The Disneyland Autopia car body was purchased from www.phil-sears.com for $1295.00. It took three months to build the frame and chassis and to get the car “on the road”.
We began by turning the body upside down and measuring and noting “rub” spots to determine the frame support locations from the old chassis. We purchased eight foot 2X2 at the lumber yard and manufactured a wood mock-up of the frame to determine correct dimensions for the steel frame, made from 1 and ½” square steel tubing. Adaptations had to be made to accommodate the axle size ordered. Body supports are under the front, under the seat, and behind the seat. A steel plate was welded to the frame to fit behind the seat and studs were replaced in the body with matching holes in the steel for support and tie down.
We used the bottom rubber strip from a garage door, available at home improvement stores, glued to the top of the three frame “rub” spots for cushioning (see photos). Rear axle brackets were welded to the bottom of the frame with the front axle welded to the top of the frame.
Wooden frame mock-up. Engine compartment too wide, had to be made smaller to accommodate axle
After the first day of welding, the frame is tied down to the trailer to be returned to home and fitted to the under side of the body
Wheels and tires were purchased from a local tire store for about $100.00 total. They are eight inch trailer wheels, painted white with 4.8-8 tubeless tires. Outside diameter of wheel is about fifteen inches. Eight inch chrome hubcaps are available online for about $8.00 each.
Showing welded frame with axles and two wheels attached
Curved front support not yet added.
Basic frame of 1.5” x 1.5” square tubular steel, showing steering complete, rear axle and wheels, engine mounted. Notice front raised support and two central (under seat) supports. Early sprocket attached to rear axle, driver’s side. Throttle and brake pedals mounted to floor pan.
We spent a lot of time removing and replacing the body in order to be sure everything fit and worked as planned. I would stick my head in the back door of our home and say to my wife, “body off…” and she would come outside to help. If the reader wishes to skip all these engineering and design steps, they may order a materials list and design sketches showing exact measurements.
The original steering bracket was inserted between the fiberglass body and padded dash, but was replaced with two steel brackets attached to the chassis. Builders must be certain that the gas or electric engine is mounted with room under the rear deck.
Disney engineers incorporated an attachment in the front of the Autopia cars. Spring loaded closed hooks were bolted to the bottom of the metal grab bar, holding the dash pad, grab bar, and spring hooks with the same fasteners. Using those hooks we drilled ¼” holes in the frame and used clothesline hooks, about six inches long, to secure the front of the body to the frame.
The three enclosure panels surrounding the gas and brake pedals were cut at a local steel company very inexpensively and screwed to the frame using ¼” by 2” bolts, instead of welding. A hole was cut for the steering rod, corner brackets added, and the upper rear corners “bent” outward about 1.5 inches.
We found aluminum sheeting in a discard bin at a metal recycling site. The pieces were from a US Navy aircraft carrier and there are rows of ¼ inch holes drilled throughout. A pair of brackets was formed for each side of the car below the “door space”, and the brackets attached to the aluminum with four bolts. The brackets were attached to the steel frame with only one ¼” x 1 and ½ inch bolt. The effort here was to fasten everything to the chassis, not to the body.
We tried three set-ups for the gasoline drive. The first aluminum sprocket with direct drive from the clutch allowed the car to go 22 miles per hour – too fast. The second sprocket with number 40 chain was still too fast so we purchased a 2:1 gear reduction and installed it on the Tecumseh 6hp engine (see photo). This combination allowed about 8mph, a little slow, but close to desired speed. The Tecumseh throttle return spring is strong enough to give a good feel on the accelerator pedal, and the pedal travel was acceptable.
72 tooth sprocket with 2:1 gear reduction on Tecumseh 6hp engine
Rear end complete with engine, gear reduction, throttle and brake cables, reinforcing braces and external brake band brake
Front enclosure complete.
Electric motor with batteries, controller, forward-reverse switch.
With a gasoline engine, 2:1 gear reduction, and normal clutch, the car remained somewhat jerky. There were lots of vibrations, and quite a bit of body and frame noise. We added support between the rear frame cross member and the bolts holding the Diz-nee license plate to the fiberglass body. This action eliminated part of the unsatisfactory operation. We had planned to install a motorcycle battery to provide head and tail lights.
We discussed further noise reduction but noticed an article in the local newpaper about electric cars and electric scooters. The distributor’s office was only 45 minutes from our home and the owner was very knowledgeable and helpful in selecting a Briggs and Stratton Etek engine with controller, forward and reverse switch, and potentiometer (to control speed).
The change from gas to electric took only nine days while working at our regular jobs 40 hours a week. Although it is a weird sensation to press the throttle pedal and creep ahead silently, we would not go back to a gasoline engine. Our opinion is that the propulsion is both stronger and more even with the electric engine. We estimate that one full battery charge will allow two to two and one-half hours of travel time. Speed is about 11 miles per hour. Remember that the Autopia cars in Disneyland (1967 to 2000) only went 6.5mph. The new Autopia cars (2000 to now) are a lot faster (7mph).
The electric engine works without gear reduction and the power exhibited when starting on a hill or steep driveway is surprising.
Lots of miscellaneous fasteners were used in the building of the car. Nothing exotic was used unless one considers the electric drive parts to be exotic. Having the ability to back the car up is truly exciting and wondrous. None of the three Autopia designs could operate in reverse.
Trailering the car always gets thumbs up. Drivers will start to pass us and slow to our speed to stare at the car while staying even with the trailer. A common comment is, “Where did you get that? I know what that is. I think I drove that very car in Disneyland!”
Disney auction certificate
“Photo op” non-working car on display in Tommorowland until the year 2000.
Grandma and Grandpa seldom get to ride in the car when family members are around. Good fun!
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