Inside the Politics and Lawsuits Over Replica Batmobiles

Mon, June 10th, 2013 at 10:58am PDT | Updated: June 12th, 2013 at 2:42pm

TV/Film
Brian Cronin, Staff Writer

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Photo by Brad Bowling

A different form of Bat-mania has grown over the last few decades within a specific group of fans of the 1960s "Batman" TV series, a group which harbors the desire to own the Batmobile itself. Now, barely three months removed from the resolution of a notable lawsuit involving the production of replica versions of the famed George Barris-designed vehicle, there is a new lawsuit involving the Batmobile!

For years, there have been companies like Ben Towles' Gotham Garage, which have built customized versions of famous cars from the world of movies and television. Ever wish you could drive around in the Mach-5 from Speed Racer? If you have $100,000 lying around, there are companies that could help you out. A few years ago, however, DC Comics decided that it did not like the idea of all of these companies making their own versions of the Batmobile without DC's approval. Thus, in 2010, it decided to select a single company to make the only officially licensed Batmobile on the market. Now, Mark Racop's Indiana-based Fiberglass Freaks is the sole licensed manufacturers of replica versions of the Batmobile.

However, the California-based Gotham Garage continued to produce their replicas of the Batmobile, and DC Comics sued them in 2011. Towles' defense was that DC could not copyright the design of a car. Earlier this year, a judge ruled with DC Comics, leaving Racop's Fiberglass Freaks as the only game in town when it comes to Batmobile replicas.

According to Jeffrey McDougall and his Oklahoma limited liability company, JMA Energy Company, this is not a good thing. JMA is currently suing Racop in federal court in Indiana. At issue is a Batmobile Racop agreed to build for JMA in January 2012. The estimated completion date for the vehicle was October 31, 2012, but as of October 15, 2012, the car was only about 50% completed, with four cars ahead of JMA's car in the queue and with at the very least six months needed to complete JMA's car, or possibly as much as another year. At that point, JMA, refused to pay Racop any more money until Racop proved that he could make good on his end of the deal. Fearing that the whole endeavor was about to collapse and that they were in danger of throwing good money after bad, JMA wanted to know that Fiberglass Freaks was in a strong enough financial position to continue to work on the car and that the money JMA would be paying would not just be going to completing the four cars ahead of JMA in the queue.

JMA refused to pay unless Racop showed them his financial statements or, in the alternative, found some other way to assure JMA that Fiberglass Freaks was in a solid financial state and that further payments would result in their car actually being built, like Racop securing a performance bond. Racop felt that these claims were unreasonable, saying he had no duty to prove to JMA that he could complete their car on any timetable other than his own -- after all, October 31, 2012 was always an estimated finish date. Upon JMA ceasing their payment, Racop determined that JMA was now in breach of the contract and therefore Racop could seek out another purchaser for the Batmobile that he was working on for JMA.

A problem is that while in most contract disputes, if JMA was proven to be correct, they could simply get their money back. In this case, however, since Racop's company is the only one that can manufacture Batmobiles, JMA needs Racop. Because of this twist, JMA is separately seeking specific performance: If the court rules in their favor, they could essentially force Racop to make them a Batmobile, though they would pay for it, of course.

The complaint was filed in January of this year, and in April, Racop's lawyers filed for an extension to answer the claim. Just like the cliffhangers of the "Batman" series, we'll have to wait to see how this one gets resolved.

Photo by Rick Vorhees

UPDATE 6/12/13 2:30 PM Pacific: Mark Racop, owner of Fiberglass Freaks, sent CBR the following statement regarding the settlement.

Mark Racop, owner of Fiberglass Freaks, is happy to report that a settlement has been reached with JMA energy. "We both worked very hard to keep this from going to court," Racop said.

Racop says that DC Comics sought out Fiberglass Freaks for licensing because of the company's quality and passion for the car. Having seen numerous replicas that were poorly built, DC had decided to never license any company to make the 1966 Batmobile, but that attitude changed when they saw a Fiberglass Freaks' car. "DC sent a spy to my shop," Racop said, "pretending to be a customer. He must have liked what he saw because we had the license shortly afterward."

That license has brought about world-wide fame for Mark Racop and his Fiberglass Freaks. "We've been featured on Science Channel's "How Do They Do That?", the German "Galileo" show, on Japanese television, dozens of news stations, "Fantastic Forum" in Washington, D.C., in dozens of magazines all across the world (including this month's Auto Enthusiast Magazine), and in hundreds of websites and blogs."

Racop says his company will be featured on a new TV show for Travel Channel in the fall, and will be featured in a famous catalog soon.

Racop says he has produced eighteen 1966 Batmobile replicas so far, with eight more in construction at his shop. Racop said, "The lights are sill on. The doors are still open. We're still selling and building officially licensed 1966 Batmobile replicas -- despite the best efforts of our black market competitors."

Racop's cars have been resilient in keeping their value after they are built, too. One of Racop's cars sold for $216,000 at an auction in Florida.

Racop said, "JMA received their completed Fiberglass Freaks 1966 Batmobile replica on June 5th, 2013. The issue has been resolved satisfactorily for those involved."

And so ends this thrilling installment.

TAGS:  batman, the batmobile, dc comics

 
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