 250 versions of Batmobiles in films, television shows, comics and cartoons.

Stephenson points to the 1966 Batmobile to help discuss the evolution of the breed and says that version was “very typical of the time” as it had a space-age design which called out tail fins and a “huge amount of glass.” He says many of the car’s design cues - from another automotive genius, George Barris - derived from a concept car of the era dubbed the Lincoln Futura.

As for the changes to the car over the years, Stephenson says the 1989 Batmobile marks a watershed moment when it became “less like a product and more like Batman himself” and “more akin to an armored tank, perhaps a sort of military-grade type weapon.”

The designer says it is the 2005 version of the Batmobile which saw a shocking transformation as “the humanity and vulnerability of the 95 Batmobile” is long gone. He says that iteration removed all traces of “the style and elegance" of the 1989 Batmobile and wiped clean the “light-heartedness and the comedy of the 1966 Batmobile.”

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