The very first time I drove the Batmobile was over at the main Fox lot on Pico. They had brought the Batmobile in for me to check it out and test drive. It was going to be a big part of my arsenal and they wanted to be sure it would work for me. George Barris of Kustom Kars of Hollywood built the Batmobile using the frame of an old Ford Futura F4 [actually, much more than the frame, and what the heck is the 'F4'?] that had been driven by Glenn Ford in a film called ' It Started with a Kiss'. George and his crew customized the shell. The frame had to be cut and rewelded to accommodate the extra weight of the extended trunk where the tanks to fire the Batmobile's atomic pile flames were to be stored. Although the Batmobile would photograph wonderfully, and would certainly become a character unto itself, it was very difficult to drive. It was heavy and unbalanced and the brakes were not good. The steering and suspension were unwieldy and awkward, and it took a lot of getting used to. That first day I only had a short time to check the car out before we started shooting. Fortunately, I started driving when I was twelve and had driven a truck in the fields, tractors, Caterpillars and race cars later on, so I was fairly adept at controlling a vehicle as unwieldy as the Batmobile.
Boy, was it noisy and as they say in the Ferrari business, it had a very throaty sound. When the flames would shoot out the back (that actually worked), it would make quite a whoosh. You didn't want to be standing too close to it because if you wanted to get rid of the hair on your legs standing close to the back of the Batmobile would do the job in a flash.
I also remember that the car didn't have a turn indicator, and it was difficult to shoot the Batmobile at night due to the curvature of the windshield. It had lots of light reflecting off of it, and it was really very difficult to see. I heard from the stunt driver that when the second unit team set up to shoot the stock footage of the Batmobile racing out of the entrance to the Batcave (Remember the sequence? A roadside construction fence would fold back, a large piece of foliage would slide open, and the car would come racing out of the Batcave) they had to undercrank the camera because it wasn't safe to drive the car over 25 mph! Undercranking meant they'd shoot less than the standard 24 frames per second, so when the film was projected at normal speed the car would appear to be going much faster than it really was.
It's also interesting to note that we had the first car phone-not the CB radios used by all the other cop shows of the day. We also used the rocket launcher on the trunk of the car since that, too, really did work. You'll notice in some of these photographs that the dashboard really did have all those Bat labels identifying the gadgets. You'll also see what has to be one of the rarest shots of the Batmobile-with its trunk open. We only did that once in the series, as I recall, I was told someone lost the key and they couldn't open it so they didn't bother writing it into the scripts again.
George is known as the King of the Customizers. He created practically all of the famous television cars, like the Munster Coach and the Beverly Hillbilly Truck. I see George several times each year, on various TV shows, (That's George standing next to his creation in the photo at the bottom of page 70. [pg.73, actually!] ) We did "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" twice in 1995. Each time I was a guest on Jay's show the Batmobile was used, because Jay is a big "Batman" and Batmobile fan. He also has a knack for playing out weird and outrageous routines to keep his program fresh, so it's a delight to do his show.
I remember when we were in New York promoting our Batman movie. The car was there, to be driven for promotional purposes, and that got tremendous reaction. I remember a guy in a Cadillac convertible, near the Plaza Hotel. He was coasting along, smoking his cigar, and had the top down. He suddenly looked over as I started to pass him, and he got so excited he hit the brake and crushed his cigar right into the windshield in front of him!
On another occasion during one of our early times shooting at night, I decided to make a turn and then slide the car to a stop in front of the camera, where they'd get a fairly close two-shot in the bubble of the cab. Well, some of the crew had never really seen it in action, and so when we rolled and I did that some of them ran. It guess it was kind of a frightening thing, seeing that huge, odd-looking machine coming at you and sliding really close to the camera.
The Batcycle was another interesting, if potentially dangerous, vehicle. It didn't have wheel covers, and if I wasn't really careful the cape would get caught in the tires. And I had to be really careful when Burt was in the sidecar, because for scenes that required me to hit the little button that would release the car, we never knew for sure what his trajectory would be and the cab had no steering of its own. I always thought Burt was very brave to do those shots.
My personal car off the set was an Excaliber, which is a replica of a '23 Mercedes, redesigned a bit. I'd always wanted one, and one day before lunch l picked up a copy of The Reporter and there was an ad for an Excaliber, so I had my assistant, Bill Dyer, call and a lady answered. It seems she'd won this car in a Dr. Pepper jingle contest. Well she was about 75 years old and didn't know how to drive it. So I put a terry cloth robe on over my tights, threw on some dark glasses, jumped in the car with Dyer and we drove out there. As I recall she had never seen our show, and when I appeared on her doorstep, dressed as I was, she was all too happy to take my check, give me the keys and promptly duck back into her house and lock the door!