He has no physical superpowers, he was not bitten by a radioactive creature, and he did not come from a distant planet—or even a different continent or city. He is simply a very smart, very well-trained, very rich individual who takes on bad guys using only his intellect, physical preparation, and a multitude of inventions, many of his own design.
He is Batman and the Batmobile has been with him from day one, helping him extract vigilante justice in the mythical city of Gotham. Like Batman, the Batmobile has evolved from simply a car to a larger-than-life character in its own right, giving the Caped Crusader the tools to battle the strongest of enemies, then transport the fair maiden home in air-conditioned comfort.
The one thing Batman may lack is creativity, though, crafting the names of his gadgets by simply adding the prefix “Bat” to anything he comes up with: the Batplane, the Batcave, the Batgyro, the Batsuit. “Wingy the Supercar” doesn’t quite roll off the tongue, but Murciélago would have been perfect, had Lamborghini not taken it first (translated, it means “bat”).
The Batmobile used by Christian Bale’s Batman in Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, and The Dark Knight Rises is refreshingly known as the Tumbler and was created by the Applied Sciences Division of Wayne Enterprises. Originally designed for military operations, Batman acquires one for his own use, disregarding any federal and international rules regarding civilian procurement and use of military equipment.
Yes, this is the make-believe world of Hollywood movies but let’s take a moment to pick apart the logic of The Dark Knight trilogy’s Tumbler and look at 20 things about Batman’s Tumbler that make no sense.
20 Inboard Front Wheels
One of the first things that is noticeable about the Tumbler is the design of the front end, with the front wheels set inside two armored swingarms. This is part of what sets the Tumbler apart visually from the previous Batmobiles and gives it the wedge, crab-like, encased-in-armor look it is famous for. The previous Batmobiles were curvy and swoopy, while the Tumbler arrived with hard edges everywhere. However, from a functional point of view, this design puts the delicate suspension and steering components more out in the open and protects the relatively cheap, robust, and easy to replace wheel and tire assemblies. The armor plating would, no doubt, help protect the suspension parts, but put the wheel and tire on the outside, like virtually all other armored vehicles, and there is even more protection for those vital suspension and steering parts.
19 The Jet Engine
As several Batmobiles have before it, the Tumbler features a jet engine to boost acceleration at key times, most notably when jumping between buildings, over gorges, through waterfalls, and into the Batcave. Putting a jet engine in a vehicle is not in itself an impossible or stupendous feat but being able to utilize it for instant thrust, and more than just once or twice per mission, is quite far-fetched. Starting up a jet engine takes quite a while, so keeping it off until needed would require advanced warning. Keeping it on and at idle to allow it to be used at any given time would be quite detrimental to fuel economy. Even if there was a way to start up the jet engine and provide significant thrust at the push of a button, any engine with enough power to launch a heavy vehicle like the Tumbler would likely consume over ten gallons of fuel per second.
18 Narrow Track Up Front, Wide At The Rear
Another significant result of the inboard front wheels is that the vehicle has a very wide track in the rear and a relatively narrow one in the front. Couple this with the short wheelbase and the result is a recipe for Reliant Robin-levels of stability in corners. If you’ve seen Jeremy Clarkson drive the Robin in that infamous Top Gear episode, you will understand. Yes, the Nissan-engined DeltaWing experimented with a narrow front track for aerodynamic gains, but that was on a vehicle that had a much longer wheelbase and a very low center-of-gravity. Granted, they do drive the Tumbler pretty hard around corners for the movie without issue, but in less controlled circumstances, or even at low speeds on uneven ground, the Tumbler is bound to take a tumble sooner or later.
17 Dually Tires In The Rear
Yes, like everything else on this list, the dually-style rear tires on the Tumbler are for the cool, burly visual effect—but we are here to nitpick the Tumbler, not praise it. Dual rear tires are designed to extend the track of a vehicle for stability and to spread the load between four tires instead of just two for vehicles that carry heavy loads. Putting dual rear tires on the Tumbler only takes up precious space and adds unnecessary weight; the tires are so big and the space between them is quite small—only just enough room for the jet engine. Eliminate two of the tires in the rear and now there’s room for even more jet engines, the handling and acceleration would be improved from the reduced weight, and Batman’s tire budget is cut by a whopping 30%! That’s what I call win-win-win.
16 Two Driving Positions
While it is a novel idea and quite creatively executed, having two distinctly different driving positions in the Tumbler is simply not a practical feature. The idea, apparently, is to have the conventional, upright driving position for “regular” situations, and a prone, hands forward, lying down position, with head between the front wheels, for more important scenes. The advantages are minimal, if any exist at all. The extra space, weight, and mechanical complexity to achieve the moving cockpit and control assemblies is considerable. The necessity to add extra windows in the nose of the Tumbler reduces the amount of armored protection and the “between the wheels” head position of the pilot would severely limit visibility. Lying prone to control the Tumbler is no better for pilot control it in high g-force situations than a decent racing seat and harness setup.
15 It Turns Into A Motorcycle?
The only seemingly logical reason for the two driving positions is that the forward position is required for when the Tumbler does its parlor trick by suddenly turning into a motorcycle. The idea of taking an armored vehicle and designing it to come apart into a West Coast Chopper is about as absurd as it comes. Yes, twelve-year-olds love it and it will help sell quite a few Lego kits but the complexity compromises required to execute the act in real life would have the design axed about five minutes into the first concept development meeting. The differences in suspension, steering, and tire requirements between the front wheels of an armoured vehicle and a motorcycle are night and day. And the problem of where the motorcycle gets its propulsion hasn’t even been discussed yet.
14 Different Tires
Auto and tire manufacturers don’t even want you to run a mix of worn and new tires of the exact same brand on the same car, never mind running a mud-bog off-road tire in the rear and a nearly-slick tarmac race tire on the front. Balanced handling is something the Tumbler certainly will not have; oversteer on the street and understeer off the road must have been in the design brief from the beginning. It would have been more believable, given the ingenuity of either Bruce Wayne or Wayne Enterprises, had they developed a high-tech convertible tire that is slick for on-road duties, then sprouts knobs for off-road use. Design it like Michelin’s Tweel, with a lattice structure that requires no air, make the knobs that stick out on demand in a bat shape, and then call it the Batwheel. Or Bat-tire. As long as it is called Bat-something, Batman will be pleased.
13 No Tail Fins
One defining characteristic that virtually all of the previous Batmobiles have had is the tail fin. Once a popular design element for cars of the 1950s and 60s, the tail fin would first appear on a production Cadillac in 1948, although it wasn’t until well into the 1950s that the fins would reach Batmobile-suitable proportions. Who could forget the dramatic fins on Adam West’s Batmobile from the 1960s television show, created from a Lincoln concept car in three weeks. Michael Keaton’s Batmobile had even bigger tail fins and Val Kilmer’s were bigger still. Clooney’s fins were next level, almost wings instead of fins, like the car could fly away at any moment. Yet the Tumbler bucked the trend and went finless. That’s a bold strategy, Cotton. Why, after all those years, were the iconic Batmobile tail fins dropped? Only Christopher Nolan and his design team will ever know.
No, the Tumbler does not have tail fins, but it does have numerous airbrake “wings” on its upper rear body. These are said to aid in braking by deploying vertically, causing aerodynamic drag. While very cool looking, both when static and on the move, there are a few issues with this design when it comes to the actual effectiveness in the real world. Mainly, the amount of stopping power these flaps would provide on such a heavy vehicle that is as aerodynamic as a brick is negligible. The air brake on a McLaren P1, for example, is operating on the rear of a very specifically aerodynamically engineered, lightweight supercar, and deploys at very high speeds, where drag will have the most effect. Meanwhile, the wings on the Tumbler and their exposed hydraulic struts would be ripped off quite easily in any radical situation anyway.
11 Armor Plating Design
The outer skin of the Tumbler is a maze of panels, flaps, folds and struts, most likely due to its original design being generated by a model-making technique called kit bashing, where the modeler takes bits and pieces from various different existing model kits and creatively assembles them together to produce the end product. George Lucas’ team famously used this method for many of the ships in the original Star Wars movie. The problem is, in real life, any crease, fold, gap, or flap is avoided on armored vehicles, since any projectile will catch the edges of these areas and cause more damage. For example, a round glancing off of the windshield of the Tumbler would travel upwards and catch the lip across the top of the window that forms the leading edge of the roof armor, causing more damage than if the lip were not there.
10 Military Origins
According to the movie, the Tumbler was developed by Wayne Enterprises for military use, although its exact use is not specified, and it is difficult to discern what role a Tumbler might have in a modern military setting (spanning rivers being probably impossible). It carries only two occupants, but is much larger than a typical two-person vehicle needs to be, and does not appear to be able to carry any significant amount of cargo. It has only minimal weaponry, it seems to be geared more towards pavement travel rather than serious off-road use, and judging by the hull shape, is not amphibious. The closest thing the Tumbler is to any existing military vehicle may be an armoured scout, such as the Panhard Crab, pictured. Similar in size to the Tumbler, the Crab has considerable off-road ability, weapons capability, and an armored hull devoid of unnecessary panels, flaps, folds, and buttresses.
9 Getting In And Out
Getting into and out of the Tumbler requires climbing up on the body and entering through the top of the vehicle. This may be common on heavily armored, tracked tanks that have all-encompassing protective tubs with tracks all along each side but a wheeled scout such as the Tumbler would be much better served with conventional side doors. Having to expose everyone's entire body climbing on top of the vehicle is not the safest way of entry and egress in high-risk, combat situations—never mind that in everyday use it is cumbersome, at best. Watching Jay Leno getting into one of the movie’s Tumblers in an episode of his show illustrates just how difficult it is, although the Tumbler he drove only had a small top hatch, not the full open top canopy that the movie Tumblers are supposed to have.
8 Full Canopy Opening
Speaking of the full canopy, for an armored vehicle, the clamshell canopy idea of the Tumbler is another unrealistic design feature that looks flashy but would be unnecessarily complicated in real-world execution. Lifting such a large, armoured canopy, complete with electronics and display screens (as seen in the interior shots in the movie), would require significant hydraulics to operate. From a protection standpoint, the seam between the canopy and the main body would be a weak point in the armour, right at torso level for the occupants. Also, in a combat situation, leaving or entering the vehicle would require exposing any occupants, as well as the electronics in the cockpit, to damage while the canopy is open. There is a good reason why real armored military vehicles have doors and hatches that are as small as possible.
7 How Wide Is It?
The tumbler is actually 9 feet 4 inches wide. To put that into context, a typical 18-wheeler is 8 feet 5 inches wide, so the Tumbler is almost a foot wider. Why? Maybe to offset the instability of the inboard front wheels? To make room for the combustion engine and the jet engine? It is certainly not for the passenger or cargo carrying capabilities. Obviously, the width is to give the Tumbler a mean, wide, low look and to accentuate the wedge shape, but in the real world, navigating such a vehicle in an urban environment, when not chasing bad guys, would be an exercise in futility. Cars would get dented, light poles would be knocked over, fire hydrants punted from their bases. It is a good thing that Bruce Wayne is a millionaire, because he is bound to receive numerous repair bills after an outing in downtown Gotham with his Tumbler.
6 Why no CGI?
Most of the scenes involving the Tumbler in the Dark Knight trilogy involve practical effects and an actual Tumbler vehicle doing the stunts. Christopher Nolan is known for preferring live action over CGI whenever possible. However, where does one draw the line between what looks good on film and what is excessive attention to details the audience won’t even notice? Each Tumbler (four were made) cost approximately $250,000 and each had its own specific purpose. One had the jet engine in the back, two were for the action driving scenes, and one had the proper cockpit canopy system for close-up shots of it opening and closing. With CGI getting better and better every year, why spend a million dollars of budget on building actual cars that could easily have been replicated, realistically, on the computer? Vehicles are one of the easier things to get right in CGI.
5 Too Many Screens
The cockpit views of the Tumbler in the movies show an array of screens along the roof above the driver’s side window, with a few more in the dash and where a side mirror might be. Even in 2005, when Batman Begins debuted, large, relatively inexpensive LCD screens were readily available. Having all those screens might look very technical in a movie, but the reality is that having an individual screen for each function (whatever that may be, it’s not clear in the movies), placed above and to the left of the pilot, makes no sense. Having one or two large screens front-and-center, with a simple control to switch between display functions makes way more sense for intense situations that a military vehicle may encounter.
4 Stick or Auto?
The manual transmission is on its way out. Purists and performance-minded drivers cling to their clutch pedals and swear to never buy a new Ferrari because they don’t come in manual. But Batman’s well-known question to Jim Gordon, “Can you drive stick?” is a source of quite a bit of confusion for fans of the movies. As much as we would like to believe that the manliest of men, Batman, has a manual gearbox in his Tumbler daily-driver, the images of the cockpit say otherwise. The large lever on the center console is obviously not a stick shift and how would Batman shift it anyway when in the prone driving mode, seeing as it folds away in this configuration? So, for those who prefer to row their own gears, the Tumbler will be off their shopping list and they will have to slap their “Save the Manuals” bumper sticker on some other armored vehicle.
3 Breaking His Own Rules
If you know anything about Batman, you know that he is an orphan, his parents slain in front of his eyes when he was a child. Various stories and fan theories exist as to why the mugger did it, and why he left Bruce alive. Regardless, because of the traumatic incident, Batman vowed never to use firearms in his quest for justice against the criminals of the world. Except, of course, when driving around in his Tumbler—then, apparently, it’s fine. Actually, early versions of the Batman comics did have the Caped Crusader using firearms but the modern version of Batman swears off the boom-sticks and prefers various gadgets, hand-held weapons, and his own fists to deliver his special brand of vigilante justice.
2 Forward Facing Cannons
One thing that is noticeable about virtually any ground-based, armed military vehicle is that their firearms are never rigidly mounted. The M2 Brownings mounted to the Jeeps in the TV show Rat Patrol were always pintle-mounted. The cannons on tanks can—at the very least—rise up and down, if not rotate a full 360 degrees. You need to be able to aim them without having to aim the entire vehicle if you want to engage the enemy in an effective manner. And yet, the Tumbler’s weapons are mounted to point forward only, which means it always has to point directly at the target. Bruce Wayne and Wayne Enterprises need to go back to the drawing board for that part of the design.
1 Lots of Suspension Travel, No Ground Clearance
The actual Tumblers used for the movie shoots had about 12 inches of suspension travel in order to tackle the jumps and bumps of battle—but at full travel, the undercarriage and bodywork must have been scraping the ground because the Tumbler definitely did not have 12 inches of ground clearance all around, judging by photos of the vehicles. Taking into account static suspension sag, there might be just enough space for full travel before the hard parts start scraping. If Gotham’s streets are half as potholed as New York City’s, Batman would have a rough time just getting to the office every morning—never mind battling bad guys up in the hills or out in the desert. He would be better off taking the Batcopter, Bat-Camry, or Bat-Public-Transit for a smoother trip.
Sources: Batman Fandom, Wikipedia, and Jalopnik.