In 1989, Patrick McLynn was a 23-year-old Virginia Commonwealth University student in industrial design and product engineering hoping to go into toy making. He probably felt like a little kid in a grown-up's body when he was handed the keys to his very own Batmobile that blockbuster summer.
With the Batman film series about to be resurrected when Batman Begins premieres on June 17, McLynn recalls his time behind the steering wheel of the Dark Knight's ride.
On June 19, 1989, Mc-Lynn was at a friend's house when he caught sight of a commercial for MTV's Win the Batmobile Plus $25,000 contest, tied to a video for a Prince song from the movie. The cash was an incentive for the part-time Tobacco Company bartender, whose mode of transit at the time was a bike or skateboard.
To McLynn's great surprise, he was chosen out of 982,950 callers, making his win not quite but almost one in a million. He jumped up and down and started phoning friends, even the WTVR Channel 6 newsroom. They didn't believe him.
McLynn's 20-foot-long Batmobile cost $60,000 and was custom-built on an extended Chevrolet Impala wheelbase by Hollywood Productions, the company that made the movie's Batmobiles. The company provided a plaque for McLynn's Batmobile attesting that it was a replica.
McLynn, today a co-owner of the Fan District's Metro Grill, still believes the car might have been used in the film. He thinks the company downplayed its role to keep his resale value lower. "I mean, it was made from a handmade metal frame, handmade fiberglass with eight layers of lacquer. Why would you go through all that effort and not use it?"
None of that mattered at 4:30 p.m. on June 23, when Batman premiered at the Ridge Cinema (now a Kroger grocery). Some 800 people watched the lanky redheaded McLynn get his prize in the Ridge parking lot. Actor Robert Wuhl, who played "ace reporter" Alexander Knox in the film, presented McLynn with a prop $25,000 check before introducing the film inside the theater.
"There was so much going on," McLynn recalls. "It was overwhelming and kind of surreal."
McLynn climbed into the curvaceous vehicle, but there was one problem: It didn't have an engine.
Holy unmotored vehicle, Batman!
McLynn explains: "The steering wheel worked, the brakes worked, the dials were in the cockpit. But it didn't have an engine. You couldn't open the hood; the entire body had to be lifted up to work inside it. It was a prop. You have to think of it like a big go-kart."
At the time, McLynn thought he'd exhibit it at the Strawberry Street Festival and the Carytown Watermelon Festival, but neither those nor other ideas proved feasible. Upon receiving his prize, McLynn had been required to sign a strict contract wherein he agreed not to exhibit the car for money, though later the Science Museum of Virginia put it on display, asking for "donations." There, a Bat-vandal made off with the shift lever. After the taxes were taken out of his MTV cash, McLynn bought a Suzuki GXR 750 motorcycle, which got wrecked a few years later.
Hollywood Productions wanted to buy the car back from him and made various offers, including a Corvette and $50,000. "They got the rights to build the car, but I think they were pressured by MTV and Viacom, which owns it, and they're huge, to put the car up for a contest," McLynn says. "[Their] idea was to take it to car shows, and they hoped whoever won it would sell it right back to them. I didn't." At the time, McLynn was offering the car for $125,000 to $330,000.
Meanwhile, McLynn had to find various makeshift Batcaves for his Batmobile; for the past seven years he used the old Argus Steel factory off Lombardy Street near Virginia Union University.
McLynn couldn't afford the Batmobile's estimated $10,000 insurance premium. He had to pay tax on the car, too, and that got him an audit by the IRS.
At first McLynn took numerous people to see the vehicle. But that stopped, too. His girlfriend of the past seven years didn't see the car until the morning in July 2003 when the private Illinois collector he sold it to came to retrieve it.
"I sold it for not a lot of money, but enough to settle my taxes and get everything straightened out," says McLynn, who wouldn't specify the amount. All he has left from his Batmobile experience are photos (to be displayed at Metro Grill), memories and a futon he bought at a now-closed Shockoe Slip store.
He chuckles, "That futon's been with me in Colorado, the Florida Keys; it's a great futon."