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Disneyland Mark I Autopia Cars

In the early-1950s when the US Interstate Highway System was still yet to come, Walt Disney, who began planning to build Disneyland in 1948 decided to incorporate “Autopia” in the amusement park he was building at Anaheim, CA. This highway of the future ride was constructed at the new park and traveled by miniature two passenger self-propelled cars.

When Disneyland opened in July of 1955 modified versions of the prototype Mark I designed by Bob Gurr featured in the lead image transported the driver and a passenger along the “Autopia” roadway. The lead image shows Gurr putting one of the the first prototypes through its paces during the testing phase.

The steel tube and channel framed car was covered with a fiberglass body and propelled by a one-cylinder-rear-mounted-air-cooled gasoline engine fitted with a centrifugal clutch. When the gas pedal was released by the driver the brakes are automatically applied or could also be actuated by the side-mount hand lever.

The fiberglass bodies where produced at Glasspar, a boat builder that also made kit car bodies in Costa Mesa, CA. The cars were assembled at Mameco Automotive Engineering in Newport Beach. Front, rear, and side mounted bumpers were added to the production models to help preserve the bodywork. Learn more about the Mark I cars and the “Autopia” highway at Undiscovered Classics.

Share with us what you find of interest in the photographs courtesy of the Orange County Archives.

23 responses to “Disneyland Mark I Autopia Cars

  1. In the 3rd picture [2nd expandable photograph], parked to the left, is a 1941 CADILLAC Series 61 Sedan, with visor.

    • Do you know what the other car in the background is, which appears to be two-toned silver and black and can be seen in both photographs, because I sure don’t? I’m thinking maybe a large British Austin, but I would doubt that that is correct. Any suggestions, anyone?

      • After doing a little bit of research it appears that the car in question is indeed an Austin, a 1947-1952 Austin A40 Dorset to be exact. A pretty rare car to be present in the US back then, and one that had to have a modified steering wheel that was positioned on the left hand side of the car.

        • the A40 was aimed firmly at the dollar market.It s styling was scaled down US.As far as I know it was designed to be Lh or Rh drive from the outset .not a bad car at all ,many were t o be seen here in the UK up until much tougher condition regulations came in .This car’s colourway was export only for a while.

          • Those A-40 where common place here in Uruguay due its low price and low comsumption figures and yes they where LHD or RHD depending the market (here LHD).The weak point of those Austin were the brakes, some sort of hybrid double cylinder in front and rod actuated at rear …you must stand up over the pedal to stop it!.I can see some still around.

  2. In the lead photograph, beyond the prototype Mark I, is a post-war STUDEBAKER Starlight Coupé; parked on the far right, is a 1957 OLDSMOBILE, unsure of model.

    • I believe that the black car on the far right in the lead photograph is actually a 1955 Mercury Monterey, as the photograph was taken in the early summer of ’55. The side view of those two makes however do look almost identical to one another, but being a previous ’55 Mercury Monterey owner I spotted it out immediately.

      • Morgan,

        Thanks for the correction !! You’re absolutely correct. Never realized the side views of a ’55 MERCURY and ’57 OLDSMOBILE could be so similar.

        AML

  3. While my Dad Warren Gerdes was working for Glasspar Boat Company 1948 to 1959 they also built Fiberglass Body Sportscars named the Glasspar G2 , the first ones were in 1950 – 51
    The first of which had chassis built by Mameco.
    Along with some of the first Woodhill Wildfire Sportscar bodies.
    Check vintage Road and Track
    Undiscovered Classics
    Forgotten Fiberglass for pics & info

  4. As the Undiscovered Classics article hints at, I wonder how the cars fared in heavy use?

    I’d love to know what the maintenance issues were, how long the engines…and the rest of the car…but especially the engines, lasted?

    At Old Tucson they have a similar ride with circa 1914 mini Stutz Bearcats. I’d love one of those.

  5. Growing up near Disneyland, I am sure I drove these cars beginning when I was around 7 years old on up. The most fun was to bump the car stopped in front of you, since they had springlike bumpers on the front and rear. The problem was you then got bumped by the kid driving the car behind you! It was all great fun…

  6. Yep, rode in the first, second and third iterations. I think the latest version is a bit more litigation wary and probably a bit slower, but that could be my imagination. During Grad Night for Junior High, my crowd was a bit adventuresome and we rode the motor boats which passed under Autopia. One of us in the first boat would stand up, grab and climb up on the overpass, run across the track and drop down on our second boat. never got caught. Did similar crazy stuff on some of the other rides. Kids!

  7. I had family ties to both the management of Disneyland and a couple of contractors, so had the unforgettable experience of visiting it regularly before it opened.
    As an 8th grader, I had the standard fixation on cars and driving and actually got to be a “test” driver at Autopia on several occasions, as well as a paying customer later.
    I was surprised to read here and at the link, that the ride was a mile long. Perhaps it was due to the excitement that it felt much shorter.

  8. Growing up in the 60s and seeing stuff like this just seems to drive home the notion that to the rest of the US California wasn’t really a state, it was a playground for Americans.
    “And where is California?”I asked my Dad at 5.
    “Way,way faraway” said my Dad

  9. The Austin A40 is almost certainly the ‘Devon’ version with 4 doors. The ‘Dorset’ was the low budget 2 door car which sold in very small numbers in the UK.

  10. I first visited Disneyland in 1959. That would have made me five and my older brother six, so I don’t think that my Dad would have waited in line twice, to take us both on the ride. My next visit was in 1965. I was eleven so that was the first time I drove the cars. It was quite a thrill at that age, but as I got older it diminished. Boy, did I dream of having one of those little cars for myself! I don’t know if they always had that center rail steering but that took the fun out of it as I grew older. By the time I took my own kids on the ride it was pretty old hat.

  11. Dennis Gerdes, wasn’t that your dad driving a glaspar at the early Pebble Beach Road Races? As I remember he did a great job.

  12. I came across one of these, or something similar, at an Arlington TX swap meet in the 90’s, for about $300 or less, just didn’t have the cash !

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