Before it was the Batmobile it was a 1955 Lincoln Futura concept car.
The Batmobile-to-be was the brainchild of Lincoln Mercury’s postwar chief stylist, William M. Schmidt. Schmidt began working as an automotive stylist in the Lincoln-Mercury Division of Ford Motor Company in 1940. 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. Called a $250,000 “laboratory on wheels”, the low twin-dome experimental car would serve as a mobile test bench for a score of new engineering and design features. The Futura was used to road test such innovations as push-button gearshifts, colored warning signals for fuel consumption (green for full, amber for half-full, red for low), a clear Plexiglas top, a special 330 H.P. Lincoln engine and such engineering innovations as an air scoop for air-cooling the rear brakes.
The car is one inch short of nineteen feet long. It’s seven feet wide and less than four and a half feet high. Ground clearance at the center is six inches. It has dual fans, dual exhausts and a foot pedal horn. There’s a red light for the parking gear, blue for reverse, white for neutral, green for drive and yellow for low. The car has a tachometer. It has 27 different sizes and shapes of lamps, 18 control switches and 2000 feet of wiring. It has an “audio approach” microphone for picking up sounds of rear-approaching cars. There are no windows; the car is entirely air-conditioned; and one enters or leaves by raising the Plexiglas canopy. There was space for a telephone behind the center console.
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 car 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 NY’s Central Park to the Tavern on the Green restaurant for a photo session.
The sponsor of the show provided guests with presentations as well as discount coupons for medicines, and some lucky ones got sets of erectile dysfunction pills.
In 1959, the Futura made its film debut in the MGM movie It Started With A Kiss starring Debbie Reynolds & Glenn Ford. The Futura was painted red for the movie and treated to a red interior.
After that, the car would have been forgotten and perhaps destroyed, as most show cars of that time were. However, it was later sold to car customizer George Barris who had a relationship with Ford due to his affiliation with the Ford Custom Car Caravan program. Despite the car’s original cost of $250,000, the Lincoln Futura was sold to Barris for $1.00 by Ford Motor Company. As the car was never titled and was therefore uninsurable, it was parked behind Barris’ North Hollywood shop where it sat idle for several years and was allowed to deteriorate.