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January 21, 2014

News & Features

Doctor recreates his childhood love: Batmobile

The Item of Sumter (South Carolina)

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Dermatologist Philip Latham takes his Batmobile for a spin around Sumter, S.C. (Matt Walsh / The Item)

Holy Adam West! Somebody's been driving around Sumter, S.C., in a '73 Lincoln Continental that's been remodeled into an exact replica of the Batmobile from the 1960s Batman television show.

The Batman behind this Batmobile is Dr. Philip Latham, 51, a dermatologist with Dermatology & Skin Care. Latham was inspired to build the Batmobile not because he's a fan of the classic television show, but because he loved the look of the car from the moment he saw it as a child.

"I always thought the show was really silly and campy," he says. "I saw an opportunity after seeing some plans online, and I thought that maybe I could do that."

There was only one real problem for Latham: He had no experience in engineering and lacked the necessary knowledge about cars. But he did have the willingness to learn, so he sought help from Bruce Pate of Barnette's Auto Parts to construct the vehicle.

"I was called into my boss' office one day, and there sat Philip Latham saying he would like some help on a project," Pate says. "I myself am not a strong Batman fan, but the project was something really fun to do."

After seven years of working on it during his free time, Latham finally finished the car last year. He described the finished project as a Frankenstein, with the original engine replaced with a Chevrolet small block, a steering mechanism from a Ford Astra van, an airlift system and multiple junkyard components welded together.

But Latham didn't stop at making the car simply look like the 1966 Batmobile, as he built in plenty of features to make an exact replica. The added features include a Bat-radar; a retractable switchblade in front of the car; a 3-foot propane-based flame that shoots from the back; a built-in DVD player to mimic the communication monitor; and a retractable parachute.

Latham says his family was very patient and supportive of the project. He says that he let his son drive his prom date home in the Batmobile, and that his daughter wrote about his "geekiness" for her college public-speaking class.

"At first, my kids felt embarrassed toward my geekiness when they were teenagers, but over time they began to embrace it," Latham says. "When she wrote about all the eccentric things I've done, her friends really wanted to meet me."

Whether he's driving the Batmobile to the gas station to refuel the propane tank or simply taking his wife out for some ice cream, Latham always manages to turn some heads.
"It's like driving around with a celebrity," he says. "You get honks, you get whistles, and you get plenty of photo taking because they instantly recognize the Batmobile when they see it."

Latham plans to offer his Batmobile to Make-A-Wish. He has already sent a letter to the organization expressing his interest in offering the vehicle but has yet to hear back.

Latham's interest in building science-fiction memorabilia did not begin with the Batmobile. His first project was a replica of the robot from the 1960s television show "Lost in Space" made from plywood. Current projects include building an R2-D2 replica from the "Star Wars" movie series and parts of the time-traveling DeLorean from "Back to the Future," especially the flux capacitor.

"Dermatologists like me are very visual, and we like to do stuff with our hands," Latham said. "I just enjoy making things like [the Batmobile] out of nothing. That's where I find my joys."

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