This is the first in a series of articles on the design, construction, build, and creation of the sports car ride at Disneyworld – known by all as “Autopia” which opened in July 1955.
When Walt Disney began his dream of creating a “utopia” for children and their parents to visit – in terms of an amusement park and fun – little did he know he would have such a profound effect on the world of fiberglass. Cars, boats, buses, trucks, rides….so much was needed at Disney and the fiberglass community of Southern California was there to help – Bill Tritt and Glasspar in particular.
But let’s tell the “Autopia” story first 🙂
Over a series of articles here at Forgotten Fiberglass, we’ll write about this adventure, and you’ll have a chance to learn about all the players who made this happen. Let’s review some of the players, here, in our first article:
- Walt Disney, of course, who made the park and the ride possible.
- Richfield Oil, who sponsored the build and construction of the ride
- Bob Gurr, who designed the cars and oversaw their successful construction
- Bill Tritt and Glasspar, who built the fiberglass bodies
- Ted Mangels and Ed Martindale of MAMECO, who assembled, tested, and built all Autopia cars
Let’s begin our first story on Autopia by reviewing an article which appeared in the September 1955 issue of Road & Track Magazine.
Road & Track, September 1955
One of the stellar attractions at Walt Disney’s 17 million dollar Disneyland will be “Autopia”, an exciting road-race course where future Grand Prix drivers can get first-hand experience.
No ordinary vehicle would satisfy the rigid specifications setup by the Disneyland planners; good appearance, maximum utility, and perfect safety. Accordingly Disney’s own automotive division, headed by R. H. Gurr, was presented with a most difficult problem and the result is shown here.
The styling has just the right touch of Italian flavor and proportion is excellent at about 5/8 scale. The seating accommodates two adults if necessary but is intended to primarily to suit the age span from 6 to 16 years.
Controls are unique, for there are two accelerator pedals so located that either may be used conveniently according to one’s leg length. There is also a long external lever to allow adult overrule of impatient young throttle stompers at the beginning of the one mile ride.
Brakes operate automatically upon release of the accelerator, or by a backward movement of the hand lever. All the tyro need do is stp on the gas and steer. A tripping device under the chassis insures that the brakes are applied as the ride ends.
Prototype cars have been rigorously tested and even in “hot-rod” form it is impossible to overturn. About 32 identical machines (with full-wrap bumpers) were available when operation “Autopia” commenced at Anahem, California in July of this year.
The story of how these cars were built and conceived will be a fun one to share.
Bob Gurr has discussed this at length with us as well as with various other authors. He’s one of the seven original Disney “Imagineers” from the early days still with us. And, I had a chance to review the story of these cars with both Bill Tritt from Glasspar and Ed Martindale from MAMECO – so get ready for stories on the build of these famous little fiberglass “gems” – there’s a lot to tell, and should be fun for all.
Hope you enjoyed the story, and until next time…
Glass on gang…
Click on the Images Below to View Larger Pictures
I remember driving on the Autopia in 1966. It was the highlight of my first trip out west!
Any of these cars survive?
Words fail me for explaining what a 10 year old kid felt when driving the Autopia in these Disney fiberglass futuristic creations for the first time when visiting from Chicago in 1957. Thank you Walt Disney!