Deft hands on the Bat­mo­bile

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Hobbies - By DWAUN SELL­ERS

PIC­TURE a sleepy sub­ur­ban com­mu­nity. Now imag­ine see­ing your neigh­bour drive by in a 1960s-era Bat­mo­bile eat­ing an ice­cream cone.

That’s just an­other night for Dr Phillip Latham’s neigh­bours in the Amer­i­can city of Sumter, South Carolina.

By day, Dr Latham is a der­ma­tol­o­gist. Hus­band. Fa­ther. Flight sur­geon at McEn­tire Joint Na­tional Guard Base and mu­si­cian with the band Chief Com­plaint along with some other doc­tors.

But come night­fall, and dur­ing any other spare time he might have, he works on his Bat­mo­biles – one that was com­pleted six years ago, and the other that made its pub­lic de­but at McEn­tire last June.

“They try to call me Bat­man, and I say I’m more like Al­fred. I’m the guy that main­tains the car,” he said.

Latham turned a child­hood fas­ci­na­tion with movie props and their de­tail work into an adult hobby of tin­ker­ing with ro­bots and cars. At age 55, he de­scribes his tech­nique for de­sign as “crude”, though prior to build­ing his first Bat­mo­bile he had no hands-on ex­pe­ri­ence with car me­chan­ics or body work.

“I knew noth­ing about any of these items,” he said, of the tools used to build his cars. “Thank good­ness, I had a bunch of friends who were will­ing to give their time to teach me,” he said. “I have an over­ac­tive imag­i­na­tion.”

The lit­tle de­tails

About 12 years ago, Latham had just made a replica of the Lost In Space ro­bot when he heard about some­one build­ing a Bat­mo­bile like the one driven in the late 1960s Bat­man TV show star­ring Adam West. While build­ing the ro­bot, he had learned how to use fi­bre­glass and min­i­mal metal work­ing tools.

He thought, how hard could it be to make a Bat­mo­bile? Eight years later, he had dis­cov­ered it was much harder than it looked.

“It’s the lit­tle de­tails, like mak­ing sure the rain doesn’t pour in on your neck when you’re driv­ing, so I had to build in drip lines around the car and make sure the seams fit. Then you re­alise you did some­thing too soon and have to take it apart and re-do it again,” he said.

But with some much-needed “nerd-level help on the In­ter­net”, he was able to trans­form a 1973 Lin­coln Con­ti­nen­tal into one of the most iconic ve­hi­cles in cinema – and an eye-catcher around Sumter.

Just tak­ing his Bat­mo­bile around town for a spin draws many looks, pic­tures and videos from passers-by. He’s even been pulled over by the po­lice a few times – but just so they could get their pic­ture taken with it.

“When I went to pick up lunch in it re­cently, I al­most cleared the restau­rant,” he said. “Ev­ery­body wanted to come out and get pic­tures with, in front of, or around the car.

“For them, it’s like spot­ting a movie star. The car. Not me.”

But that’s the ex­tent of the joy he takes in the oc­ca­sional spin around town in it.

“For me, the fun was in mak­ing it, not hav­ing it,” he said. “I’ve let Make-A-Wish use it. I’ve do­nated the ser­vices of it for other char­i­ties. That, to me, is much more re­ward­ing than driv­ing it around.”

A lo­cal el­e­men­tary school once asked whether he would be will­ing to sur­prise a spe­cial needs stu­dent who loved Bat­man so much that his teacher’s as­sis­tant dec­o­rated the wagon he’s car­ried in like a Bat­mo­bile. Latham ap­peared, just not in tights.

“I found this mo­tor­cy­cle suit that looked leath­ery and put a vam­pire cape and a Bat­man hat on, and he thought it was the neat­est thing. But all the kids thought so. That was a lot of fun,” he said.

Part of the fun in see­ing the car is the de­tail work in it, too – right down to the flames that shoot out of the car. — The State/ Tri­bune News Ser­vice


Dr Latham loves movie props so much that he has built two Bat­mo­biles, in­clud­ing this one, his first Bat­mo­bile, that took eight years to build.

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