The real-life places and people of Route 66 that inspired the Disney Pixar hit Cars are undeniably awesome…
Disney Pixar’s smash hit Cars made children (and adults) all over the world fall in love with the little town of Radiator Springs and the people, uh, we mean, cars that live there. What many who haven’t traveled Route 66 don’t realize, however, is nearly every bit of the movie is based on real places and people found along the Mother Road.
When director John Lasseter and his team were creating the first Cars movie, they went to great lengths to base as much of the movie off places people could actually visit if they just got off the highway- just like the main message of the movie.
Here are a few of the most notable places and people connected to the movie…
Cadillac Range and Cadillac Ranch
Perhaps one of the most recognizable movie “landmarks” for most is the “Cadillac Range,” an obvious nod to the famous roadside attraction Cadillac Ranch just outside Amarillo, Texas. In real life, Cadillac Ranch is an art installation featuring 10 old Cadillacs buried nose-down in the middle of a field.
Ant Farm, the original creators of the project, wanted people to interact with the installation, and as most of you know, people do… with spray paint! Although completely repainted occasionally for special occasions or to just “clean the slate,” it doesn’t take long for the Caddies to be covered again with shout-outs to significant others and other graffiti.
Cozy Cone and the Wigwam Motels
Who doesn’t find the little traffic-cone motel rooms in the movie just adorable? Did you realize the “Cozy Cone,” isn’t all fiction? The Cozy Cone is pretty easily linked to the 2 Wigwam Motels found on Route 66. The whole “Wigwam Villages,” concept was actually meant to be an entire chain of teepee-shaped motels across the nation. There were as many as 7 of these “Wigwam Villages,” across the US at one time, but today there are only 3 remaining- 2 of them on Route 66.
The first Wigwam Motel (assuming you’re going east to west) is in Holbrook, AZ. Flanked by classic cars and an awesome bright green neon sign, it’s popular for overnights and just day-time tourist photos. The second Wigwam Motel in San Bernardino, CA has lush, green landscaping, a pool perfect for relaxing after a day on the road, and plenty of vintage cars and trucks for framing up your pictures.
Even the name “Cozy Cone” may have a little significance. Alluring alliteration aside (See what we did there?), the Cozy Cone may be a sneaky tip of the hat to the Cozy Dog in Springfield, IL. The Cozy Dog’s founder, Ed Waldmire, is often credited with basically inventing the corn dog, and his son, Bob Waldmire, was a legendary Route 66 figure. (We’ll talk about him a little later…)
Ramone’s & the U-Drop Inn
One look at the U-Drop Inn (aka Tower Conoco), and it’s pretty obvious why there just had to be a place in the movie based on it. Undoubtedly the best example of art deco architecture along Route 66, U-Drop Inn has a storied history all its own, including visits from the King, Elvis Presley.
The former Shamrock, Texas filling station and cafe sat mostly empty for many years, but thankfully it’s been restored into a wonderful gift shop. Oh, and just like the movie, the outside of the U-Drop Inn really dazzles at night with it’s lights. If you have kids or grandkids, they also have a great Cars section of gifts!
Lizzie’s & Hackberry General Store
Few places on Route 66 really capture that nostalgic vibe quite like the Hackberry General Store, so it’s no big surprise it finds a counterpart in the movie with Lizzie’s Curio Shop. From its isolated location in the beautiful red rock hills of Arizona to the rusty old cars scattered around to the old signs and truly funky interior, the Hackberry General Store is Route 66 gold through and through.
Side note: That Bob Waldmire we mentioned earlier also owned the store for a period of time. More on him later…
Wheel Well & Wagon Wheel Motel
When Lightening McQueen and Sally have their romantic drive, they visit the defunct Wheel Well Motel, and at the end of the movie, the two have restored it to it’s former glory. Well, that’s not too unlike what happened with the real-life Wagon Wheel Motel in Cuba, MO. The original motel was constructed in the 1930s, and in 2009, Connie Echols purchased the motel and lovingly restored it to its former glory (plus with modern amenities!)
Even if you don’t spend the night, her gift shop has some of the most unique items you’ll find anywhere on Route 66.
Here It Is sign & Jack Rabbit Trading Post
It’s not hard to notice the big yellow “Here it is” sign in the movie… You didn’t think they just made that up, did you? Heck no! That’s based on the famous “Here It Is” sign of the Jack Rabbit Trading Post in Joseph City, Arizona.
Today, the owners of Jack Rabbit Trading Post give the legendary sign a fresh paint job every now and then so folks like us can keep getting our pictures with it. Their actual trading post is filled with great Route 66 goodies, so it’s another must-see for anyone traveling on the Mother Road.
“Radiator Springs” & Seligman, AZ
So, then, if all these fictional places and characters match up with real-life places and people, where is the “real” Radiator Springs? Well, some argue it’s based on Peach Springs, a rural Route 66 desert town, and we’re sure people in Baxter Springs, KS, would like to claim a little piece of the pie.
While we’re sure the towns’ names helped the Cars production team land on a name for their fictional town, Seligman, Arizona is the town Lasseter had in mind as his real-life Radiator Springs.
It’s no secret the crew spent hours interviewing Seligman barber Angel Delgadillo, often called the “Angel of the Route.” The smiley storyteller was able to tell the entire saga of Seligman and Route 66… The rise, fall, and resurgence he championed. After all, he was there for it all. While “Radiator Springs,” could be many of the towns on Route 66, Angel’s narrative of Seligman makes it the most literal “Radiator Springs.” Oh, and just like in the movie, people are once again flocking to Seligman!
If you visit Seligman, be sure to stop by his barber shop- now Angel & Vilma Delgadillo's Original Route 66 Gift Shop. Look for the thank you picture from Pixar behind the counter!
Flo and Fran Houser
These days, Fran Houser and her lovable dog run a charming gift and antique shop called Sunflower Station in Adrian, TX, the half-way point of Route 66. Rewind a few decades, though, and she was actually running the cafe next door. One day, a group of “tourists” just happen to pop in for a visit, and in that group of tourists was none other than John Lasseter.
Long story short, Fran and the cafe became the inspiration for Flo’s V-8 Cafe. Stop by Sunflower Station, and you too can meet Flo, we mean, Fran, one of the friendliest people on the Route. (The Midpoint Cafe is still going too, so stop in there for a bite!)
On a side note, ever notice the “spark plug” lights on Flo’s fire in the same firing pattern as a Ford flathead?
Filmore and Bob Waldmire
The “hippie” VW Microbus, Filmore, is one of the more endearing characters in the movie, and his real-life inspiration, Bob Waldmire, was a legend of the open road, particularly Route 66.
Bob is considered by most of us to be “THE” artist of Route 66. His murals, postcards, and prints can be found all over the Route, and he was known to travel the Mother Road, painting and making friends, in his VW bus and later his monster bus motorhome conversion.
Sadly, we lost Bob a few years back, but his art lives on as does his microbus and motorhome- both on display at the Route 66 Hall of Fame and Museum in Pontiac, IL.
Sheriff and Michael Wallis
When it comes to Route 66 aficionados, Michael Wallis has to be toward the top of anyone’s list. His Route 66 books are widely considered to be some of the very best written on the topic, and when the Pixar team needed a tour guide, Michael was given the task, and judging by the success of the movie, it was a job well done.
Oh, and just so happens, his deep voice landed him a part in the movie as the Sheriff!
Of course, there are hints and little nods to other real-life Route 66 places all over the movie. What are some of the other ones you've noticed?