My goal for this display was to make it as realistic as possible while keeping it affordable. I also wanted everything to be durable, reusable, portable, able to set up quickly by one person, and that it wouldn't take up much storage space when not in use. The cost for the completed Tumbler was about $600. It easily could have costed two to three times that amount, but I was able to use lots of scrap materials, found some freebies and saved a lot by purchasing used items on eBay. Most of the year was spent figuring out which items were needed and trying to collect everything on the cheap.
Please know that I am not a carpenter, and only have basic tools and limited construction knowledge. I'm sure there are more efficient ways to do this project (a table saw would have really helped), but I think it's good to show that anyone can do it. Also, I did this project in my spare time while running a business and juggling family responsibilities, so it's difficult to judge the true time required. Included are some notes about the general time line counting down until Halloween in italics.
Step 1: Research
I started by finding as many pictures as I could online and organizing them into different sections of the vehicle for later reference. From Target, I bought a $10 Tumbler toy (which a standard action figure goes into) so I could see what it looked like in 3D (very helpful). There is a lot of good source material about the car on the movie DVDs and YouTube.
Blueprints are readily available online with side, front and rear views of the vehicle. I also found the instructions and printouts of a paper model (one page pictured) online for free. It was good to see all the pieces involved and an example of how the shapes fit together.
The best resource is the website www.chickslovethecar.com. These guys are the real deal. They spend years building perfect working replicas of Batmobiles from the '60s to today. Many have posted their progress in 'build logs' that they continually update. The members are very willing to answer questions and give suggestions. They also have the most comprehensive Batmobile image database around, including the Tumbler.
Note- At this time in the project, it is November '08 (one year before Halloween).
Step 2: Get a Car
Step 3: Basic Design
I made the decision to build it proportionally thinner than the original so that the structure could be reasonably supported by the car underneath. (The measurements shown are of the Cruiser that I used to estimate the size of the finished project.)
Step 4: Front Wheels
I used an Angle Tool (a must-have for the entire project) as a compass to draw a ring out of scrap 1/4" hardboard (picture 1) and cut out the pattern with a jigsaw (picture 2). I made some small 90 degree fasteners out of scrap aluminum using a vise and drill (picture 3) and used them to attach the rings to some old garbage can lids (picture 4). The front and back of each assembled front wheel are shown and a 1-1/2" pvc end cap was screwed onto the back center.
Step 5: Rear Wheels
The second photo shows another 1-1/2" pvc end cap screwed on the opposite side of the bottom plywood so that the wheel can attach to the rear axel. The other pictures go through the painting, assembly and finished wheels.
Step 6: Rear Tires, Treads and Assembly (w/ Rocket Engine)
The first picture shows that it was easy to cut the pattern with a regular pair of scissors. You can see the final shape in the next picture with an indentation to make room for the rear fender.
The rear wheel (bucket) fits in the center hole of the inner tube and attaches to the rear axel (a piece of 1-1/2" pvc pipe screwed to the rear hatch hasp). The PVC framework (held together with small bungee cords) is used to hold the tire in place while supporting the treads.
Use black gaffe tape (it doesn't leave a sticky residue like duct tape) to secure the treads to the front of the inner tube. The rest of the treads just lay over the pvc framework and a corrugated tube ($12 at Home Depot) closes out the other side and helps it to keep it's shape.
The rocket engine was made out of a black plastic garbage can ($11) and an old plastic ribbed plant holder (free) painted with chrome and copper spray paint. A hole was cut in the bottom of each before they were screwed together. A photo printout of the rear of the original Tumbler was taped to the rear hatch for reference.
Step 7: Front Tires, Treads and Assembly
The next picture illustrates the second inner tube placement with a smaller piece of pvc pipe to wedge it into place. Then the assembly is rolled up with a sheet of Platon (cut to size) like a burrito and secured with gaffe tape and a small bungee. The seam goes on the bottom of the wheel to hide it.
Step 8: Frame
I laid out the frame by estimating where the panels would need to attach to the car while keeping the structure minimal. I also had to leave room to open the driver's side door in the future. Foam was taped to the pipes where they touched the car. Black ropes were used to secure the frame to the car with the rear door jam as the main attachment point. After assembled, I removed the frame from the car and glued segments together with pvc cement, but later ended up bolting the joints to make it stronger. More photos were taped to the car for reference.
The rear hatch was tied down slightly to match the look of the rear wings on the original. I had to be careful not to poke my eye out when I walked around the car.
Note- At this point, it's four weeks until Halloween.
Step 9: Front Window Panels
The gray material for the panels was 1/4" hardboard. I would have rather used something that was weatherproof, but I had collected a bunch of free sheets of it from an electronics chain store that went out of business in my area. (I won't mention the name, but it rhymes with Flurcuit Smity.) So the freebie was the deciding factor and I just crossed my fingers hoping that it wouldn't rain on Halloween.
The cardboard pattern was transferred to the hardboard and cut out with a circular saw. After each cut, I'd use some sandpaper to smooth the edge. Then the pieces were bolted to the pvc frame.
Note- Three weeks until Halloween. Time to step things up.
Step 10: Driver's Window Panels
Step 11: Panel Attachment Hardware
Depending on the length, I'd permanently bolt two, three or four of the angled hardware parts I'd created onto one edge of the panel (picture 2). The screw size was 10-24 1/2" along with #10 nuts and washers. The receiving panel would have bolts with wing nuts so they could assemble and disassemble easily on location.
Step 12: Driver's Side Door Panels
Step 13: More Driver's Side Panels
Note- Two weeks 'til Halloween and counting
Step 14: Front and Lights
The lights were simple black puck lights ($18 for a package of three). The top lights were attached to a couple facets with custom metal angles (pictured) and the bottom lights were screwed on a flat panel which were bolted directly to the front pvc spar.
Step 15: Passenger Side Panels
Note- Halloween is only one week away. Yipes!
Step 16: Rear Wings
The wings were a simple shape and I attached some plastic pieces that were left over from the battery operated bats (ceiling mounts). It gave an added dimension to the panel. The two 3/4" end caps were used to attach the outside wing supports to the body panels. The inside of the wing just laid across the rear hatch of the Cruiser.
Step 17: Paint
Step 18: Door Handles
Step 19: The Devil Is in the Details
Some large nuts were hot glued to the front wheels (garbage can lids) after painting to give it a more substantial look. I made some rear shock absorbers (that flank the rocket engine) by screwing some old tubing to a length of pvc. The spar mounts which attached to the rear body panels to support the wings were from the packaging corners that came in the box of my MacBook Pro. They are pictured (before being spray painted copper) with the plastic detail parts for the top of the wings.
A pair of windshield wipers purchased from the local salvage yard for $10 added an aggressive, realistic look when attached to the front window panels on a 45 degree angle. The last picture shows a trunk load of the details that were to go on the prop.
Step 20: Final Assembly
This picture was taken just a couple hours before trick-or-treaters were due to arrive. The Batmobile was just the centerpiece…I still had other parts of the display (Batman, flying bat rig, sound and lights) to complete, so I ran out of time to add some of the copper details and do some touch up painting.
By the way, the final measurements of my Tumbler were 18 feet long by 10 feet wide.
Step 21: Life Sized Animatronic Batman
I needed a face with a strong jaw, so I bought a child's Superman mask for $20, painted black around the eyes and filled the eye sockets with Acrylic Eyes for $10. A pvc skeleton frame (imagine a stick figure) held him in place on top of a custom wood box that housed an oscillating motor from a broken dj light fixture. I made it so the head could pivot on the neck, and hooked it up to the motor in the base with some wires going over some old pulleys (that were leftover after being cut out of the patio umbrellas to make my UFO display the year before).
The slowly turning head made it look like a million bucks. Many people thought that it was a real person standing on the roof ledge.
Step 22: Flying Bat Rig
I tried a sewing machine motor and an old cordless drill, but neither worked very well. Then I ordered a windshield wiper motor and motor controller from Monster Guts at monsterguts.com/electric-motors-for-props/bride-of-power-pack/prod_164.html for $79 (worth every penny). It worked perfect indoors, but the high winds threw the whole rig out of balance. It's an easy fix if I had a little more time to dial it in.
Step 23: Bat Signal
I made the design for a custom glass gobo after finding a Batman Logo vector image online and modifying it in Adobe Illustrator. I placed the order through www.gobostogo.com. They were extremely helpful and it only cost $55 when I included a couple more designs needed for work.
Also, I decided to go with the old school look for the Bat Signal to appeal to the folks in my generation.
Step 24: Finishing Touches
Smoke from a fog machine blew out of the rear rocket engine. My original plan was to feed the output of the fogger with an electric leaf blower and an orange pin spot light to simulate a rocket blast, but time constraints prevented it.
I put cheap spot lights with 100 watt flood lamps and yellow gels in every room with a front window (pointed inwards) to give our house the look of Wayne Manor.
Using the audio editor Garage Band on my Mac, I compiled a continuous cd of rocket engine sounds that played from the Cruiser's on-board cd player. With the hatch open, it gave the rocket some life. I also set up a full dj sound system (luckily I own a few) that played an hour long loop of music that included the 60's tv show theme, some remixes found on iTunes, cartoon themes songs (Batman Beyond is cool), bat sound effects, character quotes, and all the blockbuster movie themes from 1989's Batman through to the Dark Knight. (For a laugh, check out the '50s version of Batman by Jan & Dean.)
I was hoping to let the kids who were dressed like Batman into the car so they could stand up through the open sunroof for a photo op, but it was just too cold. Here's a snapshot of my daughter on top of the car the next day. It still drew a crowd of onlookers throughout the weekend.
Let me know if you have any questions or comments. Thanks to all of the 2008 Halloween Contest entrants for their inspirational ideas and to my good friend Steve (Instructables member ThawedHead) for rocking out his own technically advanced displays.
Step 25: Latest Updates
November 2009- This project won the Grand Prize Tech (out of 350+ entries) along with $700 worth of swag in the Instructables 2009 Halloween Contest. You can see the full list of contest winners here. Thanks again to everyone at Instructables for all of your supportive feedback.
October 2010- Special thanks to the founder and CEO of Instructables Eric Wilhelm for his high praise during an interview on NPR's Science Friday with Ira Flatow (one of my favorite shows on the radio).
October 2011- Popular Mechanics featured this build in an online article titled "10 Hardcore DIY Halloween Projects".
October 2012- Parts of the display were showcased in the storefront window of JAMMIN' DJs in Lansing Michigan.
October 2014- The entire display was set up for the first time in five years at How-To Halloween, an annual event in Lansing Michigan which celebrates everything d-i-y Halloween. The Batmobile fought me the whole time during assembly, but it finally came together and everyone loved it.