My four-year-old son loves toy cars, so it was no surprise when he came to our auction house a few weeks ago and made a beeline straight for an impressive collection of vintage pedal cars. I watched to see if he’d lose interest – after all, the classic convertible, red fire truck, military jeep, John Deere tractor and other pedal cars didn’t have any electronics. But he was captivated, just like the adults who bid on them.
Vintage toys continue to be hot in the secondary market, and pedal cars still fascinate collectors. I think a lot of this has to do with nostalgia, but smart collectors also appreciate their design and durability. Toys today have shorter life spans because the majority of them are made with plastic. Vintage pedal cars, if kept dry and in good condition, should last for decades.
Pedal cars date back to the 1880s, and they peaked in popularity between both World Wars. Sears featured them in their catalogs, but because the pedal cars couldn’t be mailed, they could only be delivered to towns that were near railroad tracks. In the 1970s, manufacturers switched from steel to plastic, and the lighter, plastic pedal cars just didn’t have the same appeal to kids as in years past.
As we expected, online bidding started to heat up several days before the live auction. The star of the auction was a vintage metal Hamilton U.S. Air Force military jeep that hammered at $500. This model was one of the most popular pedal drive jeeps that Hamilton made during the 1950s and 1960s. In addition to military jeeps, Hamilton also made highway patrol, fire patrol and operating tow truck jeeps.
The collection also included several AMF (American Machine and Foundry) pedal cars, which are also in demand. An AMF blue Jet Sweep pedal car realized $425 and a vintage AMF fire chief pedal car sold for $350.
If you’re collecting vintage toy cars, you might want consider adding a few pedal cars to your collection. With each passing year, certain models and even pedal car parts will become scarce.
On the flip side, if you own a vintage pedal car, you’re in the driver’s seat right now. Unlike generational toys that typically decrease in value as each generation ages, I think the popularity of pedal cars is here to stay. In fact, I’d bet that when my son is grown and has kids of his own, they’ll be just as captivated with pedal cars as he was.
Erik Hoyer owns EJ’s Auction & Consignment in Glendale.