Antique Pedal Cars: Cool Classics in Small Sizes

Updated April 16, 2021
Antique Pedal Car

Once considered the ultimate child's riding toy, antique pedal car toys are now only sought after by toy collectors and classic car enthusiasts. Their brightly colored paint jobs and detailed appearances truly give them a look that just weeps nostalgia, which makes them a wonderful gift for both parents-to-be and empty nesters alike. Take a look at how these human-powered vehicles got their start and the painstaking lengths collectors will go to today to keep their cars roadworthy.

The Mechanical Prowess of Toy Pedal Cars

The world-changing impact that the automobile had on western society in the late-19th century inspired toy manufacturers to start designing smaller versions of the most popular automotive models for children to emulate their parents' luxury cruising. Mechanized through leg power, the first pedal cars -which were essentially miniature models of the full-sized vehicles of the day-were most accessible to wealthy children, reaching their peak popularity in the late-1920s and early 1930s. The post-war period marked a resurgence in interest surrounding pedal cars; the growing economic prosperity of American families meant that they could afford these now-cheaper toys, and mail-order catalogs like Sears helped to democratize these once exclusive toys for middle-America. You can still find pedal cars today, though their electric cousins are by-far modern kid's more popular pick.

A young boy driver is out for a drive in his pedal car.

Antique and Vintage Pedal Cars Identification

Pedal cars have a distinctive appearance, though they vary in design specifications. In fact, these vehicles weren't limited to only the automotive world; rather, there was an entire market for pedal fire engines, pedal trucks, pedal planes, and pedal tractors too. Classic car enthusiasts often collect just one type of pedal car, with many of them trading pieces and parts to restore their favorite models. These restorations operate just as efficiently as classic car restorations do, with pedal cars being given:

  • Custom paint jobs
  • Working lights
  • Movable windshields
  • Working horns
  • White wall tires
  • Hood ornaments
  • Chrome detailing
  • Movable ragtops
Hand holds Vintage photograph of boy in pedal car

Antique and Vintage Pedal Car Manufacturers

For a few select toys, the manufacturers play a significant role in pricing, demand, and value. As is true for the classic car circuit, pedal car collectors are just as beholden to the different companies that produced these quaint childhood toys and can build entire exhibits surrounding a single manufacturer. Some of the most notable pedal car manufacturers include:

  • American National
  • Steelcraft Wheel Goods
  • Gendron Iron Wheel Co.
  • Garton Toy Company
  • Cyclops
  • Austin J40
  • Eureka
  • Toledo Wheel
  • Butler Bros.
  • Murray Pedal Cars

Antique and Vintage Pedal Car Values

It's not often that you come across historic pedal cars in mint condition, rarer still to find ones that haven't been restored in some fashion; yet, unlike many other antiques, restored pedal cars are actually some of the most valuable ones around. Just recently, Sotheby's held an auction for a collection of early vintage pedal cars which had been lovingly restored. Within that auction, both a 1935 Skippy Racer by American National and a 1935 Chevrolet by Steelcraft were estimated to be worth between $1,800-$2,500 each. Similarly, a 1940s Austin Pathfinder recently sold for a little over $3,000 in one Christie's auction. That being said, given the nature of the pedal car collector's market, it's unlikely for you to find examples of pedal cars for less than about $1,000. The cheapest cars are normally in significant disrepair and are usually bought for parts, as those can be individually sold to dedicated restorationists.

Old pedal car

When to Seek Out Professional Restoration

Famous antiques appraiser, Dr. Lori Verderame, asserts that condition is a major factor in determining antique and vintage pedal cars' values. If you already have a pedal car in your possession, you might be thinking about having it restored to its former glory. Thankfully, the professional restorationists that undertake pedal car projects, like those working for, are just as talented as classic car mechanics are; they can convert just the dented frame of an old pedal car into a tricked out 21st century toy. Keep in mind that these restorations can be really costly ($1000+) but if you have the patience, you might be able to complete some small repairs on your own. If you feel up to taking on the task, here are some of the places you can purchase replacement parts for your antique and vintage pedal cars:

Childhood Independence at Its Finest

Once you see an antique pedal car in action for the first time, it becomes easy to understand how nostalgia for historic play can create such a fascination in adults over toys they're now far too big to fit into. However, with the hard work of the thousands of professional restorationists out there, the children in your life might get to relive the greatest joys of their great-grandparent's childhood themselves.

Antique Pedal Cars: Cool Classics in Small Sizes