The wild engineering of the new Batmobile
Although we live in uncertain times, life has never been easier. Repeatedly tap your phone and a hamburger or a car may arrive at your doorstep. Open up your favorite streaming service and a buffet of cool movies appears as if conjured up by HarryPotter himself.
This story originally appeared in Volume 12 of Road & Track.
But computers don’t make these burgers or cars or movies. People do. They’re still writing scripts, directing cameras, building sets, rewriting scenes, pulling hair, and creating props. In the case of The Bat-man, the latest film in a media franchise that began as a comic book in 1939, that prop is a car. The car. The Batmobile.
The Batmobile is an iconic character with a shape that changes with each director. Adam West conducted an outdoor Barris creation; Michael Keaton, a turbine wake who could serve as Magnum’s spokesperson; Christian Bale, a flat panel machine called the Tumbler that looked like a DARPA dune buggy.
In the case of The Batman, the featured transport looks a lot like a car. As production designer James Chinlund explained, it wasn’t just on purpose, it was a core part of BruceWayne’s philosophy: “Every Batman we’ve seen, he’s had the support of Wayne Industries. We really wanted Bruce to build [this one] himself. We wanted it to be a car, not a tank.
Chinlund has designed something that’s both a 1968 Charger and a dystopian Baja buggy. The facade looks like a debt collector for the robot mafia. Out back, an exposed tubular chassis cradles a twin-turbo V-8. Chinlund wanted a hammer on four wheels, something you or I could create with a bit of time and access to a TIG welder.
With the design almost finalized, it was time to build the car. Dominic Tuohy, a 38-year veteran of the special effects industry who has won numerous awards, was given the task. He had four months to build a vehicle that could be driven at high speed, refueled in minutes, and equipped with an arsenal of lighting and pyrotechnic effects. Oh, and survive a 100 foot long jump through fire. His team of top motorsport builders, artists and technicians got to work.
Although the car was modeled in 3D, Tuohy’s team was forced to adjust its trajectory during the build process. “There’s no point in having a wheel that looks nice in a wheel arch if it can’t turn and the suspension can’t work.” The first change: a rear-mounted motor would not work. Hooking a powerful engine behind the rear axle of the Bat-mobile would have made a 930 Turbo as stable as Mount Rushmore. That engine was replaced with a dummy unit constructed of plastic and aluminum, while a working big block 454 was fitted up front.
The resulting complexity and capabilities of this vehicle are incredible. From a functional point of view, the car had to be fast, durable, stable and safe. The stunt team needed selectable four-wheel drive, so a system was borrowed from the WRC cars. Tuohy’s team, which includes ex-F1 engineers, built a chassis and cage strong enough to handle stunts as well as, heaven forbid, unforeseen impact. A heavy-duty suspension with limiting straps worked to control the 6669-pound car. For the movie’s big jump sequence, the team built a fourth car that weighed 2,000 pounds less, with Fox shocks and nitrogen bumps to take the impact. Some 24 jumps later, the car was fine.
The effects also posed challenges. The dummy engine consists of over 300 individual parts, each of which has been milled, printed, bent, welded or injection molded. Despite the size of the car, there is so little room inside its body that fuel and methanol tanks (used for pyro effects) were hidden in the dummy engine. Drive a Stadium Super Truck through Rammstein’s Prop Shop and you’ve got the right idea.
In the cockpit, each gauge has been machined by CNC machines and metal lathes. Custom seats were needed as commercially available ones put Batman’s ears through the roof. After the car was finished, Tuohy’s team scuffed or polished the surfaces to ensure they reflected the light perfectly.
Within four months, all four cars were ready to go. Tuohy says this Batmobile is the most complicated vehicle they’ve built, and while they used a lot of modern technology, it ultimately played out in the workshop’s hands. “We did all of this from people and their hands,” he says. “We even rolled steel sheets with an English wheel. They were real craftsmen doing the best they could.
Next time you watch a movie that features hands-on vehicle stunts, even if the scene lasts only a few seconds, pause to appreciate what’s behind those plot elements: tired minds and broken knuckles. .