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World of Motion was a whimsical look at the development of transportation from the human foot to a bustling futuristic city. Housed in a wheel-shaped building, the ride showcased the theme that developments in transportation have allowed us to be free to have fun and to go wherever we would like. The attraction had a different approach to its subject than the other pavilions in Future World. This was influenced by Disney animator and Imagineer Ward Kimball's humoristic touch. X Atencio along with Buddy Baker penned the lyrics and music to the show's theme song "It's Fun to Be Free." At the exit to the ride, was General Motors' TransCenter where guests could see how automated robots assemble vehicles and where prototypes of new kinds of transportation vehicles were on display.
General Motors was the first company to sign with Disney to sponsor an EPCOT pavilion. The company signed a 10-year contract in December 1977. The pavilion opened on October 1, 1982. Its grand opening with GM executives and the press was held on October 5, 1982. When the contract ran out in 1992, GM was facing cutbacks and layoffs because of the slumping economy. The company could not decide whether to renew its sponsorship (which would mean costly renovations or a whole new ride as Disney wanted) or to simply end its association with Disney and EPCOT.
GM decided to renew its sponsorship for one year. They felt that would give them time to figure out if their EPCOT presence was beneficial to them and at the same time not let a competing company take their place. It also gave them another year to see if the industry turned around so they would have money to spend on a new attraction. At the end of the year, GM met with Disney and signed a new contract (presumably for ten years). World of Motion would remain open while a new ride was developed by Walt Disney Imagineering (WDI) and General Motors.
This time, GM wanted to show guests something that focused specifically on the automobile end of transportation. They went back to one of WDI's original concepts for the Motion pavilion; one that would let guests experience how cars are tested before being manufactured for the public. Imagineers remembered their trip to GM's Milford Proving Ground in 1976 and thought that it had potential for an attraction. WDI re-visited GM's proving grounds in the early 90s and along with GM created a Test Track that would put guests in the seats of the test car instead of test dummies.
Over a span of a few years, Test Track was developed through concept art, models, and an accurate, detailed computerized version. This allowed the designers to see exactly what guests would see in the finished attraction. Imagineers came up with several concepts for the ride vehicles from futuristic pods to race cars to cars without wheels. Albert Yu came up with the design they selected: a vehicle that was not too futuristic looking, that made sense to be a test vehicle, and that represented more than just one of GM's product lines. With the vehicle's design settled on, a gas powered prototype vehicle was built and tested in Glendale, CA (WDI's home). Next, Imagineers and GM engineers got to work designing the guts of the car which would make it go. The car had to run on electricity, move at high speeds, go a million miles, and last for many years.
World of Motion's last day of operation was January 2, 1996. Its contents were removed completely. Outside the building, the new track was assembled that would eventually send guests around the building. The GM Test Track Preview Center opened in February 1996. GM executives, designers, and Walt Disney Imagineers showed scale models, concept art, layout diagrams, and one of the Test Track ride vehicles to the press to announce the new project. A large mural painted by French artist Catherine Feff was unveiled. The Preview Center featured a few concept drawings of the new ride and a video showing a piece of the computerized test version of the ride. GM cars and trucks were available for guests to sit in as used to be at the exit to World of Motion. Work inside and outside progressed on schedule. The opening date for the new ride was set for May 1997. The target date for all of the show elements to be assembled, in place, and working was met. The only problem was that the ride vehicles would not operate as they should.
The first problem encountered was that the wheels would not stand up to the wear and tear of going from a complete stop to accelerating up a hill or around the loops in a matter of seconds repeatedly. The tires were redesigned and strengthened to meet the ride's demands. That problem solved, attention was turned to a larger problem. Being a highly complex, sophisticated, and high-speed ride, there was no room for error. Each ride vehicle was programmed to stop if it entered the safety zone of another vehicle for safety reasons. Unfortunately, the computer program written to run the show could not handle more than about six cars running on the track at the same time without shutting down. The number of cars needed to meet the capacity requirements was twenty-nine. This required designers to rewrite the computer program and continually test the ride. The number of cars was steadily increased until everything worked. One designer said it was amazing to see the cars flawlessly cycling through the building after all that testing. This process took another year and a half.
In the meantime, guests outside the pavilion at the Preview Center could get a glimpse of cars being tested as they whizzed by every once in a while. When the spring 1997 opening date came and went, the bottom of the mural was changed to read "Opening Soon" and then was just covered over completely. In spring 1998, additional concept art was added on the blue construction walls at the back of the Preview Center. A second, new preview video looped continuously. Small holes were cut in the blue walls giving guests a view of the front of the building. Sometimes a Test Track ride vehicle would be sitting in doorway number 2. Merchandise that had been produced for the opening date was available for sale at a cart om front of the Preview Center beginning in May 1997. It was also made available in the Centorium throughout most of 1998.
In December 1998, the ride was finally ready. The Catherine Feff mural was removed and two smaller signs were put on each side of the covered entrance area. The one on the left read "Experience Test Track. A new ride for the new year." The one on the right simply had the Test Track logo, the Disney and GM logos, and read "Imagination in Motion." GM executives tried out the ride first, followed by Epcot and Disney marketing cast members (Dec. 11), and then all other WDW cast members were invited to preview the ride (Dec. 12 through 16). The attraction opened to the public for limited previews during certain hours of the day on December 19, 1998. The ride was still prone to breakdowns as the kinks were worked out of the system. The signs on both sides of the entrance area were changed again in early March 1999. These final murals show paintings of parts of the ride. By the time of Test Track's grand opening on March 17, 1999, the ride was operating all day long everyday.
The east side of Future World was closed early that night. Starting the engine to officially open the ride were car racer Richard Petty and supermodels Christie Brinkley, Angie Everhart, Carol Alt, and Frederique. Fireworks burst overhead while special guests and the press enjoyed musical groups Earth, Wind and Fire and The Spinners.
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Created July 1, 1999 / Last modified September 2, 2001