Autopia Chassis

autopiaA Call to the Studio / Autopia Chassis

It all started with cars. Some folks on my paper route in 1944 always had neat cars. A few years later, one of the kids that lived there was in our same car club, the “Road Burners.” Name was Dave Iwerks. We went hunting and fishing together. His dad had a short first name, Ub. After I returned in 1953 from a year designing cars in Detroit, I was a regular visitor at the Iwerks home. Ub was a quiet guy; showed me his tiny shop with many beautifully crafted guns, gave me rides in his latest sporty car.

In late summer 1954, the Los Angeles Times ran a story about a new amusement park, complete with a beautiful painting of what was to come. Wow. Neat idea. Sure would like to design something there. The Iwerks put on traditional Sunday dinners, Mr. and Mrs. Iwerks, sons Dave and Don. I was sometimes invited. Ub Iwerks would show home movies of the latest happenings at the Walt Disney Productions Studio in Burbank, California, just a few miles from their Van Nuys home. One day Ub described a little car running around on the studio backlot…no body on it, just a bare chassis.

While visiting Art Center School, my alma mater before going to Detroit, shortly after Ub’s little car story, I was asked if I did outside work in addition my regular industrial design job. I really didn’t, but I said yes. A few days later I was instructed to meet someone at the Walt Disney Productions Studio. On the drive out to the Studio, I wondered…do you suppose the little car needs a body designed?…would this be for that new amusement park? Walt’s chief park designer, Dick Irvine, met me at the gate, then ushered me into the famous Studio. They needed a car body designer….bingo!

Dick introduced me to some business folks, then showed me the little bare car chassis. It had been built by Johnny Hartman in his shop up in nearby Montrose, California. A welded steel frame, pivoting front axle, rear axle assembly, and a hot ten horsepower engine from the latest scooter-bike craze, the Mustang Colt. Just simple as could be, but bare naked. I took some dimensions, then went home to sketch some body ideas. During the next two weeks, I returned every Saturday with a series of sketches for Dick Irvine to look at. Among the business folks working with Dick was the Studio Machine Shop Manager, Roger Broggie.

On a following Saturday I received a call at (ye gads) 7:00 a.m. “Do you draft?” “Yes.” “Grab your tools and get over here.” Silence, dial tone. Roger Broggie was waiting for me. Nearby the little bare car slowly collected four guys with their feet on each tire, discussing what was to be done. One guy, slightly rumpled with a Roy Rogers wooden bullet belt, had his foot on one tire. I thought he was the father of one of the night guards. They called him “Walt.” You don’t suppose? Yep, Walt Disney. No formal introduction, just get to work. Walt was collecting a lot of new folks on the Studio Lot. We were all gonna design Disneyland.

To read more about the Autopis, order Bob’s book “Design: Just for Fun”