Concept art of the Road Trip USA ride envisioned for Carland at Disney California Adventure.

Concept art of the Road Trip USA ride envisioned for Carland at Disney California Adventure. (Disney)

The idea for a themed land at Disney California Adventure celebrating California's car culture had been kicking around at Walt Disney Imagineering for years.

The working premise focused on the classic cars, tourist attractions, auto-centric restaurants, roadside architecture and cross-country road trips popular during the 1950s and '60s when vehicles became less about transportation and more about personal expression.

> Photos: The evolution of Cars Land at Disney California Adventure

The Carland concept, like many other lands and attractions at Disney California Adventure, lacked one key ingredient: Disney characters.

Then in the summer of 2006, "Cars" became a big box office hit for Pixar and the light bulb went off: Why not turn Carland into Cars Land?

"Let's build Radiator Springs," said John Lasseter, Pixar chief and Imagineering advisor.

A year later, Cars Land was unveiled as part of a $1 billion expansion of Disney California Adventure.

> Related: Downtown Radiator Springs | Luigi's Flying Tires | Mater's Junkyard Jamboree | Radiator Springs Racers

Set to debut in summer 2012, the 12-acre Cars Land under construction at DCA will feature three new rides set amid a faithful re-creation of the isolated red rock desert town populated by Lightning McQueen and other animated vehicles in the "Cars" film franchise.

Let's take a closer look at the evolution of Carland into Cars Land, which offers a window into Imagineering's Blue Sky creative process.

Cruise Street

The origin of Carland began with Cruise Street, a neon-lit streetscape set between 1955 to 1965, when American popular culture was dominated by rock 'n' roll, car hops and hot rods.

Concept art of Cruise Street shows a number of vintage vehicles from the period set up in a car show-like atmosphere. Key elements of what would become Cars Land could already be seen in the drawing, particularly the butte that recalls the grill, headlights and hood ornament of an iconic 1950s Chevy.

Over time, the main drag of Carland would eventually evolve into downtown Radiator Springs, the centerpiece of Cars Land.

Marty's Drive-In

Down at the end of Cruise Street, Marty's Drive-In typified the Googie architectural style popular with coffee shops and car hops of the era. Marty's featured a space age design with a diagonal zigzag roofline, cantilevered supports and a futuristic neon sign with an atomic burst.

Eventually, Marty's Drive-In was repurposed in Cars Land as Flo's V8 Café, which featured a similar design aesthetic.

Road Trip USA

Combining an Autopia-style attraction with dark ride elements, Road Trip USA probably went through the most iterations during the evolution from Carland to Cars Land.