A Superhero’s Car: The Complete History of the Batmobile

Written by Carly Hallman

Since the late 1930s, Batman has patrolled Gotham City, making its streets safe for citizens and terrifying for criminals. Throughout his active years, the Dark Knight has traveled in style in his very own custom car. The Batmobile has become an icon in the pages of graphic novels, on television, and in film. Batman’s car has remained a constant companion, faithfully evolving alongside the character.

The First Appearance of the Batmobile

Batman’s first car in Detective Comics #27 looked nothing like the sleek, black car modern audiences might expect. It was red and a bit ordinary, resembling automobiles of the day like the 1936 Cord 812 and the 1939 Willys Coupe. While Batman’s first car wasn’t packed with special equipment, it did feature a supercharged engine for high-speed pursuits. The comic’s creative team focused on delving into their new character and his supporting cast, so a custom car wasn’t a high priority at first. It wasn’t until nearly two years later that Batman’s ride would take its familiar shape.

Evolution and Bat Features

The term “Batmobile” was first used in Detective Comics #48 in February 1941. Now a convertible, the car itself was still red and still fairly traditional in appearance, despite a small bat hood ornament. The following month would see the debut of a more recognizable Batmobile. The new car featured a large, bat-like battering ram hood and a long, scalloped tail fin. More importantly, the paint job was now jet black, an identifying characteristic of most Batmobiles to this day. Batman finally had a mode of transportation to match his costume. The new car was sleek and menacing enough to fulfill the Dark Knight’s mission to strike fear into the hearts of evildoers.

Built on a 1938 Cadillac Series 75

The Caped Crusader made his film debut in 1943’s Batman, a 15-part serial, in which he drove a black 1939 Cadillac Series 75 convertible. A follow-up serial in 1949 recast the roles of Batman and Robin and replaced the Cadillac with a 1949 Mercury. Perhaps the most famous Batmobile is the Lincoln Futura-based custom vehicle produced for 1966’s Batman television series. Designed by automotive legend George Barris, the 1960s Batmobile has become an iconic representation of Batman’s aesthetic. The distinctive vehicle was the first on-screen Batmobile that didn’t look like it had rolled off an automotive production line.

The Favorite Batmobile From the 1980s

Batman returned to the big screen with two films directed by Tim Burton in 1989 and 1992. Burton’s design aesthetic was in full force, as he brought a dark theatricality to Gotham City. The new Batmobile was built on a Chevrolet Impala chassis converted to a rear-engine layout and featuring completely custom bodywork. In the film, Batman dispatches his enemies with enough gadgets to put James Bond to shame, including smoke emitters, oil dispensers, and machine guns. The films were blockbuster hits, and with its raucous turbine-inspired grille and sleek Art Deco styling, the new Batmobile quickly became a fan favorite.

The Beloved Batman Forever Batmobile

In 1995’s Batman Forever, Bruce Wayne’s alter ego debuted a new ride with significantly retooled styling. The bodywork resembled an exoskeleton, revealing parts of the car’s engineering under its skin. Like the Tim Burton Batmobile, the car featured a number of special abilities, such as a grappling hook and rotating wheels for quick changes of direction. The car’s appearance was more aggressive overall, and it sported a giant tail fin that borrowed from the 1941 comic book.

A Batmobile for Battle and Gaming

Batman: Arkham Knight, the fourth entry in the successful Batman video game series, featured a new battle-ready Batmobile. Video game maker Rocksteady Studios authorized a real-life version of the massively armored car for promotional purposes. The new carbon-fiber-bodied, Lamborghini-based Batmobile was spotted on the streets of Dubai, thrilling Batman fans and car fans alike.

Further Reading on Batman