George Barris will go down in Hollywood history as one of the greatest custom car and hot-rod designers. He was also a renowned car showman and promoter.
No car of his was more shown and desired than the Batmobile — much to the pain of some Warner Brothers legal eagles at one point in time. Years ago, a suit took issue to Barris showing the car without some form of control by Warner or DC Comics. This led to lawyers digging up the original deal struck between the producers of the 1966 Batman series and Barris, the “King of the Kustomizers.”
Unfortunately, a clause in the contract called for the original steel Batmobile to be destroyed once production on the show had ceased.
Someone at Warner thought, "At last, we can get this car off the show circuit and not have our brand diluted." After all, the company was spending millions reinventing Batman as the Dark Knight, so who wanted the reminder of this campy version running around the country with a hot rodder?
So, Barris was put on notice that he had to destroy the classic Batmobile within one month. Not even the Riddler or the Joker could scheme his way out of this. The one thing they did not count on was George Barris’s tireless promotional and publicity skills. He called their bluff.
A call was placed to The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and a shocking event was pitched: They would destroy of one of the most beloved Batmobiles on television. The Tonight Show was happy to host the slicing and dicing of Batman and Robin's ride, as it would mean ratings. Barris truly had no desire to demolish the car. He was playing a game of poker.
Barris then contacted the legal spokesman who had called for the killing of the classic car, to explain the idea. Warner’s reaction, of course, was pure horror. Holy bad press, Batman! Can you imagine the backlash if fans knew the studio was behind this?
It was like a cliffhanger from the original show: “Will the SAW the last STRAW for the Batmobile? Will the studio let ‘er RIP? Tune in next time to find out!”
They nixed the decision. The Batmobile was saved. Now the car is celebrated as a vibrant part of the Batman legacy. You can buy it in Lego or Hot Wheels form.
The vehicle proved to be a rather good investment for Barris, who originally purchased the Lincoln Futura prototype for a measly dollar. It recently sold for nearly $5 million.
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