Rare is the child that doesn't want a pedal car. Pedal cars have been available since the time of the very first motorcars they sought to emulate in the late eighteenth century. For much of the last century, such cars were the exclusive domain of the rich and privileged.
Many near-perfect examples of these rare and exclusive items passed across the auction block in Scottsdale, Arizona in late January as the largest collection of pedal cars ever assembled went to auction.
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Ron Pratte's collection of automobiles, motorcycles and automobilia sold for a record $40.4 million but many of the hidden gems were in the childrens car arena.
The Pratte Collection is best known for containing such gems as Carroll Shelby’s personal Shelby Cobra 427 Super Snake, the 1954 Pontiac Bonneville Concept car designed by Harley Earl and the General Motors Futurliner, but it's far more than just a collection of cars. Pratte has been THE most prominent car and auto ephemera collector of recent times, having accumulated this record collection of desirable objects in little over a decade, eclipsing the value of previous massive collections such as the Milhous Collection (the previous record holder which was far broader in its scope and fetched $38.3 million), and the Otis Chandler collection which sold for $36.1 million by Gooding & Co in 2006.
The image above was taken inside Pratte's private collection warehouse and if you look closely around the upper ballustrade, you'll see the collection of pedal cars which obviously captivated Ron Pratte as much as they captivated us.
The Ron Pratte Collection of over 1,600 pieces of automobilia took four full days to auction and petrolheads across the world will be green with envy at some of the items which went to new homes during that four day period.
The most that any single piece of automobilia fetched was $86,250 for a double-sided neon and porcelain Harley-Davidson dealership sign from the 1930's - Harley's iconic logo in all its art deco splendour found in near perfect condition some eighty years after it was first used.
Some of the items, such as this quart can of Husky Premium Motor Oil fetched surprising results - $2,300 to be exact! More expensive than bottled water even!
The entire collection is worth a look for those who seek to recapture some of the culture of previous eras - some remarkable items are contained in the collection, such as this restored 1950's soda fountain bar with an original Everfrost soda fountain, vintage Multi-Mixer milkshake machine, whipped cream dispenser and Juice King Orange juice press. It sold for $17,250.
Mobil Oil was once a globally-recognised brand name, and the flying red horse Pegasus was one of the most instantly recognisable brand artifacts on the planet. That didn't happen by accident. Mobil spent a lot of money making it that way.
The thoroughly original 1950's Mobil Oil coin-operated childrens' ride above, based on Pegasus, was one of several machines built by Mobil for the 1953 World's Fair in St. Louis, Missouri. When the fair was cancelled, Mobil executives distributed the machines to their leading outlets for promotional purposes.
This Pegasus ride was originally found and prominently displayed at the General Petroleum Museum in Seattle, Washington. It sold for $40,250.
The world's only Super Snake Shelby Cobra Kart
One of the tastiest bits of kit sold in the entire Pratte collection, at least on a bang-per-buck basis, was this half-scale Shelby Super Snake Cobra go-kart - just like Carroll Shelby's personal 800 hp Cobra 427 Super Snake that sold at auction later in the week for US$5,115,000 - except with half the size, and about 795 hp less.
The kart was built by McLaren Classic Restorations and has a keyed electric start with two forward gears plus reverse for the 150cc engine, leather interior, working lights, Shelby gauges, a functional hood and passenger door. Whatsmore, the car is autographed by Carroll Shelby himself. The miniature Shelby sold for $28,750.
Originally constructed as a 3/8 scale model for display next to the full size car at General Motors' Motoramas, the car was destined for destruction until GM designer Harley Earl liberated the model and had it converted into an electric car for his grandchildren to play with. It is the only surviving remnant of GM's Club de Mer design. It sold for $33,925.
The Pontiac Club de Mer concept's price of $33,925 appears to be a record of sorts. Now we could be wrong, because no-one appears to track these things, but the highest priced vintage pedal car, "electralized" or otherwise, that we can find is this 1927 Auburn Boattail Speedster pedal car which fetched $26,450 during RM Auctions' sale of the Milhous Collection in 2012. So Barrett-Jackson and Ron Pratte might have inadvertently taken another world record with the sale.
Be sure to click the image above to go through to the image gallery where you can check out the remarkable detail on the Auburn Boattail Speedster from the Milhous Collection. That's the engine above, and the lights and gauges also worked.
Garton Toy Company was the first but many more followed
This restored 1959 Deluxe Kidillac pedal car by Garton sold for $7,475 as part of the Barrett-Jackson sale of the Pratte Collection.
Garton Toy Company was America's first producer of wheeled toys, beginning well before automobiles were available and at one time being the largest wheel goods toy factory in the world.
According to the Shebygan Express, company founder Eusebius Bassingdale Garton first hit upon the idea when working for Sheboygan Carriage Company in the 1870s. Legend has it that young Garton put four wooden wheels on one of the cigar boxes manufactured there because he envisioned a "motion conveyance having play value for children."
E.B. Garton appears to have manufactured wheeled toys from 1882, with Garton Toy Company being incorporated in 1887. Tricycle Fetish has some images which are highly illustrative of the early years of the wheeled toy industry.
A look through Garton's 1927 catalogue gives just a glimpse of the size of the market 90 years ago.
This restored 1924 Cadillac pedal car by Toledo underwent a museum-quality restoration and sold for $21,850 as part of the Pratte Collection.
Many other pedal car manufacturers followed Garton's lead, and the following selection of the best of the Pratte Collection indicates just how much a pwell restored pedal car can fetch these days.
This 1933 Buick pedal car by American National was restored by McLaren Classic Restorations and sold for $19,550 as part of the Pratte Collection. The Buick has leaf spring suspension, nine working lights, genuine ostrich skin tufted upholstered seat and engraved silver step pad.
This 1935 "Supercharged" Auburn pedal car by Steelcraft was restored to show quality standards and sold for $17,250 as part of Barrett-Jackson's sale of the Pratte Collection.
This restored 1934 Lincoln pedal car by American National fetched $13,800 as part of Barrett-Jackson's sale of the Pratte Collection.
This 1939 Auburn Pioneer Roadster by American National was restored by McLaren Classic Restoration with Ostrich skin seats and working lights. It sold for $16,675 as part of Barrett-Jackson's sale of the Pratte Collection.
One of the fascinating aspects of the Pratte pedal car collection was the capturing of many quite significant models which were halo cars for the respective auto manufacturers or significant technological exhibits of the period. One that seemed to be represented from two eras was "The Spirit of St. Louis" monoplane that was flown solo from New York to Paris by Charles Lindbergh on May 20–21, 1927, the first non-stop flight for which Lindbergh won the $25,000 Orteig Prize.
The 1927 Steelcraft "Spirit of America" restored pedal airplane (above) was undoubtedly built to capitalise on Lindberg's feat, with the name changed ever-so-slightly to avoid copyright or royalty issues. It sold for $10,925.
Manufacturers were still recognising the event two decades later, as can be seen from this 1945 Spirit of St. Louis pedal airplane which sold for $10,350.
In the fifties, the wonder of the age was the jet engine which had been developed by all combatants during WWII and taken fighter aircraft from speeds of hundreds of miles per hour to thousands of miles an hour in short order. The jet fighter was hence an icon of the future and immediately attracted the attention of the pedal car manufacturers. This restored and pin-striped 1950s Super Sonic Jet pedal car by Steelcraft of Murray sold for $10,350. One of the remarkable aspects of this massive pedal car industry which came to light in researching this article was the number of companies which restore these cars professionally. Check out these before and after shots of an almost identical 1950s Super Sonic Jet pedal car by Steelcraft of Murray.
Going one step further, this Model F-16 Jet is an electric go-kart built and used by the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds at Air Shows in the late seventies. One of only three models built and two to survive, the other is in the U.S. Air Force Museum. The F-16 is powered by 12 volt batterie, has an on board charging system, and was sold complete with a purpose-built trailer with electric winch. Pratte has been remarkably generous with overbidding for charity items over the years, and the generosity continued with this sale with the proceeds donated to the Auto Racing Hall of Fame in it's efforts to raise funds for S.C.A.N. (Stop Child Abuse Now). The electric F-16 sold for $23,000.
Indeed, the more we looked, the more we were amazed. It seems that for every significant automobile, there was a pedal car replica.
Selling for $10,350, this vintage Porsche 356 speedster convertible isn't a pedal car, but a go-kart which had been restored to as-new condition. The Porsche is powered by a gasoline engine and has forward and reverse gears, push-button start, working lights and an upholstered interior.
Be sure to browse the image gallery for dozens more beautifully restored pedal cars.View gallery - 97 images