Interview With a Legend: Bob Gurr, Broggie's Pickup

Interview With a Legend: Bob Gurr
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Michael Broggie, son of Imagineer Roger Broggie (mentioned in this interview), gave his favorite Autopia memory:

I used to tear around the studio lot as a 12-year-old test driver. The car would go over 30 miles an hour once I figured out that I could wire open the speed control device. My favorite stop was outside the sound stage where the Mickey Mouse Club was being filmed. I'd wait for the Mouseketeers to come out for a break and offer rides to the females. Someone reported me to my dad. He called me to his office above the Machine Shop. There, I was informed that the Mouseketeers were "talent" and that I was not. Hence, I was ordered to cease my taxi service. I regretted that I never got to give Annette a ride. She was very shy.

Six years later, I went to work at Disneyland as a summer job. They assigned me to the Autopia, which was hot and loud, and I loved every minute.

LP: Typically, how long does an Autopia car survive before being replaced?

BG: Basically the structure of the car has an unlimited life, the basic frame. I'm talking about what we call the cow belly frame, the cow belly rail, the bolted cross members, the K frame, things like that. The rear drive - there's a Dorris gearbox and an engine mount that's made out of cast aluminum - those parts and the basic axles never change. They just clean them up and recycle them because they have unlimited life. There's a little bit of damage to the front axle because the kids like to bang them around a lot but they're very easy to fix. Bodies just seem to go forever because they just repair as necessary and repaint them. The wear parts such as tires, break disks, master cylinders, rubber mounts, the drive belts, those kind of things. those are just wear parts that they change out. But essentially the heart of the car, the structural heart, they just clean it and stick it back together again. and that's where we get the economics. In other words, you can consider an engine and a clutch as a service part, but the basic guts of the car, you should try to get that to last as long as possible and now, in hindsight, that thing's gone over 30 years

The other thing I might mention is that the roughest thing in small cars is the automatic clutch because the clutch has to allow the engine to idle without the car moving but when the kids step on the gas the clutch has to pick up the load and begin moving the car and at the same time the clutch has to survive the platoon of five moving cars crashing into the parked cars. So there're a lot of dynamic forces between the engine and the rear axle. Normally you would buy a stock clutch from a clutch manufacturer. We tried every kind there was and none of them would work very long at all. It drove every clutch manufacturer absolutely crazy. Salisbury clutch worked with us for years and years and years trying to come up with a new clutch. Another guy up in San Gabriel Valley, he came up with a clutch and we destroyed that thing immediately.

So again, one of these trips driving back from Disneyland, I thought what does it take to make a clutch and I suddenly had the thought, since one cylinder engines vibrate very funny, they don't run real smooth and all of the pivot tins in the mechanical moving parts in a clutch are always parallel to the crank shaft. I thought this meant you can have vibrations that can couple dynamically. And I thought we'll just do something simple, we'll turn the pivoting pins 90 degrees to the crank shaft and we will totally interrupt those vibrations. So that was the theory and the next thing was "now smarty, you got the theory, now what do you do?" Well the next thing is the clutches have a clutch lining that's not moving so they wear out because of the heat. So I thought lets make a Reverse Polish clutch. Let's make a clutch where the lining is moving and the press plate stands still. So that was the second theory. So I combined all that in a design and we built a test version and it didn't quite work. Then we changed the material a little bit and it did work. That clutch cost twice as much as the engine but Disneyland said well, if it lasts it'll be cheaper even though it costs twice as much as the engine. We still use that clutch today because everybody's afraid to touch it. It's got those two theories about how in the world do you make a clutch in that kind of service.

So those are the highlights about how the public beat our cars to death and we finally figured out what the theory ought to be. Then we executed the theory into some practical parts that would then maintain long term. Of course, you have to remember, when you're doing that, at no time do you look forward 30 years. You think let's just get this thing running this summer

LP: Are you involved at all in the current redesign of the Autopia?

BG: No, the new designers - a couple of them came from Art Center College of Design where I started out as a designer - they're very competent and I talked to them and showed them the car. I said you can change all these parts and don't change these certain parts and they understood it and away they went. I totally trusted them.