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December 04, 2012

‘Dark Knight Rises’: Tumbler rumbles to Batmobile exhibit

Posted in: Movies

A Batmobile created by George Barris, right, parks it near the Batmobile that appeared in the 1989 film starring Michael Keaton. Batmobiles spanning the TV and film franchise, beginning with the 1966 Adam West TV series to the current "Dark Knight" Tumbler, will be on display free to the public at the Los Angeles Auto Show through Dec. 14. Here's a look at Batman's wheels of choice over the decades. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

George Barris stands by one of the original Batmobiles he created. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

The original Batmobile started out as a 1955 Lincoln Futura concept car that cost $225,000. Barris bought the car for $1 and had three weeks to transform it into Batman's ride. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

With a very limited budget, George Barris used sprinkler heads in the grille of one of the original Batmobiles he created. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

A Batphone in one of the original Batmobiles created by George Barris. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

Tailpipes on one of the original Batmobiles created by George Barris. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

The Kilmer Batmobile was powered by a 25-gallon propane tank. When fired at full capacity, it could shoot a 25-foot flame out of the rear exhaust. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

The Kilmer Batmobile is so named after 1995's "Batman Forever," starring Val Kilmer in the title role. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

The Clooney Batmobile, from 1997's "Batman & Robin," starring George Clooney. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

Rear fins of the Keaton Batmobile, from the Michael Keaton-starring "Batman" years (1989 and 1992). (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

Tom Hardy as Bane stands on the camouflage version of the Tumbler in "The Dark Knight Rises." (Ron Phillips/Warner Bros.)

Christian Bale as Batman on the Bat-Pod in "The Dark Knight Rises." (Ron Phillips/Warner Bros.)

Bruce Wayne must be deaf.

Seconds into a ride in the hulking Batmobile from Christopher Nolan’s Gotham City trilogy – holy earplugs, Batman! – this thing is loud, even at 30 mph.

It gets a lot louder.

“It’s geared for 110, and we took them there,” says Andy Smith, the man who built the Tumbler, during a recent ridealong. “You couldn’t do it without earplugs and a full-face helmet.”

One of several Batmobiles used in “Batman Begins,” “The Dark Knight” and “The Dark Knight Rises,” the Tumbler’s late November trip with a journalist through the streets of Sylmar was among its last runs before the beast was boxed up and shipped to L.A. Live. There, it joined another Tumbler and other Batmobiles from previous films, along with the original modified Lincoln Futura from the Adam West TV series, as part of a free exhibit open to the public until Dec. 14.

The exhibition is the final stop on a publicity tour that took the Batmobiles and the Bat-Pod on a five-week swing to sporting events in Dallas; New Orleans; Baton Rouge, La.; Pittsburgh; and Cincinnati, part of a promotional jaunt timed with the Tuesday release of “The Dark Knight Rises” on DVD and Blu-ray. (Click through the images in the gallery above to get a sense of the exhibit.)

Tom Hardy as Bane stands on the camouflage version of the Tumbler in “The Dark Knight Rises.” (Ron Phillips/Warner Bros.)

The Blu-ray Combo Pack also features a new, hour-long documentary about the Batmobiles, which were on display earlier this year in San Diego at Comic-Con International, where crowds gathered to celebrate the storied history of the cars and to share their anticipation for the then-imminent release of “The Dark Knight Rises,” Nolan’s third and final journey to the dark corridors of Gotham, tracking Christian Bale’s Bruce Wayne as he dons the cowl after a years-long absence to battle the menacing masked man known as Bane (Tom Hardy).

The Tumbler, in off-black with giant wings, looks like the offspring of a stealth fighter and a tank. Disjointed, angular body panels cover its low-slung frame. The front tires are exposed. The rear features your standard superhero kit: A quartet of 44-inch truck tires with a faux jet engine mounted in the middle.

The real engine is a 400-horsepower Chevy V-8, unencumbered by such real-world niceties as a muffler or emissions equipment. All that’s audible over the V-8’s roar is the high-pitched whine made by the transmission and rear axle.

A British-born engineer and visual-effects expert now living in Vancouver, Smith’s previous creations include the BMW Z8 seen in the Bond film “The World Is Not Enough,” several custom all-wheel drive Aston Martins for “Die Another Day” and work on the Batmobile from the 1989 “Batman” film directed by Tim Burton.

He said Nolan relished the notion that the Tumbler would do its own stunts in the film. “We didn’t want it just to be your standard film car, we wanted it to do everything you see it do in the film,” Smith said.

And, of course, it needed to look the part. “Every misalignment and every gap you see was agonized over,” he said.

The Tumbler started life as a 1/10 scale model that Nolan handed Smith, leaving to him the details of building the life-size version from scratch. In five months, his team crafted a prototype, then the first of five working Tumblers.

The cost? “In the millions,” he said of the project.

Christian Bale as Batman on the Bat-Pod in “The Dark Knight Rises.” (Ron Phillips/Warner Bros.)

The body panels are mostly fiberglass, though the moveable wings on the top and side are made from aluminum. The motor and transmission came from Chevy. Electronic power steering was pilfered from a Citroen, the steering rack from a Land Rover Discovery. Smith’s team bolted everything onto a custom-made tubular steel chassis not unlike that found in a NASCAR vehicle.

Also like a NASCAR vehicle, it has no doors. So getting into the Tumbler is as much of an adventure as riding in it. The top of the car swings up, revealing a sunroof-sized opening for passengers to climb through. Batman apparently needs no handles or ladders.

Inside, a pair of racing seats is surrounded by few creature comforts and an odd layout of controls. The gearshift for the three-speed automatic sits to the left of the driver. A tachometer and oil temperature gauge are where a center console might be. The passenger has the fuel tank as an armrest on the right, above which hang two massive coil-over shocks connected to the right front wheel.

The car has no mirrors, so the driver relies on two shoebox-sized windows, one in front, one to the left – along with a spotter on a walkie-talkie driving ahead of the car.

Even in L.A., where residents are accustomed to star sightings, the raucous approach of the Batmobile sends passersby scrambling for cameras. Pedestrians stop in their tracks; commuters don’t even bother to pull over.

When the cars were being prepped to go on tour, crowds formed at the Hollywood Car Co., where the Batmobiles are stored and maintained, along with a fleet of other cars rented to movie studios.

“The word got out quick, and we had this huge line,” said owner Billy Stabile. “We had the police out there, and we thought we were going to get in trouble, but they just wanted to see them also.”

– David Undercoffler



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