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History in Motion Part II: How the Original TEST TRACK Changed Epcot Forever

A New Future

Epcot’s first certifiable thrill ride was a hit. For better or worse, the “runaway” success of Test Track signaled the beginning of the end for Epcot’s opening day philosophy. The park, it was now clear, was bound by neither nostalgia nor the future. Test Track successfully blended into the park’s industrious roots while proving that this new version of the park could support thrill rides.

Image: Disney

And so, the dominoes fell. World of Motion’s 1996 closing kicked off an aggressive new philosophy. Just two years later, another Lost Legend: Journey into Imagination, became one of Disney’s most embarrassing rides ever. A neighboring Lost Legend: Horizons became the nauseating (and frankly, brainless) Mission: SPACE in 2003; The Land became home to an East Coast cousin to another Lost Legend: Soarin’ in 2005. There was no stopping it. Test Track had spurred Disney to develop a complete, floor-to-ceiling redesign of Epcot that we chronicled in its own in-depth Possibilityland: Epcot’s Project – Gemini feature. Long story short, Epcot was destined to leave its storied roots behind to become Disney World’s park of thrill rides masked as innovation.

Image: Disney

And we’re not necessarily saying that each of those changes was a bad thing! Remember that EPCOT Center’s 1982 opening had been marketed as the early arrival of the 21st century. But by the late 1990s, the actual 21st century was looming, and it looked nothing like the ‘80s-inspired architecture and “classic” dark rides Epcot was offering.

A change was needed, and Test Track fit the bill. It was a hit.

Which made it all the more unexpected when, thirteen years later, Disney announced that the ride would close forever on April 15, 2012.

Disney announced that a new version of the ride would debut in the fall. This 2012 redesign was staggering in its scope; so much so that we contest that it’s a replacement more than a reimagining, as the ride that came out the other side not only looks and feels different, but also has a different purpose. That’s why we bestow Test Track’s 1999 – 2012 form with venerated Lost Legend status, remembering it here as a landmark ride that is, for all intents and purposes, gone.

What took its place is arguably still one of Disney World’s greatest rides.

Test Track: Take 2

Image: Disney

The new Test Track that debuted in 2012 might not look very different from the outside. As before, every few seconds the high-pitched electric hum of a car approaches from the left, roaring – out of sight – around the banked track that encircles the pavilion. You might notice that the logo now reads Test Track Presented by Chevrolet, as GM has specifically selected its Chevrolet brand as the ambassador here. But otherwise, what could have changed?

Inside, everything has. You’re no longer in a warehouse. The “construction zone” motif is gone. There’s no indication whatsoever that you – or anything else here – will be a crash test dummy in an industrial safety test. Instead, you’re in a streamlined, sleek showroom where the newest of GM’s Chevrolet prototype vehicles are on display…

Image: Disney

The Chevrolet EN-V is a two-seat urban electric concept car developed jointly by GM and Segway. The Chevrolet Tru looks more like something out of our world, even if it’s sleek, slim, and glistening as it rotates in the glowing queue.

As you wait, you’ll pass dimensional screens showcasing new designs and pass a projection-mapped hybrid of the future, watching as it begins with simple lines before expanding into a three-dimensional design. All the while, Chevrolet’s design team discusses how they go about developing vehicle concepts to power the future.

Image: Disney

But here’s where the new Test Track really begins to shine: you’ll next enter into the Chevrolet Design Studio, a vibrant and otherworldly laboratory where you’ll be assigned an oversized touch screen Design Station.

“All designs begin with a line.” And with a swipe of your finger, you – yes, you! – will create the silhouette of a custom car. You can adjust and sculpt your car’s streamlined shape in any way you like, and then adjust the engine, tires, width, and length of your vehicle in a literally endless assortment of design options.


Image: Disney / General Motors

All the while, live readouts will tell you how your design handles in four key areas that matter to Chevrolet and to consumers: Capability, Efficiency, Responsiveness, and Power. Balance your car, or not! The choice is yours. And with a tap of your MagicBand or RFID-enabled park ticket, your design is assigned to you to follow you onward.

Just as before, you’ll watch as the ride vehicles pull quickly into the loading dock and park for boarding, but something’s changed. First, you’ll tap your MagicBand again before entering, assigning your custom design to the vehicle in front of you. Second of all, the yellow-and-black warning stripes are no more. The car before you is wrapped in a glowing blue grid – an indication that more than just the queue has changed.

Capability, Efficiency, Responsiveness, and Power

Here’s the story: every square inch of Test Track has been entirely designed. The warehouse is gone. You’re no longer in an industrial proving ground. You’re not a crash test dummy. Now, you’re a designer. You’ve used science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics to construct a car worth testing, and the vehicle you’re sitting in – the SimCar – will stand in for your design on the digital SimTrack. Your custom concept will be put to the test in four test realms: Capability, Efficiency, Responsiveness, and Power.

Image: Disney

Leaving the station, you ascend into the glowing, pulsing, digital landscape of the SimTrack, clearly (and successfully) modeled after the world of TRON. A stylized world of laser grids, you’ll track your vehicle’s progress through the four tests and view your vehicle’s real-time results after each.

Image: Disney

At the top of the ride’s ascent, you’ll pass under a pulsing yellow digital arch – Capability – and explore your vehicle’s reactions to challenging weather and surface conditions as computer landscapes digitize to change your course, gridded sheets of rain fall, and two-dimensional programmed obstacles dot the landscape along the yellow neon road.

Having tested your vehicle on this computerized terrain, a glowing screen ahead shows how your vehicle – the one you designed! – scored in Capability compared to the scores of other riders.

Image: Disney

Then, a green arch – Efficiency – takes you through three chambers that scan your vehicle and test its aerodynamic qualities (remember how you started with a line?) and engine efficiency. “Results displayed and verified” again!

A blue arch signals the start of a Responsiveness test. As before, your vehicle tackles the tight and increasingly quick switchbacks of a hillside, though now the trees are (remarkably) produced by blue lasers and the industrial road has become a glowing neon pathway. The close encounter with a semi-truck remains, too, but it’s now created from lasers as well.

Finally, the three emblems for Capability, Efficiency, and Responsiveness ping to life, lighting up to show their completion. That leaves only one more: Power. The blue roads give way to purple arches that signal the test’s start. As lights pulse and energize, the vehicle revs and races straight toward a “TT” logo, which pulls apart at the last second, leading to the same high-speed outdoor course before seeing your vehicle’s Power test results before your eyes.

Next…

Image: Disney

And now more than ever, you may wish to spend some time in the Test Track post-show presented by Chevrolet. Sure, you’ll see more of GM’s custom cars of the future. But this experience also lets you put your custom concept car to additional tests and trace its path through the ride one test at a time.

As an added bonus today, we'll include a must-see point-of-view of the new Test Track. We'd ask you to spot the differences, but it'd probably be easier to see if there's anything that remained the same between versions... Check it out here:

So really, just one question remains: which version of Test Track is better? Well… Read on to hear our thoughts.

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There are 3 comments.

That was an excellent article - my compliments! I only have the faintest memories of the original World of Motion, but that article dredged back memories I had long forgotten. I love reading about the history and background of these rides - EPCOT especially!
I think both versions of TT were/are pretty great. When you're discussing current/future technology, an occasional rehabilitation and update will be necessary (you can't talk about the future using a 20-year old history textbook, after all!) I think the current update is pretty secure, as they brought the ride towards a more "sci-fi" setting which ages much better. I hope they'll leave TRON out of Future World entirely, unless they can find some way to blend the fiction with a little bit of education (a la Nemo and Living Seas). TRON may be a good replacement for an Innovations wing, perhaps?

Candidly, I am shocked that anybody would find the new test track to be anywhere nearly as good as the original - let alone better
The new one is commercial and boring; the old one actually showed you more about the insides of an automaker and the track was, in my opinion 10 times better.

Have to agree. Last time I went to Disney (2014) I was baffled when I rode the test track. I felt like the old one was way more action-packed! The photos right as the acceleration hit were process.

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