Out of the cave like a bat out of hell

Is it a Ferrari? A Stealth bomber? A tractor? No, it's the latest Batmobile, says Sean O'Grady
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Indy Lifestyle Online

I have never met him, but I think Batman must be a bit of a petrol-head. By my reckoning, and I'm no Bat-head, he's had about 10 different Batmobiles, plus of course various Batbikes, Batplanes and Batboats, in movies, comic books and the animated series. Robin even had a "Redbird", I believe. But this, the latest Batmobile, is surely the most dramatic.

Well, you can see why it might attract attention. I went to see it and have a little ride in it at a press preview in Covent Garden, London, and I initially thought it was wearing some sort of disguise, with all that dark glass, jagged panelling and jarring lines. No, this was,in fact, the real thing, a £1m creation, made at Shepperton Studios. Who said the British car industry was dead?

The Tumbler (a codename it acquired during filming) looks like a cross between a Ferrari and a tractor, with a little bit of Stealth bomber thrown in. Like all Batmobiles, it is a reflection of its times, and the American vogue for huge tough-looking SUVs finds a distant echo here. In the new movie, Batman Begins, it is the work of the Applied Sciences Division of Wayne Enterprises. So, now you know.

Back in the real world, the Batmobile was designed by director Christopher Nolan , of Memento fame, who gave it its aggressive demeanour. It is in keeping with the way that Nolan hopes the new movie, with Christian Bale in the title role, will distance itself from previous, sometimes camp, incarnations of the Dark Knight. So, there's no Penguin or even a Robin this time, which seems an unnecessary sacrifice.

To the Batmobile , then. Chris Corbould, the special effects supervisor, told me the story of how Nolan handed his team a 10in-long plastic model he had made from model car and plane kits and told them to make it work. Which they did.

"It was Chris Nolan's baby and he was meticulous about its appearance in every shot," says Corbould. "The front took a while to get right, especially because the front wheels have no axle, but we had an incredibly talented team. We made four as back-ups as well. When we presented the Batmobile to Nolan, he loved it. There was a big smile on his face."

As there was on mine when I clambered in and met George Cottle, who was the stunt driver on the movie. His previous credits include Saving Private Ryan and the ice-chase sequence in Die Another Day, so I knew I was in good hands.

The 5.7-litre Chevrolet engine makes a tremendous burbling, threatening racket. The acceleration was awesome, but it's not the fastest car in the world.

However, it does have a few tricks that a McLaren Mercedes or a Ferrari Enzo can't manage, such as jumping 6ft in the air and leaping 60ft in length, which I have to say was not on offer in Covent Garden. Naturally, it also has the full complement of assorted guns and hooks and flame-throwers.

Yet, for all of its astonishing technical mastery and audacity, this Batmobile doesn't really quite make it aesthetically. Maybe for us fortysomethings, at least, the 1960s version, closely based on a 1955 Ford concept car named the Futura, was the best looker by far. It would only do 30mph, so they had to speed up the film in the chase sequences, but who cares?

The 1940s comic book version, which drew on the exciting modernistic lines of contemporary Lincolns, is also a contender for the most handsome o f the breed. But whichever of the many Batmobiles finds abiding fame, as Val Kilmer explained it in Batman Forever: "It's the car, right? Chicks love the car."

And so do I.

Performance

It goes from 0 to 60 mph in 5.5 seconds and on to a 220mph top speed. Powered by a rear mounted Chevrolet V8 displacing 5.7 litres. Some 340 bhp on tap and 400lbs/inch of torque

Batman flies again

So The Riddler wants to know: how can such a huge machine (2.5 tons) be made to fly? The answer? A jet burner at the rear that acts as a flame thrower to deter villains. Fried Penguin, anyone?

Wayne's wheels

Batman doesn't carry a spare, so it's just as well that all six of his tyres are super tough. The four at the back are the same as those you'll find on monster trucks and have been attached to hand-made wheels

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