Sep/Oct 2021 edition
Issue #18 AutoMobilia Resource Magazine
Story and photos by Hank Davis from Hank's Garage
A few weeks ago, we hosted a group of visitors at Hank’s Garage to view a collection of 14 Edsels and many rare items associated with the marque. This visit took an unexpected turn when, at some point in the tour, the discussion went from Edsels to pedal cars. I think it started when a woman asked, out the blue, “When did they start making toy pedal cars, anyway?” She was shocked, as was the entire group, when I answered “Around 1900.” In fact, wheel-goods toy companies began producing pedal cars almost as soon as manufacturers started producing automobiles.
There were five companies early on in the USA in the juvenile automobile business: American National, Gendron, Steelcraft, Garton and Toledo Wheel.
Above: 1937 STEELCRAFT LINCOLN ZEPHYR, Jet black and cream two-tone, trimmed in orange w/pneumatic wide whitewall tires, chrome windshield, bumper, hood ornament, and hub caps. This gorgeous Lincoln is super detailed, down to the Lincoln badge on the grill and the Steelcraft seat label. I purchased this car from restorer Bill Walls in 1996 at the Smoky Mountain Toy & Pedal Car Show in Pigeon Forge, TN.
While the very early pedal toys were made for the children of well-to-do families, mass production in the 1930s and ’40s allowed more parents to put their own kids behind the wheel. Still, they were a luxury, and a pedal car might have been the only gift you got for a birthday or Christmas. I have a friend who started collecting pedal cars as an adult because his parents could not afford one when he was a child.
I then told my group that while pedal cars started their life as a sidewalk cruiser, the vast majority are now parked and on display in garages, homes, museums – and under Christmas trees during the holidays everywhere.
Above: 1941 Steelcraft Pontiac built during the war. The lack of a front bumper and the Steelcraft label dates the time line. If it had been a pre-war car, it would have had a three spoke steering wheel and a hood ornament like the Lincoln. It has a custom padded seat and custom graphics I designed when we restored the car back in the early 1990s.
I was amazed – the group was hanging on my every word. I was equally surprised that in a nearly 4,000-square-foot building packed with vintage automobiles, signage, gas and oil collectables, soda machines and toys, my group had fallen under the spell of little cars that required imagination and pedal power to make them work.
After the group exited my building, boarded the bus and headed home, I returned to secure and lock up the building. Then I stopped and looked around at my collection of sidewalk cruisers. I am always taken in by the craftsmanship, the colors, the design – but like my visitors and most other collectors, I am also fascinated by what really powers these little cars, and that’s imagination – something that’s gone from a lot of today’s toys. Oh, and a little physical power too!
As to values and prices today… Steelcraft cars from this era, 1934 to 1948, are a little pricey. A 1941 Pontiac can start in the $800-$1,200 range, but larger models, like the Zephyr and Airflow, can run as much as $4,000-$5,000, while an Auburn Streamliner or Supercharger can run into the $7,000-$10,000 neighborhood in a big auction setting. Still, bargains can be found if you are willing to tackle a restoration.
Above: 1937 original paint V8 Ford. Still wearing its original V8 hood ornament. When new, the windshield was plexiglass but this one has only remaining fragments. However, it does not hurt the value. Original Art Deco cars by Steelcraft command top dollar, and this little Ford is cute.
The pedal car hobby offers so many interesting aspects to enthusiasts, from well-preserved originals to gorgeous restorations – and customs too. From pre-Depression to World War II, postwar to the fabulous 1950s, and the musclecar 1960s and ’70s, there is truly something for everyone. In future articles, I’ll cover the debate between original and restored pedal cars, as well as what to pay, and also how to identify reproduction pedal cars.
For those of us who have been in the hobby for decades, we know wheel-goods toys includes wagons, scooters, velocipedes and others, and hopefully we will have the opportunity to cover some of these things too. Until next time, “Happy Pedaling!”
To read more great columns like this one from Pedal Car Expert Hank Davis...