Since the beginnings of hot-rodding and customization, the world of modifying cars has been a realm in which car fans could express themselves in an almost uncountable number of ways. It plays host to a broad spectrum of possibilities; ranging from minor appearance items like headlight eyelashes and spoilers to fully coach-built supercars like James Glickenhaus's Ferrari P4/5 and Michael Stoschek's recent tribute to Lancia's Stratos, it's a vast space filled with five-dollar accessories, million dollar showboats, and everything in between.
Residing in that enormous region of "in-between" is a small company called Fiberglass Freaks in Logansport, Indiana, but they're not your average car shop. In fact, you could say they're one-of-a-kind.
Owned and operated by Mark Racop (the "what guy") and Jeff Sandberg (the "how guy"), and staffed by six full-time and eight part-time employees, Fiberglass Freaks is much like Harley Davidson; they sell dreams. In the case of this unassuming small-town Indiana garage, however, they're giving people the opportunity to own a real 1966 Batmobile.
The story behind the official re-creators of the 1966 Batmobile begins with a young Mark watching George Barris's iconic Batmobile burst from the Batcave, flying out from behind its unassuming "Danger" sign to battle evil-doers. It was then, when he was just a few years old, that Mark decided to one day build himself a Batmobile. Finally getting a chance to see an original Batmobile in person in 1975, the seed that would one day become Fiberglass Freaks began to grow.
Fast forward to Mark's college years at Ball State, and we see a young dreamer - a film student at the time - who is the proud owner of an actual, factual Batmobile. Dubbed a "proving grounds", Mark's first Batmobile was built with the help of some friends on a 1974 Monte Carlo chassis when he was just 17. After teaching himself how to do some of the necessary work himself (and calling in experienced friends for the rest), Bat 1 was complete. The fiberglass, metal, and wood car went on to appear in three short Batman films, two filmed in high school and one in college that earned Mark a David Letterman Scholarship.
Once out of college Mark pursued a variety of jobs, waiting for the day when he would be able to pursue his lifelong dream of building Batmobiles for public consumption. Ever the perfectionist, Mark realized that the Monte Carlo's wheelbase was just too short for a true-to-form Batmobile, and that his initial proportions were a bit off. Sadly, the 1955 Lincoln Futura concept that underpinned the original Batmobile concept was long gone, meaning no more donor cars. It was time for the problem solving and creative thinking to begin.
In 2004, Mark's dream had become a much more realistic possibility with the appearance of "the Futura in the woods" on Ebay. The Futura wasn't actually a car, but a buck crafted by Marty Martino in honor of Lincoln's original 1955 Futura concept. Martino, who had hopes of building Futura concept replicas, originally created the buck with help from Ford after George Barris used the original concept car for the Batmobile. With this buck, the ability to clone the original Futura body shape became a possibility. Having acquired a slew of measurements and dimensions from a variety of museum visits (including a trip to meet Barris himself), the Futura buck had become the next piece of the puzzle.
Upon acquiring the buck for $2,125, Mark and his crew reassembled the pieces in just three days...followed by three months of restoration to bring the whole unit back to 100%. Once complete, fiberglass molds were created in order to start the arduous process of recreating a Batmobile from a Futura; due to the Monte Carlo's short wheelbase, the first Fiberglass Freaks Batmobile - AKA Bat 2 - would now ride on a fourth-generation Lincoln Continental chassis.
With the molds finished, a picture of the Barris Batmobile was projected over the body in order to get the proportions just right. After molding and modifying the Futura body with its new Bat-proportions, sourcing custom windshields from an airplane company in Ohio, and working for the next 4 months, Bat 2 was complete just in time to sell for $83,500 on the auction block. Two years later the same car sold for a staggering $216,000. Seeing such potential and getting ever-increasing publicity, Mark jumped at the opportunity to make some improvements in the design and assembly processes.
A year and a half ago, two important decisions were made: cast new molds in order to reduce the need for grafting and to allow for stronger (and fewer) parts, and improve or fine-tune "minor" details found throughout the car. Some of these improvements include re-tooled tread plates, milled bezels, an improved stereo system, and even a functional Bluetooth Batphone. Mark, "forever a student of the car", says one future goal is a reproduction of the Futura concept's conical, concave speedometer. It would take about a year of development, eventually replacing the Edsel unit currently used. With a bit of humor, Mark adds, "It's only gonna cost twenty-five grand."
Mark cheerfully goes on to say that business, regardless of the world's economic climate, has "exploded" over the past few years to the tune of 17 Batmobile replicas sold. If that's the case, who in the world is buying these $150,000 Batmobiles?
According to Mark, typical customers interested in Fiberglass Freaks' 1966 Batmobile replicas are between forty and sixty years old, well-off, and are buying the car to fulfill a childhood dream (and drive their kids to school, in one case). Don't assume that only Americans would be interested in this car either; Mark has built a car for a UK customer who rents it out for special events, and says he has even received a call from an interested party in Dubai.
If anyone out there was thinking of using the car as an advertising scheme, however, forget about it. Earlier this year, after being scoped out by a DC Comics spy (or "Uncle Glenn, the phantom buyer"), Fiberglass Freaks officially became licensed by DC to build the 1966 Batmobiles. This resulted in a few new regulations being thrown into the mix, hopefully for the better. According to DC's agreement, cars built under the DC license - those after the 17 ordered so far - can't be used to promote or endorse any businesses or projects.
In addition to controlling promotional use, DC wants to ensure that the quality of the car being sold and representing the Batman is top-notch. This means eliminating the lower two trim levels and only offering the fully-loaded model, as well as stopping sales of any kits.
However, if you're interested in purchasing a proper, licensed 1966 Batmobile replica, Mark says he's happy to take your order for a suitcase with $150,000 in it. Wait time is approximately eight months, and available engines include just about anything you can imagine. Mark says the standard mill is a 383 GM crate engine with a TH350 transmission, but big block 460s are always an option.
The model we had a chance to ride in was a customer car (meaning no wheel time, sadly) that was sent in for an update and refurbishment, another service that Fiberglass Freaks offers. This means that any improvements made after one's purchase will always be available, whether they own Bat 2 or Bat 20.
Naturally, owning a Batmobile isn't for everyone; however, should something as zany, attention-grabbing, and smile-inducing as these replicas be your cup of tea, the perfectionists at Fiberglass Freaks and DC Comics want potential buyers to rest assured knowing that Mark, Jeff, and the rest of the Logansport crew are with you every step of the way.
By Phil Alex