Monday, February 27, 2017

Three Decades of Arrow's Cars

Fiat Toppolino

From the very beginning Arrow Development was working on and with cars. One of their first jobs was making hard to find replacement parts for a tiny Fiat Toppolino in 1948.  At the same time, Arrow was developing one of its first kiddie rides; a small portable carousel featuring tiny pill bug like cars, a few of which are still running in San Jose's Alum Rock Park. They weren't much more than bodies with fixed axels and wheels. The carousel turntable pulled them around and there was no way to steer or brake.

1948 Arrow Kiddie Car Carousel

Arrow "Pill Bug" Kiddie Car

One of their first powered cars was the ArrowFlite.  Not only did Arrow do the vehicles, they designed and built a gas station, complete with a pump and a lift. The cars featured twin steering wheels, although they didn't actually work, as the car ran on a single track which provided both power pickup and guidance.

Kiddie scale gas station

Anderson Family Cousins Showing Off

By 1957 there were a handful of the small ArrowFlite tracked car ride installations, mostly on the west coast.  Their add listed; Woodland Park in Seattle, Easbey Amusement (Arrow's Demo Park) in Palo Alto, Gold Coast Shows in San Jose, Suker's Kiddieland at the corner of Compton Avenue & Firestone Boulevard in Los Angeles, Disneyland (Midget Autopia) Nu-Pike in Long Beach, Elitch Gardens in Denver, Peppermint Parks in Houston and Ward's Kiddie Park at Coney Island, NY. Soon Arrow would expand further into custom fiberglass work, with the short run Kaiser-Darrin mini-replicar.

1957 ArrowFlite Advertisement

Kaiser Darin Mini Cars
The the center guide rail system Arrow developed on the smaller cars was adapted for use on their larger sports and antique cars - which caught Walt Disney's attention when the early Autopia cars and track were taking a beating at Disneyland. Arrow's steering system used a variable width center guide to keep the cars from running into the curbs. Walt visited the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk to have a closer look. Soon thereafter Arrow was hard at work on the 1963 Mark IV Autopia upgrade. This was supplanted by the Bob Gurr Corvette like body in 1967, but the center guide remained and is still in use in Anaheim and Orlando.
Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk 1961
Autopia with center guide rail

At the same time there were plans afoot for antique car rides for the 1964 Worlds Fair. Arrow provided the vehicles and track for the Avis Antique Car ride, described in the official guide;

Open-topped antique cars, reproduced to five-eighths scale, provide a pleasant ride through an old-fashioned country setting. Each car seats up to five, and anyone 10 years or over can drive. A single pedal - accelerator and brake combined - controls the one-cylinder engine that pushes the cars along at a top speed of four miles an hour; the ride takes four minutes. Avis also operates a rental service for automobiles and power boats at the Marina landing.

1964-65 New York Worlds Fair AVIS Cars

By the mid-70's Arrow had provided antique car rides for fifty amusement parks. Their catalog featured full color images of the four models; A French Taxi, Flyer, Ford Touring and Cadillac.

Mid 70's Antique Car Catalog
There is interest in preserving and restoring these vintage rides, both antiques and sportsters. It is often a daunting task of love moving from a rusted chassis to a restored work of art and auction prices can reach - and sometimes exceed - those of a new, much more modern automobiles.

Sport Chassis Restoration

Restored Sport Coupe

Restored Hamburg Antique

An upcoming auction at Barrett-Jackson features an AC Cobra inspired Autopia car restoration. 

Note the information sheet is headlined by our blog banner (!)

Cobra Inspired Autopia Car Restoration

Interior shot with our Blog Banner (!)

Today Arrow's fingerprints, or perhaps shadow are still on the Autopia. 

I'd love to see Disney partner with Tesla and convert the attraction to all electric, with solar panels on the roof, of course, rather than running single cylinder gasoline engines. That would be both future and retro, as Arrow had battery operated versions of it's cars too, some of which were built by Morgan Manufacturing when Ed Morgan's son Dana started his own company.

1 comment:

  1. Many years ago I saw some footage of the Beatles taking a spin (all 4 of them) in one of the cars at the Avis Antique Car Ride at the '64-'65 World's Fair NYC. It may have been on MTV in a music video or a retrospective short. (I rode on that same ride when I was 4 years old.) Boy, if that one car could be identified and tracked down...