Collectibles: Training Wheels
In his Rancho Dominguez, Calif., office, Joe Gonzalez displays an exceedingly rare 1927 Packard that is one of only four surviving examples of its type. “Anyone who sees it stops and stares and doesn’t know what to say,” Gonzalez says. “This car belongs in a private collection or a museum.” It once belonged to a child’s toy collection. The Packard is a pedal car, a type of toy that was popular through much of the last century. In a typical pedal car, a child would sit inside the metal-bodied vehicle and move it by pushing foot pedals. (Gonzalez’s car is an electric model that can be propelled by stepping on a button on the floor of the car.)
It is unclear when the first true pedal car appeared, but by 1912, several manufacturers were producing them. Some pedal cars, particularly those made by American National and Gendron, were junior versions of specific marques. Others vaguely resembled familiar automobiles, and still others took the shapes of tractors, fire trucks, construction vehicles, train locomotives, boats, and even supersonic jets.
The pedal car’s heyday ended in the 1970s, when large metal toys became too costly to produce and plastic versions of muscle cars failed to match the appeal of their predecessors. (American Machine and Foundry [AMF], the last major American manufacturer, abandoned the business in 1982.) However, the best examples of these toys have become collectible items.
During its annual Collector Car Auction in January, Barrett-Jackson of Scottsdale, Ariz., will sell rare vehicles and automobile-themed collectibles including a number of pedal cars. (In addition, Barrett-Jackson will auction off the Tupolev N007 described in “In from the Cold,” on page 100.) Rory Brinkman, who has headed Barrett-Jackson’s automobilia department for the past five years, usually selects eight to 10 pedal cars for inclusion in a given auction. At last year’s event, a 1950s Caterpillar bulldozer pedal car made by AMF and equipped with a blade that moves up and down sold for more than $14,000, the highest price ever paid for one of these toys at a Barrett-Jackson auction. “The owners of two large construction companies were there,” Brinkman says, “and they both wanted it for their offices.”
Gonzalez purchased his pedal car from an Iowa collector who for years had displayed it next to a 1929 Packard automobile. After acquiring his Packard, Gonzalez had it restored by a Tempe, Ariz., company that has prepared many of these toys for the Barrett-Jackson auctions. In fact, D&S Pedal Car Restorations has rejuvenated more than a thousand pedal cars since it opened in 1993, but its cofounder, Dave Kleespies, says that Gonzalez’s toy was his most challenging job because it has such intricate features as four headlights, tilt steering, side-mounted mirrors, an upholstered interior, and a rumble seat. Kleespies appraised the pedal car at $85,000 following completion of the work.
Although Kleespies and his wife, Sno, are rigorous in their approach, they are not purists. At Gonzalez’s request, they painted the exterior in a two-tone silver and blue scheme that departed from the toy’s original appearance. “The customer decides, because they pay the bill,” says Kleespies. “We give them the choices, and if they want it pink with zebra stripes, that’s the way we’ll do it.”