By Drew Hardin
The Future in 1955
While in the Petersen Archive researching last month’s tribute to George Barris, we ran across this photo of the ’55 Lincoln Futura show car. The man under the canopy is Benson Ford, son of Edsel and grandson of Henry Ford, who was taking the sharp-edged show car for a publicity spin around Manhattan.
It’s not hard to recognize the connection between this sleek concept vehicle and Barris’s most famous creation, the Batmobile. Once the Futura’s show days were over, Barris bought it from Ford for $1 and used it as the foundation for Batman and Robin’s iconic ride when television production deadlines proved too tight to build an entire vehicle from scratch.
The Futura was initially rendered by Lincoln-Mercury’s lead designer, Bill Schmidt, who was inspired by sharks and manta rays he saw while on vacation in the Bahamas. That explains the shark-like fins running the length of the car, and the grille, which is roughly shaped like a ray’s mouth.
The bodywork, which measured 19 ft. long but just 52 in. high, was hand built by Ghia in Italy for a reported price tag of $250,000. The car was painted in a pearlescent white color, one of the first uses of that shimmering effect, which some sources say was achieved by grinding actual pearls into the paint.
Though many concept cars of the ’50s were built for static display only, the Futura was a runner. Under that fantastic body was a Lincoln Mk II chassis and a 368ci Lincoln Y-block V8.
A short Internet search will turn up old film footage of Benson Ford driving this car around New York, looking very much like it came out of a time machine when compared to the round, refrigerator-like cars on the road in the mid-20th century.