THE 1940’s BATMOBILE aka N8MOBILE BUILD STORY Part One
By Nate Truman
The hobby of star cars has grown from a few crazy people like me pre-internet looking for original movie and TV cars, sweating the details by scanning every frame of a show to try and recreate our childhood dream cars, to a world wide movement! Since the 1970’s fans of famous cars have been recreating, or restoring the famous rides of the small and big screen to live out their childhood fantasies of driving the ride from their favorite film or TV show. Even cartoon cars, like the Ninja Turtle van, Speed Racer’s Mach 5, the Scooby Doo Mystery Machine, and Transformers have become real drivable vehicles when a fan with a dream decides to bring them to life.
I have been called a “Founding Father” of the star car movement. That’s a nice way to say I have been doing this a long time. Since the 1970’s. Because of that I am running out of cars to find or build that “float my boat”. I still have a short list of cars I want to drive or see on the roads of Hollywood, but the list is getting smaller. Other fans have jumped in and are building most everything now, sometimes before the movie has even come out! One that has yet to appear, however, is one I have been waiting for someone else to build for many years. Because it’s hard, expensive, and not a car that everyone will even “get” except the big time Batman fans. Only a couple of people have tried it. Due to life getting in the way the few that have started builds have given up or stalled. So I have stopped waiting and am building my own version!
Batman started in 1939 driving a couple of red sedans, but as the early artists and creators, Jerry Robinson and Dick Sprang started to make batman stuff, like the Bat-plane, the Batarang, etc. it was only a matter of a few issues of the comic books that the term “Batmobile” showed up. Throughout the 1940’s various young artists drew the Dark Knight’s ride. Even though they were pretty similar, it was when the Batmobile burst through the cover of the Batman comic #20 that the world knew Batman’s ride was something pretty special!
Believe it or not, the Batplane was created first! Made to look like a bat, Batman was flying everywhere in his custom bat plane, but just had an ordinary car for a short while. As the early artists were young guys trying to work fast to finish more pages to make more money, continuity and conformity to previous art was not a high priority. So the car was drawn based on each artist’s skills, and their favorite cars at the time. In other words, it rarely looked the same way twice! No stripes, red stripes, blue stripes, the fin changed in every panel, sometimes with or without fender skirts, windows moved around, doors opened both ways but a few things stayed the same. It had a big BAT face on the front, and a big bat wing/fin down the middle and out the back!
I think someone saw the 1925 round door Rolls Royce and just took it a step further.
Batman introduced the Batmobile, then drove it off a cliff in the first story, but it was right back in the next issue!
For the sake of speed, many times panels were copied, or used as reference to draw the car like it had been drawn in previous issues, like these two panels. Basically they played fast and loose with the details of the batmobile, as each artist tried to copy another version, or put a new spin on it for his panels.
For my 1940’s “N8MOBILE” build, I decided that I would use what inspired me from drawings from 1941 to 1948. After world war 2, the new artists started updating the batmobile and the design changed almost every time the car appeared for decades after 1948. (If you want to see all the different versions, go to a great site by a pal of mine, Batmobile History.)
As there were surprisingly few panels of the batmobile over the 41-48 years of the comics – a few versions emerged based on different artists. Some of those have become available as toys or maquettes and toy designers had to decide what a solid 3d version of these drawings would look like. Above are some early designs for the toy versions from several companies.
Danbury Mint came out with the first high end detailed model and I like a lot of what they decided on in the real world!
The red stripe patterns, the four exhaust ports out each side and the coupe style with the swoopy back end was what I wanted to shoot for in my artistic “mash up” version. The one thing I did NOT like was the bat fin. TOO big. Rear skirts maybe, front skirts no. In several panels of the comic the doors had “suicide” front opening doors. I think reverse opening doors made it more custom and less like a car from the 40’s with a bat and a fin on it!
There have been a few other toy versions, Corgi, Eaglemoss, Mattel and a couple of model kits release as well.
Here is the 4 door Maquette version.
Most of all the drawings had the car with two doors, but a few had 4 like this display piece. I liked the split back window, and the fin on this version was a better design in the real world. So my fin I would be built to look more like this version.
Here’s a great line up of most of the toy versions. All the fins are different, there are versions with 2,3 and 4 exhausts on each side, stripes move around a bit, or all black, but it’s basically the same overall design. I looked at how many times a detail appeared, and what I liked and didn’t like, as well as cost to come up with my final design that I wanted to bring to life. I searched for shots of cars with the side hood exhaust in 2-3-and 4 versions and two looked stingy, three would raise questions of “Is this a v6? (no, they had v8’s but the two center exhausts were combined) so for various reasons mostly that it looked the coolest, I decided I would have 4.
In my quest to do my due diligence I also scoured old comics, one shots, and any source where I thought I might find another take on this era Batmobile. A few items showed up, but my favorite was in a modern version of a Batman cartoon where his current batmobile is stolen and he has to use his “vintage” backup ride.
Here is a frame that is a nice “nod” to Michael Keaton stopping his Batmobile from the 1989 movie.
As you can see, the red stripes and many of the details from the Danbury Mint version are included, other than adding an afterburner to the rear. Because, afterburners are just cool. 🙂
Actually in this cartoon version, they swapped out the big curvy batfin and added a composite version fin.
This cartoon also brought something else to my attention, the interior of the car. In the comics all you see is a 1930’s “Banjo style” steering wheel, and a “circle” on Robin’s side. Most cars of the day had a clock on the passenger’s side dash, and just a few dials for the driver.
Pretty simple by today’s standards but it’s just what cars looked like then.
In this recent cartoon take though, the animators decided to “gadget it up” for some Joker gags and add lots of switches and stuff. I suppose Batman could have had this batmobile retrofitted with bat stuff over the years, he does tend to over prepare! It was a fun bit, but the bat gadgets didn’t really get going until almost the end of this batmobile’s run – in the comics all they added during those years were some boat propellers and extra costume storage compartments.
The police of the day did have early CB like radio systems, so I would have to put in something like that in mine.
There was a blueprint dash that was just made up for one of the toys. It was cool, but it was also too busy for the time period and what I wanted the final product to look like.
Lastly I had to decide what my Bat symbol would look like. It has changed a lot over the years, and during the 1940’s batman often had NOTHING on his chest or a weird scribbled wing with no head. I was amazed at how this iconic part of Batman was not really defined in the early years and it seemed almost an afterthought to the artists. The Danbury Mint version had it’s own classic bat on the hub caps and on the motor.
I eventually combined a few designs, and cropped the ears to come up with a bat I liked.
Now, all that was left to do was find a donor car, and make this fictional cartoon car into my version of a street legal crime fighting monster! STAY TUNED, BAT FANS, the best is yet to come! PART TWO, the search for the CAR!