What Influence Did ‘Cars’ Have on Route 66?

Disney is known to make heartwarming films that people of any age love. A great example is Cars, which Disney and Pixar hit the jackpot with. Not only at the box office, where it made more than $461 million globally in 2006. But also as a franchise, these cars have become lovable characters kids, and adults, get a kick out of. Lightning McQueen and Mater and the rest of the gang went on to star in two sequels, have a whole section of Disneyland dedicated to them and Radiator Springs, and hold a high place in Disney history. 

The famous, real-life Route 66 inspired the backdrop of Cars, along with its first film. Interesting enough, the film also had a pretty significant impact on the famous route. 

A Route 66 sign in the town of Radiator Springs at Disney's California Adventure Park.
A Route 66 sign in the town of Radiator Springs at Disney’s California Adventure Park | Mark Boster/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

‘Cars’ inspired one gas station in Kansas

The first film starts with Lightning McQueen and his journey to win the Piston Cup. He’s arrogant, narcissistic, and living a glamorous, fast-paced lifestyle. It’s not until he accidentally leaves the highway path to the next racetrack onto the forgotten Route 66. Since the major highways were built and diverted patrons away from the historic route, small towns like Radiator Springs found themselves in a lonely cycle of lost visitors. 

This narrative isn’t much different than real-life, and why the movie has such a realistic aspect to it. As a recent Google Arts and Culture package highlights, Route 66 is a long, winding path from Chicago to Los Angeles, as the song famously says. And one place in Galena, KS benefitted thanks to Cars. It used to be called Kan-O-Tex Service Station, but now goes by Cars on the Route, thanks to the Pixar film. 

Once a service station for motorists traveling Route 66, the Old Kan-O-Tex in Galena, Kansas, has undergone several changes throughout its history. It was first restored by four women into a tourist attraction named Four Women on the Route, but this diner and souvenir store is now called Cars on the Route for its association with the classic Pixar movie Cars.

— Google Arts & Culture, “The Historic Route 66”
Pepsi and Budweiser signs outside Buck's Recreation in the city of Galena, Kansas, 1988.
Pepsi and Budweiser signs outside Buck’s Recreation in the city of Galena, Kansas, 1988 | Richard Jordan/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Cars on the Route is all decked out for ‘Cars’ now

As Google Arts and Culture pointed out, the station is outfitted to appeal to fans of Cars and even has a tow truck that looks just like Mater in the film, along with other cars like Sheriff, windshield eyes and all. 

The site, Inside The Magic, documented this gas station in May and gave a better view of how the town is so similar to Radiator Springs. The firetruck on display is made to look like Red, and they even gained real-life replicas of Mater and Lightning McQueen

But of course, Route 66 was the original inspiration for ‘Cars’

Of course, Galena isn’t the only small town along Route 66 that gives off Radiator Springs vibes. As the creators pointed out to the Los Angeles Times in 2013, many towns and businesses were all the original inspiration for the film

Green pickup truck on Main Street, Seligman on historic Route 66, Arizona.
Green pickup truck on Main Street, Seligman on historic Route 66, Arizona | Joe Sohm/Visions of America/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

“We went through towns just like Radiator Springs,” storyteller Michael Wallis said. “I took them out on the road and exposed them to the places they never would have found and people they never would have met.”

Cars does a great job of filling audiences with a nostalgic, cozy feeling. And that’s all thanks to the real-life old Americana vibe Route 66 still holds today.