Collecting Mania: Pedal Car Dream Machines Part 2
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Wartime restrictions curtailed production in the 1940s, but by 1950 a new line of pedal cars hit the sidewalks. The most noticeable change, apart from stylistic modifications, was the introduction of the one-piece steel body. Stamped and molded bodies proved more economical to produce, but distinctive details of previous cars were sacrificed. Some manufacturers produced the same body for several years, but detailed it different ways to imitate different styles of cars. With few exceptions, both the length and the weight of the pedal cars were reduced in the 1950s. Gone, too, were leatherette interiors, gear shifts, and dash controls. Yet pedal cars continued to mirror popular full-sized automobiles, even without the fine details of previous years. Fire trucks remained popular and standard airplanes led the way for 1960s fantasies like the Space Cruiser, the Super Sonic Jet, and the Sky Rocket.
More recently, plastic has begun to dominate the design and construction of pedal cars. Manufacturers initially opposed to the new material were soon won over by its strength, durability, and efficiency. Collectors, however, lament the loss of details, charm, and character inherent in older metal models. Although pedal cars continue to capture the imagination of children, today's littlest drivers seem less enamored with replicas of the cars their parents drive than with novelty toys like motorized plastic Barbie and Ken beach buggies, Flipper dolphin cars, and "Flintstonemobiles." For serious collectors, however, such updates hold little appeal. The cars most collectors want today were made between 1925 and 1940. These models came the closest to looking like real automobiles.
The 1930s and 40's were the last time that pedal cars looked like real cars. They had full fenders, radiators, and tilt-back windshields that appeal to collectors today. Unfortunately, finding an affordable example from this era has become increasingly difficult, as prices have skyrocketed in recent years. In excellent condition, pre-Second World War models can bring anywhere from $4,000 to $6,000 and up.
As prices for 1930s and 1940s models continue to race upward, collectors have turned their attention to pedal cars produced during the 1950s and 1960s. While lacking the details of earlier cars, the last of the steel models still have a vintage charm that appeals to collectors. Although they sold for about $100 a few years ago, 1950s pedal cars have recently doubled and tripled in value. Even in rough condition, a 1960s pedal car can bring $125 to $250. Restored or in good original condition, the same car can be worth $500 to $1,000.
Condition is key in the pedal car marketplace. Those cars that have remained in excellent condition - original paint and detailing, only minor scuffs, all accessories intact - are destined to remain in greatest demand. Properly restored cars are not without their followers, for many collectors prefer cars that look showroom - or toy store - new. On the other hand, a poor restoration will most certainly devalue a car. Pedal cars can be found at specialized trade shows, toy shows, toy auctions, swap meets, and flea markets. Examples also surface at estate sales from time to time. Some collectors focus on a particular era or toy company. Others are drawn to a particular style of car such as fire trucks or 1930s Steelcraft cars. The bodies were made from heavy-gauge steel and their detailing was the finest.