Image credits: © Lincoln.

1955 Lincoln Futura Concept

Some enthusiasts say that the Lincoln Futura was the most successful, and the most dramatic Lincoln concept vehicle that ever graced the circuit. The original Batmobile, the ultimate car that struck awe in countless fans for a decade was originally a concept dubbed the Lincoln Futura. Designed by the Lincoln division of Ford Motor Company, the Futura was constructed entirely by hand in Turin, Italy for an extreme $250,000. Ghia is famed for having the best pane beaters in the world, and at the time of the Futura, Ghia craftsmen were famous for their workmanship and preferred to work in metal over fiberglass. Much like many other concepts, the Futura was never actually put into production. The Lincoln Futura made its official debut on the auto show circuit in 1955.

Even in comparison to other eccentric and exotic vehicles in the 1950's, the Futura's design style was considered extreme and even impractical. Unlike other concepts of the day though, the Futura was fully operable and featured a complete powertrain. The concept featured double, clear-plastic canopy top, huge outward-canted tailfins on both ends of the car and exaggerated hooded headlight pods. With a chassis that came directly from a Lincoln Mark II, the Futura was powered by a 368 cubic inch Lincoln engine and powertrain.

As a show vehicle, the Futura was a tremendous success and was well received by an excited public that loved the futuristic machine. The Futura's headlights and tailfin motifs were used on production Lincolns for the 1956 and 1957 models, though in a much less ‘loud' way. This exciting car was also released as a model kit and a toy.

Lincoln-Mercury's Division's chief stylist from 1945 until 1955, Bill Schmidt was the ultimate brains behind the design of the Futura. Schmidt was also responsible for updating the '50 and '51 Lincoln models and also the design of the 1952 Lincoln, the '53 Lincoln XL 500 concept vehicle and the '56 Lincoln. In 1940 Schmidt received his initial training at the old Ford Trade school before going to work in the Ford styling studio in 1942. Though he wasn't lead of the design team, Schmidt was an amazing stylist whose skill was apparent in the futuristic and prolific styling of the Futura. Responsible for the initial design behind it and the concept of the Futura, Schmidt had assistance from other engineers and stylists, but he had the distinct pleasure of seeing his project to completion.

Schmidt's conceptual design of the Futura was inspired by a Bahamas vacation, a run-in with a shark, tropical sea life, and the shimmer of underwater fish. A mako shark and a mata ray get partial credit for the 1955 Lincoln Futura influences as well. Bill Mitchell, (Harley Earl's right hand man), also went with Schmidt and gained inspiration for the Corvette XP-755 Shark concept vehicle and the production 1963 Corvette Sting Ray. The vacation had a hermetic effect on Schmidt, Mitchell and on auto history in general.

Schmidt sketched several renderings initially, since the Design Center Budget allocated 10 % of its finances for the design of this project. Schmidt put together a design team along with engineers to ensure that the design would actually be something that could be constructed. John Najjar carried out body development of the Futura while the engineering was taken care of by Martin Regitko. The 20 years following World War II were a craze of modern jet aircraft inspiration for vehicles, and the Futura was no exception. All of the futuristic innovations on the Futura; the air intakes at the front of the rear fins, the interior, the rear-end treatment, the front and rear fins, the ventilation system and the grille, were heavily based on America's love affair with aircrafts.

Pearlescent, frost-blue white was the brand new color painted on the Futura, in Schmidt's attempts to capture the iridescence of the fish he had viewed in the Caribbean. This brilliant color was created by Ghia who ground and pulverized the scales of thousands of fish to mix into the paint color.

Most concepts discreetly disappear following their debut, but not the Futura. A much more thrilling future was in store for the concept. One of the great Auto Customizers, George Barris purchased the Futura concept and since the car had never been titled and could not be insured, it remained parked behind its owners shop for several years. The Futura was allowed to fall into disrepair and many would have assumed that the story ended here. Not so for the Lincoln Futura.

Barris was asked to design a theme vehicle in 1966 for what became the Batman TV series and he contracted styling Dean Jeffries to actually build the vehicle for the show. Starting with a 1959 Cadillac, Jeffries started on the design and the original fabrication for the Batmobile. The studio demanded something faster than that, and it was more than Jeffries could deliver, so he sent the project back to Barris. Barris used Jeffries initial vehicle, but he also had a feeling about the Futura due to its unique winged shape that made it a great beginning for the creation of the Batmobile. Bill Cushenberry was responsible for all metal modifications of the Batmobile.

Five more corresponding models were constructed for the show circuit. The actual model used for the filming of the Batman series swapped out the Lincoln frame and engine with 1966 Ford Galaxie parts. The Futura concept lives on always as the Batmobile was the banal Sixties TV version of the Batman saga. The actual Batmobile is much better known in the history books than the Futura, which stings car enthusiasts.

By Jessica Donaldson
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