Old Autopia looks new again

With a new sponsor in Honda, Disneyland’s venerable driving attraction received a new coat of paint.

The ride won’t feel any different, but at least there’s a fresh coat of paint on this 1955 original. After operating for years without a sponsor the Tomorrowland classic re-opened last month wearing a fresh new look for the first time since June 29, 2000. With Honda’s backing the attraction was brought aesthetically in line with the rest of its post retro-future surroundings, prompting mostly praise from park observers.

The appearance of today’s familiar Tomorrowland Autopia has actually changed rather significantly over the years, and is in fact merely one of four different Autopia attractions to have existed in Disneyland. The original opening day ride was born out of the automobile craze of the mid fifties and was classed as a D-ticket attraction. With the recently developed interstate/freeway system still a dream to be realized, the ride was a fair fit for the future-oriented land – some early souvenir books even described the experience as the Autopia Cars and Freeway or the Super Autopia Freeway. The concept’s success inspired the eventual creation of three additional Autopia attractions within the decade: 1956’s short-lived Junior Autopia, 1957’s Midget Autopia and 1959’s Fantasyland Autopia.

The Junior variant, located just north of the original, was the first to include a center guide rail to keep guests from accidentally sideswiping each other, a feature not added to the initial ride until 1965. As with many things in the early days of Disneyland, the Junior Autopia found its history to be a short one as new ideas continually swept in. After a brief two year run Fantasyland’s own version of the Autopia arose on virtually the same spot, this one almost identical to the Tomorrowland original. For nearly forty years the two tracks operated side by side until Tomorrowland’s 1998 sci-fi makeover when the park’s two remaining Autopia rides were combined and augmented to form the attraction we know today.

As one of the last remnants of ’98 Tomorrowland’s mottled copper aesthetic, the majority of the recent work undertaken as a result of Honda’s sudden sponsorship involved repainting and updating the ride’s queue area to match the modern Tomorrowland look. A sleek new logo sporting the same silver and blue color scheme that adorns the rest of the area now hangs above the entrance. Nineties-era Chevron commercials featuring talking claymation cars have been swapped, oddly enough, for even older cartoons – vintage clips from the Wonderful World of Disney television series.

All the updates, including repainting the cars in actual Honda vehicle colors, have been well received by fans relieved to see some perfectly positive changes at their favorite park. If there’s anything about the refurbishment that’s drawn criticism it’s that the changes weren’t more drastic. The community has long bemoaned the attraction’s continued reliance on gas-powered cars in a land dedicated to science and sci-fi, especially when foreign iterations of the ride have been using hybrid and electric cars for years. MiceAge.com summed up fans’ sentiment in their review, saying “It looks nicer now, even if the attraction itself remains woefully in need of a real technological upgrade.”

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