One of my favorite concept / show cars from the 50s was the Lincoln Futura. Designed in America and built in Italy, it represents to me an enthusiast leap toward the future with extravagant style – design that was meant to be celebrated by crowds of people. Check out some photos of when it first appeared in 1955 below.
Many of you who are familiar with this car also know that it was turned into the Batmobile in the 1960s by George Barris. And what a second iconic life it had – its reputation growing with subsequent years. So the original Futura is gone and not to be seen again – or is it?
One of our Undiscovered Classics friends, Chris Woodside shares with us the story of how a few intrepid souls have made or are in the process of making a reproduction of the famous Futura. And Chis is one of the few individuals who has owned one of these reproductions. And, as you’ll soon learn, he’s on his way to having a second one in his possession. So on with today’s story and take it away Chris 🙂
The Butts/Woodside 1955 Lincoln Futura Concept Replica(s) – Not One But Two!
By Chris Woodside
Perhaps on an exceedingly slow day during the pandemic, I received a nice e-mail from Geoffrey Hacker of Undiscovered Classics asking if I’d be willing to share the story of my acquisition of the infamous Butts 1955 Lincoln Futura Concept Replica. For those who may still have interest in that exceedingly rare example, I’m more than happy to share what little I know about it up to my ownership and subsequent sale of it.
For those who may not be aware, the 1955 Lincoln Futura was a Lincoln-based concept built in Italy by world renown Pininfarina in Italy. This truly incredible concept was so space-age advanced for its day after the waterfall-type cars of the 50’s, it garnered quite a lot of attention and is still enamored by those who knew it then———-and now. Of course this was further popularized when the original concept car was painted red and appeared in the movie “It Started With A Kiss” starring Glenn Ford and Debbie Reynolds.
At some point following the movie, this underutilized concept car sat deteriorating on a studio back-lot. Ford then supplied the original Futura to George Barris when William Dozier Productions came along in 1965 and decided to use this former concept car as the proposed “crime fighter” in the premier of the TV Batman TV Show.
The Story of how Hollywood “King of Kustoms” George Barris modified the Futura into the infamous #1 TV Batmobile ™ has long been chronicled and hailed as one of the most important cars in history. What’s not so well known is that George Barris’ side kick and customizer/body tech was a guy by the name of Bob Butts who had a likewise interesting career with old cars historically, and, for this story, is largely responsible for molding the TV Batmobile™ to re-create the 1955 Lincoln Futura Concept Car in fiberglass. Think “1966 TV Batmobile™ reverse-engineered into 1955 Lincoln Futura Concept Replica” and you got it.
I’m not sure of the year, but I’m guessing it was late 80’s or early 90’s that this was accomplished. I suspect this information is discoverable for those wanting more specifics. Once the Futura replica was completed, it was painted bright red to rival the color that it was painted for the movie noted above and began to again garner traction and interest by those who knew its history. Perhaps seeing a blossoming business opportunity, my information is that Bob Butts decided to offer his ‘55 Lincoln Futura Concept Replicas to the public thru a company he created: Fantasy Cars Ranch in El Cajon, California.
Bear in mind this was sort of a 1-man operation so there really wasn’t much in the way of record keeping at the time. Because Bob Butts had the talent and Batmobile™ molds at his disposal, he built the only known Futura Concept replica example of its kind, making it highly prized for his efforts to recreate a car that rivaled the original Lincoln Concept at that time. If you’re REALLY old enough to know, you may even recall that this Butt’s Futura Replica made a brief appearance in the first (original) 80’s Viper TV Show where it was involved in a good-guy/bad-guy chase scene which is also discoverable online here: https://www.imcdb.org/vehicle_273928-Lincoln-Futura-1955.html
Over time the Butts Futura Replica appearances were less and less until the car was sold and ended up in a Chicago, IL Museum where it underwent some upgrades and detailing to make it show-worthy. This is where my Futura interest comes into focus. Sometime in 2000, I embarked on the build of a 1966 TV Batmobile™ Replica and was immensely interested in its Lincoln Futura history. When I discovered this Butt’s Futura on display at the museum, thinking how cool it might be to display this car some day next to my TV Batmobile™ replica, I arrogantly dispatched an e-mail offering to buy the museum replica for $50,000.00 (even tho’ I really wasn’t sure how I’d actually PAY for it if they responded in the affirmative). I always thought it might be cool to display the “Before & After” pair side by side, but was never in a position financially to make that happen.
At some point in the months ahead, I got word that the Butts Futura was sold at auction for somewhere around the $25k price+/- and remembering feeling completely floored that it sold for HALF of what I offered in writing! How is this possible?? And how could I have missed this? How could THEY have missed the chance to make money off of my offer? Those are all questions I never got a good answer for and so I didn’t have much choice except to live with the facts——–JACK!
Fast Forward #2
I don’t really know how I heard about it, but when you own a Batmobile™ replica, word about other replicas gets around. That “word on the street” was that the infamous Bob Butts Futura was reportedly purchased by a Harley Davidson Dealer in Fairfield, Ohio.
As you might anticipate, as an Ohio resident who didn’t live too far from Fairfield, I reached out to the dealership and discovered the Futura was actually owned by the owner’s son Brandon who was, to my surprise, a teenager at the time. I can recall thinking “How is it a teenager ends up with this incredible replica??”. Simultaneously, I ALSO thought “WHY would ANY teenager want an old kit car from the 70’s??”. Again———–more questions than answers.
The good news though was that young Brandon was an incredibly nice guy who agreed to let me bring my ’66 TV Batmobile™ Replica over to his dealership for a photo-op’ of the 2 cars side by side. No matter that is was an unusually frigid morning in the fall that would require driving my replica across town with no heat, I wasn’t going to miss this opportunity at my chance to get a photo of MY replica next to HIS!
When I showed up, I was deflated to discover the Futura replica had fallen into a state of disrepair——-an unfortunate common problem for outdated kit cars. It was dust-covered. Two of the tires were flat. The other 2 tires were low. Some of the plastic trim that adorned the car was peeling away and some parts looked as tho’ they were about to fall off.
I will say this………EVEN FOR THOSE FEW SLIGHTS, IT WAS STILL JAW-DROPPINGLY GORGEOUS for its merits. Sadly it wasn’t in the cards for me to get the Futura out as was hoped for photos and so Brandon and I parted company with my statement to him that if he EVER decided to sell that old kit car I’d like to be considered for it. I got a few photos of its condition and was very happy for the experience.
Some years later, life threw a curve ball to my family, so my wife, son and I made a sudden move for family to Tennessee. In my quest to find a home in that higher priced area I came to the realization that in order to buy a home that met all our new needs for guest-quarters and wheelchair accommodations, it was necessary for me to part with my Batmobile™ replica for the greater good of family.
It wasn’t a decision that came easily honestly, but after what I considered to be my “Lucky 13 years” with my replica, there was no better time to pass the torch of fun onto the next person that I could only hope would try to share that car with anyone and everyone possible since the original was always just out of grasp or viewing behind the Velvet Ropes of the Petersen Automotive Museum for those who loved it as much as I DO (did).
I promptly listed the car at a necessary price and could never have imagined my good fortune when none other than comedian ventriloquist Jeff Dunham acquired my former replica thru a third-party. As it happens Jeff is quite the Batmobile™ fan like the rest of us and had some world-class Batmobiles™ —–yes plural—-in his collection. As if that in itself wasn’t anything short of amazing, he too shared my former replica with others which was always my vision for my former replica at the time, that has lived on under his comic genius and sharing it with other neat old car enthusiasts.
This is the part where you’d THINK that I’d find myself sorry for having parted with my replica feeling the pain of seller’s regret. The fact is I NEVER thought I’d EVER part with that replica if you knew the struggle I went thru to acquire it in kit form and build it, but then the need arose and just like that life circumstance quickly re-directed my priorities for the greater good and the car was gone.
As a self-described “car guy” I was starting to wonder what life might be like in just “any old car” that likely wouldn’t garner the attention of my former Batmobile™ replica and all the miles of smiles it engendered during my ownership of it. I had to keep reminding myself that there was a more important reason for its sale and the world was right——-and it was.
I then started to contemplate was is the NEXT car I might like to own? After all I had a handsome payment for it so I was dealing with that good angel on one shoulder and the bad on another as I contemplated WANTS versus NEEDS. My wife very graciously understood this dilemma and was not opposed to me having another old car at some point down the road.
Within days (DAZE?)———I got the hair-brained idea that maybe, just MAYBE I might be in a position to buy the Butts Futura Replica from young Brandon if he was open to a sale? At the time of my call, I’m not sure he remembered who I was until I mentioned my former replica. He seemed to light up slightly on the phone————or it could have possibly been my own ego leading me to believe I struck some chord that might lead to discussions of a sale?
The details are fuzzy, but I THINK I recall telling Brandon that I knew what he paid for it, and made him an offer reflecting a good sized profit if he was open to selling his replica? Initially he responded in the negative and stated that he would confer with his Father but not sure he’s ready to let it go. I gave him the necessary space, and when we spoke next, Brandon shot me a high price IF he were to part with it. I can’t divulge those details here, but it was much higher than I felt I could reasonably afford———–and I shared the story of what brought my family to Tennessee etc. I made a reasonable counter offer that Brandon said he would consider. It sounded ominous frankly, and I feared I’d possibly lost my ONLY shot to buy this incredible replica. ONE shot to buy the Futura and I think I just blew it.
A day or two went by with no further discussion. “Probably not in the cards” I told myself. But then I felt the need to call and concede to Brandon’s price in the spirit of a sale. To my surprise, I found Brandon was very gracious and apparently started to contemplate what he could do with those monies if he DID sell his replica. In fact he told me, “My Dad said its my car and I can sell it if I want to”.
I said something to the effect of “Well, I know what you’re asking and you know what I offered. What can we do?”———-Brandon agreed to negotiate with me on his price and reduced it slightly to what I felt I could afford——yet not take too much away from the house fund. DONE! EUREKA! I JUST BOUGHT THE BUTTS FUTURA!! Once the payment arrangements were made and he confirmed receipt at his end, Brandon said he would accommodate me whenever I can get the car recognizing it was the dead of winter with snow and cold in Ohio at the time.
I didn’t own a car trailer, so I borrowed the ONLY trailer I could find which happened to be an open trailer. I wasn’t keen on the idea of transporting this old kit car in the dead of winter on an open trailer subjecting vintage fiberglass to the rigors of harsh cold winter air, but I didn’t have any other option, so a friend and I made the 6 hour trip one frosty morning, loaded it carefully, and returned to Tennessee later the same day unscathed!
When it was in my garage, I think I just stared at it for hours———–much like I did when I had my TV replica in its raw fiberglass form. It was a very reassuring feeling to know that I FINALLY have it and can’t wait to share this with all my bat-cronies at the time. But———first things first!
This exterior fiberglass red finish was faded, but appeared to otherwise be in really exceptional condition considering its age. While I knew I could handle detailing it, I was not willing to risk damaging its finish with my amateur buffing skills so I sought out a mobile detailer who could come to me to detail it under my careful supervision.
The first 2 or 3 guys that I could even FIND mid-winter passed on it citing they don’t want to be responsible for any potential damage to this rare car. The 4th detailer showed up, was all of about 25, and told me he can “bring it back”. Of course I cautioned him about the history of this car and went so far as to ask for his insurance information in the off-chance something unexpected were to occur———–something that came easily to me for my vast claims experience.
This last detailer provided all that I asked for and said let me get started tomorrow———and so I did. We agreed that he would start on one remote panel for his buffing efforts and then would call me out to get my opinion of his handiwork before going any further to assure it was to my discerning satisfaction. Almost 2 hours later, he summoned me out to take a look and I was awe-struck by the right rear quarter panel brilliant finish.
I remember asking him what kind of buffer are he was using because this is beautiful! Imagine my complete surprise when he told me that he decided to HAND-RUB this car for its rarity and although it would take longer, it would be the best route to bring back this finish in a careful fashion. He assured me the price would not be any higher than the $500.00 quoted considering the work involved in the dead of winter.
Almost 5 hours later it was getting dark and he wanted to stop for the day and return the following morning which I was all to happy to accommodate. He showed up to finish the job on a Sunday no less and worked for 10 hours straight on every crevice of the car to make it as close to perfect as his skill could muster. He even re-adhered some loose trim where it belonged and when I was summoned out for final inspection, the car was just stunningly MORE beautiful for his attentive handiwork. WOW! The Detailer took a lot of photos for his personal detailing portfolio, and I gave him a handsome tip.
As the photos will attest, after our combined detailing effort, it was clear the once forlorn Butts ’55 Lincoln Futura replica was now rejuvenated with new life seemingly that GLEAMED begging for eyes to once again take in its splendor!
I took the Futura for its first test spin around the block and found to my surprise the suspension felt really loose——as in worn. MENTAL NOTE: CHECK SUSPENSION.
With the sun gleaming, I took my own glamour shots of the freshly detailed Butts Futura an professed to the world and friends about my latest acquisition. WHAT FUN!!! There was a hidden button that was a door-popper that opened the door as it didn’t have any exterior handles. There was also a switch on the driver’s door that worked the hydraulic center canopy to raise and lower it smoothly———-VERY cool touch!
The roll-top dash was a faux-dash with no working rolltop compartments like my replica, but considering the era it was done, it was pretty impressive. I can’t remember if the engine was a hyped up 390 or 460 V8 but it ran great and was very sexy to the eye.
Since Jeff Dunham was a huge car history buff, I was quick to share my photos with him and, like I was when I first saw it, he was likewise intrigued. He HAD to know the story and I shared the details with him. What I didn’t expect was that he ALSO shared the vision of having the Futura along side the TV Batmobile™ again historically and felt it was important to history that an aging George Barris be reunited with these 2 cars that he was very much responsible for.
This led to several back and forths about the whys, wheres and price, but I decided that since he was in a better position to reunite these 2 cars than I was……………and it meant having the Butts Futura long side my former TV replica, FINALLY those two would be together as they were somehow meant to be~
The deal was struck and the Butts Futura was now owned by a guy who shared my vision of keeping them together. In fact, not quite a month after its purchase, Jeff Dunham held a Barris-family “Meet and Greet” where he was able to do precisely what he said he would do which was to reunite the “King of Kustoms” with those 2 very special replicas.
Now you’re probably thinking that’s a pretty good story in itself and this is where it all ends, but there is SO MUCH MORE! Briefly, I will share with you that the former Butts Futura is now the Dunham Futura and has undergone a painstaking detailed restoration to restore it to the FACTORY CORRECT Lincoln colors and details that will make it among the best of its kind. With some good luck it will debut very soon for all to enjoy.
As a footnote to this Futura history, Marty Martino is a well known SUPER TALENTED car customizer in his own right who has ALSO been working steadfastly on a Futura replica that will also debut in the somewhat near future. And finally, when I couldn’t BUY the Butts Futura at the time I discovered it in that Chicago Museum all those years ago, I commenced the build of a very accurate ’55 Lincoln Futura Replica body in the hope of realizing this car at SOME point in my own FUTURE. This is shown in the photo below.
Right now it’s literally suspended in my barn with a correct ’56 Lincoln Mark II chassis under it in the hope it too will someday ride again. I refer to it as my “FUTURA IN SUSPENSE”. And it’s my “some day” replica. Perhaps with a little luck I’ll be able to tell that story down the road.
Chris A. Woodside
I’ve asked Chris to keep us posted when he begins building the Futura that is waiting for him in his barn. What fun it will be to see the car take shape and again be seen by the public – one of the great show cars of the 1950s. And of course it would be a blast to drive it too.
Thanks again to Chris Woodside for sharing his article today on the Futura. Hope you enjoyed the story, and remember…
The adventure continues here at Undiscovered Classics.