The Batmobile made its first appearance in Detective Comics No. 27, the first Batman story; it originally was a simple red convertible with no special features. The vehicles went through many changes over the years in the comics, adding batlike designs and accessories.
For the 1960s television series, car customizer Dean Jeffries was contracted to build a Batmobile, but time limitations forced him to back out, and George Barris took over the project. He based it on the 1955 Lincoln Futura concept car. The eventual vehicle was nearly 19 feet long and 7 ½ feet wide, powered by a 390-cubic-inch Ford FE V-8 engine. Its gadgets included a nose-mounted aluminum cable cutter blade, bat ray projector, anti-theft device, detect-a-scope, bat scope, bat eye switch, antenna activator, police band cut-in switch, automatic tire inflation device, remote bat computer — a radio linked to the main Batcomputer in the Batcave — a bat phone, emergency bat turn lever, anti-fire activator, bat smoke and bat photoscope.
When the Batman movie series began, the Batmobile was built from a Chevrolet Impala chassis, almost 22 feet long and powered by a jet turbine. Its weaponry included bombs that could be deployed from the sides of the vehicle, as well as two M1919 Browning machine guns that were hidden behind flaps in each fender. Other gadgets included chassis-mounted shin-breakers, oil-slick dispensers and smoke emitters. Inside, the two-seat cockpit featured aircraft-like instrumentation, a passenger's side monitor, self-diagnostics system, CD recorder and voice-command recognition system. This vehicle was featured in “Batman” (1989) and “Batman Returns” (1992).
Some updates were added for “Batman Forever” (1995): Decorative lighting was added to the vehicle's rims, sides and front edge, and the wing-shaped fins were taller. New gadgetry included a grappling hook allowing the Batmobile to drive up walls, as well as a maximum speed of 330 mph with booster to make long jumps from surface to surface on elevated freeways or gigantic statues.
The Batmobile really grew for “Batman & Robin” (1997); it expanded to 33 feet in length and was powered by a Chevy 350 ZZ3 engine. It was equipped with dual-mount, sub-carriage rocket launchers, front and rear grappling hooks, multipoint infrared and laser-scan tracking units, anterior/posterior wheel-based axle bombs, catapult ejection seat, and disguised central carriage, which could detach to become an emergency road vehicle. The single-seat cockpit featured a two-way videoconferencing screen, radar unit and Redbird communication switch.
The latest Batmobile in “Batman Begins” (2005), “The Dark Knight” (2008) and “The Dark Knight Rises” (2012) is greatly influenced by the tanklike vehicle from Frank Miller's “Batman: The Dark Knight Returns” comic book series. Bruce Wayne uses the prototype vehicle known as the Tumbler, which was designed by Wayne Enterprises' Applied Sciences Division as a bridging vehicle for the military. It includes weaponry and the ability to boost into a rampless jump. The Tumbler's armor is strong enough to break through concrete barriers without sustaining significant damage. Now back down to a more reasonable 15 feet in length, it is powered by a 5.7 liter GM V-8 engine capable of 500 horsepower with an additional propane-fueled jet engine.
It is loaded with extras: rear flaps to assist brakes, dual front auto-cannons, rocket launcher, hook for landing stabilization and integrated fire-extinguishing system. Also included is a stealth mode, which turns off the car's lights and cuts off the main engine. The vehicle is powered by an electric motor, making the car very hard to find in dark places. Explosive caltrops are deployed from the rear of the vehicle, which can take out any vehicles that make contact with them. The front of the vehicle is heavily armored, so the car can ram as a practical offensive attack. Both front wheels can eject when the vehicle is damaged to form the Batpod, a motorcycle-like vehicle. Also available are a set of missile launchers and a retractable artillery cannon on a turret.
As to who performs maintenance on the Batmobile, that remains a mystery. Obviously Wayne cannot have a staff of mechanics on the payroll, as it would increase the possibility of Batman's identity being revealed. The best guess is that Wayne does it himself. If not, Alfred may be getting his fingernails a little grubby. Or maybe Wayne has a covert arrangement after hours with the local quickie-lube business.