Cruisin’ the Freeway at 7 MPH
In the 1950’s, cars were a big deal. How big of a deal? Big enough for Walt Disney to build three separate Autopia tracks at Disneyland. Yes, at one point Disneyland had not only the original Tomorrowland Autopia speedway, but it also had the Junior/Fantasyland Autopia speedway, and the Midget Autopia speedway, which was also in Fantasyland. California was known for it’s car culture and Disneyland was no exception to that. President Eisenhower had yet to sign the Interstate Highway legislation but it had been talked about for some time. Autopia was one of Disneyland’s original attractions and has been the symbol of a great American past time for years. People drive in their cars for miles to get to Disneyland, just to jump into an Autopia car and travel at 7 miles per hour. It’s almost a rite of passage and one of those Disney attractions that everyone must do.
The original (or OG) Autopia attraction is the Tomorrowland version. That’s because in 1955, cars traveling on the multi-lane interstate highway system was seen as a futuristic idea. At that time, cars had to travel neighborhood or local streets instead of using the much faster freeways. That meant, this attraction looked into the world of tomorrow and was suited for it’s themed land. Unsurprisingly, the attraction was popular, especially amongst the younger guests who didn’t have their driver’s license yet. As great as its popularity was, the cars themselves took a serious beating because of it. It might seem unfamiliar but in the early years of Autopia, the cars were not kept in place by a barrier rail going down the center of the road. That allowed drivers to smash into each other in any way possible. The center rail wouldn’t be installed on Tomorrowland’s Autopia track until 1965. In Disneyland’s first 3 years of operation, Autopia went through 4 fleets of cars for the attraction alone. That’s quite the bill for motor cars.
Due to the popularity of the Tomorrowland Autopia, the Junior Autopia was built in 1956 in Fantasyland. This attraction did have the center rail, keeping cars from getting too banged up. I guess they learned their lesson the second time around. This track was practically the same as Tomorrowland’s version. It had the same freeway theme and some of the same signage. Junior Autopia was renamed the Fantasyland Autopia in 1959 but didn’t get any major updates until 1991 during the Disney Afternoon takeover. Disney Afternoon took over part of Fantasyland as a promotion for the television block of animated cartoons. That’s when this version of Autopia became the Rescue Rangers Speedway. The attraction featured Chip, Dale, Gadget, and the rest of the team from the popular cartoon series for an entire year before the makeover was torn down and it once again became the Fantasyland Autopia in 1992. The attraction continued to stay open until both Tomorrowland and Fantasyland versions closed in 1999 for a complete overhaul. (We will come back to that in a moment.)
The third version of Autopia was the Midget Autopia. It opened in 1957. It sat near the Storybook Canal and took up the space that eventually went to It’s A Small World. Again, this attraction was built due to the popularity of the other two versions. The nice thing about the Midget Autopia is that adults weren’t even allowed on it. The smaller cars and smaller track allowed for kids to have their own version without having Mom or Dad drive them, as the other versions needed a parent on board if you were 7 years old or younger. As you can imagine, this attraction only lasted a few years because it would be replaced by It’s A Small World in 1966. (Thanks a lot Rolly Crump!)
The remaining two versions of Autopia got a new fleet of cars in 1967. These cars cost $5,000 each and were designed like the new Corvette Stingrays. These cars, dubbed the Mark VI fleet stayed as the fleet until Autopia closed down in 1999. These cars were kept so long due to their expense. They were deemed cheaper to fix up than replace, plus their body style looked nice. By 1999 they had gotten their use and were scrapped for new cars.
The new cars debuted with the new Autopia attraction in 2000. The Fantasyland and Tomorrowland versions were no longer separate. The new version had a longer track, an entrance in Tomorrowland, and was sponsored by Chevron. Several types of cars are all now available. An off road jeep, a sports car, and a Volkswagon Bug are the cars riders will get. These cars even have personalities and names; Dusty, Sparky, and Suzy. This was even before Pixar made Cars so keep that in mind. This wasn’t a rip off. The new Autopia also had some new scenery including new billboards, an off road area, and a scenic view, including a nice passover by the Monorail if you time it right. The longer track also allowed for more cars which now helps keep lines moving. The newer cars are also more green. They still use gas, but don’t use as much and produce less pollution.
Autopia did lose it’s Chevron sponsorship in 2012. The loss of it’s sponsor plus the debut of Carsland at California Adventure has taken it’s toll on the attraction. It’s become less popular over the last few years, especially with the continuing Space theme in Tomorrowland. Autopia seems to be out of place. Will it see it’s end in the near future? That’s uncertain. The attraction has inspired duplicates at every major Disneyland style park so far so it may be an attraction that never dies. Only time will tell what’s in store for the cars of Autopia.
What are your thoughts on Autopia? Do you like it? Do you hate it? What are your favorite memories or stories? Leave your comments below, and until next time, keep on cruising.
Posted on April 10, 2013, in Articles and tagged 1950s, Autopia, cars, Carsland, Disney, Disneyland, Fantasyland, Interstate Highway legislation, It's A Small World, Josh Taylor, Midget Autopia, Modern Mouse Radio, Rolly Crump, Tomorrowland, Walt, Walt Disney. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.