WEDNESDAY ONE-OFF: LINCOLN FUTURA

Purchased for just one dollar, and subsequently sold for $4.62 million.

WEDNESDAY ONE-OFF: LINCOLN FUTURA

There are few cars in the world that have ever been purchased for just one dollar, and only one that has subsequently sold for $4.62 million some five decades later. This is the story of the remarkable Lincoln Futura.

Often considered one of the golden ages of car design, the 1950s saw the influence of the space race and a raft of domestic innovations upon the industry, with numerous cars styled with large tailfins and chrome extrusions that mimicked the shape of rockets.

One such revolutionary concept was the Lincoln Futura. It was designed by an in-house team led by Bill Schmidt, with a clay model crafted at Ford, before Ghia in Italy was commissioned to build it. The car’s debut was at the 1955 Chicago Auto Show, and it received a great response from the crowds and the press. The design would influence numerous Fords and Lincolns in the subsequent period, perhaps most obviously the first generation Lincoln Premiere.

While many concept cars are consigned to manufacturer archives or museums after their show circuits have been completed, the Futura’s destiny was to become a star of the silver screen. It had initially been painted in a pearlescent white, but was repainted red to take a star turn alongside Glenn Ford and Debbie Reynolds in the 1959 Hollywood movie ‘It Started With a Kiss’. The car is central to the plot, with the protagonists winning it in a raffle, and the movie then charting the impact of the prize on their lives.

Shortly after this, the Futura was acquired by legendary customiser, George Barris. He claimed that Ford sold him the car for just one dollar. This assertion is more believable when seeing photos from the early 1960s, which show the concept car in a poor state of repair, with dented and faded paintwork, and pitted chrome trim.

In 1965, the Futura’s story took its most significant turn – and one which probably saved the car from oblivion. That year, George Barris was commissioned to create a Batmobile for 20th Century Fox’s new TV series, reportedly with a budget of $15,000 and a timeframe of just three weeks. Given the tight turnaround, Barris chose to modify the Futura; extending the side fins to start at the canopy, opening up and flaring the wheel arches, stripping off all the chrome, and reprofiling the nose. His team also installed a ‘jet drive’ butane tank, and various bat emblems around the body. Finally, it was finished all in black with cerise accents.

The Batman TV series ran from January 1966 to March 1968, and during this time Barris’ creation became a household icon – comfortably one of the most recognisable vehicles in the world. At the end of filming, Barris kept ownership of the Batmobile, and it was used in various other movies and features. A number of replicas were also built, but the original remained a cherished part of his collection.

Finally, in 2013, Barris chose to offer the Batmobile at auction in the US. Garnering widespread media attention and frenetic bidding, the car sold with an incredible winning bid of $4.2 million.

The car has been re-offered on the market at least once since then, and today it is still one of the most famous TV and film vehicles in existence. Its stellar provenance and global fame mean that it will surely remain sought-after by collectors for many years to come.