“Won’t you get hip to this timely tip: When you make that California trip Get your kicks on Route Sixty-six.”
(Route 66 song by Bobby Troup)
Radiator Springs is a fictional town that was created by the team at Disney/Pixar for the 2006 Cars movie. After the success of the original Cars movie, the Disney Imagineers brought the fictional town to life from a 2D movie format into a 3D actual town and planted it in Disney California Adventure (DCA) as Cars Land. The folks at Disney have dabbled with other Cars related attractions, Cars Quatre Roues Rallye, at the Walt Disney Studios Park (Disneyland Paris) previous to building Cars Land. When we visited Disneyland Paris during our honeymoon in July 2008, we found this ride and the small Cars themed area delightful and imaginative.
However, it is appropriate that the charming town of Radiator Springs sprang to life in California, the iconic end of Route 66. The setting for the Cars movie, and eventually Cars Land, was inspired by multiple states and locations along Route 66. Radiator Springs is now a beloved part of DCA, to the point that many people do not recall what was there before Cars Land was built.
The Walt Disney Company has a long history of immersing its guests in the stories and places depicted in Disney cartoons and movies. Walt Disney was a pioneer in bringing 2D storytelling into a 3D realm with his theme parks. Disneyland’s Main Street USA was inspired by Marceline, Missouri, Walt Disney’s hometown, from the early 1900s. The buildings in New Orleans Square (Disneyland) were inspired by the French Quarter in New Orleans, Louisiana. Hollywood Studios (Florida) and Hollywood Land (DCA) were inspired by the architecture of Hollywood’s early days in the 1930s and 1940s.
When Disney/Pixar decided to create Cars, John Lassiter (Chief Creative Officer, Walt Disney & Pixar Animation Studios) sent a team of animators out on at least one trip to research the places, icons, people, and food of The Mother Road (aka Route 66). From these trips, notes were taken, stories were gathered, and photographs were captured. Back at Pixar, the team compiled all their research and created the setting, characters, and storyline for Cars. When the original Cars movie debuted in 2006, the small town of Radiator Springs seemed familiar to the adults in the domestic audiences. The storyline was about a young “whipper-snapper” (aka Lightning McQueen) who had his trip plans changed, and ended up changing a community and himself in the process of reconciliation.
Route 66, beginning in 1926, used to be the main route for people traveling from Chicago to Los Angeles. By 1970, however, nearly all sections of the original Route 66 were bypassed by a modern four-lane interstate highway. A similar fate happened to the fictional town of Radiator Springs in Cars. Many of the towns and stops along Route 66 suffered financially and some are struggling to survive in 2017.
When we traveled east from California on our road trip this summer, we saw many examples of towns that have been all but forgotten in recent years. Abandoned buildings and homes. Decayed signs and billboards. Literal “ghost towns” that had once seen happier, more prosperous times. It was heartbreaking to see the relics of bygone days along America’s Main Street.
On a brighter note, there has been a resurgence of interest in the last few years to preserve and restore some of the pop culture icons of Route 66. According to the Foreword and Introduction sections of the book Route 66 Adventure Handbook by Drew Knowles, many travelers, including international visitors, are considered “Heritage Tourists” who specifically seek out routes and travel plans that include historic places like Route 66. “Through the years, this celebrated highway has persevered, despite attempts to do away with it. Route 66 has become a destination in and of itself.”
Cars Land Comparison:
This post is Part 5 of my series about our Route 66 Road Trip and looks more closely at the specific places on Route 66 that inspired the setting for Cars and Cars Land. If you missed reading the previous parts, be sure to check out the links at the bottom of this post. The focus of this post is to answer the question: How Does Cars Land Compare to the Real Route 66? Let’s take a look!
Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree starring Tow Mater & Tow Mater Photo Opportunity at Cozy Cone Motel
On the portion of Route 66 that we explored on this road trip, we did not go through Oatman, Arizona. The town of Oatman, and specifically the wild burros that wander the streets and even into the shops, was apparently the movie inspiration for the baby tractors that are seen in the Junkyard Jamboree ride at Cars Land.
We did, however, find Tow Mater’s doppelganger on our travels. Parked adjacent to the U-Drop Inn in Shamrock, Texas we saw a vintage tow truck that is a spitting image to Tow Mater.
The geodesic dome that serves as the technicolor backdrop for Fillmore’s drink and snack stand has a similar shape to an abandoned location in Lupton, Arizona that used to be Ortega’s Indian Market back in the hey-day of Route 66.
Cozy Cone Motel
“HERE IT IS” Billboard
Located next to the Cozy Cone, the bright yellow HERE IT IS billboard pays homage to the infamous signs that guide Route 66 travelers to the Jackrabbit Trading Post in Joseph City, Arizona. Appropriately, the Cars Land version has a tractor instead of a rabbit.
Flo’s V8 Cafe
Exterior: The chrome and stainless-steel modern décor of Flo’s V8 Cafe was inspired by the now closed 5 & Diner in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The 5 & Diner was located next door to the Route 66 Harley Davidson dealership. The diner was closed in mid-2014 and the Harley dealer expanded into the space.
Interior: Some of the décor inside Flo’s was inspired by the Midpoint Cafe located in Adrian, Texas. The costumes worn at Flo’s by the cast members were inspired by the 66 Diner in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Ramone’s House of Body Art
Stanley Fountain in front of Radiator Springs Fire Dept.
This comparison has not been verified in my research, but when I saw the pinnacle style water fountain outside the Western Motel in Shamrock, Texas the first thing I thought of was the Stanley Fountain in Cars Land. What do you think?
Radiator Springs Racers
Cadillac Mountain Range – The tailfin ridgeline was inspired by the Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, Texas.
Cars Land Mountain Range – The rusty red striated grooves look like the real cliffs behind the Teepee Trading Post in Lupton, Arizona. Radiator Springs Racer’s load and unload stations are identical to the arched caverns behind the Chief Yellowhorse Trading Post, also located in Lupton.
From sketch books and note pads for Cars to real life in Cars Land. Exploring Radiator Springs at Disney California Adventure is truly a blend of Route 66’s most iconic places!
If you happen to be visiting Cars Land near sunset, be sure to stick around for the daily ritual that includes turning on the all of the neon lights and listening to the song “Sh-Boom – Life is But a Dream” by The Chords. A similar scene is in the Cars movie.
Cars Land after sunset featuring “Sh-Boom – Life is But a Dream”.
What are some of your favorite details in Cars Land? What are your favorite Route 66 places to visit? Looking forward to hearing your comments and suggestions!
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Note: Post updated Jan. 9, 2018 to remove affiliate links.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.” (Disclosure Status Updated Jan. 9, 2018)