Vintage View: Rev up to explore the tradition of pedal power

Vintage View: Rev up to explore the tradition of pedal power

Kya deLongchamps revs up to explore the tradition of pedal power.

Sir Terence Conran has long favoured the idea of “little museums” throughout the home.

He has 30 poster-blue Bugatti pedal cars bought from a French collector mounted on a wall running the length of his house.

Once you’ve seen their elliptical loveliness displayed as artful installations, it’s impossible to imagine a better way to secure a fascinating tripping hazard prone to car-jacking by the visiting four-year-olds.

Once automobiles went into production in the 1890s, their parody in a toy version was a given.

Every child longed to imagine the thrill of being in full adult control behind the wheel, even with a pedestrian waving a flag and progressing at 5mph.

The pedal power of a good toy variety could whip you along at similar speeds, and given a downhill run, they could scare your siblings to thundering, shrieking prey.

When the Model T was released by Ford Motor Co in 1908, a wooden and steel Roadster version was produced for the children of the wealthy almost immediately.

Superior to the home made go-kart vandalised from fruit crates, bike and pram parts, these early pieces were expensive due to the materials needed to make them.

With such dynamic designs (especially in the 50s and 60s lowriders) the Americans put out some wonderful little cars.

Together with Steelcraft, the Gendron Iron Wheel Co and National Automobiles of Toledo Ohio, some factories even supported a toy car division.

With the outline of the car achieved to identify it instantly from the real thing, it was all in the detail.

The enamelled steel bodies of the best pedal cars include working headlights, leather seats, chrome plating, a horn, adjustable pedal power, real pneumatic tyres, brakes and a boot for tools, the oil can and picnic gear.

Some pieces are scale models, lovingly fashioned at the headquarters of the carmaker for the children of their executives.

Vintage View: Rev up to explore the tradition of pedal power

As engineering changes were made in full cars, they were adapted, where possible, into quality scale toys.

In the 1950s, chain mechanisms were introduced, aiding the muscle tearing push needed to propel the vehicle.

A few lucky children enjoyed electric cars even in the 1930s, but production in Europe, England and the US was interrupted by the pressing need for steel during WWII.

During the high days of the 50s and 60s, American pedal cars were widely exported and a staple of the Sears catalogue where you could buy a balloon-frame house or a crate of live hen chicks for postal delivery.

Collectors seem especially emotional when it comes to toy cars, and tend to be greedy where they have the resources.

Prices start at €2000-€5000, but driven by nostalgia, can accelerate to five figures.

Vintage View: Rev up to explore the tradition of pedal power

A collection of 85 cars were auctioned online by the house of Humbert & Ellis in the UK at the end of the summer.

The projected price for the entire collection including Steve McQueen branded jeeps.

E Type Jaguars, Rolls Royce and an Austin J40 (described by seller Richard Morrow as the “Penny Black” of pedal cars), was in the area of €200,000. Far from child’s play.

Jaguar Land Rover let go of their 140 strong infant fleet last year, achieving over €10,000 for a replica 1930s Blower Bentley.

The 156 wee machines were only part of the 543 full-size vintage collection accrued by multi-millionaire dentist and hoarder James Hull, sold on en-masse for £100 million in 2014 (note to self in future CAO choices for the teen).

In the States, pedal cars are ideal man-cave accessorising — and Chevys, Impalas and Cadillac are eagerly sought.

If Daddy wants and car afford a 1965 Ford Mustang, he’s probably going to want a pedal car version too.

In one sale of over 70 tiny cars in Scottsdale, Arizona in 2014 (the warm-up for the legendary Pratte car collection sold by Barrett-Jackson), two-pedal versions showed just how obsessive some rich baby boomers can be.

A 1956 Pontiac Club de Mer concept pedal car made to sit beside the real thing at shows in the 50s, achieved around €30,800.

A half-scale Shelby Super Snake Cobra with a suitably lethal 150cc engine achieved €26,000.

Vintage View: Rev up to explore the tradition of pedal power

Jealously guarded and signed by designer Carroll Shelby, it won’t be touched by a child ever again (and that’s probably a very good thing).

The emergence of plastic all but killed the quality pedal car market.

My American husband who grew up in Detroit, tells me he and his childhood crew would go on recovery missions for mid-century steel vintage pedal cars left out with the garbage on the kerb, and gut them for their rack steering.

A few US firms including Pedal Car Planet still supply highly detailed metal replicas from $200 up — I’m guessing not made in America, but more likely Mexico or China.

Pre-war (1920s/1930s), early pedal cars fetch the most money at sale worldwide.

If you do find an interesting example with a steel body and a good line, resist the temptation to immediately sand it off and restore it yourself — get advice.

Rare pieces cost as much to restore properly as they do to buy and some collectors preferred a rusted, “played-with” condition for display.

Today, brand and social signalling still clearly matters, and tots can pose around, aping their yummy mummy in a 12V Land Rover Defender SVX Ride-On — a snip wedged under that 12’ Christmas tree in the hall at €279.99.

It’s top speed is a lively 3.7mph — so plenty of safely middle-class, potential kid chaos there (Smyths Toys)

Fancy making your own pedal Bugatti in time for next Christmas? Buy the plans here

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