Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

Lawrence Mechanic Custom-Makes Batmobile

Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

Lawrence Mechanic Custom-Makes Batmobile

Article excerpt

LAWRENCE -- Lawrence resident Rich Johnson watched the adventures of Batman and Robin on TV when he was a kid. While he was rooting for the masked heroes as they battled the Joker and Catwoman, he was equally a fan of their souped-up bat car.

But it wasn't until Johnson saw actor Mark Wahlberg driving a Batmobile in the movie "Rock Star" that he realized he could make one.

"It occurred to me you don't have to be Batman to have a Batmobile," he said.

Johnson, who owns Rich Johnson Automotive in Lawrence and has restored cars for more than 25 years, can be seen driving his custom- made Batmobile in parades or on the streets in Lawrence.

"It's one of the most beautiful cars ever," he said.

In 1992, Johnson and his wife went to a car show in Bartle Hall in Kansas City, Mo. On display was a Batmobile that was used as a stunt car. He told his wife to shoot photographs of the car from every possible angle.

"So I had these 5-by-7 pictures, and I'd combed through them so I knew how to build it," he said.

However, his idea to build a Batmobile was placed on the back burner for nearly a decade. Then, in the summer of 2012, Johnson learned about a man in Ohio who had a mold for the original Batmobile and asked him to create a fiberglass shell of the car for him. When it was ready about three months later, Johnson drove to Ohio, laid it upside-down on a trailer and hauled it back to Lawrence.

Johnson said he used a four-door Lincoln Town Car as the "donor car" -- he placed the fiberglass shell over its chassis to make the Batmobile. But there was a problem: The fiberglass shell was 127 inches long; the Town Car measured 117 inches.

"So, I cut the Town Car in half and stretched it out to make it fit," he said, explaining how he placed a metal insert between the car halves to make it longer. …

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