Wonderful Wheels of the Disneyland Resortby Todd Pickering, contributing writer
In the autumn of 2012 we did a family reunion at Disneyland. My dad, Roger Pickering, is a great car buff and he and his brother Larry had yet to see Cars Land. Their father was a mechanic, and both sons followed in his footsteps. I did not.
My dad also collected vintage cars; all of our early summer vacations were spent at week-long Model T tours. He had two Model Ts, a 1926 four-door, and a 1923 truck. My sister and I would always drive used cars that were for sale; when my Dad sold them and didn't have a replacement, we drove antique cars to school. Cars were always a part of my life.
During the reunion we all had luncheon at the Carthay Circle Restaurant and afterward the whole clan went back to the hotel to regroup. My Dad was enjoying looking at pictures in the lounge when he stumbled upon a picture to the right of the bar. It is a pretty famous snap-shot of Walt Disney with a giant Mickey Mouse on top of a coupe. My dad told his brother that he probably couldn't guess what sort of car that was, and my dad was correct. Dad said that that was an American Austin and my uncle claimed that Austin was a British company.
"Correct," my Dad retorted, "but in time for the stock market crash of 1929 they formed an American division and produced American Austins." They survived for five seasons, from 1930 to 1934, before declaring bankruptcy. They did stay in business and created what would eventually become the Jeep which is also quite well represented at the Disneyland Resort. It is fascinating how much of the Disney properties are filled with cars.
Disneyland was created when the car was king. In 1956 President Eisenhower would sign a bill to create his interstate system, which we know very well today. When the park opened up the Autopia and Midget Autopia were present and ready to delight the fantasies of many young drivers for years to come. The thrill of getting behind the wheel of a car at the age of five or six never fails to delight even today. Many longtime fans of Disneyland want to see something else in place of this big piece of real estate but I think it needs to be ever present for the children.
Over the years I have ridden side by side with many of my friends' young children with my foot on the pedal (as they cannot yet reach it) and get to watch them drive for the first time. Recently when young Willa and I were driving the Autopia, I tried to point out some of the scenery to her. She abruptly hushed me with a terse retort, "Please, I'm trying to concentrate on the road." I held my tongue for the next minute or so and she turned to me with one eye still on the road and said quietly with a gentle air, "I'm sorry." Clearly she had sat in her car seat and heard her mother say that over and over again. She was ready to take her own driving seriously. A treasured car memory indeed. (Car Count: 1)
If the obvious Autopia isn't enough to convince you of the importance of motor cars around the Disneyland Resort, let's count some others. These are either display props, ride vehicles, or real vintage cars parked around the resort for that amazing Disney ambience.
Main Street USA and ToonTown
It is always fun to pretend that you are as reckless as that feckless Mr. Toad in Fantasyland. The Wind in the Willows was written when cars were a new novelty; Mr. Toad trades in his horseless carriage for one of these spectacular new motor cars. And you can't actually drive Lenny the Taxi over in ToonTown, but you can spin it like the teacups on the Roger Rabbit attraction. There are also two cars in ToonTown that you can get your picture taken in: one in front of Goofy's house and one in front of the gas station. (Car Count: 5)
I can honestly say that growing up with Model T Fords, the Main Street Vehicles are still one of my favorite attractions. I don't think a trip to the resort is complete without a spin on one of the three available horseless carriages.
Right in front of City Hall you can hop onto a horseless carriage with a covered top with fringe. This cover is delightful on a hot sunny day. If you can brave the heat in front of the fire station you can get on the fire truck. The last picture of Walt Disney before he passed away was taken on his beloved fire truck. He used to drive this all over the park before it opened in the mornings. If you sit in the back you can ring the bell, which makes for a speedier and fun trip.
If you are more into a view, hop on top of the OmniBus and climb upstairs to get a bird's-eye view of Main Street. You can also sit next to the driver, and there is more seating on the main level. These cars are replicas of old Model Ts and are done in 5/8th size like the rest of Main Street. All of these vehicles (along with the horse-drawn carriage) go for a one way ride to the castle, and it sure beats walking. If you are an auto aficionado like me, you can ride them up and then back easily in the morning; there is no wait to return to the front gates when everyone is rushing off to Space Mountain or Peter Pan. (Car Count: 8)
The jeep is king in Adventureland. According to cast members, the jeep parked outside the Indiana Jones attraction is one of the actual jeeps used in the original film. The ride vehicles are also made to look exactly like a jeep done to scale. They are on hydraulic lifts that make it seem to do wheelies and flip up on its side wheels while taking the curves. Ever the mechanic, my Dad wondered how often they changed the shocks, and one cast member was reasonably sure that they changed them every three days—this sounded about right to my Dad. There is also an overturned jeep in the Jungle Cruise, which produces a groan or two accompanied by yet another bad joke. (Car Count: 11)
Disney California Adventure
Buena Vista Street and Hollywood Land
Upon entering the park in front of Oswald's Gas Station, you can see a late 1930s Packard with a nicely appointed interior. At night the headlights actually come on. In the original concept art of Buena Vista Street, there were pictures of 1930s limos and taxis driving up and down the street, similar to the cars of Main Street USA. Unfortunately, you have to be a singer or a musician to ride in a car through Hollywood Land and Buena Vista Street now. The very talented Five and Dime are in a custom-made jalopy; they stop at the fountain and do a set of standards in front of the Carthay Circle Restaurant. The ride vehicles over in Hollywood Land for the attraction Monster's Inc. are taxis to whisk you through Monstropolis. (Car Count: 14)
Pacific Wharf and Paradise Pier
(Car Count: 17)
In front of the snack bar across from the entrance to Soarin' Around the World is a Rambler Station Wagon from 1956 (if the license plate tags are to be believed). This again is more Disney magic and great storytelling. Recently the Imagineers have lowered the back door of the station wagon and one can see that the family has started to unload their gear for a camping trip. The lights come on at night and all day long you can even hear the radio playing some period tunes. There is also a truck behind Grizzly River Run that is part of the queue; you may be able to see only if the lines are very long. (Car Count: 19)
Cars Land: The Mother Lode
If you want cars and car paraphernalia, you have come to the right place. Cars Land is your go-to section for the maximum amount of cars and great photo opportunities. My father could identify every tail light and tire all over this amazingly rich recreation of Radiator Springs. He can even name all of the years of the rear fenders of the Cadillacs that make up Cadillac Ridge, the mountainous back drop of the whole land.
I once overheard a child said to his father, "Dad, did they film the movie here?" The Imagineers did an amazing job of creating what is possibly the best immersive experience at the Disneyland Resort. Technically a tractor is not a car, so I will not count it for the attraction Mater's Junkyard Jamboree, but Luigi's Rollickin' Roadsters definitely count along with the ride vehicles for Radiator Spring's Racers.(Car count 21)
There used to be a photo op in Condor Flats (now Grizzly Peaks Airfield) before Cars Land was built; now Mater, Lightning McQueen, and Red the fire engine appear at the Cozy Cone Motel all day for photo ops. Sometimes on busy days Red is also out in front of the statue of Stanley before you turn right into the attraction queue of Radiator Springs Racers. DJ plays tunes for kids and adults throughout the day. Check your Entertainment Guide for times.
Final Car Count: 25
You never know what you may see throughout the resort, and what Disney may have in its warehouse. There used to be an old Cadillac parked in front of the Grand Californian Hotel, and you could see Mac the Truck along with DJ in the Paint the Night parade.
Happy Birthday, Dad