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In 1926 only 800 miles of Route 66 were paved

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The movie "CARS", what's out there in real life?

Route 66 inspired the movie Cars, produced by Pixar and distributed by Walt Disney Pictures. The working title for the movie was in fact "Route 66". The crew traveled the old Mother Road quite a few times for their research. Route 66 experts acting as consultants guided some of these trips. Evidence of the research trips is found both in the movie itself and in several Route 66 businesses that were visited by the crewmembers.

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CARS Theatrical trailer #1 (2006)

CARS Theatrical trailer #2 (2006)

Radiator Springs

The town Radiator Springs is fictional, there is no town anywhere along Route 66 called Radiator Springs. And yet, many a small town resembles it a lot. Being bypassed when the Interstate opened, killed quite a few of the businesses that were dependent on travelers. That also impacted the towns, because most businesses that did manage to prosper did so by moving to a nearby exit and offer their services there.

If you want to see Radiator Springs, you can either head to Disneyland and visit the fictional recreation Cars Land, or you can go for the real life version on Route 66.


Several of the characters in the movie are (partially) based on people related to Route 66 and its businesses.

  • Fillmore
    The hippie van Fillmore was modeled after the late Bob Waldmire, who was not only a vegan hippie himself, but also drove a VW camper van along Route 66, in which he lived and sold his artwork from.
    Bob Waldmire used to tell that he actually refused to let Pixar use his name for the character in the movie, when he realized there would be models of the character named after him sold in happy meals at McDonald's. As a strong believer in not harming animals, Bob did not want not be linked to eating hamburgers.
    Bob's van is currently exhibited in the Route 66 museum in Pontiac, IL.
  • Sally Carrera
    Sally is modeled after Dawn Welch, owner of the Rock Cafe in Stroud, OK.
    In 2008, a fire destroyed all but the walls of the Rock Cafe but it was rebuilt and reopened.
  • Flo
    Flo is said to be modeled after Fran Houser. At the time, she owned and ran the Midpoint Cafe in Adrian, TX. Since then she sold the cafe and opened the Sunflower Station next door.
  • The Sheriff
    Michael Wallis is actually the voice of the sheriff in Cars, and he also served as a guide for the crew during their research for the movie.
    Michael Wallis wrote one of the first modern books on Route 66, and plays an important role in the Route 66 community, among others in the Route 66 Alliance.
  • Tow Mater
    Ever wonder why Mater can drive backwards so well?
    Dean "crazy feet" Walker from Kansas will often demonstrate how he can turn his feet backwards.


Throughout the movie are landscapes and buildings that are inspired by real attractions along Route 66. Some of these real-life attractions are combined into one in the movie.

  • Cadillac Ranch
    The Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, TX was built by the Ant Farm art group on land owned by the late Stanley Marsh 3. It features 10 Cadillacs of model years from 1949 to 1963 buried nose down in the same angle as the great pyramid in Egypt. The Cadillac Ranch is used as a mountain range in the movie.
  • Blue Swallow Motel
    The iconic Blue Swallow Motel in Tucumcari, NM has neon that inspired the Cozy Cones motel's neon
  • Wigwam Motels
    There are 2 Wigwam Motels on Route 66: One is on the border between Rialto and San Bernardino, CA and the other -older- one is in Holbrook, AZ. They are an obvious inspiration for the Cozy Cone motel as well.
  • Wagon Wheel Motel
    Towards the end of the movie, you'll notice a wagon wheel being used in a sign. The Wagon Wheel motel in Cuba, MO used that long before the movie did.
  • Jack Rabbit Trading Post
    The Jack Rabbit Trading Post in Joseph City, AZ is famous on Route 66 for its "Here it is!" sign.
  • Chief Yellow Horse Trading Post
    The backdrop of the original location of the store on the state line between New Mexico and Arizona is quite spectacular. The state line ran right through their counter. This backdrop is used near the end of the movie as well.
    In the years since the movie was created, the trading post in moved part of their business closer to the exit.
  • U-Drop-Inn
    There's no doubt where Ramone's was inspired by when you see the fantastic U-Drop-Inn in Shamrock, TX.
  • Leaning Water tower
    While the tower of Pisa is an obvious inspiration for Luigi's, so could be the leaning water tower in Groom, TX.
  • Cars on the Route
    Cars on the Route in Galena, KS features the tow truck that was part of the inspiration for Tow Mater. They call the truck Tow Tater. Since the movie was released, they have expanded their collection to include more Cars references as well, including a red fire truck and a Tow Mater life-size replica sitting next to Tow Tater.
  • ...

Fiction that brings out reality

If you look beyond the Piston Cup, you'll see a movie that depicts the struggle of businesses and small towns that get bypassed by the Interstate, as well as the possibility to discover beauty and have an adventure.

All one needs to do is get off of the Interstate and you'll know what you were missing.