In 1966, the Dodge Phoenix was the top-of-the-range offering from Chrysler Australia, with a smooth 318ci V8 and three-speed auto, massive comfortable seats, and a ride deserving of the big American presence it carried on the road.
The 1966–’67 Dodge DB Phoenix sold in Australia had the same body as the 1966 Plymouth Fury in the United States.
Around 10 years ago, this example was white and being used as a wedding car in Queensland and in great standard condition given its age.
After purchase we made some ‘minor’ modifications, turning it into the Batmobile so it would survive around 5000km of driving each year on gravel roads throughout the Australian outback as it participated in the NSW Variety Children’s Charity Bash. This is a fundraising car event where we leave Sydney and head to a distant destination via outback towns, visiting schools and donating thousands of dollars of much needed equipment and books to these oft neglected students. This car has raised over $300,000 for Variety, the Children’s Charity, so far.
Each year, additional modifications were made to make it more suited for the task: raised suspension, disc brakes, alloy wheels that crack are replaced by robust steel wheels, bash plates, various bullbars, tow hooks, air-conditioning, fans to manage dist and dirt, an additional fuel tank and lots of room for Batman, Robin and the Joker to fit hundreds of bat stickers that are handed out at each school.
A few years ago, the stock engine expired in Longreach, Queensland, so the current 360ci (5.9-litre) V8 was sourced in Adelaide. Last year we drove 4900km from Sydney to Darwin via Bourke, Thargomindah, Blackall, Mt Isa, Tennant Creek and Kakadu, but the engine was running rough (sometimes on only seven cylinders), yet it still made the journey and made us realise it was time to invest some TLC in our faithful Batmobile.
So, a few weeks ago we recruited the assistance of Sydney-based famous Chrysler Valiant drag-racer, Geoff McNiff, who skilfully rebuilt the engine so it now purrs like new and will last us another 10 Bashes. It should also run more economically, which is important when you drive around 800km some days and have only 140 litres of fuel capacity on board.
So how does it drive? Magnificently. It really is an amazing experience driving a 52-year-old car that has been modified to handle the roughest roads the Australian outback can throw at it. It can travel on most gravel roads at 100km/h without much effort. On the highways of the Northern Territory (where speed does not kill, apparently) it was happy to do the 130km/h speed limit, although, admittedly, more comfortable at just over 100km/h.
The seats are so comfortable that travelling eight or more hours a day was easy, although the sound of the V8 from the side-exit exhausts does get a little monotonous.
Technology has been improved with an Edelbrock intake manifold, quad-throat Weber carburetor, dual batteries, strobe warning lights (essential when travelling on dirt roads) and the aforementioned side-exit exhausts, four on each side. A rally trip meter ensures we can keep up with the Bash pace notes and don’t get lost. On the dashboard is the essential red analogue bat-phone to call the Commissioner when Gotham needs crime-fighting help.
Over the past few weeks, we have been running in the rebuilt engine and it is fun to drive the Batmobile in Sydney and draw a little attention. Children wave and adults take photos as the mighty Batmobile rumbles past. AMGs try to sound awesome nearby but are soon humbled. I followed a Ferrari in the CBD, and even he pulled over to admire the Batmobile once he realised why he was not the centre of attention.
This car is all about the children. On the Bash, dressed as Batman, the children’s reaction upon seeing the Batmobile arrive is spontaneous joy. It is wonderful to let children sit in the car, use the bat-phone and ask Batman and Robin lots of questions. It is so much fun to kneel to their level for that photo taken by their parent… And, yes, then the parent asks for a photo with Batman next to the Batmobile too. There is a child in all of us.
So, yes, I rate this 1966 Dodge Phoenix as a 10/10 because its value is beyond the dollars we have spent to keep it on the road and enter it in the Variety Bash each year for a decade. The children in outback Australia would rate it 10/10 for that once-in-a-lifetime chance to sit in it and meet Batman!
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