Mouse Ears, Birthday Cheers and Cavaliers

Photo Credit: The Walt Disney Company

Walt Disney World resort turned 15 years old on October 1, 1986. The Orlando theme park celebrated the occasion with new parades, birthday-themed decorations throughout the park, free cruise ticket giveaways, a strange Michael Jackson 3-D dance film directed by Francis Ford Coppola, as well as new logos for their employee uniforms and name tags. That's quite the birthday party for the big Mouse! Another way the park celebrated its quinceaƱera was with daily giveaways of Chevy Cavaliers. That's right, the popular Chevrolet compact car built in Lordstown, Ohio was a freebie for one lucky park visitor each day between 1986 and 1987.

The 1986 Chevy Cavalier RS Station Wagon would have been a great car to haul the (small) family to Orlando so they could visit Mickey & Minnie. 

Many winners would rather have had a trunk full of gold coins from Scrooge McDuck's vault, but a free set of wheels wasn't too shabby! At the time, the Chevrolet Cavalier was only 4 years old, and just clinched the #2 best-selling US car title the year before. A replacement for the aging RWD Chevy Vega / Monza H-body cars, the FWD J-body Cavaliers featured a fuel-injected 2.0 liter 4 cylinder engine and an optional 3 speed TH125C automatic that claimed 29 mpg on the highway. A thrifty choice for the family of the 80's, Chevy's import fighter dotted the landscape even more thanks to advertising blitz in 1984 and 1985, and the good  press continued thanks to Disney's cake-and-ice cream partnership.  

Cavaliers mentioned in an a Lakeland Ledger article, October 19, 1986

Several newspapers and TV stations promoted the car giveaways in '86 and '87 such as the Lakeland (FL) Ledger. Some highlighted the individuals who took their shiny GM prizes home with them, such as the Daniel Dundon family from Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

The Dundon's parade ride in a Cavalier RS Convertible as mentioned in The Gettysburg Times, July 1, 1987.

As mentioned in The Gettysburg Times, free Cavaliers were just one way that Walt Disney World used Chevrolet's J-body cars. They also put their RS convertible models to work hauling people around for their daily Magic Kingdom parades. A trio of red, white and blue ASC-converted cars slowly toured Main Street with Disney characters, entertainers, and prize winners sitting on top of the parade boot and helped to make family vacations special. Besides matching the hues of the "15 Year" Disney celebration logo, the patriotic cars were called into service for the Disney Spirit of America parades that began in 1987. 

Here's a few of the Cavaliers and 80's hairstyles that enjoyed a ride in them that year, courtesy of Larry Schnieder.

Photo Credit: Larry Schnieder / YouTube

Photo Credit: Larry Schnieder / YouTube

Photo Credit: Larry Schnieder / YouTube

The Magic Kingdom didn't skimp on the confetti and Cavaliers during their year-long birthday bash, instead they shared the love and gave Epcot a few prizes to giveaway. Epcot celebrated the 15 year Walt Disney World birthday bash in 1986-87 since it made good business sense and it was right next door to the Magic Kingdom. Plus, who doesn't like a good block party?
A 1986 Chevy Cavalier CS Sedan is displayed outside of Epcot Center. Photo Credit:
The Disney Cavalier giveaways continued throughout the park's year-long 15th birthday party. Winners could later choose a Chevrolet S-10 compact pickup over the smaller sedans, but most of the time, the J-body won the popularity contest until October 1, 1987. That's when the candles on the cake were blown out, and the free Cavalier contests were halted. The red, white, and blue Cavalier convertibles were still used in parades and as promotional displays that year. Epcot rotated newer GM models in the World of Motion annually and time marched on. Walt Disney World featured Cavaliers from time to time in later years as they were the perfect parade car to wheel the likes of Crystal Gayle or Robert Goulet around during their visits to the Sunshine State.

Oddly enough, Epcot Center and the Chevy Cavalier celebrated the same birth year of 1982, and that year General Motors, (along with Exxon, AT&T, Kodak and others), sponsored Epcot rides that featured their products and how they evolved to improve our modern quality of life. GM did this through their attraction called World of Motion.

World of Motion, as it appeared in Epcot Center from 1982-1996       Photo Credit:

The World of Motion ride took patrons through the history of the American automobile beginning with the horseless carriage and ending with a scaled-down new auto show with GM cars & trucks that visitors could see and touch. New GM cars and trucks that included the very Chevrolet Cavalier that park visitors could win  just by passing through the turnstile.

As a young kid, my Grandfather worked at Walt Disney World. Grandma & Grandpa lived just north of Orlando, and getting free access to the park was a huge plus. Other kids would've rather spent time with the family in the Magic Kingdom, waving at Mickey or Donald and riding the giant teacups. Mom, Dad, Kyle, Gordon, Grandpa, Grandma and I all did our fair share of that.

Time and time again, it was Epcot's World of Motion that we kept going back to. It was my favorite ride, mostly because it featured CARS. (I was a little obsessed with them even back then.) At the end of the ride, my brothers and I would get to sit and play around in an actual car. While visiting Walt Disney World and Epcot in the summer of 1987, Kyle and I saw the birthday parades and sang the birthday songs. We also bugged my Grandparents to take us to World of Motion, and the car we chose to play around with that time was a 1987 Chevrolet Cavalier RS convertible finished in Bright Blue Metallic. 

The author and his brother Kyle enjoying a virtual test drive of a Cavalier at Epcot, August, 1987

The internet is a wonderful tool, and one that brings us closer together as a society in ways that we often never fully realize. While doing research for this post, I came across a family photo album from old Disney vacations in the 1980's and 90's. While thumbing through the Epcot pictures, I noticed a nearly identical photo from the World of Motion, with the exact same 1987 Cavalier RS Convertible and a boy named Shaun Jensen that would have been roughly the same age as me. Talk about the power of shared experience.

Shaun Jensen, Cavalier test driver.      Photo Credit:

Here it is almost 30 years later and a shared Disney Cavalier experience pops up with a few Google keywords! Occasions like this prove the world isn't as big as we once thought. Nobody in our family won a car that summer, and even if we did we likely couldn't have kept it since family members worked for Disney. There's laws against that sort of thing.

That's almost it for the Disney Cavalier story, except there's another strange chapter. Even though we didn't win one, the Scott family didn't come up empty-handed. Nearly 6 months after our visit to the Magic Kingdom and our first glimpse of Cavalier convertibles, one followed us home in Februrary of 1988. It was a 1986 Cavalier RS convertible finished in Bright Blue Metallic, the same color scheme as the one my brother Kyle and I played with at Epcot's World of Motion the summer before.

The author's parents 1986 Chevrolet Cavalier RS convertible, purchased in 1988. It remains in the family today, along with a second 1985 Type 10 convertible.

I know its a strange ending to a tale that started off in the land of Tinkerbell and giant blue castles. It just goes to show you that dreams can come true, even if your dream is for a fuel-efficient compact Chevrolet with a convertible top.



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