Batmobile Dreamin’

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This New Mexico-based Batmobile replica was pretty darn close to the real thing. Image: Rick Tate.

Post originally ran in GeekMom on April 21, 2016.

James Bond and Batman.

These two names are answers to many questions that have been posed to me, but mostly “whose fictional cars would you most like to have?”

It’s really no contest. DeLoreans seem sleazy to me (sorry, Doc Brown), and I never saw an episode of Knight Rider. Scooby Doo’s Mystery Mobile might smell a little gamey, and I’m afraid the transformer Bumblebee just might try to kill me. Han Solo’s and Wonder Woman’s rides don’t count since those are both aircraft.

I do think Bond’s sleek Aston Martin is exquisite, and who doesn’t want to feel a little swanky every now and then? The Batmobile, however, is the car I want to drive. Yes, that wonderfully cheesy black (and sometimes very very dark grey) machine that has been everything from a modified Ford to a custom-made military-grade fighting machine is on my radar the most.

Yes, more than any car, I want to drive the Batmobile.

I’ve mentioned in a past story, Batman is my earliest “fandom” to memory, and he’s still my favorite superhero. I would be happy tooling around in any incarnation of his vehicle, and being able to do so consistently teeters near the top of my bucket list. I still have a little circa 1967 Corgi Batmobile that I “liberated” from my older brother when I was a kid, and it is still a prized possession, despite showing its use. Yes, he knows I have it.

I remember getting excited seeing a static, non-functioning version of the original Tim Burton-era vehicle at one of the Six Flags theme parks. I also dragged my entire family across town to a Wal-Mart parking lot just to get our picture with the actual Tumbler and Bat Pod leading from The Dark Knight Rises, which was traveling around the country as part of a promotional Tumbler Tour in the summer of 2012.

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We got to visit the Tumbler and Bat Pod from The Dark Knight Rises, back in 2012, but there were strict “no touch” rules. Images: Rick Tate.

I was also doing a story on comic-con etiquette and spoke with a man named Jim Johnson. He served as the official “Transportation Manager for Wayne Enterprises” for the tour. He told me most people were very appreciative of getting a chance to encounter these gas-powered movie stars.

“Most people are really good around the car,” he said and added people all seem to realize the one main rule was “no touching” and respected that.

 If we weren’t allowed to touch the car that meant no entering the car, much less driving it.

Step away from the Batmobile, Citizen of Gotham.

Even so, Johnson did fire up the Tumbler and, although still idling, spectators heard the force of its engine. I’m not going to lie. That was a thrill.

So, when the opportunity arose to see a working reproduction of the original, old school Batmobile at El Paso Comic Con, I couldn’t pass that up.

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Regional cosplayers and artists never fail to impress me. Hearing the creative origins of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles from creator Kevin Eastman at our local con (bottom right) was also a treat. Images: Rick Tate.

El Paso Comic Con (EPCON) returned to El Paso Convention Center this past April this year under “new management,” and featured all the trappings of a worthy con: an extensive expo, celebrity photo ops, panels, a zombie escape experience, an abundant number of local and visiting artists, charity auction, cosplay aplenty, live entertainment, and even a preview night “Nerd Rave” dance party.

This first time out of the chute wasn’t perfect. The program lacked that ever-important floor plan map, and the expo entry fee may have been a little high for the average family. Nevertheless, it had some fantastic elements to it, particularly its lineup of geeky star cars, which hearkened me back to my childhood when my dad would take me to the Darryl Starbird Custom Car Show. These “celebrity cars” included the Breaking Bad RV, a custom-made Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle van created by former Power Rangers cast member and stuntman Jason Ybarra, a Jeep Wrangler from Jurassic Park, a custom creation by the local charity-minded fan group El Paso Ghostbusters… and a 1966 era Batmobile.

Most of these were great photo ops (we forewent the Breaking Bad interior tour since it just didn’t seem right to take our daughters into a “meth lab”), but we donated our ten bucks to sit in that Batmobile.

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Other featured star cars included the TNMT van, Jurassic Park jeep, Breaking Bad RV, and locally grown Ghostbusters mobile. All images: Rick Tate.

The replica, known as the Albuquerque Batmobile, is part of the New Mexico Chapter of Star Car Central, whose nationwide inventory of geeky vehicles includes everything from the A-Team van to the xXx GTO. They help support groups like American Cancer Society, Paw and Stripes, and Make-A-Wish. This particular Batmobile-for-hire has made several convention and charitable appearances and is even available to pick up soldiers returning home from the airport, and to give rides to children in need. That alone makes the vehicle an actual superhero.

This car chassis is a 1972 Lincoln Continental, which matches the 1955 Lincoln Futura first used in the television show. Its owners, Mike and Khristine Esch, created the replica with functional TV FX and gadgets, as well body details nearly identical to the original.

The original Batmobile, by the way, was built in 1965 for $15,000, and sold to a private collector in 2013 for $4.6 million.

For me, being able to interact with a full-size Batmobile was the most fulfilling of experiences, above the appearances at the con of my first Batman and Robin, retro television icons Adam West and Burt Ward. I love West, but the idea of spending nearly $100 to meet another human being surrounded by “you’re not worthy” handlers and guards didn’t appeal to me. Besides, as cool as Mr. West is, he really isn’t Batman. Plus, I certainly wouldn’t ask an octogenarian to undergo the indignity of wearing his old costume to an autograph session. There were plenty of great Batman-centric cosplayers at the event to satisfy those goofy photo ops.

As for that Batmobile? Reproduction not, it was still really a Batmobile, and when I sat in it, I was Batman. Or Batgirl. Or Robin. It really didn’t matter which representative of the Bat universe I was, all I knew was I was in the driver’s seat, and The Joker better watch his back. Even my six-year-old, who took a picture sitting in my lap, had that unmistakable gleam in her eye when she put her hands on the Batmobile steering wheel and picked up the bright red Batphone.

“Will this really go?” she asked anxiously.

Ah, yes. She gets it now, too.

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From the interior to parachute packs, I felt like the pride of Gotham City, circa 1966. All images: Rick Tate.

Unfortunately, this car was landlocked on the expo grounds for photo ops only. No starting up the engine, much less taking it out for a spin. Of course, I didn’t expect to be able to actually drive this vehicle, but just knowing someone else did produced a pang of envy. It was still a worthwhile experience, and since I learned in the car’s “Bat Fact” sheet that it averages a supersonic seven miles per gallon (I’m assuming on a convention hall floor), I was saving some fuel.

I might never get that opportunity to take the wheel and take one of these cars around the block, but I’ll keep seeking opportunities to experience it.

Judging from the line of Batfans in logo tees and cosplay waiting to get their pictures in the car, I know I’m not the only one who wants a chance to sit in the driver’s seat of the Caped Crusader’s wheels. Ward himself even got his picture in “Robin’s” passenger seat.

Author Mark Cotta Vaz explained the timeless nature of this car in his book Batmobile: The Complete History.

“The Batmobile is not just a crime-fighting car — it’s the ultimate vehicle of the imagination,” he writes of the car that made its comic debut in 1939. “And the Batmobile is still speeding forward, all these decades later.”

I still think of the horrendous line from 1997 franchise-destroying film Batman and Robin, when Robin (Chris O’Donnell) uttered “chicks dig the car.”

Yes, I do dig the car, Boy Wonder, but you better hand over the keys. I’m driving!

El Paso Comic Con’s sister event, Las Cruces Comic Con, is planned for Sept. 9-11, in Las Cruces, N.M.

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Of all my Batmobiles that old, beat-up Corgi model is still my prized possession.

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