Is Radiator Springs a Real Place?

Radiator Springs. Who can forget that memorable first glimpse of the sleepy little town as Lightning McQueen hurtled in and tore up the main road? Throughout the first Cars movie, we learn much more about Radiator Springs and how the town’s cars work so hard to keep it going and restore it to its former glory. But with so much detail in and around the town, we can be forgiven for asking: Does Radiator Springs really exist?

The town featured in the popular Pixar movie, Cars, and the sequels, Radiator Springs, is not a real town but an amalgamation of towns along Route 66 in the United States. Pixar staff drew inspiration from towns along Route 66, from Chicago to Los Angeles, to create Radiator Springs for the movies.

The fictional town of Radiator Springs was not always quiet. In its heyday, it was a bustling stop for travelers using Route 66. Like the towns along the actual Route 66, the fictional one in Cars suffered when the I-40 (Interstate 40) was built. While Radiator Springs may be not-quite-real, it represents many places along Route 66. Let’s see what real places and people make up the fantastic Pixar animated town that we know and love.

Where Did Inspiration for Radiator Springs Come From?

Radiator Springs was dreamed up by no fewer than fifteen Pixar artists. They traveled Route 66 before work began on the movie and teamed up with Michael Wallis, a historian and the voice of the Carburetor County Sheriff. The team spent hours chatting with locals along Route 66, also known as the “Mother Road,” and they gained a deep understanding and respect for the people of the towns along the route.

On their journey, the team was inspired by the people and the natural and man-made landmarks along the way. We are sure their minds raced, and the ideas for the movie took shape. There are so many moments and places in and around Radiator Springs taken from real venues and towns. We have selected five of our favorites to share with you, and we think your mind might be blown and your heart warmed as much as ours were!

1. The Radiator Cap Mountain Overlooking Radiator Springs

Outside of the town, there is a mountain that overlooks Radiator Springs. It is shaped like a radiator cap and has the letters “RS” painted at the foot. This mountain was most definitely inspired by Tucumcari Mountain. While not quite a radiator cap, the shape is quite similar, and local high-school students paint the town’s initials at the foot of the mountain each year.

2. The Casa Della Tires Shop

The Casa Della Tires shop is owned by best friends Guido and Luigi. They moved to Radiator Springs in 1948 and loved it so much they decided to stay. While the obvious inspiration for their leaning tower of tires is the Leaning Tower of Pisa in Italy, there could be another inspiration.  

A lesser-known leaning tower along the Mother Road is a leaning water tower. It is near Groom, Texas, and may just have added fuel to the inspiration fire for the Pixar staff as they worked on their ideas.

3. The Cozy Cone Motel

The Cozy Cone Motel at Disney’s California Adventure.

The Cozy Cone Motel, owned and run by Sally, is a beautiful car-style representation of the Wigwam Motels in San Bernardino, CA and Holbrook, AZ. The Wigwam Motel boasts several tepee-shaped rooms that look a lot like traffic cones with a bit of imagination. The name of Sally’s Cozy Cone Motel might just have been partially inspired by the Cozy Dog Drive-In, also along Route 66, in Springfield.

4. Ramones Body Art Shop

If you have seen the U-Drop Inn in Shamrock, Texas, you will know that Ramones Body Art Shop looks astonishingly similar to it. The U-Drop Inn is a gasoline station and restaurant complex in real life. In the movie, the entire building, from the entrance to the tower, and the color of the bricks, looks just like it. We can’t think of a more stunningly perfect place than this art deco beauty for Ramone to work his magic.

5. Just Out of Town

Three memorable scenes occur just out of town. As Lightning McQueen remembers Sally, these are worth mentioning since they are similar to real locations along the Mother Road and close to Radiator Springs.

  • Sally and Lightning McQueen’s romantic drive in the country. When the two go for a romantic drive, their route is beautiful and forest-lined. The road looks so much like the roads in the Kaibab National Forest in Arizona that it is difficult to believe that any other location was the inspiration for the scene.
  • Lightning McQueen imagines Sally driving on a bridge. Lightning McQueen remembers Sally on a bridge. The bridge in the movie looks like several from real locations along Route 66. A few to note are the bridge over Diablo Canyon (now closed), Arizona, the Colorado Street Bridge in California, and the Cyrus Avery Route 66 Memorial Bridge in Tulsa.
  • Lightning McQueen drives near a waterfall. Lightning McQueen and Sally drive over a bridge beside a waterfall along their romantic drive. The inspiration for this may be Havasu Falls which is not along Route 66 but is near the Grand Canyon and is often visited by travelers visiting sites along Route 66. 

As we metaphorically travel the route with the creators, we can’t help but be in awe of the spirit of the venues and towns and their residents that helped inspire the films. The creators gave a nod of thanks to all they met along Route 66 in the credits, and we respect the dedication shown by those who keep their towns and businesses going.

Where is Radiator Springs on the Map?

A map of the Radiator Springs area.

In the movie, Radiator Springs is situated in Arizona. It is 87 miles from the border of California and 43 miles from Utah. In the film, we are treated to a view of where the town is on a map, and it shows that it is close to where the actual town of Peach Springs is, on Arizona State Route 66.

Since the town did not exist before the movies were created, a group of Pixar staff set off on an epic trip along Route 66 to gather information and inspiration for the town and characters. They traveled 1200 miles through five states of the United States. They met countless people, historians, and exciting characters that would later make their way into the films.

The highway that Mack and Lightning McQueen are driving on early in the first film when McQueen accidentally rolls out of the back of the truck is Interstate 40. This is an actual highway stretching across eight states from California to North Carolina. In the movie, Mack and Lightning McQueen begin their journey on Interstate 40 from Nashville, Tennessee, and are headed west.  

As Sally explains in the movie, Interstate 40 is responsible for the decline of Radiator Springs. It allows motorists to trim their journey by ten minutes to altogether bypass the town.


Radiator Springs may not be real, but we are pretty sure it exists. Sure, it isn’t in one location. Still, the town comprises hundreds of people, all their history and stories, their hopes and dreams, and the locations and landmarks that make us love the town in the movie. Across eight states, through many towns, Radiator Springs can be found as you travel along Route 66, the Mother Road.

What is the best way to see Radiator Springs? Travel the Road and see which landmarks, shops, and people remind you the most of the Radiator Springs of the movies.

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