Ill-Advised Car Modeling in 1/3 Scale (no, it’s not a typo)
By Bill Engar
DEM BRUDDERS DISCLAIMER: Please don’t try this at home. We are not professionals and we have absolutely no clue what we’re doing.
The 50th anniversary of IPMS/USA forced me to think back to the 1960’s. I was just a wee lad. Brudder Dick wasn’t much older. They say that if you remember the 60’s, you probably weren’t building enough models.
In recent decades, two Batman movie series have been very popular. In 1966, the Batman TV show was a huge phenomenon. Even though I was very young at the time, I recall tuning in each week, first to see Batman and Robin get caught in some improbable trap. Same Bat Time and Same Bat Channel the next day, they would miraculously manage to escape as the villain ALWAYS stepped away from the scene for some inexplicable reason. Why do they do that?
The TV Batmobile, a George Barris creation, was supposedly thrown together from the also-ran Lincoln Futura concept car in a scant three weeks before filming began. The show and the car—in spite of its hasty design and creation—as quickly became a pop culture sensation. The TV Batmobile’s popularity continues to this day and it may have the distinction of being the best-known and loved TV car ever. Pretty amazing for being cobbled together in just three weeks. How many of us builders can finish a contest-quality model in that time?
Later in 1966, Aurora Models released a plastic kit of the Batmobile in 1/32 scale. As was status quo for Aurora, the kit had a few accuracy issues. Most apparent to this modeler is that the front end and hood are too short. Looking at it today makes my eyes cross.
Brudder Dick, who was barely a teenager at that time, HAD to have this 98-cent model. Unfortunately for him, the local hobby shops did not anticipate its popularity and it was sold out for months.
Long-time readers of our columns will recall that our mother was not a fan of our models or modeling activities. She was absolutely terrified of Dick’s “Bug” because of its grievous safety issues. Brakes and steering were questionable at best and of course there was no thought of seatbelts, safety helmets, roll bar, crash padding, or any other such gear, which was considered “wussy” at the time.
As if any of this wasn’t awesome enough, Dick devised a brilliant scheme to customize his Bug into a nearly 1/3-scale version of the Batmobile. His only prayer to get our mother to go along with his new obsession was to do it as part of the Model Design and Building Boy Scout merit badge! The requirement was to design some sort of vehicle and sculpt or carve it from a suitable medium. Dick noted that the requirements said nothing about creating the model in large-scale, nor did they prohibit the Boy Scout-designer from being able to drive in his own creation. Plus, there was just no other way that Dick would have obtained permission to build his own drivable Batmobile. If memory serves, the Bug was originally built behind our mother’s back and its days were numbered once she discovered it.
Dick’s efforts to find Aurora’s Batmobile model locally were fruitless for months. The reader should recall that there were few if any mail-order suppliers for model kits in those days, but a possible solution presented itself in the form of our annual summer vacation in Newport Beach, California. Dick reasoned that since Batman was a creation of Hollywood, CA, there ought to be plenty of Batmobile models in the Los Angeles region.
Fast forward to our beach trip. For the first time, our parents decided that we ought to stay for two weeks. Unfortunately, this did not turn out well. Dick drove my dad nuts demanding to stop at every Sprouse-Reitz store between Anaheim and San Diego since he knew that they normally stocked Aurora’s Batmobile kit in their model section.
I likewise had my share of difficulties, going stir-crazy. Over-stimulated by the sun or too much sugar, I slammed the door of our overcrowded, rented beach cottage, which shattered its ornamental glass window. Not even the excuse of needing a Batmobile model for my future Boy Scout activities, which were years away, was going to score me an Aurora Batmobile, or any other model kit for that matter on this trip.
Finally, Dick was able to find a Sprouse that had the Batmobile kit. My souvenir that year was new glass for the window I broke.
Dick couldn’t wait to get home to start his Batmobile(s). The material of choice for the non-plastic version was leftover paneling from our basement, which was finished a few years previously. Dick could have had a soapbox racer resembling a Chris Craft boat, for the paneling was no less than real mahogany. Alas, black paint was destined to cover the beautiful wood.
I recall sawdust and black paint splatter flying as Dick cut and finished the pieces by hand, using the hastily-assembled Aurora Batmobile kit as his reference. The end result somewhat resembled the Caped Crusader’s ride circa 1966 in spite of a few off-angles. It handled like a mahogany coffin.
If memory serves, I may have gotten one or two harrowing rides down the street in this beast. Our mother was more terrified than ever that one of us was going to run over and kill one of the other kids on the street in this now-heavier mahogany menace, or die ourselves against one of our neighborhood hardwood trees. She came up with a lame excuse for its rapid decommissioning after Dick had it hastily inspected for credit for the aforementioned Boy Scout merit badge.
Instead of a careening ending that might have been similar to something that one might expect to see in a Batman TV show or movie, Dick’s spectacular Batmobile quietly rolled away to a fictional “parade.”
A model kit of the TV Batmobile was not available again for decades after this period. Licensing was the biggest challenge with DC Comics (owned by Time-Warner), 20th Century Fox (creators of the TV show), and George Barris not caring to negotiate terms together. Mattel Toys possessed the marketing savvy to cut a deal that satisfied all parties and once Mattel offered new diecast versions of the famous car in 2007, AMT/Round2 was able to follow suit not long afterwards with similar arrangements. Soon after, a re-pop of the Aurora Batmobile returned and new-tool kits showed up as well.
Alas, the vast majority of today’s kids will merely be content to play Batman video games instead of creating their own version of the Batmobile. Compared to the 1960’s, a scant few 21st century youngsters might endeavor to build a model kit of Batman’s famous ride. I wonder if kids today are capable of dreaming big enough to build a Batmobile themselves that they can ride in.
If not, it’s probably a good thing. The Power Wheels version is much safer. Don’t forget to wear your helmet.