Interview With a Legend: Bob Gurr, Walt Memories

Interview With a Legend: Bob Gurr
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OldSign.jpg (11673 bytes)
The Autopia entrance prior to
the New Tomorrowland of 1998

LP: Do you have any other memories of Walt Disney involving the Autopia?

BG: When we were designing the body for the car starting in 1954, we built a full size clay model using the type of brown clay that the automobile industry uses to build models. I deliberately had this model made in such a manner that we could use it to make the mold to build the fiber glass bodies. This is for the first one, the Mark I car. But I made the clay model so that it had an interior in it so I could put a seat and a steering wheel in it and put some wheels on it. And the idea was that I wanted to be able to let Walt sit in the car so that he could see what the little kids would see when they sat in the car. Normally you don't do that when you're making a clay model because you just make it solid. But I took that chance to make what they call a clay buck with a seat on the inside.

Then the day came when the model was complete and it required approval by Walt, and the place where this clay model was built was over in garage in North Hollywood behind somebody's house. And there was a big problem about how in the world are we going to get this on a truck safely, so we don't break it, and bring it into the studio so Walt could approve it. And Walt said "what are you doing that for? All I gotta do is get in the car and I'll go over there and approve it" which showed the flexibility and practically that Walt had.

So Walt had his brother-in-law Bill Cottrell get his old Cadillac out and the three of us drove over to Joe Thompson's house. Joe Thomspon was a teacher at Art Center school at that time and he had some students who came up and volunteered to do the body for nothing. So Disney never paid a penny for the clay model and the car, Walt used free student volunteers to help. Walt didn't have any money in those days. So anyway, we drove over there, Walt, Bill and I and Walt saw that you could sit in the car so he went and sat in the car. There's a picture around that people have seen over the years with Walt sitting in the car with Dick Irvine who was in charge of all the designers at that time, and Bill Cottrell, Walt's brother-in-law, and myself. And also Roger Broggie Sr. who was managing the machine shop and the manufacturing of the cars. In a very simple, informal manner, Walt could simplify how to get something done by simply saying "well I'll get in the car and go over there. We don't have to truck a model back to the studio just to do that." Took him about three or four minutes to approve it and that was that. We got back in the car and drove back to the studio, all done. Again, that's the informality and the direct to the point way that Walt would work. He always did stuff like that.

LP: Is there anything else you'd like to add about the Autopia?

BG: I always liked the Autopia design from the standpoint that most small cars, what we call bump cars,  just did not look good at all. They just were all out of proportion. And the idea was, could we make a small car and arrange all of the details of the car, the structure of it and the passenger compartment, such that a small child would look perfectly natural in the car and an adult would also fit in the car? But, when nobody was around the car, the car, by itself, with it's proportions and its wheels, would look like a good looking contemporary sports car. No one had ever attempted that up to that time and that's where the car was very successful. A lot of people said "boy, that just looks good with nobody in it" because you can't tell it's a little car just by it's proportions.

I took Walt's car - which had a maroon paint job and custom hubcaps - I took it over to Griffith Park one day and drove it over there and went to a friends and we took turns driving it around the park taking pictures of it. Those pictures prove if you proportion a small car just right, it'll look like a normal car. And I patterned it somewhat after a 1954 Ferrari, a little Ferrari roadster that a lady had over in Beverly Hills. It was on the cover of Road and Track magazine about a year before. In other words, the car already looked like sort of a stolen Ferrari. Then that car went several years while we changed all the mechanical parts then of course we changed the style a couple of more times then wound up with what would be the Mark VII car which is the one that looks sort of like the '68 corvette.

LP: I love that picture I've seen of the '67 Autopia car parked next to your Corvette.

BG: The curious thing was Henry Haga, who is a guy I went to school with and hung around with a lot, he was a designer at General Motors and he was in charge of Corvette design for 11 years. And when he saw the Autopia car and I saw the Corvette, we jumped out of our skins because we both had almost the identical details of surface development, particularly the front end. And he just smiled and said "you know, we're a bunch of car guys and we all think in the same channels year after year". So independently we came up with a solution that was timely and neither one of us saw the other's car but it just showed how too old cronies who went to Art Center, and we're old buddies, and we all think alike. That's how that came out looking like that. And after 30 years it doesn't look too bad.

-- Interview by Doobie Moseley
-- Old Autopia sign photo courtesy of Disneyland Inside & Out
-- Remaining photographs by Doobie Moseley
-- posted 9/10/99

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