The Futura's styling was extravagantly impractical even by the standards of the '50s, with a double, clear-plastic canopy top, exaggerated hooded headlight pods, and very large, outward-canted tailfins at both ends of the vehicle. Nevertheless, the Futura had a complete powertrain and was fully operable in contrast to many show cars then and now. Its original color was white, and was one of the first pearlescent color treatments, using ground pearl to achieve the paint effect. The Futura was powered by a 368 cubic inch Lincoln engine and powertrain; the chassis was that of a Lincoln Mark II.
The Futura was a success as a show car, garnering a great deal of favorable publicity for Ford. It was released as a model kit and a toy, and in a much more subdued form its headlight and tailfin motifs would appear on production Lincolns for 1956 and 1957, such as the Lincoln Premiere and Lincoln Capri.
The Futura played a prominent part in a movie, 1959's It Started with a Kiss, starring Debbie Reynolds and Glenn Ford. For the movie, it was painted red, as the pearlescent finish did not photograph well.
After that, though, the car would logically have been forgotten and perhaps destroyed, as most show cars of that time were. However, it was somehow sold into the hands of George Barris, one of the great auto customizers. As the car was never titled and was therefore uninsurable, it was parked behind Barris' shop where it sat idle for several years and was allowed to deteriorate.
The 2010 video game Mafia II featured a model called the "Jefferson Futura" which draws heavily from the original Futura.
BatmobileIn 1966 Barris was requested to design a theme car for the Batman television series. Barris then contracted stylist Dean Jeffries to build a car for the show. Jeffries worked on the design and initial fabrication for the Batmobile, using a 1959 Cadillac, but when the studio wanted the car faster than he could deliver, he turned it back to George Barris. With the short notice, Barris thought the Futura might work well, and using Jeffries initial car, decided that its unusual winged shape would be an ideal starting point for the Batmobile. Barris hired Bill Cushenberry to do the metal modifications to the car.
Barris went on to build three fiberglass replicas using the frames and running gear from 1966 Ford Galaxie cars for the show circuit, three of which were covered with a felt-like flocking finish in the 1970s. Barris later acquired a fourth replica, a metal car built on a 1958 Thunderbird.
Despite the car's original cost of $250,000, the Lincoln Futura was sold to Barris for $1.00 and "other valuable consideration" by Ford Motor Company. After its conversion to the Batmobile, Barris continued to retain ownership of the car, leasing it to the TV studio for filming. After production of the TV series ended, Barris continued to own the car, which was displayed in Barris' own museum in California. It is now on display in the Cayman Motor Museum on Grand Cayman Island.
In the 1990s, Bob Butts (with George Barris' consent) made replicas of the Batmobiles. He took one of the Barris-built replica Batmobiles and made a mold of it. Based on pictures from when the Futura was shown in the 1950s, he retrofitted one of his Batmobile replicas into the Futura. He only created one copy and since the original Futura became the Batmobile, this is the only known Futura in existence.
Current toy versions of the Futura Batmobile are being made by Mattel (Hot Wheels) and Polar Lights models, among others. Mr. Barris only recently allowed these toys to be made again.