October 6, 2022

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Disneyland Autopia Mark VII First Travel: Tomorrowland’s Yesterday

12 min read

When Disneyland very first opened its doorways in 1955, its namesake provided a very simple mission: “Here age relives fond memories of the past, and listed here youth may possibly savor the problem and assure of the long run.” Potentially no first attraction better encapsulated that great than Tomorrowland’s Autopia, which provided grownup parkgoers a childlike experience of discovery whilst providing numerous younger “drivers” their very first style of driving by themselves. Two decades immediately after its opening, a young boy named Peter Menotti grabbed the steering wheel for the initial time, took off down the observe, and fell in really like.

“At the stop of the monitor there is certainly the flip to the backstage area,” Menotti, now in his mid-50s, remembers, “and I often said 1 day it is really gonna be open up and I’m gonna generate ideal off the keep track of and all the way to Burbank and take a automobile property with me.”

Which is not precisely how it worked out. For a single, Menotti lives in Westchester these days, close to Los Angeles International Airport. For an additional, his Disneyland Autopia Mark VII was not driven here, and it undoubtedly failed to glance like this.

“By possibility, I observed 1 on eBay in 2001 from Hollywood Trading Firm, and I went down there with my truck,” Menotti states. “They had stacks of ’em. Any individual didn’t take care of them proper. I picked the most effective a person of the bunch.”

In 1998, Disneyland cleaned out some of its warehouses and made a decision the 180 previous Autopia motor vehicle bodies experienced to go. The park had recently entered into a new sponsorship deal with Chevron, which observed the autos rebodied like 3 of the chatting Chevron Cars and trucks from the firm’s modern day ad campaign. The aged Mark VII bodies, which experienced faithfully transported park people for three many years, have been on the block. Disneyland saved the chassis and engines, although, so what Menotti dragged property was a fiberglass overall body with an engine compartment lid, a silver get cope with, and foam headrest and dashboard pads. Disneyland staff members stripped the Mark VII badges from the rear fascias and even taken out the physique range tags from the motor compartments.

“For three years, it was: smoke a blunt and go sit in the car in the backyard and faux I’m driving it,” Menotti states.

But Menotti wanted to do additional than fake. He’d been an Autopia addict for a long time. Increasing up in Southern California, a vacation to Disneyland was a ordinary weekend activity. Though the park had dozens of rides, only 1 mattered.

“Just give me my C ticket,” Menotti claims, referring to the outdated journey ticket procedure Disneyland utilised to employ. “Give me everybody else’s C ticket, and leave me at Autopia. It can be all I required to do.”

Rebuilding an Autopia vehicle, nevertheless, value C notes, not C tickets. All advised, Menotti estimates he is into it for $45,000. As much as a good new SUV, certainly, but worthy of it to own one of only 20 acknowledged remaining Autopia cars outdoors Disneyland and a single of only nine that operate. “It can be value every penny,” he states. “Every Saturday when I consider it out, the smile on my deal with is value it.”

The starting up place and most important challenge was the very same 1 that stumped the first Disney Imagineers in the early 1950s: the chassis.

“Walt did not want to obtain a stock bump motor vehicle,” legendary Disneyland designer and builder Bob Gurr, 90, states. Menotti and Gurr have turn into pals in excess of the a long time as restoration progressed, though they didn’t know every other when the job started.

The authentic autos went through various redesigns. A team from Disney’s established-style and design and machine retailers had the initial go, then Jonny Hartmann’s Hartmann Engineering Firm of Montrose, California, was named in to attempt once more when Walt Disney failed to like what his interior workforce arrived up with. Hartmann Engineering, which Gurr phone calls “a lawnmower store in Montrose,” came up with a superior chassis, but Disney didn’t care for the overall body. Hartmann needed to do the entire challenge or none of it, so Disney turned to ArtCenter Higher education of Design in Pasadena for help.

ArtCenter wasn’t about to do it on the budget Disney proposed, but similarly legendary auto designer, ArtCenter teacher, and MotorTrend contributor Strother MacMinn knew a recent graduate named Bob Gurr who could use the work. The Autopia Mark I was created on evenings and weekends with the support of college students.

“I have never been to engineering college,” Gurr says, “but I had auto store, and I hung around racetracks.”

The chassis he came up with was a easy box frame of sq. steel tubing with round tubing for body supports. Built by MAMECO Automotive Engineering in Newport Seashore, California, and included in a fiberglass overall body intended by Gurr and laid by Glasspar down the road, it would underpin 32 vehicles, four police-themed cars, a tailor made automobile for Disney himself, and 3 advertising automobiles.

Which is not the chassis that would’ve been under Menotti’s Mark VII, even though. With every physique iteration came a new and (generally) improved chassis. A wraparound aluminum bumper was additional immediately after early motorists started crashing it was intended to shield the cars and trucks from every other and the minimal concrete partitions together the edges of the observe, but it promptly proved insufficient. The professional designer turned newbie engineer would discover the forces concerned ended up a lot bigger than anticipated.

“Opening working day, persons ended up jumping in excess of the wall and commandeering autos in advance of they bought to the head of the line,” Gurr suggests. “Walt was providing [actress] Gale Storm a tour and explained, ‘Oh, Bob can observe your kids.’ I figured I’d have ’em in my pocket if I took ’em for a push on Autopia. We are likely alongside, and the kids held yelling, ‘Hit ’em, hit ’em,’ so I place my foot down and knocked [another driver] over the wall. It was Sammy Davis Jr. I never ever did catch up with him to apologize.”

You see, Autopia did not get its tutorial track right up until 1963 soon after 8 a long time of operation. Until eventually then, it was a totally free-for-all, conserve for the 4 higher-velocity law enforcement cars and trucks meant to chase down rule breakers and guide stranded motorists.

“I’ve observed so a lot of issues,” Gurr says. “I’ve witnessed spinouts. Spinouts and head-on collisions. That’s why we extra the monitor in ’63.”

Together the way, Gurr tried out as several chassis layouts as he did bodies. Mark IV experienced a drivetrain that could be eliminated from the automobile for provider by pulling a one pin. Mark V had a Gurr-developed fully independent suspension. Mark VI was created by Arrow Progress, a journey-advancement company, as a light-weight substitution for “the massive, extra fat, unpleasant factor,” but it fell apart “practically promptly.” The original strategy of a stable-mounted rear drivetrain and a beam front axle on a center pivot did the task, producing most of the enhancements “a colossal waste of funds,” Gurr claims.

Mark VII’s major improvement was its “cow-belly body.” Bowing out in the center, it could flex without having breaking like the straight sections of tubing used beforehand. Critically, it was clamped with each other, not welded. Now, no make a difference how difficult a collision, the body would endure. Which is how Mark VIIs lasted 30 years, and which is why present day Mark VIIIs continue to experience on Mark VII chassis.

Not that any of this was considerably assistance to Menotti as he commenced the restoration. Disney was not about to share the options with him, and Gurr no for a longer time has access to the aspects, possibly, so Menotti was left to determine it out on his very own. Almost each individual other restored Mark VII that drives has been grafted on to a golf cart chassis, but Menotti couldn’t tummy it. He needed it to look like the serious thing, and the entire body just didn’t sit suitable on the golfing-cart-based mostly automobiles.

Fortunate for him, he knew a person. A buddy received a contract to make prototype scale versions of many Disneyland cars, which include the Autopia vehicles, and he handed Menotti a very simple established of cutaway plans with prime-down and profile perspectives. It was to scale but did not include things like measurements. Continue to, it was a start off, and he understood where by to get the relaxation. Off the household went for more of people weekend outings to Disneyland, where by Menotti would trip Autopia in excess of and about, applying each prospect to get measurements and get pics underneath the system. At the time he had the wheelbase, “I could use the scale drawing to essentially do all the math backward.”

The up coming trouble was locating someone to make it. Two retailers attempted, but neither could meet Menotti’s in-depth needs. In desperation, he referred to as former Autopia auto owner Chip Foose, but he “charges as much as my house.” Nevertheless, Menotti received a advice for a sandrail builder named Cody Crisp, who was eager to tweak the structure until finally the car sat ideal.

Menotti didn’t stop there. Like the primary Mark VII, his car has the engine and rear axle challenging-mounted to the chassis, but the entrance suspension is a tailor made affair. The authentic utilised a beam axle with the center pivot stage and steering tie rods on springs to preserve them from breaking when an individual slammed the manual wheels into the track’s car or truck-corralling heart rail.

Menotti didn’t have to have the guidebook wheels, so an early iteration of the frame hard-mounted the entrance axle, far too, but the journey excellent was awful. It was not substantially of a thing to consider at Disneyland, in which they only drove on easy, properly-preserved concrete, but in the authentic entire world, it was tooth-chattering. A personalized control-arm suspension was developed and fitted with coil-more than shocks and springs lifted from mountain bikes. Steering was dealt with by a VW Beetle steering box, which Menotti thought came closest to the feel of the original rack-and-pinion box.

As to the subject of making the cars and trucks go and prevent, way back when, Gurr went as a result of various engines on the lookout for the appropriate a person, starting up with just one pulled from a Gladden Mustang mini motorbike. It vibrated like insane and “shook the carb ideal off each handful of months,” Gurr says, but the actual dilemma was the inconsistent governor. Gurr needed all the cars constrained to 7 mph apart from the law enforcement automobiles, but the Gladdens were being all over the position. He finally settled on a 7-hp Kohler K7 motor with a bang-on governor. In the ’90s, it would be changed by a Honda motor with halt/get started technological know-how, a partnership that advanced into Honda getting more than as sponsor of the ride in 2015.

Menotti’s restoration wanted to be easy and trustworthy, so he went with an 8.5-hp Briggs & Stratton with the glasspack muffler and a Comet centrifugal clutch. Gurr developed his individual centrifugal clutch back in the working day to ease an overheating trouble, the tooling for which charge much more than the total auto.

“Walt generally looked the other way about what these [Mark VII] vehicles were being gonna price tag,” Gurr claims. “A inventory bump motor vehicle would’ve absent for $1,500, and these price tag about $5,000 every single. It was the least expensive motor vehicle we ever crafted, mainly because it in no way broke.”

Even currently, Autopia cars use a spring-loaded brake that applies when you choose your foot off the throttle. It can be what tends to make the fuel pedal so rigid. Menotti required a thing that would prevent on a dime for genuine-world driving where you are unable to just bump into the car or truck ahead, so he went with a go-kart’s disc brake set up on the rear axle. It has to be adjusted each individual few months because at 600 to 700 kilos, the Mark VII is substantially heavier than a go-kart.

Then you can find the actually custom stuff. Menotti performed with custom made equipment ratios, settling on 10:1, which gave him the two a smooth start and an believed 15-mph top rated speed, nevertheless 5 mph is definitely the sweet spot. The steering wheel was trickier, as only a number of have manufactured it out of the park, and they go for $1,000 or more on eBay. Menotti, who owns a 3-D printing small business, was equipped to borrow one to scan, print, and coat with rubber.

Mark VII badges are equally expensive and difficult to appear by, so Menotti scoured the world wide web for substantial-res photographs, traced the design and style in Adobe Illustrator, and experienced a customized button maker produce a duplicate. Gurr suggests it’s pretty near to the one he created.

A very similar remedy was important for the tires. Goodyear stopped delivering the customized, staggered-width tires for Autopia a long time ago, so Menotti experienced to use the Carlisle tires the park makes use of nowadays. They will not appear appropriate on the Mark VII, even though, so he traced the Goodyear sidewall emblem, printed stencils, and painted them on himself. On his next set, he’ll sand off the raised lettering initial.

Menotti would’ve desired a blue automobile, but for the sake of authenticity, he made a decision to paint his car or truck its original shade. After sanding as a result of 10 layers of paint from 30 yrs of refurbs, yellow was the solution 1955 Chevrolet yellow, as it transpires, as Gurr was a big GM admirer and beloved the colours on the ’55 Chevys.

While it looks like a ’68 Corvette, Gurr claims it is fully a coincidence. The Mark VII and the third-era Corvette were being built at the exact same time, neither informed of the other. Gurr and Chevrolet designer Henry Haga would later look at notes right after both equally automobiles had been launched and concluded they just had the similar flavor. For Gurr, the true challenge was earning it search appropriate with riders on board. His self-imposed mandate was “as genuine proportions as you can get with an grownup and a modest youngster.”

They also used the same style and design methods. Gurr styled all his cars on paper then with a comprehensive-size clay model, just like Detroit did. He decries modern-day cars and trucks developed in CAD for lacking area definition, which shows up as wavy reflections in a sleek panel.

Finally concluded, Menotti’s automobile is the star of the neighborhood. Every single Saturday he requires it out, and every single Saturday he finishes up providing rides to area young ones and halting for pictures. The only rule is, no a person drives it but him. Nicely, and Gurr. And MotorTrend.

Sliding powering the wheel feels like going to Disneyland for the initially time as a child. The nostalgia hits so tough you are smiling prior to you have moved an inch, and you by no means stop. Driving all-around a parking lot, it really is obvious Menotti’s notice to depth compensated off. The journey is much better than a golfing cart, the steering is speedy and specific, and the fashionable motor really gets it going. Getting a brake pedal is odd, but the motor vehicle will get a minor daunting at double the initial best velocity, so you’re happy to have it.

Gurr under no circumstances expected to see a single of these autos outside the parks. “That is why now is such an interesting day,” he says. “[The Mark VII] was my beloved. I received to do all the points on it, and it however had to search bitchin’. Of all the matters I’ve designed, this is the only object that has a group of persons who adore it for what it is. That is the ideal comments a designer could ever get.”

“Adore” is the right term for Menotti. He jokes about currently being buried in it, encased in concrete, “like that woman with the Ferrari.” He could possibly be severe.

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