Considering the schedule for Disneyland’s construction was so constricted and fast, it’s hard to believe that anything was even built. Tomorrowland, a land devoted to the world of tomorrow, was put on the back burner, and not fully developed for opening day.
Tomorrowland designers had an idea for an attraction that would illustrate the “freeways of the future.” This Auto-Utopia, or Autopia, involved a small roadway, where Disneyland guests could drive small model cars around the track, thus exhibiting the importance that freeway transportation would play in the future.
WED Enterprises used a young automotive designer named Bob Gurr to help design the cars engines, and body styles for this new attraction. Throughout his years working for Walt Disney, Bob also helped design many of the Main Street vehicles, as well as the cars for the Haunted Mansion, Matterhorn, Adventure Thru Inner-Space, and helped develop the Audio-Animatronic Abraham Lincoln.
Bob was asked to come to the Studio to help develop a design for the Autopia cars. WED was so impressed with his designs they gave Bob the task of designing all the cars! The Mark I Autopia car was a blend of Bob’s two favorite autombile designs at the time – the Porsche 550 Spider and a Ferrari.
Disneyland’s opening day was a mess, especially for the Autopia. On opening day, there were 40 cars in operation, one was Walt’s personal car, two were small police type cars. A total of 37 cars for thousands of hot and angry visitors.
Bob Gurr talked about opening day:
Opening day there were so many people that came into the park that didn’t have a ticket that jumped over the fence. People were waiting in line to get into the attraction and the cars were going out on the ride and then coming back at the end of the ride. People began to jump over the fence and go out into the ride and would commandeer cars that were on the ride that hadn’t come back to the load/unload area yet, and they were literally pulling people out of the cars in order to take them over themselves. And this was such chaos, I never quite saw a thing like that ever again.
Throughout the next decade, the small cars went through several revisions. The original Mark I, structurally, did function. People would bang into each other, tearing and denting the cars bumpers, and warping the frame.
In 1967, the Mark VII Autopia car premiered. These are the cars that were used in Autopia until later last year. The problem with the cars before the Mark VII was the frame of the car. It was too sturdy. When other cars rammed into it, the thing would break apart. Bob Gurr realized that a frame that could flex with the bumps and crashes it might last.
Bob designed a frame that was like a round tube, bowed outward in the middle and go back to the narrow dimensions in the front and rear bumpers. He also decided that all structural parts in the engine should be clamped together, instead of welded. This design became known as the “Belly Frame,” as Bob recalled.
By Disneyland’s first decade the Autopia was one of the top attractions for guests to visit. Due to popularity in 1959 a Fantasyland Autopia was opened to releive some of the line in Tomorrowland. Also, in 1957, a “Midget Autopia” was opened for smaller guests, it closed two years later. Some think this attraction closed because Walt didn’t like the idea that only small children could ride.
Throughout 1999 and 2000, Disneyland’s Autopia has been undergoing a major transformation. The Fantasyland Autopia track, and the Tomorrowland Autopia track have been merged. Also four new body styles have been created. However, these new bodies still rely on Bob Gurr’s brilliant design of the “belly frame.”
Even though the “Freeway of the Future” is no longer the future, it’s always nice to enjoy driving regardless of age, in a police free environment. Except now the only rule is “…don’t bump the car ahead of you please.”
“For your safety and the safety of other drivers, please do not bump the car ahead of you.”