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Courtesy of John Haig

 

Photo courtesy of Ken Bowman

Before it was the Batmobile it was the 1955 Lincoln Futura concept car.  

The Batmobile-to-be was the brainchild of Lincoln Mercury's postwar chief stylist, Bill Schmidt.  Inspired by a scuba-diving encounter with a shark, Schmidt sketched a low, long, wide, and flat vision of the future with a predatory full width grille, ominously hooded headlights, and killer tail fins.  Built by Ghia in 1954, the $250,000 dream car was dubbed the Lincoln Futura.  It took just three months to ready the concept car for its debut at the Chicago Auto Show in January 1955.  From there, the futuristic Lincoln was driven to a show in Detroit.  On March 3rd, just before the NY Auto Show, with Benson Ford at the experimental steering wheel and Schmidt in the passenger seat, the Futura cruised from the United Nation's building through Central Park to the Tavern on the Green (restaurant) for a photo session.  The Futura went on The Ed Sullivan Show, which Lincoln sponsored, then to a guest shot on Dave Garroway's TV Show.

Rare picture of the Futura
September 1952 drawing of the Futura
1955 Lincoln Futura
Lincoln Futura Unfortunately, the excesses of the Futura seemed woefully at odds with the design ethics of the Sixties.  And so it happened that the unwanted car ended up in the possession of George Barris.  In 1965, Barris was commissioned to build the Batmobile for ABC's upcoming Batman TV series.  But because the show was about to go into production, he had only three weeks to build it.  He quickly realized it didn't take much work to modify the Futura for the part. While retaining the chassis and the basic shape of the car, Barris overhauled the nose and tail with numerous bat like shapes and references.  Barris in '66 would assemble 3 more Batmobiles using bodies based on the prototype mold and built on a production car chassis. Color picture
Photo courtesy of Ken Bowman Futura front view
Side shot of the Futura A unique side angle
Great detailed shot
Original stereo slide from the collection of Hillary Hess Futura topview Futura rear A 1955 Thompson Products Ad  

March 3, 1955

January 1955 1955 1959 1955 1955
Compass and HVAC controls Interior Cruising Central Park in NYC January 1955 Dash Lights
Courtesy of chicagoautoshow.com March 1955 1955 Chicago Auto Show The Futura at Barris' shop circa 1963-1965 Photo taken around 1963-1965
Photo taken around 1963-1965 Bill Cushenbery 1965 1965 Courtesy of Barris Kustom Industries
The modifications have begun The modifications have begun Futura Futura Futura
Futura Futura Scribe lines on the wheel wells Clay side Clay side
The Futura in clay Clay The canopy frame for the clay car Clay Futura Clay rear
Dash area Futura Clay model of the dash and steering wheel Lincoln Futura In color
Interior Dash Interior A 1967 picture of the Futura's center canopy hanging from the ceiling in Barris' shop 1955-The frozen Futura
March 1955 The Futura in 1955 1955 1959 Photo promoting the movie It Started With A Kiss Circa 1955
Futura Agreement Debbie Reynolds in 1959      

        

No Sluggards, Ford Motor Co. engineers didn't turn to the sloth for ideas for the Lincoln Futura, called by Benson Ford a "$250,000 laboratory on wheels."  Rather, they studied the shark and the manta ray, among other fish.

The result, enthusiastically, acclaimed by company officials as "sculpture in steel," is one of the most revolutionary and advanced vehicles ever driven on the public highways. Given its world driving premiere in New York, the Futura represented the flowing lines of nature, transferred from water to land.  From study of these fish-like characteristics, Ford officials hope to arrive at ideas that can be adapted for production cars.

Almost 19 feet long, the Futura is 84.6 inches wide, with a wheelbase of 126 inches, and is only 52.8 inches from the tip of its twin plexiglas contourmatic top to the ground.  A special experimental chassis adds to its road hugging appearance, with six inches clearance at the center member of the frame.

Feature incorporated in the steel bodies beauty include "shark fin" rear quarter panels; a 330 hp. Lincoln experimental overhead valve V-8 engine; push button Turbo-Drive automatic transmission, with controls on a center pedestal armrest; indicator lights on the "speedboat" cowl to show the gear being used; air scoops atop the rear fenders to direct air into air conditioning system and to cool the rear brakes.

An electronic device prevents the car from starting with the top up and the doors open.  Warning lights are contained in a central focus cluster in the steering column binnacle.  A compass is mounted on the cowl, while a circular radio aerial combined  with an "audio approach" microphone adorns the low rear deck.  The "mike" designed to pick up and amplify the horn signal of a car approaching from the rear.

To preserve the uncluttered line of the instrumental panel, controls are contained in separate compartments in the lower half of the panel and each compartment has its own flexible, roll-down door.

Not content with incorporating features of the shark and manta ray into the car, officials decided to paint it with a lacquer made from distillation of-yep, you've guessed it--fish scales, giving the body an iridescent quality.

Car Life magazine, July 1955

      

1959 Debbie and Glenn 1959 1959 1959
1959 1959 1959 1959 1959 1959

Debbie Reynolds and Glenn Ford in the Lincoln Futura from the 1959 MGM film "It Started with a Kiss"

 

Click here to watch the Futura transform into the Batmobile!!

Model Model Photo courtesy of Kyle Raetz Photo courtesy of Kyle Raetz Courtesy of Kyle Raetz

1/8th scale Lincoln Futura model at the Henry Ford Museum

 

Replica Lincoln Futura built by Bob Butts in the 90's

Courtesy of Ken Bowman Courtesy of Ken Bowman Courtesy of Ken Bowman
Courtesy of Ken Bowman

Replica Batmobile & Futura

Photo courtesy of Dick Dean Photo courtesy of Dick Dean