So much information has been written about cars for adults that there is not a single niche left in the history of motor cars that would not have been explored. Today we know everything about everything: inventions, failures and mysteries. However, there is little information about children and their adventures with cars, whether in the past or present day. We have only a hazy idea of adventures and the fate of toy cars for children. There are innocent and lovely stories weaved from a good many kilometres pedalled by small enthusiasts. They have been written exerting much greater effort than just pushing the accelerator pedal in adult cars.
Now is the time to tell these stories... If you visit the Pedal Planet exhibition in Nova Polianka in the High Tatras, you will join the exclusive world of one of the largest pedal car collections in Europe. This new and unique project opened its doors on the 1st of June 2019. You can find it in the Galéria Tatry located in Nova Polianka.
A few historical facts:
At the beginning of the 20th century, pedal cars timidly entered in the market. A catalogue from 1902, published in Paris, displayed the forerunner of pedal cars – a wooden vehicle reminiscent of a horse-free carriage. This small ‘Landau’ was a fairy-tale toy at that time: it had a wooden body, mudguards, brakes, lights, a steering wheel and a horn. It cost 65 French francs, which was a reasonable price for this period.
It must be said, however, that the first pedal cars were actually very expensive and thus available only to a very limited number of buyers. They were made by craftsmen in small quantities, which explains their price. After all, the same could be said about the car.
Also in the United States there was evidence of pedal vehicles at the very beginning of the 20th century. The 1903 catalogue from Chicago presents pictures of such vehicles for children along with horses, carts and tricycles. They were designed as carriages and worked on the same principle as a bicycle.
Around 1910, pedal cars started to flourish. In more advanced countries, specialised factories grew rapidly, and new models became more sophisticated. They were equipped with slanted windscreens, mudguards, number plates, lights, chrome parts, bumpers, spare wheels, tires, horns and upholstered seats.
These ‘kids' cars’ were the emulation of ‘adult cars’ in all aspects.
Liens, a British toy manufacturer later known as Tri-ang, began to produce pedal cars around 1909. In the following years, Tri-ang produced a huge number of great looking models for several generations of children.
Giordani, an Italian company founded in 1895, originally producing wheelchairs, tricycles and children's toys, presented its first pedal car in 1915.
France has also played an important role in the history of pedal cars. In 2014, a two-seater car resembling Peugeot Grand Prix 1911 with pedals mounted on ball bearings appeared on the market. The manufacturer offered different versions of this model at different prices. The most expensive version was a two-meter long model which cost 175 French francs, while the cheapest one cost 25 francs.
André Citroën, a sagacious man with avant-garde ideas, was one of the industry's first leaders to view the pedal car as a brilliant promotion vehicle for car manufacturers, and children as future clients.
His famous sentence reads: "The first words that a baby should learn to pronounce are Mummy, Daddy and Citroën". This French industrialist began a huge promotion campaign to win the hearts of children. It lasted for ten years, during which more than half a million large mechanical toys designated for the children of Citroën's clients were manufactured by Citroën's special department.
A car like the one owned by my daddy was not just a dream anymore...
Some other famous car manufacturers also jumped on the bandwagon. The Bugatti 35 Grand Prix was a beautiful race car that won the races and made the brand name world famous.
Ettore Bugatti himself built a true model of the Type 35 with electric drive for his son Roland in 1927. About ninety models of this dream toy was made, designated for the sons of the richest clients. The fame of Bugatti Type 35 was too great not to attract other car manufacturers.
The "Bugatti" pedal variants for children were made by the French company Eureka and brought the Bugatti phenomenon to the parks and children's playgrounds.
World War II interrupted pedal cars boom. Yet, shortly afterwards the world of toys was ready to get back into the game. In 1949, the Austin Junior Car Factory, a purpose-built factory producing children's pedal cars, was established in England. The owners employed more than 200 miners with disabilities. The J40 model remained in production for more than 20 years.
In the 1950s, thanks to new technologies, plastic and fiberglass materials began to replace metal, which reduced the cost of manufacturing junior cars and rapidly lowered their prices.
The new models had little in common with their ancestors from the 1920s and 1930s in which a lot of craftsmanship and sophistication was incorporated.
In the former Czechoslovakia, pedal cars were also a popular, though unobtainable toy. The most widespread were simple "carts", but if a person had influential friends, he or she was able to please their descendants, for example, by the legendary Moskvich.
The boom of plastic has brought a lot of innovations. Imaginary models, real car copies, and racing cars like Ferrari, Lotus, Cooper have been designed.
The cheapest models are still pedal-driven, however cars with small electric motors that have gained popularity are produced today at very affordable prices.