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Hagerty Employee

65 years ago, kids of all ages couldn’t wait to get their hands on the wheel at Disneyland’s Autopia

Few car-related amusement rides were as highly anticipated or publicized as Autopia. Which makes perfect sense, since no amusement park was as highly anticipated or publicized as Disneyland.


Sixty-five years ago today, on July 17, 1955, Walt Disney’s dream to create “the happiest place on earth” became a reality when the $17 million theme park opened on 160 acres in Anaheim, California. An invited crowd of 15,000 swelled to nearly twice that size, thanks to party crashers using counterfeit tickets or scaling a fence.


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I just had to check out the parking lot photo. In the row on the left, after the Cadillac, are a Kaiser, a Hudson and a Studebaker. 

Intermediate Driver

Note also... The Caddy thinks he's "King of the Road" and can park anywhere he likes.  Notice he made his own space right up front!  The guy in the Kaiser probably couldn't open his door.

Intermediate Driver

It IS a lot of fun to look at all those '50s cars in one clear photo.  I'm astounded that I can identify a large number of them by the tiny portions of shape and trim that are visible as you go down the row.  And I was only 7 when Disneyland opened.  Never have gotten to see it.


One of my earliest memories is riding Autopia at age 5 with my mother.  I couldn't reach the gas pedal, so I told her, "just floor it Mom!" Thus a lead foot autophile was born.


That was my favorite ride as a child, from about 6 through 10, I guess; we went to Disneyland and Knott's Berry Farm often back then. I recall the bumper rails being rather frustrating, as I wanted to pass and go faster. Never knew they had Mustang cycle engines, though; ironically, a buddy of mine's been in the business of Mustang cycle parts & restoration for a few decades. So those engines would have come out of Glendale CA and capable of much better speeds ungoverned...

Thanks for that article, it was a pleasure !


Gebr. Ihle from Germany was making a miniature Mercedes-Benz 300SL for amusement parks in the mid 50's, here one for sale in Finland, Europe:

Intermediate Driver

Been going to Disneyland since the day it opened. I remember everything and have my dads home movies to prove it. My two favorites were Autopia and Twentythousand Leagues Under The Sea. Where you walked through the original movie sets for the Nautilus. The free driving lanes of the old Autopia were light years better than the new "safe" lanes. We couldn't wait to jockey for position. My dad worked for Northrop Aircraft Company and once a year the park was open to only Northrop employees with unlimited rides( no ticket books). I can remember being in areas of the park where no one else was visible. That doesn't happen any more. One more piece of Disneyana...Captain Nemos' organ from the Nautilus now resides in the Great Hall in the Haunted Mansion and it still bears the letter N on the organ pipes. Memories are flooding back!! Thank you.

New Driver

I grew up in Arizona in the sixties, and Dad would take my brothers and I to Disneyland when we would visit relatives in the LA area. The ticket books had rides rationed out with certain number of stubs per ascending order of desirability, hence the old term " E ticket" ride.


As far as I was concerned, the only ride I wanted to go on was the Autotopia car ride. I'd barter my tickets with my siblings to get the maximum number of car rides, the heck with the Matterhorn, I wanted to drive!




Autopia was by far my favorite ride at Disneyland. Everybody clamored to get to the Matterhorn but for me, Autopia was the ticket and it was only a "C" ticket! Gone are the good old days. Sigh 😞

Intermediate Driver

I remember driving those cars.  We found out that the lever on the outside when pushed all the way down made the car go faster than the gas pedal in the car.  The later cars did not have that lever. We wondered if they saw what we early hot rodders figured out and that was why they were removed. 

Intermediate Driver

Me too, me too!  I loved the Autopia over everything else in the park.  In later years the cars were re-styled with a more angular vibe... more "American" versus "European". IMHO, it appears to me that the mid '80's Corvette Roadster took after them and I always felt that Vette was simply an Autopia car made for grown-ups!


Fun story. Not entirely accurate, but fun.

Gurr does a good job telling the story in his book, Design: Just For Fun.
Of course you left off the most comical part. Basically all the cars broke in the first couple hours. They struggled all day making repairs, but by the end of the first day I think only one or two were still running.
I know I can sympathize.
Pit Crew

I was an 8 yr old in my Davy Crockett T-shirt who attended the public opening with my parents. Autopia was my favorite ride and it probably stared my love affair with sports cars. Biggest thrill of the day was my Father taking a picture of Walt Disney and me. He is leaning over with his arm around my shoulders. He was trying to get the Dumbo ride running. He became my lifelong hero that day. He always was willing to invest everything he had to achieve his goals. 


If I'm not mistaken, in the 60's Hartmann Engineering produced a popular go-kart - I think it was called the Hart or something like that? 


Had to wait a year before I was tall enough to drive by myself. My favorite ride by far!


The Autopia cars had (still have?) the worst steering ever. There was a good 1/8 to 1/4 turn of freeplay in the linkage making it almost impossible to drive a smooth line. As a result, the cars were constantly banging up against the center rail that would then jerk the wheel hard enough to yank it out of one's hands! 


I visited Disneyland in either 60 or 61.  I was either 3 or 4.  It's funny, I have no memories of the things I got to do, except the silly and lame teacup ride.  What I do remember fondly is the things I didn't get to do, which I thought were the coolest things there.  The ride I most wanted to go on was the submarine.  That just looked so awesome!  The cars were a close second, and the mountain roller-coaster was third.  Strange that I remember my disappointments more than what I did get to do.


   I think I was there about the same time - probably '61.  A bit older than you, as I got to ride the teacups, submarines, Autopia, Matterhorn, Jungle Cruise, and just about everything else there was at the time.  Wanna know what my coolest memory was?  My dad was in a wheelchair, and we got to go to the head of every line (even though he didn't ride anything but the subs).  No standing in line - that was heaven to me!  The next year, we got the same treatment at the Seattle World's Fair.

   Now, for those of you who will accuse my mom and me of taking advantage of the old man's wheelchair to cut the lines, I guess we were guilty.  But remember, we also had to load him into and out of the chair, the car, the tub, the bed, etc.  We also had to help push him all over Disneyland, Marineland, Knott's Berry Farm, and other sites, as his hands would blister and his shoulders would tire out on those long days of site-seeing.  My job especially, as I was a pretty big, strong young fella, was to take him up and down steps and stairs.  So we gladly partook of the little bits of benefits that came along with the situation.

   So @Historian, I hope I wasn't being snotty at the same time as you were there, going to the front of the line and riding everything you couldn't 😃 - I mean, I hope that I at least waved at you as I cruised around on the Autopia course!  Oh, and the sub ride was awesome to me at the time...

Intermediate Driver

In the early 50's Toronto, Canada (West End) had 'Sunnyside' an amusement park with a real fair (games, rides) atmosphere. They also had a smaller version of Autopia which for me at age 7-8 was heaven. Two laps on a ticket. One headlight would light up at the beginning and the second when you entered your second lap. An attendant waved you in when showing two headlights. One day to my surprise the second headlight on my car was out and I completed several additional laps before the attendant caught me. 70+ years later I still love to drive.

happy motoring everyone


Intermediate Driver

Taking my dad for a spin at Disneyland (c. 1970-71).



The second-gen  Autopia cars were SO fun to try to derail.... and also to hold the brake and get rear-ended or vice-versa... A real dream to drive like you can't outside the Happiest Place on earth!!!