Editor’s note: Earlier this evening, the Batmobile that customizer George Barris built for the 1960s Batman television show hammered off at $4.2 million at the Barrett-Jackson auction in Scottsdale. That’s as good excuse as any to republish one of our most popular posts here at Cars In Depth, on the origins of the first Batmobile.
The first Batmobile appeared in Detective Comics #48 in 1941, drawn by Bob Kane. According to all of the histories of the Batmobile that I can find, Kane based the car on the 1936 Cord 810/812. He didn’t. The first Batmobile was a Graham Paige “Sharknose”.
Batman drove high-performance cars since his debut, but the term “Batmobile” didn’t appear until nearly four years later in February 1941’s Detective Comics #48. The car that first used the name was unlike later cars: this one was a bright red convertible that lacked fins, shields, or any other “bat” theme save for a small gold hood ornament. It did, however, sport a supercharged engine capable of tremendous speeds and a heavily reinforced nose capable of smashing through buildings without suffering any damage.
The bulk of the design was based on the Cord 812, a revolutionary design that featured America’s first front-wheel drive design with independent front suspension, a 185HP V8, a semi-automatic transmission with overdrive, retractable headlights, variable-speed wipers, and a sleek, low-slung body (including fully hidden door and trunk hinges). The set back engine meant that there was ample space between the front of the car and the front of the engine, an ideal place for Batman to add the “battering ram” nose without risking damage to the car’s mechanical components.
Upon examination of Kane’s actual drawing, I think that all the Bat historians got their Bat history wrong. It’s clearly a Graham “Spirit of Motion” convertible, better known as the Graham Paige Sharknose. I think the supercharger is what confused the issue. Yes, the Cord 812 came with a supercharger, but Graham also offered a blower. As a matter of fact, the reason for the radical Sharknose restyling was to bring the looks of the car up to its performance. The Batmobile didn’t have a Bat-tering ram, it was the Graham Page’s forward leaning grille. The Cord famously had no running boards, and while the Graham doesn’t actually have a running board, it does have a contoured rocker panel, just like the Batmobile. The Cord has smooth front fenders, while the Graham and the Batmobile have a crease in the middle of the fender that runs up the front and over the top. The final bit of evidence is the headlights. Kane’s first Batmobile had square headlights, molded into the fenders while the Cord 810/812 has retractable round headlights. The Graham was probably the only car made at the time with square headlamps, molded into the fenders. Batmobile #1 looks nothing like a Cord and looks very much like the Sharknose. All that Kane did was change the hood ornament to a bat.