Theme Park Memories: 1960 Autopia Car

Scotty GilbertsonBy Scotty Gilbertson

Did anyone watch The Wonderful World of Disney that was on Sunday nights.. ohhhhhhh.. a few years (decades) ago? I did, it was a must-see, especially when we got a color tv. This 1960 Autopia Car is possibly from the famous Midget Autopia ride at Disneyland, maybe.. or from some theme park. It’s posted on Craigslist with an asking price of $3,500. It’s located on beautiful Long Island in Merrick, New York. You probably shouldn’t drive this one home. Thanks to Bill Walters for sending this one in!

It seems like such a rare vehicle in such nice condition would be priced much higher and collectors would be clawing at each other to grab this one. There were several generations of cars used in the Autopia rides, from the first Autotopia in Tomorrowland which was there for the opening of the park in 1955. Junior Autopia was at Fantasyland in 1956, and from what I can tell, this car would have been part of the Midget Autopia in 1957. These cars were built by Arrow Development, a company that designed and manufactured amusement park and roller coaster equipment since 1945. Arrow built these cars for all sorts of parks, so for this one to be actually from a Disney ride is pretty unlikely. It’s fun to think about, though. To be a kid again, ahh…

This is, I believe, a Mark V car which came out in 1959. The Midget Autopia ride was shut down in 1966 and instead of scrapping the cars, Walt Disney gave them to his hometown of Marceline, Missouri which then opened the Missouri Midget Autopia. It was the first and only time that a Disney ride has left a Disney-owned park and continued to operate. The first cars didn’t have bumpers and they were almost totally destroyed by the early testers of the ride. The cars evolved to them having huge, shock-absorbing bumpers. This car is still riding on its original wheels and tires!

I believe that these cars would have had two steering wheels, or at least some of them would have. The seller says that they got this one for his kid and he never got into it. What a shame, what kid wouldn’t want this thing? What adult wouldn’t want this thing?! I know I would, for what purpose I have no clue, but since when has that ever stopped me. It’s obviously been restored at some point and it sure looks nice, with a somewhat comfy interior.

This is a modern-looking engine but there’s no mention what it is. A lot of the later cars, well into the 2000s, had Honda engines which produced enough pollution that ride employees were paid an extra $0.20 for hazardous duty because of the fumes. Crazy. The seller mentions that a lot of engineering went into this car, whether they mean before or after they got it I’m not sure but they do have a lot of money invested in it. They mention that the engine is “gas powered and has been modified with electronic ignition, manual choke, brake lights, working headlamps, electronic fuel pump, brake pedal, etc.” Have any of you ridden a Disney car like this, or in another park?

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Comments

  1. Bmac Bmac Member

    Man I love this site, bringing back great memories

    10+
    • Scotty Gilbertson Scotty Staff

      That made my day/week/month, Bmac! Thanks for being a Barn Finds fan!

      12+
    • RichS

      Yup, Barn Finds helps this old guy dredge up forgotten memories like no other. The stories themselves are great, but often times its the comments from others adding little nuggets that jog even more memories and take it to the next level.

      Thanks EVERYONE.

      0
    • PRA4SNW

      Totally agree!

      These types of posts make it hard to understand the “why is this here, it’s not a Barn Find(tm)” comments that seem to appear every time something like this is posted.

      0
  2. RayT Member

    I’m only going by childhood memories here, but I don’t think this was a Disneyland Autopia car (“fullsize” or midget). The Autopia cars were very distinctive space-age-y designs that reminded me of scaled-down GM concepts cars from the early-to-mid 1950s. They were rebodied at some point, but remained distinctive, and I’m pretty certain this isn’t one of them.

    This is probably from some other amusement park. It’s neat, though.

    I always wanted the Autopia car built for Walt Disney’s personal use around the time the park opened. It had chrome trim and wheels, a custom paint job, leather seat and, supposedly, a hotted-up engine with no governor!

    6+
  3. lawrence

    Damn – I rode in that car…..Six Flags had them – sponsor was Enco….they are on some of their glove box maps.

    5+
  4. jw454

    During the early 1960’s at Camden Park in Kenova, West Virginia the miniature highway was called “The West Virginia Turnpike”. It had cars that resembled a 1959 Ford in the front and a 1959 Edsel in the rear. I’ve searched for one of them for years. I’ve never seen one anywhere. The cars were a bit bigger than the feature car. Some of them even had a rear seat so the whole family could ride together. To me, the rest of the park could have blown away as long as the Turnpike and the steam train were OK.

    8+
    • Britcarguy

      I grew up in West Virginia. The pre-interstate turnpike was a two-lane road mainly because of the high cost of road building through the mountains. In the limited areas where there was a long straight stretch, there was a “suicide lane” in the center for the brave to pass.

      1+
  5. Puhnto

    I can’t believe a kid wouldn’t love this! Doesn’t look anything like the car I have a photo of me driving at Disneyland in 1960, but I would have loved to have had it.

    8+
    • Phil

      This 50 something kid would be thrilled with this !!

      6+
  6. angliagt

    I have some slides (somewhere) in color,
    of my parents at Disneyland in 1955.Back then,it was
    still dirt around the outside of the ride.

    7+
  7. michael streuly

    Very cool

    5+
  8. Howard A Member

    If anyone was from Milwaukee in the ’60’s, there was a shopping center called “Capitol Court”. It had a kiddie amusement park ( for birthdays, they had one of those Crosley fire engines, and would take everyone for a ride) and this is probably my 1st recollection of being in the drivers seat at Funtown. ( file photo)
    http://www.retrocom.com/retromilw/kiddietown1.jpg
    I’d hope it’s a Honda motor, and not that junk Chinese knockoff one, and the exhaust doesn’t appear to be hooked up. Maybe in a “gated community”, but I wouldn’t want to share the road with SUV’s in this.

    7+
  9. Badnikl

    My Brothers at Disney Land in Late 50’s.

    16+
    • leiniedude

      Great photo Badnikl ! I see Disney was way ahead of the curve with there lane deviation device.

      5+
    • RayT Member

      This is the one I remember! I would have loved to have gotten hold of one of these, strip off the “protective” bars, and do it up for putting around in. I thought it would look awesome in some metalflake (or Kandy) color (hey, I was a kid!) even though I’m pretty sure Walt’s was a dignified black.

      Now that I think of it, I would STILL like to lay hands on one!

      (Oh, and there was a rumor that Walt’s Autopia car wound up stashed at his studio in Burbank. When I worked there in 1984, I nosed around but was never able to find it….)

      5+
  10. Don H

    I would have loved this as a kid .Today kids like sitting playing games on the computer and video game’s on tv. Go outside kid

    8+
    • KC Jones

      That kid needs to go to an old school summer camp without a phone or a tablet. It’s sad to say but my friends kids have little interest in motorcycles or cars. The car hobby will always be around but I see many car markets dying off. It’s good in someways (prices go down) bad in others when there isn’t enough money to support an aftermarket we can’t get parts 😖. Too many auction and car flip shows and we can’t by a muscle car w/o a tinworm infestation w/o dipping into a retirement. The 911 market went crazy like the Mopar market did with Barrett Jackson… 150k for a fake hemi car… insane. I bet those cars can be had for 1/3 that now.

      4+
  11. Phil

    I live in a semi/mostly rural area and I would use this every day to go to the store, the VFW and just to cruise my neighborhood! I guarantee it is faster than my power wheelchair!!

    8+
  12. greg tritt

    My brother Matt and my fathers company, Glasspar, made the bodies (see Badnikl photo) for Disney. Hoped at the time we could get one (at least a body) but that was not to be…

    10+
    • Matt Tritt

      Brother Matt here, reporting that the car for sale is definitely not anything from Autopia, not that that makes it uninteresting!

      0
  13. Big Al

    We had the “Turnpike” ride at Hershey Park for many years. It was pretty cool, had a bridge over the creek and everything. The cars had huge bumpers with springs and they got tested you really didn’t even have to steer, curbs were tight

    5+
  14. DrinkinGasoline

    Cedar Point in Sandusky, Oh. still has them as well as Cadillac Cars.

    3+
  15. Royal

    Looks similar to the one I went on with my Dad in Disney World down in Florida in March 1976 when I was 8.

    2+
  16. Coventrycat

    Now we know where Hillman got the styling cues for the Imp.

    3+
  17. Greg Stegall

    When I was a kid I got to drive an Autotopia car at Disneyland
    In ’68. Being a car guy since I was born, it was a thrill of a lifetime. If memory serves me, the track by then had a raised rail that kept the cars from hitting the sides of the track. Because of this, the side bumpers were no longer on the cars.

    3+
  18. MARK BOYCE

    The great man himself catching a ride with designer Bob Gurr the first pic shows very close match to original body at least this addition 🙂

    10+
  19. MrB

    I was 10 years old in 1970 for my first trip to Disneyland, and I wanted to spend the whole day at Utopia! Piloting my own powered vehicle was a dream come true —thanks for another great memory, Barn Find!

    3+
  20. Cj

    Just for fun..

    7+
  21. Mike W H

    1957. Sponsor was Richfield gas. (which evolved into Arco IIRC) The logo was an eagle, there was one on every pump and the good gas was called ethyl. I felt they were real cars, because no track rail. Awesome memories.

    5+
  22. Bill Wolz

    Arrow Development produced these Turnpike Cars for many amusement parks in the 70s. I have had a few and restoring them can be a challenge. These were never used by Disney, although prototypes seem to have been considered.

    http://www.arrowturnpike.com

    4+
  23. whippeteer

    I remember them from the World’s Fair too.

    0
  24. MGTOMMM

    Sadly, The Turnpike Cars and kool track were removed from Cedar Point a few years ago to make room for the new Valravn.

    https://www.cedarpoint.com/play/rides/valravn

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fweNjJeQ6go

    Back when I was a kid getting to drive those cars was the best part of Cedar Point. We live right beside the park on the old beach access road and when Cedar Fair announced the Turnpike Cars was closing, I mentioned it would be great to see if we could buy one to display in the front window.

    The boss nixed that in a hurry.

    0
    • DrinkinGasoline

      I didn’t know the Turnpike Cars were gone. It’s been a few years since we have been there. 🙁 Are the Cadillac Cars still there ?? I always wanted one to jaunt around the neighborhood 🙂 (No, I don’t know who is in the picture,lol)

      0
  25. David Wilkinson

    The Lagoon amusement park near Salt Lake City, Utah had these very same cars on their Speedway ride. I always hoped if I jerked the wheel hard enough I could escape from the center guide rail, but alas, I was never successful. The speedway was removed about 10 years ago, perhaps this car came from there.

    0
  26. Don

    I recognized this car as soon as I saw the first picture. As one of the previous comments said, these cars and the antique Cadillac cars were at Cedar Point in Sandusky, OH. My first trip there was in 1964 and this was always one of my favorites. I remember the lever sticking up on the outside of the car. If you stopped on the track for any reason and caused traffic to back up, one of the workers stationed at the track would come over to your car and move this lever forward to make the car go. That would disable the pedal inside the car and they could keep the traffic moving around the track. Good times and good memories on this article.

    0
  27. Melvin Burwell

    I thought they were propane powered. I remember Disneyland in the 60s and 70s. First time I ever drove a car. Good old days. Back when they had ride tickets. Good luck on this one.

    0
    • RichS

      Yup Melvin, the other day I had to explain to my 20-something son what an “E-Ticket Ride” was after he heard a guy say it on some random car restoration show we were watching online

      0

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