It’s time for the second part of of my favourite childhood car related toys! If you haven’t read the first part of this list I strongly suggest you check it out here before reading on. Or I suppose you could read it in descending order, in which case what are you still doing here, scroll to the bottom!
Image Credit: Jack Lyons
At this point I can practically hear some of you saying “Who is this scamp? K’nex higher than Lego? You charlatan!” and probably something along the lines of “K’nex is a construction toy too Luke you numpty, are you even reading anything you are writing?”. Well, while it does seem that I am creating rules then immediately disregarding them, there is a little bit of logic behind it. Plus, it’s my list, you can’t tell me what to do, I’m a big boy now!
While K’nex is indeed a construction toy like Lego, it is, in my mind at least, much more geared toward the building of vehicles rather than buildings which is where Lego generally excels (many buildings are made from bricks, Lego is mainly bricks). One of the first things the instruction manual in my starter kit told me to build was a very simple car and I primarily used K’nex for the building of awesome cars with guns and lasers attached. It is for these reasons that K’nex has been placed higher on my list.
K’nex is Lego’s main rival in the construction toy world and while it has not received the kind of global adoration that Lego has enjoyed it is still a fantastic little toy. I spoke earlier about my brother and I making some awesome race cars out of Lego, well they didn’t even come close to the cars we used to make out of K’nex!
Image Credit: Matthew Griffiths
First thing’s first, the wheels and tyres K’nex produced shamed the Lego tyres of the time. This meant more varieties of car could be built and in much bigger sizes and as a child generally speaking the bigger a toy is the better. Secondly, the design of K’nex lent itself to the building of things like axles and suspension very well which are integral when building cars, if you lost the Lego piece with wheels on it you were done for until you got a new set. Thirdly, you could build proper steering mechanisms and you could see them working when you turned the wheel which was fascinating for me. All these things combined meant you could make yourself a very technically impressive car and the instructions made it so easy, I imagine quite a few engineers have been born out of using K’nex.
Here comes my main reason K’nex is so high on the list though. This thing.
That is a motor. More specifically a two speed, battery powered K’nex motor. That’s right; this thing had two speeds which, for all intents and purposes, meant my cars had gears. I was creating cars with two speeds in my room with little bits of plastic and rubber. Madness. This is the reason why Lego loses to K’nex in the automobile game for me. I know that Lego does produce motors now but I don’t remember seeing those anywhere when I was a child, not to mention the ones they do make now are from a subgroup of Lego called ‘Technic’ which is definitely aimed at older children and adults.
Image Credit: Raul Lieberwirth
Image License: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/
I admit that the pedal go-kart is a little bit similar to the Little Tyke but if you think about it, it’s really a whole different beast. I see the go-kart as being the next natural step on from the Little Tyke, just like you upgrade your car as you get older, you move from the Little Tyke to the Go-Kart. Instead of foot power you now had a proper way to turn that foot movement in to real speed and god have mercy on anyone that thought they could take you on.
You could really get up to some decent speeds in these things and real steering meant you could actually set a destination and get there without hitting every obstacle in sight or mowing all of your friends down GTA style. The steering served a far more entertaining purpose though for my friends and I, the ability to have proper races! You could create a track out of whatever was to hand, we tended to us school jumpers, and get a full on street race going! No pink slips mind you.
I was very lucky when I was a child, in that my family have always lived out in the countryside meaning there is a whole load of space available to use things like go-karts, not everyone was so lucky though. One of the issues with the go-kart is that is does obviously require you to be outside to use it properly, so I am sorry if you were one of those people that just didn’t quite have enough space.
That being said, this was a toy that you didn’t mind letting your pals have a go on when they came over. It’s no fun just riding around looking at your friend who is sat in a muddy puddle with a sulky face.
Image Credit: Simon Owens
I had thought about just saying R/C cars in general but then I thought of some of the abysmal attempts at remote control cars that I experienced in my childhood. Does anyone remember those ones that were attached to the controller by a semi-long wire? Of course you don’t, because they sucked, don’t bring that weak sauce here. So, I racked my brain trying to think of some good R/C cars that I had and while I did have a couple of decent ones I couldn’t think of one that stood out, then it hit me like a lightning bolt. The Tyco Rebound.
I am confident that at least one person reading this will have owned one of these and therefore know how awesome it was, but for those poor souls who didn’t here is a quick break down. The Tyco Rebound was a remote control car made by Tyco who were already well established in the world of R/C. This was no normal car though, the thing that made this special was the fact that it was double sides, meaning it could flip over and just keep going. Essentially making this a remote control car that you couldn’t crash, which was perfect for me because I was always flipping my R/C cars over and having to go fetch them.
There was a whole bunch of other tricks you could do with the Rebound, the above video demonstrates some of them, whilst also being one of the most hyped adverts I’ve ever seen, ahhh the 90’s. One of my favourite tricks was being able to drive up a wall, flip over and then keep going. This thing was also built really well, it would have to be looking at that advert, but you really could chuck it around and slam it just about anything and it would live on. The only issue I had was that I really liked the red side of the car more than the blue side. First world problems and all that.
Image Credit: Kieren Pitts
The decision for top spot was really difficult and I should think most people reading will know what has taken #1 simply by process of elimination but we will get to that in due course.
Scalextric is a car racing toy that is powered by electricity, you simply slot the car/s on to the track, squeeze the handheld throttle and away you go! When I say you simply slot the cars onto the track, that bit is simple, assembling the track certainly was not. It may well be easier to assemble these days, for the sake of today’s children I hope it is. The track I had as a child was clearly made by some evil designers who just wanted to make children cry.
Aside from the infuriating track design, Scalextric was a superb toy. The track was totally customisable; you got a load of individual track pieces in the box which could be arranged into any track you could think of as long as it joined up. Sure there were specific track instructions, but who uses instructions? Not me that’s for sure. That could explain the trouble I had assembling mine I guess.
A standard set would come with two cars and two throttles so that you could race your friends/siblings or in my case Dad, because he clearly bought it for himself masquerading as a present for his two boys. No one ever really outgrows car toys. There was no way to have more than two people racing when I was younger, the extra cars would drain the power so they all went slowly and you couldn’t over take. After a bit of research |I have found out that they now make Scalextric Digital which allows you to have more cars and more people controlling them, with places to overtake build into the track! Too late for me unfortunately.
There were a vast number of different cars you could buy separately and they worked straight out of the box, they just had to be slotted on to the track. Some were faster than others, for example the Formula One cars were uncontrollably fast and if you even thought about going around a corner it was off the track and embedded in the wall. I say uncontrollably fast, what I mean is that I couldn’t control them. These guys seem to manage it just fine.
That was the skill of Scalextric though, anyone can squeeze the trigger all the way but getting it around the track quickly whilst staying on was more difficult. You see the race doesn’t stop if you come off the track, you have to grab your car and get it back on the track again to keep going. There were a few nice touches with Scalextric that really finished off the whole thing. Each set usually came with a few bit of scenery like trees, spectator stands, hay bales, etc. You could buy scenery separately and get your track looking the part, probably more for the adults than the children because I could never be bothered to set that stuff up but it is still a nice feature. I used to really like how the headlights and brake lights came on when you raced as well.
Image Credit: Bryce Womeldorf
Yes it’s Hot Wheels, you knew it was going to be Hot Wheels as soon as you started reading. The must have for any little boy and I’m sure plenty of girls too. There seems to be an infinite amount of different models to collect now, even back when I was a child there were hundreds.
Another unnecessary explanation but here goes. Hot Wheels are a 1:64 die cast toy car and they are awesome. That should really be enough but here is some more anyway. They were conceived back in the late 60s, but those are not the ones I am talking about, they still produce them and are still hugely popular.
The thing that set Hot Wheels apart from other toy cars was the ‘hot’ nature of them. They are typically either very fast sports cars or modified versions of normal cars which I think is what made them so cool to have. The other thing was the quality of them, they just felt really nice. We have even mentioned other miniature toy cars, Micro Machines, but these were plastic and they were never actually a real competitor for Hot Wheels. They were properly cast in metal so were pretty sturdy when someone came and trod on them and they came with fairly detailed interiors for toy cars, some even had doors you could open and shut.
Image Credit: Bryce Womeldorf
The other thing about Hot Wheels, which is regularly joked about, is their ability to roll forever. I don’t know if they somehow inadvertently invented the first perpetual motion machine but those little things just went forever! I think car manufacturers should have a look at what is going on under those cars and take a lesson.
Let’s talk about tracks. I think that without the tracks, Hot Wheels may not have come out on top of this list. They really were never meant to be standalone cars; they were always designed to run on the thin orange track that became so well known. It is difficult to even know where to start talking about the tracks that came for Hot Wheels because there were so many different ones..
The one that really stood out the most for me was the last one that I ever had. It went by the name Criss Cross Crash and I believe I would be right in thinking that this was the most popular one for my particular generation. I am hoping that any of you reading this are going “Oh my god I had that one! That was awesome”, if so let me know in the comments section. For those of you who did not have this particular one it was motorised, which was new to me, it basically launched multiple cars around short loops until one of them crashed into another one. It sounds super basic but when you have been used to pushing cars down ramps and along the floor it was a big step up. Here is a video of the track in question.
This is not to say that I didn’t enjoy the simpler tracks because I definitely did. I had a bunch of basic track sections that just clicked together and you could make whatever you wanted out of them. Of course the sensible thing to do with it was to set up it down the whole length of the stairs. I would then send the cars on their way and then have them travel at the speed of light around the small amount of track I had left at the bottom and eventually end up making a mess of the skirting board. Hot wheels are one of the few toys on this list that I no longer have, my Mum was pretty good at storing up my favourite toys in the attic because she knows I am just a big kid. Unfortunately for some reason my Hot Wheels did not make it, although it isn’t all bad news because they didn’t go in the bin. The story goes that she collected them up and gave them to the children at the special needs school she works at. So although I no longer have them, some other children have had some joy out of them and that’s all right with me!
Want more? Take a look at James’ Ryder cup of cars.
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