Sep 1

Six Flags Autoworld

Posted by Matty

Here’s an entry about a topic near to my heart — Autoworld, a Six Flags amusement park based on America’s love affair with the automobile. Suprisingly, it was not a success.


Memories of Autoworld…

Before I can begin to describe Autoworld to you, you need to know a little bit about me. I spent the first 20 years of my life in Flint, Michigan. Flint is a weird place. It has historical significance for being the birthplace of Buick and General Motors. Not coincidentally, the UAW (United Auto Workers) was also formed in Flint.

Of course, that’s all in the past. Flint hasn’t been known for too much in the past thirty years or so. Well, unless you count stuff like high crime rates and high unemployment rates. Flint is a dying city.

The thing that I will always remember about Flint (besides the best coney dogs you’ll ever eat) is Autoworld. Six Flags Autoworld opened in July of 1984 and was marketed as an amusement park. This was the big plan to bring back the economy of Flint. “C’mon Mabel, get the kids in the car, we’re going to Flint to see the car amusement park!” As an amusement park, Autoworld flopped. But it was pretty cool as a museum. Doomed before the doors opened, Autoworld died a painful death.

My first memories of Autoworld were trying to go as often as I could. My dad worked for Buick, and I remember going to an employee-family-only day before the park actually opened. At the time I thought that this was a huge perk. (Now I’m sure that this was just a way to test the rides to make sure that they didn’t kill anyone.)

Between conning my dad into taking me and field trips, I probably went to Autoworld around eight or nine times.

Inside Autoworld

Enough talk, you say, what was it like? First off, Autoworld tried for curbside appeal and wonderment with a big, geodesic dome. Imagine if EPCOT was almost completely buried in the ground and you’ll have a pretty good idea of what it looked like.

The interior of the dome was all built up to look like Flint (“Vehicle City”). But homeless people, abandoned buildings and cars on blocks were nowhere to be found. You see, inside the dome was a Disney-fication of Flint from the early 1900’s complete with the (highly filtered) Flint River running through the dome.

The first display that you came to was a small cabin. Inside, was a mannequin. When you pressed a red button on the outside of the cabin it kicked on a film that projected onto the mannequin’s face. I cannot begin to tell you how freaky this is. I still have sweaty nightmares about this technology. At any rate, turns out the fellow with the celluloid face is none other than Jacob Smith, founder of Flint! He welcomes you to Autoworld and talks a little about the origins of Flint.

Moving on, you walk through the cobblestone streets of Flint. Everywhere there are little shops full of tchotchkes emblazoned with the Autoworld logo. In the center of the dome is a Ferris wheel (the largest indoor Ferris wheel at the time). I also remember that there was a carousel that had been beautifully restored.

Once you left the dome area, you were in an interactive museum. Here are some of the items that I remember:

An arcade. All the videogames were free, but they were provided by D.A.R.E. The games were all about dying. For instance, there was a drunk-driving simulator. There was no way to win this game. It was all a matter of time, and how many innocent bystanders you were going to take out with you.

A really big frickin’ car engine. It was supposedly three-stories tall, but it was on a giant pedestal, so you didn’t really grasp the size of it.

Animatronics. There were rides that you could take through little corridors full of robotic puppets. One of them was about the history of the automobile. There was another that had a factory worker singing a song to a robot welder.

An IMAX Theater. Autoworld introduced me to the IMAX experience. Back then, the IMAX movies were only about 20 minutes long, but they had an impact on me. One I remember was called “Speed” and it showed how the perception of speed has changed in the past 100 years. There was another film shown later about some sort of robotic pterydactyl/glider and the flights that it made.

Cars and exhibits about cars. The rest of the park was disguised as a car museum. There were a lot of cars there. There were old cars, new cars, test cars, and even the car from Magnum P.I.!

Autoworld gets down-sized

Autoworld only stayed open for less than two years. After the first year, Six Flags pulled their name off of all of the signage and souvenirs.

Once Autoworld was closed, she wasn’t allowed to go gracefully into the night. At first, there were seasonal openings. I remember that Autoworld was open between Thanksgiving and Christmas one year. The big addition for this was a — robotic singing Christmas tree. (woo!)

From then on it was closed and Autoworld visits became impossible. It was occasionally rented out to local schools for proms and things like that.

In 1994, I got my chance to say goodbye. Channel 66, the local Fox affiliate was hosting a “kid’s club party” at Autoworld. My best friend, Suzy Spellicy and I snuck in. It was pretty sad, many of the rides had been removed, or were non-functional and most of the display exhibits were gone. But, Jacob Smith was still there in his freaky projected-face way!

In 1997 Autoworld was gutted, then imploded to make room for a parking lot and library for the University of Michigan-Flint. Autoworld cost around 80 million dollars to build, and never saw a profit.

Autoworld was a stupida. It wasn’t just about Flint. If Autoworld had been built anywhere else, it would’ve failed there, too. It was an abysmally bad idea that people got behind and championed. Thank God that there are people in this world who couldn’t see a white elephant if it sat on them. Otherwise, there might never have been an Autoworld.

I’ll miss yah, Autoworld.

Note: There is very little written about Autoworld on the ‘net. These are all personal memories, and could be figments of my imagination. I have included all of the pictures that I have been able to find. If you would like to learn more about Flint, and see a little bit of Autoworld, rent Roger & Me (a comedy/mockumentary about Flint by Michael Moore) sometime.

— Later — So tell me, do you remember Autoworld? I noticed that this page is getting some traffic, so feel free to add your piece of the story. Thanks, Matt

Update: 4/4/06 – With the recent redesign of the site, I have also revisited this page, and have added some additional photos that have been lurking on my desktop.

Some additional housekeeping items – I wrote a bit on AW for a new website called flinthistory. Check them out, or read my article here. Also, I am working on a larger project related to Autoworld. If you have your own memories of AutoWorld that you’d like to share, I’d love to listen. Please contact me.

232 Responses to “Six Flags Autoworld”

  1. Nikki Says:

    I grew up in Grand Blanc, and I remember going to Autoworld with the GB Middle School choir several times during holiday seasons to sing in the room with the giant motor. As it turned around and around, there was a super shiny bit that always caught the light in a brilliant, mesmerizing flash.

    Except for SPEED! in the IMAX, I’m afraid it was all horribly boring to a “tweenage” girl. But thank you very much for having this information out on the web!

  2. Steve L Says:

    I worked at AutoWorld from 1984 to 1990. I started out in food service at the Paris Ice Cream shop making the waffle cones in 84. We had a good group of folks and had a lot of fun there. Man, was it a hot job though, for an Ice Cream shop, the air conditioning was virtually non-existent. On our breaks, we would go sit in the walk in cooler next door at the Riverside Cafe. After that first summer, I moved down to the Saw Mill and made funnel cakes that first Christmas.
    During the 85 season, I worked as a cashier and then as an assistant lead (manager). When the park closed, I was able to come back the summer of 86 and spent the summer cleaning things up, it took us a couple of weeks to clean the carpet in the Rotunda (where the big engine was)… I was fortunate to get involved wtih the IMAX theater run and ended up working into a Security position after that until I left in 1990 for Grand Rapids and a full time (real, make a living) job. I grew up in a suburb west of Flint. This job afforded me the opportunity to interact with people from all different walks of life and backgrounds. It was a great learning experience that set a foundation for me. While looking at the previous posts, I recognize some of the former employees like Becky, Jeff, Tim, and Steve.
    I have many fond memories from my time there. While I was working the Security job, since there were no activites and a new buyer was being sought, we worked alone. We basically were there to turn on the heat in the winter and monitor the building alarms and such. While the park was not huge by most standards, 300,000 square feet, at night, except for very few lights, it was DARK. With any building, there are creaks and groans as it heats up, cools off, etc and making rounds at night could be a bit creepy. Rounds included all areas; dome, basement, behind the scenes of the rides, etc. I did enjoy the winter nights when the city was quiet and the snow would fall, just a great time to sit and think about things.
    I was fortunate to meet some great people, unfortunatley, except for a few, I have lost contact with most. I wonder from time to time whatever happened to those that I worked with. Recently, I was going through some boxes and found some of my AutoWorld stuff like name tags, a “care card”, some key chains, and such.
    The concept and timing just wasn’t right, still it was bittersweet the day of implosion. I made it back to town to see it, spent time remembering the good times and glad to see that something useful (new building for U-M) was going to happen on the site. I would not have traded my AutoWorld experiences for anything.

  3. me Says:

    I remember riding the ferris wheel with my brothers. There was a fight with some other boys on the car in back of us. Then when we got off the ferris wheel one of them punched my brother in the eye and ran off. I remember that creepy ride upstairs, it was like one of those carnival rides that goes through a tunnel and it didn’t work very well, the car got stuck halfway through. I remember when it closed then opened again. I also remember later when it was some offices in there in the early 90s. I was working as a courier and made some deliveries there and remember that indoor stream was still there. I also remember all the exhibits and the IMAX theatre was really cool. Flint really is an interesting place in its own way, but I’m glad I don’t live there anymore.

  4. Amy Says:

    I grew up in Grand Rapids and I remember visiting AutoWorld back in 1984. My memories are a little fuzzy as I was around 10 at the time, but I remember the dark ride with the animatronic horse and another dark ride that was about race cars or something. I remember the bigh hinkin’ engine and I think I have a photo of me on the carousel somewhere. I also remember the animatronic band that was in one area. One of the characters would actually talk to various guests. I remember getting to talk to him and I think I have a picture of that animatronic as well.

    I thought AutoWorld was kind of neat in a kitschy way. Wish there was more information available online. I’ve mentioned the park to people over the years and they looked at me like I was crazy because they had never heard of it. Now I can at least prove I’m not crazy because it did exist.

  5. Aaron Says:

    Sadly, I was only 9 in 1984 and when my family went I was too young to really remember much of it these days. I never even would have remembered it if someone hadn’t mentioned it in a post I read recently on the forum I belong to. I know we had some old photos, but here in Midland, MI, we had a big flood in the 80’s and all our stuff was destroyed in a storage warehouse while we lived in Germany for a few years, so I have nothing to contribute 🙁

    I wish I could remember it though, the pictures didn’t help bring back any memories either, so I guess I must not have been too impressed by it :/

  6. Greg Says:

    What happened to Cynthia DesGrange? She was involved in saving this building and Students For A Better Community.

  7. Salvatore Says:

    Hey. Human beings, who are almost unique in having the ability to learn from the experience of others, are also remarkable for their apparent disinclination to do so.
    I am from Congo and too poorly know English, give true I wrote the following sentence: “In dirt cheap airline tickets to inquiries addressed portugal claim to.”

    8) Thanks in advance. Salvatore.

  8. perry Says:

    I thought AutoWorld was kind of neat in a kitschy way. Wish there was more information available online. I’ve mentioned the park to people over the years and they looked at me like I was crazy because they had never heard of it. Now I can at least prove I’m not crazy because it did exist.

  9. Niki Says:

    I think about AutoWorld every now and then and ask people if they remember it. I actually stated to think I dreamed it up. Then I realized that there would probably be some information on the great internet….and TADA!!!! I always tell people, it was about cars and there were anamatronics, and they don’t have a clue. Thank you for preserving this great memory. If Autoworld was open in 1984, then I was 7 years old!!!

  10. Po Says:

    This was a great post. My mom was the public relations officer for the mayor of Flint at the time Autoworld opened. I too was seven years old and I spent a lot of time in that building when it opened because of my mother’s position in the city government.
    I was thinking about AutoWorld and Water Street Pavillion and all of these failed projects of my childhood. They were such big deals back then. I think Roger and Me came out the same year AutoWorld opened. I remember going to a theater with my mom to watch it before it was released. I can laugh at it now, but I can remember my mom not being to happy about it.
    Anyhow, thanks for the memories Autoworld. Flint will never be the same.

  11. Ron Fonger Says:

    I am a reporter for The Flint Journal, working on a story about the 25th anniversary of AutoWorld. If you have memories of the park, please call me direct at (810) 766-6317. I may use your comments in a story and won’t keep you long.
    You can also e-mail me at


    I am proud to say I was smart enough never to visit Autoworld in that pathetic city of Flint, Michigan.

  13. Timothy Mc Says:

    I was born in Flint in 1984. Ive lived in various cities in the USA and Flint, MI is definetly not the worst or even close. I can remember going to Autoworld often as a kid. There were always special events there and my grandpa being a GM engineer for 40 years took us everytime the doors were open to that place. I remember the giant engine,ferris wheel (discovered my fear of heights on that ferris wheel), bumper cars, slot car racing, the carousel, Imax theatre, and the big room with the glass ramps. That room had all sorts interactive displays with robotic puppets and engines you could make move by turning a handle. But I can also remember some rides would be open then when we went back I\’d want to ride them again and they\’d be closed. Overall though I have fond memories of Autoworld and it makes me sad to think of how it\’s gone. It was definetly a big piece of my childhood.

  14. Linda Rexin (Carsten) Says:

    I worked at AutoWorld – good to see comments from former employees – I worked in the office with Becky – then moved down to purchasing. Like the rest of the ‘former employees’ I have nothing but fantastic memories of those years! Staying up 24 hours straight to get the park ready for the grand opening – so tired and punch – but so fun! I worked with Melanie and Lisa as they ‘managed’ the shops – I guess – I really can’t remember much about the actual work – I just remember making some GREAT friends and having a great time! It was sad to see it torn down. I still have my autoworld jacket hanging in my closest and have a lot of fun pictures and stuff. It was a great job – I even almost married one of the men from Magic Mountain that came to help with the grand opening!

  15. Dave Adams Says:

    In the 1980\’s I was an executive with the Boy Scouts of America. During the summer of the park\’s first year, I visited a friend from the Detroit BSA Council and he took me to the park. I remember vividly the large engine, the carousel, and the cabin inside the main entrance. I also remember being struck by how large the dome seemed from the outside. I really enjoyed my visit, but I remember thinking as I left, \

  16. John Rydholm Says:

    I grew up in Fenton (was born in \’80) and vividly remember Autoworld from its short life span…I miss it as well. 🙂 Nice blog entry!
    DeLorean owner
    now of Weston, MO

  17. Matt Hahnfeld Says:

    Thanks for the great website! I was only 7 when my family took me to visit Autoworld, but I remember “Speed” at the IMAX, the two-story ramp, the “drive your own” cars, the 80s-colored Autoworld logo pendants (?) they were selling at the gift shop, and my dad’s explanation of six flags’ ownership (strange what you remember, huh?). Being from Midland, I also remember the announcements for the final Fox 66 party there, and wondering how they could still be holding it at AutoWorld even though it had been closed for quite a while. Sadly, I didn’t go. After Autoworld’s closure, our family still went to the IMAX theatre on a regular basis until it also closed. Didn’t they keep the ramp open as kind of an entrance to the theatre?

  18. Ron M. Says:

    While picking through items at a garage sale recently, I came across an Autoworld souvenir that I bought for a quarter. It vividly reminded me of the time I took the family there on a hot summer day. Being a GM employee at the time, and knowing a bit of history of the birth of the UAW, I found the theme park to be mainly interesting and worthwhile to history buffs and autoworkers. Needless to say, Autoworld should never have been built to begin with. …..

  19. Dan E Says:

    Thanks for this great site. I used to look for any info about Auto World on the web a long time ago, but gave up when all I found was car dealerships.
    My dad took us to AW in what must have been one of the first weeks it was opened in the summer of 84′. He worked for Cadillac as a die-maker and loved anything about cars, he retired a year later and we moved to Vermont, and I never knew what happened to it, just that it was gone. I was 12 and remember the ‘carriageless” horse with the weird puppets and getting in an argument with one puppet about the Chicago Cubs vs. the Detroit Tigers because they had it rigged so they could talk back to people. It seems like the characters were similar in look to the puppets from the Detroit area T.V. show “Hot Fudge”.
    I remember liking the rides because I always love and still do love any kind of “dark” ride. However the general consensus among the adults on the ride back home was that the place was kind of cheesy and wouldn’t last. I was a kid though and thought it was great. Cubs vs. Tigers? I guess it was along time ago. Thanks again for the site.

  20. Jason Ramsey Says:

    Thanks for posting this. I remember going when I was eight or nine, driving up from Dearborn with my grandparents. I remember being really concerned that Flint was going to make my beloved Greenfield Village obsolete. I guess I didn’t have to worry. But, I still thought the dome was amazing and the inside was just beautiful. I should have to see if I still have some family photos of our trip!

    Years later, I found I still had a program stashed away in some childhood memorabilia, and gave it to my professor of Communication Arts who introduced me to Michael Moore’s movies. He was so amazed that I had actually been to Autoworld! (I did not go to college in Michigan…)

  21. Ryan Says:

    Thanks for the memories! I found the IMAX movie Speed on Netflix and felt a little sentimental. I lived in Flint until I was 25 and love Autoworld as a kid.

  22. Don Says:

    I remember Autoworld opening and couldn’t wait to visit. Well like many of us that day never came.
    I came across a flag like the one you have pictured here. Was there many of these flags at Autoworld? And what or how were they used or displayed? Any info would be appreciated.
    thank you.

  23. Todd Says:

    I was talking with my father the other day about what ever happened to Autoworld. My father was a pastor in Flint in the 80’s so as a junior in high school, when it was built in 1984, our youth group would go there for good clean fun. I remember the grand opening and how cool it was for about a month. It was one of those things that looked great on paper, but not really thought out. If anything, it made some grest teenage memories for me and my church youth group.

  24. Jeff Says:

    I was born in Detroit and lived in Livonia for the first 6 years of my life (1978-84). In the summer of 1984, not long before moving to Florida, we went to Autoworld on a weekend trip.

    I have some vague memories of it. I remember a couple rides which were pretty lame in retrospect. I also remember a play area near the cafe which had a ball pit. Being six at the time, the ball pit was my favorite part.

    Following day we set out for home. On the way back we stopped in Frankenmuth. That was more memorabl;e and is still around.

    When I saw Roger And Me and found out later (via independent research) how quickly Autoworld had bit the dust, I wasn’t surprised. It was too much of a museum for the theme park crowd and too much of a theme park for the museum crowd.

    As far as M Moore goes, I will say that I like his movies yet don’t consider them to be documentaries. They’re the cinematic equivalent of a newspaper editorial. If he would admit to this, maybe people would stop giving him as much hell as they do.

  25. Bret Says:

    I too remember Autoworld! I grew up in the Thumb area in the 1960s, and Flint to me– more than an hour’s drive to my west– was always a mystical metropolis hub of factories, businesses, the miracle of the Buick plant (that my class toured in 1972), and the Michigan School for the Deaf, where an older cousin attended school and my grandmother was a house mother. The city was already in decline by the time I graduated H.S. in 1979. I joined the USAF in 1981 and left the area. Coming back for a family visit in 1984, however, my relatives were excited about the prospects of Flint’s revival, with both Crossroads Village/Huckleberry R.R., and this new thing called Autoworld, which included some of the area of the old I.M.A., where I’d seen H.S. basketball tournaments played as a kid. I was literally blown-away by Autoworld– I must say– that so impressive a thing had been created from the ashes of the old Flint I knew. I was in my 20s at the time, and well jaded by other experiences, but Autoworld was a quaint throwback to fond childhood memories, with a bit of Walt Disney-styled animatronics thrown in for fun. I wish I could have stayed all day. I was most impressed with the theme of the automobile, that giant moving V-8 engine, and the IMAX theater that the evening we visited, showed one of the most impressive such films I’ve ever seen. It was simply called “SPEED”, and chronicled man’s quest to move faster from prehistoric times to the present. I was deeply saddened when I discovered few others seemed as enthralled about the place as I was. It is a sad commentary on much of middle-America these days. Have we all become so spoiled by the deceptive glitz and temporary glamour of Vegas, Orlando theme parks, Hollywood, or the New York City night life that we can’t appreciate a home-grown, slightly-slower-paced version of the same? Are we all so soft-headed that we’ve got to be ENTERTAINED (read ‘in sensory overload mode’ all the damn time now? No wonder nobody enjoys family or neighborhood picnics anymore. They’re all more interested with the latest Tweet and the next text-message coming in. (&^%#@!) Such attitudes, along with too many other societal changes, have destroyed every small town I’ve ever known, and threaten what’s left of the remaining cities I used to visit for both business and pleasure (Flint & Detroit being two of them). Ah for the fond memories contained here of a well-intended idea the general public was no longer intellectually astute enough to appreciate — even as few pictures as these were. I DO remember Autoworld, in a very POSITIVE way.

  26. Nanette Sanchez Says:

    Hi, I am hoping someone can elaborate more on the rides that were there. Was there a ride suspended from a tack above that went thru different sets. Cars that looked like a Magic Flying Carpet??? Thank yoou

  27. Jim Says:

    I worked at Autoworld, during the summer of…’85? I was one of the Animatronics team which ran the talking robots there. Automotive Wonders (the robot band — Bob (30-60-90-degree Triangular Rectangular Guitar,) Smitty (Stand-up Muffler Bass,) and Al (Computer Keyboards) — with the projection screens and the FANUC spot-welding robot (named, of course, “Spot,” — Yes, it’s the one in the Sloan Museum with the Autoworld sticker on it.) — the electric servos in the robots were always burning out, and they were frequently only semi-functional, but they were quite advanced for their time. One of us sat behind the mirror-wall to the upper Right of the stage with a rather Star-Wars looking audio/visual/robotic control panel, and talk through a headset microphone to interact with the patrons. The multimedia show was all run from laser disc, the old phonograph record sized ones. There were scripted jokes we were supposed to use, but we generally just talked — and occasionally snarked — at the patrons.) There were also two animatronic horses — Fred and Jed. Fred was the host of The Humorous History of Automobillity — the track ride on the top floor. Fred was generally broken, and eventually we just stopped trying to keep him going. Jed, Fred’s dumber brother, was located just outside the slidewalk assembly line kenetic wall. Jed was unique, in that the park allegedly had an argument with the robotic designer / contractor who built Fred and Jed, and cancelled his contract. They brought-in a replacement, who decided to use pneumatic servos, rather than electric. Hence, Jed popped and hissed all the time, and if the air compressor wasn’t running at full pressure that day, Jed lolled, thunked, and moved as if he was seriously drunk. There was also Bumper T. Fenderbender (“I’ll be your guide to the side, your host with the most. Your chariot of fire, until you retire!”) He was free-roving, always with a walker. Bumper was based upon an electric wheelchair platform, with the operator sitting cross-legged inside the body of the robot and peering out through the mirrored cutouts in his body. He was driven by an electric wheelchair joystick.

    I used to have a complete set of photos of everything in the anamatronics department, including Fan Room 4, where Bumper was stored between runs through the park. Sadly, those got lost in the divorce a few years back. But I do have good memories and a few stories. (Like about how Maintenance got tired trying to coordinate the pressure-pads and electric eye beams that would cause an emergency-stop of the set if anyone triggered them (Spot, the welding-robot could move VERY fast, and injure or kill anyone who got in its way) and so they (Maintenance) just disabled it all with a jumper wire across Spot’s control terminals. When Management found out (I was seen at park opening, one day, adjusting a video screen, well out of Spot’s range,) Maintenance denied doing so and insisted that it was our doing. This was a big issue, and could’ve gotten someone killed, after all. Eventually, Maintenance was forced to come and move set pieces around until the safety features worked properly. Given the number of kids we constantly had climbing onto the set, I’m surprised nobody was ever injured or killed. We kept a close hand to the red e-stop button in the control room.) It was a fun place to work. For a summer. Pity the place wasn’t better designed and implemented.

    Oh, and the big engine in the rotunda? Its original design meant it to be large enough for people to walk through and observe the internal workings of a (simulated) engine as they did.

  28. chris swinehart Says:

    dose anybody have photos and materials of bumper t fender bender and dr droid if yes can i provide my address

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