Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Midget Autopia Inspirations

Arrow Thunderbird V8 Kiddie Car

The early 1950's were an inspirational time in the automotive industry. GI's returning to America from duty in England and Europe had been exposed to sports cars; two seat roadsters which were built for speed and fun rather than practicality. Auto makers in Detroit would begin to jump on the bandwagon with the Corvette, but would not successfully enter the market on a large scale until the early 60's.

Custom car builders in Southern California began to respond to the new found sports car lust with sleek, feline, fiberglas bodies which could be built onto existing chassis and motors. Two of these independent designers would introduce cars in the mid 1950's; Victress and Glaspar. Kaiser Motors also introduced their short lived Kaiser-Darrin 161.

In the midst of this styling frenzy, another creative genius, Walt Disney, wanted an automotive themed attraction for Disneyland that would be fun for little kids. It was called the Midget Autopia. To help build it, he turned to Arrow Development, who had created the vehicles and track for Snow White's Scary Adventures and Mr. Toad's Wild Ride.

Arrow had been making kiddie car rides since the early 50's. Their flagship model was a sporty two seat roadster called the Arrow-Flite Super. It was introduced at the National Orange Show in 1953.

Arrow-Flite Super

In addition to the Arrow-Flite, Arrow had been selected by Kaiser Motors to build a few dozen small scale replica push cars of the Kaiser Darrin 161, for advertising purposes.

Arrow's Darrin Jr. Production line in 1954

With their experience in fiberglass, kiddie car design and manufacturing, Arrow was a shoe-in for Disney, but a close look at the body style of the Midget Autopia cars reveals that the Midget Autopia car wasn't an Arrow-Flite Super or a Darrin 161 knock off. There were similarities, but the Midget Autopia's swooping lines and feline fenders were much closer to the style of cars from another company that also did work for Disney; MAMECO, who did the original Autopia cars.

MAMECO's first Autopia Cars

MAMECO had collaborated with Glaspar in the creation of the 1953 MAMECO Ardun-Glaspar G2. It was born in 1949 when Bill Tritt helped Ken Brooks design a body for a car that Ken was building. At the time, Tritt was making small fiberglass boat hulls in Costa Mesa. Bill convinced Ken that fiberglass was the ideal material for his new hot rod's body shell.

1953 MAMECO Ardun G2

The G2 was a beauty and won a lot of races. The fender line was sinuous. Some of the features on the Midget Autopia cars also bear a striking resemblance to yet another 50's kit car; the 1954 Victress S-1A;

Victress S-1A Line Drawing

The Victress Manufacturing Company introduced the S1 sports car body in 1952. William Boyce-Smith was in his final year at UCLA when he started working with his good friend and fraternity brother Hugh Jorgensen to design a car that "Doc" Boyce-Smith wanted to be more stunning than all the sports cars of its era. Hugh began on a design that would, in Doc's words, “out Jag the Jag," referring to the XK-120. The result was a stunning, two seat roadster with elegant, yet racy lines;

The Jag to out-jag XK-120

Victress S-1A

Lining up the four bodies side by side highlights the shared features. The swooping fenders, wasp waist and provocative headlamps of the Victress are readily apparent, but the tail light treatment is clearly Darrin.

All of which were born, along with Disneyland, in Sunny Southern California.

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