Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Autopia Car Built Special for Freeway of Future

06.28.11 - Disney Legend Bob Gurr talks through the nuts and bolts of Disneyland's Autopia.

Hey, Abott-T-T! Christine Costello and Bud Abbott, Jr. give fathers Lou and Bud, Sr. a driving lesson on the Autopia Freeway. The famous comedy pair, recent visitors here, found the Autopia a top attraction as do most Disneyland guests.
For the Highway of the Future the Car of the Future was needed.

Disneyland's "Autopia," the Tomorrowland ride sponsored by the Richfield Oil Company, was planned as the Freeway of 1986. Built to scale so that it would be safe and practical for youngsters to a minimum age, Walt Disney assigned the job of designing a car for the miniature freeway to Bob Gurr, longtime Disney studio design artist and construction specialist.

"The Autopia Car," Bob relates, "was designed and built just about the same way a Detroit model is built.

Full Size Model
"First we made sketches. Naturally there were a lot of ideas about what the car of the future should look like. Then there was a question about materials, and we finally decided to use fiberglass, since it had great advantages in lightweight, strength and pliability for design.

After the sketches became finished drawings, the studio craftsmen made a full size clay "mock up" model. The model was modified a few times until Walt approved the final version. From this mock up the plastic mold was made which allowed the bodies for the cars to be built in quantity.

Glasspar Company of Newport Beach manufactured the bodies for the cars.

The problem of a chassis to carry the fiberglass bodies was then the next problem to be solved. Even on the Freeway of the Future, the designers knew, the cars would be subject to tremendous wear and would have to be extremely sturdy for the use they were to receive.

A two-inch square tubular steel chassis was developed and passed the rigid tests for strength the designers gave it. When aluminum wraparound bumpers were added, the car was ready for the road with only one problem remaining to be solved: the powerplant.

Same Type Engine
Several alternative types were tested until the Gladden engine was tried by Gurr and his co-workers.

The Gladden is a one-cylinder, vertical, aircooled "L" head engine. It is essentially the same engine that powers the conventional passenger car in that it is a 4-cycle, gasoline burning powerplant. Its rated horsepower development is just under ten, and is capable of driving the one fourth ton Autopia Cars at a speed up to 25 m.p.h. without a governer.

As they are actually used on the Autopia, the cars are limited to 11 miles per hour by a mechanical control.

Power from the engine is transmitted to the rear axel by a Gilmer belt feeding to a link chain. One wheel drives the car. Since the engine is mounted in the rear very little power is lost through a long driveshaft.

Safety factors loomed as major considerations in the designer's plans. Since the cars were built to be driven by youngsters with no experience, an extremely simple braking-accelerating arrange-ment was necessary.

Gurr and his fellow craftsmen assured this by attaching both operations to a single pedal. De-pressing the pedal feeds gas to the motor. Release of the pedal operates the braking mechanism so that the car automatically slows to a stop.

Other safety factors offered in the "car of the future" include the so-called "deep-dish" steering wheel and safety belts, both items now offered on several popular makes of American motor cars. An additional safety factor on the Autopia car is the steering wheel itself, made of a firm, yet yielding rubber, so that a sudden contact presents no bodily hazard.

Steering of the Autopia Car is eonvential rack and pinion type with a close sports car-like ratio. Tires are pneumatic.

Since finishing his work on the cars Bob has gone on to many other projects for Walt Disney. But he's reminded constantly of his association with the Autopia by youngsters, who have been to Disneyland and have been inspired by the miniature autos.

"We get calls from kids who are building their own Autopia cars at home. They get stumped on a problem and call us for advice. So far no one's finished one yet, but anyday we expect to see a proud owner at the Studio gates with his own car, built in his back yard with scrap parts."

"We wish them a lot of luck," Bob adds as he goes back to his latest assignment for Walt.

From the February 10, 1956 issue of The Disneyland News.


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