The biggest inspiration for most car enthusiasts growing up was our toys. From Micro Machines to Power Wheels, here’s our list of the top 10 car toys!
Childrens’ interests, future dream jobs, and personalities are inspired by the toys found in their toy boxes. The handy men had their plastic tool sets. Future artists could be found with their coloring books and Playdoh. And no doubt your own lifelong fascination with fast cars and fondness for the classics have their roots with the car toys of your youth. With that in mind, we’ve brought together a list of the Top 10 Car Toys to help bring your car obsession full circle.
Pullback cars were probably one of the cheapest forms of entertainment we had as kids. A dollar store replica car with a spring-loaded motor that shot across the kitchen floor at high speed could keep us entertained for hours. Pullback cars came in tons of different designs varying from high-end cars like the Lamborghini Murcielago to everyday vehicles like the Honda Civic. This made for some pretty interesting drag races. I mean, nobody in their right mind would put money down on a Chrysler Pacifica going against a Plymouth Hemi ‘Cuda, but pullback cars really evened that playing field.
I’m sure you’ll remember the fast-talking commercials for Micro Machines. The excessively tiny miniature vehicles roamed incredibly small cities that usually folded up into a nice little carrying case or larger vehicle. There’s everything from your favorite trucks and cars to planes, boats, tanks, and even spaceships. While they were really fun to collect, the Micro Machines themselves were also easy to misplace.
Micro Machines were discontinued in 2008, came back and left again in 2016, and are once again making they’re return this year! Currently, the only sets available are the Micro Machines Super Van City, a 20 pack of cars, and exceedingly rare blister packs, but let’s hope they expand with some reimagined playset classics. Just make sure to grab a couple for yourself this time around, because who knows if/when they’ll come back after this year?
Model cars are a hobby that follows you through life. It starts with a Pinewood Derby Kit and grows into the full-blown replica models. There are model kits for whatever type of cars we’re interested in. There’s James Bond’s Aston Martin for movie buffs, the Toyota Supra for JDM fans, and of course plenty of muscle cars to choose from.
The outcome of your model depended on what difficulty rating you had and how adept you were. There was the simple snap together kits for beginners all the way to harder kits that required glue, paint, and a steady hand. However, the great thing about model kits is if you broke something, you just made it a car crash or added some patina for a barn find. I know a lot of my models ended up looking like they could have a for sale sign with “in need of repairs” written across the windshield.
The Little Tikes Cozy Coupe was an instant classic when it hit store shelves back in 1979. The red and yellow toddler sized plastic car, that went only as fast as the driver’s little legs could tread, was a hit. Going into the 1990s it was outselling both the Honda Accord and Ford Taurus, prompting The New York Times to call it the “world’s best-selling car for much of this decade.”
The Cozy Coupe just celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2019. In that time, there have been some alternative designs including a pickup truck, police car, and firetruck. However, the classic base design has remained virtually the same; with the exception of a cartoon face adorning the front. The red and yellow design is so iconic in fact, people have throwback paint jobs to match the Cozy Coupe for their Smart cars.
Yes, Barbie made the car toys list due to her extensive collection of automobiles. When Barbie isn’t busy being a doctor/mother/astronaut, she is cruising to and from her Malibu Dream House in one of her flashy pink rides. The Barbie toy line includes a Corvette Stingray convertible, Ferrari 328 GTS, Porsche 911 Carrera Cabriolet, Jeep Wrangler, and, of course, a Volkswagen Beetle, just to name a few. She’s even ventured into RV camping, motorcycles, and boats, but I still haven’t seen “Barbie’s Parking Garage and Marina” show up on store shelves with all these vehicles. Plus, while the girls were the primary target audience for these car toys, GI Joes looked way cooler behind the wheel…
LEGO has been the name in building toys for decades, but they have gradually made a name for themselves within car circles thanks to their car sets for real-world automobiles. With the expansion of the LEGO Speed Champions and Technic sets, they’ve really created a niche for themselves. Partnering with the likes of Ford, Porsche, and Ferrari to make some blocky replicas of real-world cars. The LEGO name has become so prevalent with cars, that they’ve made their way into the Forza Horizon racing game as downloadable content.
But the replicas aren’t just what makes LEGO one of the best car toys, it’s the ability to let your imagination run wild with car concepts. If you wanted to have a lifted truck, you could just make one out of the thousands of colorful plastic bricks with the classic knobby LEGO tires in front of you. Then those same pieces could be retooled to make that same truck into a lowered race car. The only limit was your imagination (and how many tire sets you had, I guess). I personally liked to make vehicles that resembled Trophy Trucks and have them race through my LEGO city.
I know you whispered “more than meets the eye” when you read that Transformers was on the list. Spawning from the 80s cartoon show, Transformers was every kids’ dream. Who wouldn’t want a weaponized robot action figure that turned into a vehicle? These toys were awesome! There were Autobots led by Optimus Prime, cleverly disguised as a semi-truck, and others like Wheel Jack who turns into a Lancia Stratos rally car and Bumblebee who turns into a Volkswagen Bug. The Autobots pitted against the Decepticons who are primarily military inspired vehicles and led by the evil Megatron.
The Transformers started to fall by the wayside moving into the 2000s, valiantly trying to keep up with trendy storylines involving alternate universes like the Beast Wars franchise. Then in 2007, Michael Bay took the concept and reimagined Transformers as CGI behemoths living amongst us and befriending Shia LaBeouf. The movies brought Transformers toys back to the forefront with updated models like the Chevrolet Camaro and Hummer H2 added into the mix. We’ve now received six movies in the Transformers franchise with more to come and plenty more toys along with them. Although, in that time since the first movie’s release, I still haven’t figured out how to refold Starscream back into a jet.
Coming in at number three on the car toys list are remote control cars. The multidirectional battery powered car replicas are one of the most entertaining toys as a kid. The ability to weave your toy car through legs of chairs, race around a chalk drawn track, and ram into your friend’s RC car was a blast. Worst case scenario, you bumped into your parents’ ankles and had to park it for a little while.
Plus, remote control cars came in so many different sizes, designs, and with different capabilities to fit whatever car niche you like. Pick up a RC Grave Digger monster truck and there’s plenty of clearance to climb over obstacles or travel through mud. Grab one of the Fast and Furious replica RCs and the tire slicks make for a perfect drifting experience. There are even the heavy construction equipment ones allowing you to have a scale construction site digging up the backyard.
As a runner up we have the ride-on favorite, Power Wheels. The battery powered drivable vehicles were a huge hit in the 90s and continue to be a major player in the toy industry today. Over 100 different models of Power Wheels have been made in the forms of cars, trucks, and motorcycles. Kids can park their Jeep Wrangler, Ford F-150, or Cadillac Escalade right next their parents’ life-sized version.
While you might think growing older means growing out of the pint-sized Power Wheels, they can actually still be a great base for some fun projects. People have started picking up older Power Wheels and taking them down dirt hills in groups, turning them into off-road downhill derby competitions. Even better than that is the modified karts. People like Grind Hard Plumbing Co on YouTube are taking the plastic Power Wheels bodies and fit them to a tube framed motorized kart. I’d make one myself, but at over 6ft tall I don’t think it’d be a comfortable ride.
Here it is, the number 1 car toy and it’s shared by Matchbox and Hot Wheels. Matchbox started as a British toy manufacturer selling 1:64 sized die-cast cars back in 1953. They focused mainly on real-world replicas with restrained paint colors and designs. Then in 1968, Mattel created Hot Wheels and joined the die-cast cars market with colorful paint schemes and outlandish concept cars, forcing Matchbox to follow suit. Matchbox would eventually join Mattel and return to the realistic job-related vehicles, while Hot Wheels took center stage encompassing realism, racing, fantasy, and concept designs.
Hot Wheels also brought in the iconic bright orange stunt tracks. High banked turns, loops, and jumps made for an action-packed play time. A couple tracks came with the Power Boosters and the cars would just keep on racing until they’d inevitably crash at high speed. Make sure to read more about Hot Wheels in our Best Hot Wheels Cars article.
So, do you agree with our rankings? Did your favorite car toy make the list? Let us know!