Car Expert Analyzes BATMAN’s First Live-Action Batmobiles
When I set out to rank every live Batmobile in history, I ran into a weird problem. Fictional cars are easy to rate. You judge them by what you see. Even if what you see is movie magic and not reality. Except that wasn’t an option with the first two Batmobiles to appear on screen. There was nothing wrong with either of them. Both were simply everyday cars. In Bruce Wayne’s first live-action adventure, the 1943 Batman series, the Caped Crusader drove a 1939 Cadillac Series 75 convertible sedan. In the 1949 follow-up series, batman and robin, the masked vigilante used a maroon ’49 Mercury convertible. The only special “feature” of the cars was their top. Open meant Bruce Wayne was in the car. Closed indicated that Batman was at work. Not exactly a foolproof system.
Clearly, in 80 years the Batmobile has improved its crime-fighting capabilities. And he’s made huge strides in style, security, and protecting Bruce Wayne’s identity. But if I wanted to know more about the original versions, I had to speak with a real automotive expert. So I turned to Eric Minoff, senior specialist in the automotive department at Bonhams in New York. He kindly answered all my questions about what the first two Batmobiles offered – if anything – to a superhero vigilante at the time. In addition to what either could offer Batman fans today.
Nerdist: Did either car have any special abilities that Batman could use?
Eric Minoff: As far as I know, the first two Batmobiles, the Cadillac and the Mercury, were basically stock [factory] vehicles without modifications.
How fast could each go?
EM: Both cars have adequate power from their V8 engines and are able to go reliably at around 70-80 mph. They can be modified to go up to 100 mph.
How safe was each car for a normal person driving them? What about a crime-fighting vigilante?
EM: Safe? I mean, they’re relatively fast by the standards of their time. And the Mercury was a very popular base for hotrods then and now. A “Lead Sled” is typically a Mercury. That being said, they have leaf spring suspension, are body-on-frame, and have non-power, albeit hydraulic, drum brakes. They don’t handle or stop very well. Airbags? Seatbelt? Deformation zones? Heat-tempered glass? Laminated windshield? Ha! No chance. The interiors are also full of beautifully crafted metal: bakelite switches, knobs and dials. All of this will gut the flesh. On the outside, both have toothed grilles and substantial hood ornaments that will tear up any pedestrian Mr. Wayne hits.
By the standards of the time, they were safe enough. By today’s standards, they are not. Especially when you consider that everything else on the road can accelerate, brake and turn faster than you. But again, if we talk about the first appearance of the series, they were no less safe than everything else.
How much is each car on the market worth right now?
EM: A nice 1939 Cadillac Series 75 convertible coupe costs about $100,000. A truly spectacular one can cost $200,000. A nice 1949 Mercury convertible costs around $40-50,000, while a spectacular example can cost $75-100,000.
A legendary hotrod version may sell for more.
How much do you think each would be worth if you had the car used to film the Batman series?
EM: If the cars were actually used in the [serials], they would certainly have a premium over another example of the same vehicle that had no such provenance. How much is it worth? Hard to say. But I would expect a premium of around 60-120%.
Interestingly, it was used in the filming. But on the same note, neither model is particularly well associated with Batman.
How easy would it be to own either car right now and drive it as an everyday vehicle?
EM: Both are perfectly capable of keeping up with modern traffic. But, as mentioned, they can’t stop or handle that well. So you have to worry about people cutting you off since your stopping distances are much longer. Plus, older cars are usually, well, older. They’re more likely to overheat because basic cooling systems (no electric fans, no steel radiators) take longer to warm up, aren’t as reliable, and are less comfortable. And your phone won’t connect either. Although an AM radio is available in both.
The driving position and experience are similar to today’s cars. But both have 3-speed manual transmissions with column shift. And obviously there are no electronic driving aids (traction control, stability control, ABS, etc.). Also, the air conditioning is limited. You can get a heater, but that won’t do much. And your air conditioning is to lower the roof and windows. Don’t drive them in the winter either. The salt will cause them to rust.
But in a place where there’s not a lot of traffic to get caught in (or the car might overheat) and where you don’t have to do a lot of parallel parking (chrome bumpers wear off easily), with regular maintenance you can easily drive either cardaily. And no one would ever steal them because most people didn’t know how to start them. Even if they could, if few people know how to drive a shifter, it wouldn’t matter.
When I started learning about each live Batmobile, the original two seemed the least interesting. These are just cars and not superhero stories. But after talking to Eric Minoff, they are some of my favorites. Not because they’re good at fighting crime. And not because they’re both classic cars with interesting stories of their own. That’s because they’re specific to when audiences first saw Batman on screen. They are a fascinating part of character development. And like Batman himself, the Batmobile has become an important and enduring part of pop culture history despite its humble beginnings.
But I still don’t recommend Batman to use any of them as Batmobile again. Unless he thinks the Joker will only commit crimes in wide open spaces on nice sunny days. These cars are best off in Bruce Wayne’s vintage car collection.
Mikey Walsh is a writer at Nerdist. You can follow him on Twitter at @burgermike. And also wherever anyone ranks the Targaryen Kings. (Now you can also search for it anywhere someone ranks Batmobiles.)