Everyone knows what the original Batmobile was, right? It was the redesigned Lincoln Futura concept that Adam West drove in the 1966 Batman television series – or was it? It turns out that the earliest known officially licensed Batmobile was built in 1963 and is going to auction at Heritage Auctions next month after receiving extensive restoration.
Determining which was the first Batmobile is tricky. The first one in the comic books was a red convertible that graced the pages of Detective Comics in February 1941 and the first "real" Batmobile was a painfully ordinary off-the-peg 1939 Cadillac convertible used by the Caped Crusader in the 1943 serial. But it was in 1963 that the first known Batmobile that looked like something that Batman would drive was built and later given official approval by DC comics.
The 1963 Batmobile began life as a 1956 Oldsmobile 88 frame with a 324 Rocket engine. In 1960, 23-year old Batman fan Forrest Robinson along with his friend Len Perham decided to replace the body with something a bit more Batmanesque. It took until 1963 to complete the job, which turned out to be an open-top two-seater complete with a "bat nose," pocket side doors, and a single rear fin that made it look very much like the Batmobile seen in the comics, despite its silver paint job.
According to Heritage, Robinson used the car for his personal transport until the 1966 series and its Futura-derived Batmobile caught the public imagination. That was when All Star Dairies stepped in and leased Robinson's car as a promotional device for its New Hampshire affiliate, Green Acres Ice Cream, which was selling Batman-themed ice cream under a DC Comics license. The silver Batmobile was repainted in a Batman livery and decked out in official Batman badges. It may not have looked like the Futura and it didn't have a Bat Ray or Batcomputer, but it was close enough to the comic's version to be dubbed "Batman's Batmobile" as it traveled around the eastern United States until late 1966, when it was returned to Robinson.
Unfortunately, like a lot of movie & TV cars and other pop culture material, no one realized what the first Batmobile would mean to later collectors. It spent the next fifty years in neglect as it was sold by Robinson for US$200, then ended up rusting quietly in a field. Rediscovered in 2008, it was sold to a rare car dealer and swapped hands several times before being bought by Toy Car Exchange LLC, which commissioned Borbon Fabrications in Sacramento, California to restore it to its former glory right down to the frame and engine. It was exhibited at the Sacramento Autorama earlier this year, where it took first place in the hand-built sports car class.
The 1963 Batmobile goes on the block on December 6 at 11: am CST at Heritage Auctions in Dallas, Texas, though internet bids will be accepted the night before. Bidding will start at US$90,000 – a figure well short of the US$4,620,000 fetched by the more familiar 1966 Batmobile in 2013, and not quite enough to make it onto our most expensive movie & TV cars and motorcycles list. We'll find out when the hammer falls.