AT first glance, this wild machine looks like one of the genuine movie cars from the Christian Bale-era Batman flicks, but the truth is that was built in Perth by a couple of Aussie blokes, namely Gordon Hayes and Grant Hodgson.
The pair have built almost a dozen Mad Max Interceptor clones, including one that we featured in SM, Sep ’05. That car was built for Japanese collector Yoshiaki Matsubara.
So who do you think Matsubara-san turned to when he decided he would like a Tumbler to add to the collection?
“Prior to accepting the project, we spent two weeks looking into what might be involved. Looking back, we both admit that there was no way we could have ever known the complexity and difficulty that such a project would reveal,” Gordon says.
It took a hell of a lot of imagination to get this car built. There were no plans or blueprints, and four years ago there wasn’t much information on the Internet. The initial chassis design was formed by looking at all the assembled pictures that they could find, plus extensive reviewing of the extra features of the Batman Begins DVD which showed a few workshop shots of the Tumbler under construction. The breakthrough came when they learned that the front tyre of the Tumbler sat on a 15-inch rim.
“Bingo! We had a measurement that we could scale from, and it was from that measurement that all the initial chassis work extended. Once we knew what that wheel measurement was, we could extrapolate that distance to the entire vehicle. First we worked out the steering arm length based on that wheel size and then the next part and the next part and so on,” Grant says.
BIG BLOCK POWER
“The Tumbler is very strange in its drivetrain layout,” says Grant. “The engine is mounted backwards, the gear box sits next to the driver and a small tailshaft extends forward to an 1800hp Argo marine V-drive. From there the power travels back to the Ford nine-inch diff via three more tailshafts, each custom-made by Driveshafts Australia.
What this car got that the movie car didn’t was 454 cubes of big-block Chev. Poor old Batman had to make do with a small-block but Gordon and Grant have street machine blood coursing through their veins, so they decided a big-block was the only option.
In went a Vortec 454 with four-bolt mains, steel crank and a cam designed for pulling stumps. “We didn’t need a big-revving engine,” Gordon explains, “we just needed big torque.” But with 2.5 tonnes to lug around, that big-block needs all the help it can get. So drawing on more of their street machining background, Gordon and Grant plumbed in a 180-shot of nitrous. Holy laughing gas, Batman, this thing’s got 552 ponies and 720lb-ft!
The tyres — all six of ’em — are an eye-catching feature of the car. Up front are two massive Hoosier sprint car tyres on 15x15 wheels custom made by Summerfield Engineering. Out back are four ridiculously huge Super Swamper mud tyres mounted on 16.5x12 rims. The outer rims are flash Eagle Alloys while the hidden inner wheels are custom steelies.
To get the dual rear wheels, Gordon remembered back to when he saw an outback-built Suzuki 4WD somewhere near Cameron Corner.
“The inventive builder had wanted to get more traction so he made a spacer that bolted to the inner rim to hold the second rim to the first. So that is how we achieved the dual wheels.”
“At first we thought the panels were just flat steel but in studying it we came to realise the body was an intricate web of shapes and folds, some very subtle. For most of the body we crafted up each panel in raw form. It would have welds everywhere but it would be the right shape. Then we would send our rough-as-guts panel to Mayes Metal Works where a metal-folding genius would return a wonderfully professional version,” Grant says. Other parts of the body were crafted in fibreglass, which is Gordon’s specialty.
The key to successfully finishing the project was breaking it down into manageable chunks.
“To look at the whole mass of the Tumbler is just too much, so we never looked very far past the section of interest. Like looking for a jigsaw puzzle piece, we concentrated on each often tiny part of the puzzle until we got it into the right size and shape,” Grant says.
The guys admit that they still got it wrong many times and the project required many extensive — and expensive — reworks. Gordon recalls: “To build something like this you have to have a lot of patience and be willing to work on something for a week and then throw it all away and start again. If you don’t have that ability, then don’t even start.”