Monday, August 5, 2013

Bam! Pow! Zap! PBS drives critics batty

On the Bat-phone: "Hi, I'm Adam West. You now owe me ten dollars"
BEVERLY HILLS, Calif.--Holy photo-op Batman! PBS delivered blog gold on wheels Monday, parking the Batmobile out front of the Beverly Hilton.
This wasn't the original Batmobile from the 1966-68 ABC series--that car sold at auction in Phoenix in January for US$4.62M--but the No. 2 car, used mainly for those kind of photo ops and special events.
The original  car was based on a 1955 Ford Lincoln Futura prototype that never went into production. The concept car was made for the then astronomical sum of $250,000 and snuck into a couple of feature films.
Legendary custom car ace George Barris bought the vehicle for one dollar and had three weeks to convert it into the Batmobile. He didn't have to do too much to it, basically painting it glossy black with red trim, adding Bat insignias, smokestacks and parachutes and webbing out the fins.
If this car could talk, it would probably have a dirty story about Adam West
Barris is 87 and still in the shop everyday according to Barris Kustom Ind.'s Ronald McAtee, who let me sit right in the car for a photo. That's a rare treat and one not offered when I first saw the fabled car on press tour, a decade ago at the what was then the Renaissance Hotel in Hollywood.
Then again, that was likely the original car. McAtee says you can tell the difference because that one has decals with "Batphone" or "Batchutes" instead of the 3-D plaques on this No. 2 car. This one is made out of fibreglass, from a mold taken from the original, metal car. There's a 390cc Ford V-8 under the hood.
Barris also has slapped a "Hot Wheels decal on the car. He has a long association with the toy maker. I had the Corgi metal car as a kid and I'm pretty sure it fired red plastic rocket thingies out the chrome pipes on the trunk.
Fighting press tour crime with TV Guide's Amber Dowling
One quirky little detail: there are no door handles on the Batmobile, just a dollar-ninety-eight toggle switch on the inside of both doors. McAtee had to reach in and let me out. I was shocked, shocked to discover the Batphone doesn't really work (it Velcro's shut), although both parachutes at the back of the vehicle do actually operate.
Barris also made the Munster car, which I also had as a model as a kid. Some collector in Paris owns the Munster-mobile now, says McAtee. The second Munster car, Grandpa's "Cryptmobile" was made from an actual coffin; The vehicle hung from the rafters of a Planet Hollywood in Florida before Barris and McAtee lost track of it.
From any angle, these are damn hot wheels
PBS had a reason for bringing the Batmobile to press tour. Superheroes: A Never-Ending Battle, which looks at the history of the comic book genre, premieres Oct. 8-15.
Read more about The Batmobile here at this story I wrote for The Canadian Press.
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