Pedal Cars and other Desirable Objects

A thing of beauty is a joy forever~ John Keats


When I was very young, I fancied owning a pedal car. Although it's now only a distant memory from a dusty folder at the back of my mental filing cabinet....I do recall thinking about it and concluding that my parents would never buy me one because it was too big and important an object and I was probably too tall for one anyway, so I never asked. Even back then, I had an instinctive insight into just how far my parents indulgence would stretch. Perhaps that early unfulfilled longing has something to do with my attraction to toy-like real cars, like the blue convertible Mini-cooper, black Citroen Pluriel and the red and white Fiat 500 I covet . Not to mention the fat fendered pseudo-retro third hand PT Cruiser I ended up with.


Mini-automobiles for children have been around almost as long as the real thing, ie; shortly after full-sized cars were modeled in the 1890's and were handcrafted from metal- steel and sometimes from wood. When the Model T was introduced, pedal car versions were brought out almost immediately and according to classicpedal cars.com, they featured "a steel body molded to look like the real thing, and a wood chassis and wheels with rubber tires"


Reproduction1955 classic pedal car. Image from PedalCarPlanet.com
Reproduction1955 classic pedal car. Image from PedalCarPlanet.com
Nice Wheels. Image from Retro Antiques
Nice Wheels. Image from Retro Antiques

Vroom...

However, for the first few decades of their manufacture, they were quite expensive, so only the affluent could afford them and although they had proven to be very popular, particularly during the 20's and 30's, production slowed significantly in the 1940s, due to the need to redirect metal toward the war effort. Between 1942 an 1946 there were no pedal cars made at all.


The cars resurfaced again in the 1950s and 60's and as there was more money to splash around during these decades, 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 workiable 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...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, opening boot and chrome-plated brightwork". Nice.


In America there was the Kidillac, a neato mini version of the Cadillac - as well as mini Chevy's, Thunderbirds, Corvettes and more. In Australia Cyclops Toys also manufactured pedal car versions of American cars .


Even Better wheels.
Even Better wheels.
Chrome Ferrari pedal car. Image from Retro Antiques.
Chrome Ferrari pedal car. Image from Retro Antiques.
Gendron Packard pedal car from the 1920s. Image from Antique Trader
Gendron Packard pedal car from the 1920s. Image from Antique Trader
Stevenson Bros, reproduction Rolls Royce Silver Shadow.
Stevenson Bros, reproduction Rolls Royce Silver Shadow.
Oh, I could eat this. Restored art deco pedal car
Oh, I could eat this. Restored art deco pedal car
No, not a pedal car..the Fiat 500. A desirable object.
No, not a pedal car..the Fiat 500. A desirable object.

The Return of Craftsmanship

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, thus they faded from view for a while.


As an object of desire, pedal cars have always had their enthusiasts and in recent years companies have emerged offering terrific quality, schmick cars that make an old pedal car fan salivate all over again...if you can afford it. Stevenson Bros who also make rocking horses, produce period pedal cars to die for, with leather seats and detailed dashboards. Their range includes Bentleigh's, Rolls Royces and Alpha Romeo's and the prices are commesurate. The vintage Rolls Royce Silver Shadow at right probably costs more than my real car. Well maybe.


PedalCarPlanet.com. 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 Retro Antiques, which is one of my favourite places to browse (though alas, not to buy) and offers a delectable selection of vintage reproduction pedal cars and planes, such as the funky little chrome Ferrari pictured above right.


Kids today of course can now get electric motorised 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.


Needless to say, I'm not the only pedal car fan on the planet and early models are very collectable, although according to one collector I read, in the last fifteen yesars the market has been "up and down". 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 1950's- anything past the 60's is not particularly desirable as a collectable..the reason being, the 'realism' went out of the cars. Whereas once they were realistic copies of their parents cars, at some point they became mere plastic shells.



Ford Roadster. Image from PedalCarPlanet.com
Ford Roadster. Image from PedalCarPlanet.com
Image from Austin Works.
Image from Austin Works.
Lordy. I might just sell my Grandmother for this one. Austin Junior Forty (J40) pedal car.
Lordy. I might just sell my Grandmother for this one. Austin Junior Forty (J40) pedal car.
A very early, original pedal car. Image by Dragi Markovic, from National Museum of Australia website
A very early, original pedal car. Image by Dragi Markovic, from National Museum of Australia website
Too cute. A pedal plane. Image from Retro Antiques
Too cute. A pedal plane. Image from Retro Antiques

Toy Koalas

I couldn't resist including all those pictures and had to restrain myself from putting in even more because I still think pedal cars are beautiful objects. However, when I was a little older...around eight, my materialistic desire was focused on a toy koala; a girl at school had one and I used to watch her comb its fur with a silent envy. I thought it was magnificent and unlike the pedal car, I knew that if I begged long and hard enough I'd have a good chance of getting one - so I did beg long and hard and sure enough, at christmas it was in my pillow slip as expected. I feigned delighted surprise but knew darn well my calculated campaign of consistent but measured nagging had worked and that it would be there, waiting for me. I had so wanted that bear.


I really loved my koala, although I was slighlty disturbed by the fact that it was made from a kangaroo's pelt. It seemed a terrible irony that one native animal was destroyed to create a faux version of another. It didn't smell like a toy either..that rubbery, plasticky, little bit toxicky, toyish smell. No, it had a strange perfume..impossible to describe. Perhaps it was formaldehyde or some other mysterious substance used in the fur business.


My koala was a very realistic toy; the fur was super-soft, slightly speckled and it had black claws and brown marbled eyes with depth. Alas, it no longer exists and I couldn't find a picture of one. They ceased making them in the 80's and I can see why. Nowadays they look more cartoonish than real and they're generally made off-shore from *poly-fluff* or some such synthetic fibre.


Realistic isn't it?...No, ok it's a real koala.I think. Image from Edgeoftheplank
Realistic isn't it?...No, ok it's a real koala.I think. Image from Edgeoftheplank

Rocking Horses

Like many little girls, I had at one stage, a serious penchant for anything to do with horses - horse toys, horse books, horse charms, horse swap cards and most of all...rocking horses. An elderly couple lived across the road in a large, ramshackled two-storey house and in their entrance hall, stood a fabulously carved dappled grey rocking horse with a long white mane. The couple's own children were grown up but they kept the rocking horse for the benefit of visiting guests and grandchildren and possibly, because it was a beautiful object in itself. Of course I wanted one, but this desirable object was even more out of reach than the pedal car. Then, as I grew into double numbers, my longing was transferred to real horses..but that's another story.


Image from Rocking Horse News
Image from Rocking Horse News
The Real Thing. Image from filebrothers.com
The Real Thing. Image from filebrothers.com

Although toy horses had been around in some form or another since ancient civilization, the rocking horse really reached it's peak in Georgian and Victorian England, where they began to appear in larger numbers. The first incarnation of the classic rocking horse appeared somewhere in the 17th century but it wasn't until the 1800's that the elaborately carved, fancy harnessed rocking horse appeared.


Most of the horses from this period were fixed upon the classic 'bow rocker' and the whole thing tended to slide across the floor as the children moved back and forth. However in 1880, Cincinatti company patented the 'swinger rocker' which had a base that was stable on the ground as well as taking up far less room.


The popularity of rocking horses declined significntly in the 20th century but there are still a few specialist companies who continue to create magnificent hand-carved pieces for those who have the desire and the funds to purchase them. Despite their decline, classic rocking horses remain an iconic children's toy and certainly a desirable object for many.


Restored 19th century bow rocking horse.Image from the Kensington Rocking Horse Company website.
Restored 19th century bow rocking horse.Image from the Kensington Rocking Horse Company website.

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Comments 20 comments

recommend1 profile image

recommend1 5 years ago

Wow - I had one that (from memory) would be the Austin forty. My brother broke my collar bone for the second (of three times) by pushing me age 5 at top speed down a narrow bumpy path and into the trunk of a pear tree, I know the tree because I also suffered a fruit bump on the head.

Never saw it again, it dissapeared between me going off to hospital and getting back home again.

REally well researched excellent hub - marking it up!


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 5 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

recommend, I love the J40 to bits..you lucky boy! Although, maybe not..it's a pity your memory of it is marred by that reckless incident. Your parents might have got rid of it, thinking it was 'too dangerous'. Brothers eh!

Thanks for reading


chamilj profile image

chamilj 5 years ago from Sri Lanka

I had a Pedal Car when I was five years old.It was 33 years ago. Wonderful memory. Your hub opened that file from my brain's Hard Disk. :)


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 5 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

Haha, thanks cahmilj...I'm just envious of all you people who had pedal cars.


Merlin Fraser profile image

Merlin Fraser 5 years ago from Cotswold Hills

What a wonderful Hub and so many memories...

In the mid 1950's I had a US Army Jeep Peddal Car, can't remember what happened to it, when we moved south I can't remember it coming with me only my Bike !

In my Dust Bunny stories the Oomin girl Maggie and her dust bunny friends spend a lot of their time in an old nursery filled with the toys in your pictures.

Not a Game Boy or Wii in sight !


Rod Marsden profile image

Rod Marsden 5 years ago from Wollongong, NSW, Australia

Good hub Jane.

I was never much interested in pedal cars when I was a kid. A Melvin Star push bike seemed more practical. I had one of those. But I think if someone made me a present of Silver Shadow rolls push car I might have had a change of heart.

I remember there was a gangster movie once where all the actors were kids and they used push cars to get around. Then I suppose there are those classic sixties push cars used in the TV show Gilligan's Island.


dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 5 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

I think for a while I might have had a pedal car, but it would have been second hand or a hand me down.I don't recall it ever working too well.

Interesting toy history.


drbj profile image

drbj 5 years ago from south Florida

I never owned a pedal car either, Jane, so I share your envious recollection. But when Mazda first came out with the small Miata back in '90, guess who owned the first red Miata in Miami. Yours truly!

I literally loved that tiny car. It was stick drive with a fast start. I owned it for 3 years until a large sedan forced me off the expressway by veering into my lane to take an upcoming ramp. Didn't get hurt - I backed off the expressway. But traded it in for an SUV. Still love the Miata though. Thanks for reminding me with this excellently written hub. Voted up.


Just Ask Susan profile image

Just Ask Susan 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

Loved this hub! The rocking horse reminded me of one that my Dad built for my twins. The only problem with it was that he made it sized for an adult. I always wanted a pedal car too :(

Up awesome and beautiful!


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 5 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

Merlin, I am imagining you riding around in a little army jeep. How cute. These are the classic nursery toys aren't they? Thanks for dropping in.


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 5 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

Rod, thanks. Pedal cars were only good up until a certain age and they weren't exactly a practical form of transport!...so I can understand you prefering your bike. I loved my bike too.

That rolls is something else isn't it..?


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 5 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

Hi dahoglund...a second-hand pedal car is better than none at all! Thanks for dropping in.


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 5 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

drbj..thanks. "A red Miata in Miama*..would make a good song! I think we called them MX5's over here...funky!

Given the cost of fuel here in Aus. smaller cars really make sense. The downside is that you're not as safe in the event of a crash.


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 5 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

Susan, an adult sized rocking horse..how lovely! I'd have fun with that, but I guess it would be a bit intimidating for little kids...plus it would take up a lot of room. What a great thing for him to do though. Thanks for popping in.


LaurenLL profile image

LaurenLL 5 years ago

speechless, But I like the hub.


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 5 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

Lol...thanks Lauren


Ruby H Rose profile image

Ruby H Rose 5 years ago from Northwest Washington on an Island

Great pedal car pictures. Loved the article. My grandparents had a number of them, they were really fun to ride around the country yard.


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 5 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

I bet they were Ruby! Thanks for reading.


μεταχειρισμενα αυτοκινητα 5 years ago

a pedal car is an old fashion but still i wish to had one.This remind me of my childhood years which was the most precious day of my life.My father gave me his ?????????????? ?????????? and i treasure it much.


Mary Taney 4 years ago

Found an Neiman marcus 1991 replica austin j40, in fiberglass. Anbody have any info?

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