Vintage Toys: Pedal Cars
A thing of beauty is a joy forever— John Keats
When I was very young, I fancied owning a pedal car. That dream is only a distant memory from a dusty folder at the back of my mental filing cabinet. But I recall thinking about it and concluding that my parents would never buy me one. A pedal car was too big and important an object, and I was probably too tall for one anyway. Even back then, I had an instinctive insight into just how far my parents indulgence would stretch, so I never asked for one. Perhaps that early unfulfilled longing has inspired my attraction to toylike cars (like the blue convertible Mini-cooper, black Citroen Pluriel and the red and white Fiat 500 I covet and the fat fendered pseudo-retro third hand PT Cruiser I ended up with).
Mini automobiles have been around almost as long as the real thing. When the Model T was introduced, pedal car versions were brought out almost immediately and they featured a steel body molded to look like the real thing, and a wood chassis and wheels with rubber tires.
For the first few decades of their manufacture, pedal cars were, unsurprisingly, quite expensive. Only the affluent could afford them, and although they had proven to be very popular, particularly during the 20s and 30s, production slowed significantly in the 1940s as a result of the need to redirect metal toward the war effort. In fact, from 1943 to 1945 there were no pedal cars made at all.
The cars resurfaced again in the 1950s and 60s and the booming economy meant they could now be found in major department stores and large toy shops. With wider sales came more elaborate features, and many of the chain-driven pedal cars from this era had workable parts such as lights and wipers, white-wall tyres, custom paint jobs, hood ornaments, movable windshields, and fancy chrome detailing. They were flash little numbers that were still fairly pricey but not unattainable.
The British Junior Forty (J40), brought out by the Austin Motor Company in the 1950s, featured pressed steel fabrication, a dummy engine beneath the bonnet, electric lighting and horn, realistic dashboard details, pneumatic tyres, an opening boot, and chrome-plated brightwork. Nice.
In America there was the Kidillac, a neato mini version of the Cadillac, as well as mini Chevys, Thunderbirds, Corvettes, and more. In Australia Cyclops Toys also manufactured pedal car versions of American cars.
Where to Find Quality Old Pedal Cars
In the 1970s, quality took a dip and the vast majority of cars were made from plastic rather than metal. Not surprisingly, the plastic version failed to conjure the same authentic feel. The little cars no longer resembled real ones, so they faded from view for a while.
In recent years, companies have emerged offering terrific quality cars that make an old pedal car fan salivate all over again...if you can afford it. Stevenson Brothers, who also make rocking horses, produce period pedal cars to die for, with leather seats and detailed dashboards. Their range includes Bentleighs, Rolls Royces, and Alpha Romeos (and the prices are commensurate). The vintage Rolls Royce Silver Shadow costs more than a real car!
Pedal Car Planet
Pedal Car Planet has a snazzy range of not too expensive vintage reproduction cars and other nostalgia-inducing wheel based vintage toy object, including some lovely styles from the 50's, such as the little aqua number shown top right.
Another absorbing place to shop for pedal cars is Speedway Motors. They sell both cars and parts (for those interested in doing the restoration themselves).
Buying in the Vintage Pedal Car Market
Needless to say, I'm not the only pedal car fan on the planet, and early models are very collectable. According to an article I read by a collector, in the the market has been very "up and down" over the last fifteen years.
Which Cars Should Collectors Look For?
The larger, pre-war pedal cars are, apparently, the most collectable, and some of these can fetch up to $15,000 at auction. Next in line are cars from the 1950s. Anything made after the 1960s is not particularly desirable as a collectable. Collectors and enthusiasts believe the 'realism' went out of the cars at that time (originally they were realistic copies of their parents cars, and they eventually became mere plastic shells).
Mechanical Pedal Cars vs. Electric Models
Kids today, of course, can buy electric motorized versions but there's something about the mechanical simplicity of a pedal car that appeals. Besides, the pedals are better for developing motor skills and for exercise.