Toys “Я” Us has announced that it’s shuttering all of its brick and mortar stores over the next year. It’s a sad day for kids, and for adults who remembered tire-kicking trips to the stores in the 1970s and 1980s. Here are 10 transportation toys you just had to have:
Evel Knievel Stunt Cycle
This is the Big Kahuna, friends. In these days of market fragmentation, it’s hard to consider just how insanely popular these toys were. Ask any 40 to 50 year old male on the street right now what toy he’d want to have back. We’ll wait. We predict there’s about a 137% chance it’d be the Evel Knievel Stunt Cycle.
Here’s how it worked: You stuck Evel and his motorcycle in a red plastic cradle and through the magic of gear reduction, you spun the rear wheel to approximately 189,496 RPM. Evel and said cycle would eject from the base and shoot across the floor at speeds faster than the real Evel Knievel ever hit a launch ramp.
There were four different vehicles to choose from: the Triumph Bonneville-style Stunt cycle, a Top Fuel dragster nobody remembers, a version of the failed X-1 Skycycle, and a chopper that rode a constant wheelie.
Friends, to paraphrase Lee Iaccoca, if you can find a better toy modeled after a self-confessed second-story safe cracker who once broke Shelly Saltman’s arm with a baseball bat, buy it.
The Green Machine
This author’s greatest regret in life is that by the time the Marx Green Machine was mass-marketed to kids across the country, he was juuuust a little too old to be riding around on a tricycle. Man, was this thing cool.
Instead of the Big Wheel’s handlebars, the Green Machine featured stick-shift controls that turned the rear wheels rather than the front. It resulted in cool spinouts thanks to the grip-free plastic rear wheels.
Huffy still markets a Green Machine, and they have one sized for adults. The author’s 50th birthday is coming up, sooooo…
Spinwelder Race Car Factory
The Spinwelder was the greatest. It consisted of a box full of plastic i-beams, a bunch of plastic rivets, and the Spinwelder.
Harnessing the power of a 6-volt lantern battery, the Spinwelder looked a bit like a glue gun, but it had a metal tip that spun at 294,593 RPM, which generated enough friction to melt plastic, allowing kids to weld the plastic girders together into a frame. The spinning tool also accepted the plastic rivets, which would spin and melt to attach the plastic body panels.
Then, the best multi-tasking fashion, the Spinwelder would also spin the rear wheel of the completed car and allow it to skitter across the floor.
If you had one of these toys in the 1970s, you will forever associate the smell of burning plastic with good times.
*sniff* mmmm, electrical fire.
Kenner SST Smash-Up Derby
Kenner had a line of SST race cars that were pretty cool.
They worked by meshing a t-handled gear strip with the teeth on a rubber tired flywheel in the middle of the car. You’d yank that handle like you were starting a one-lunger snowblower and the car would take off across the kitchen floor.
The genius of the Smash-Up Derby set was incorporating that technology in a pair of old jalopies — one sedan, one wagon — with doors, wheels, hoods and decklids that would fly off on impact. The set came with a pair of plastic ramps to ensure maximum carnage.
Perhaps the greatest part of the whole marketing gimmick was the song in the commercial, which we’re shocked some Ameripolitan roots artist hasn’t covered as a single.
Aurora AFX Ultra 5
Slot cars were cool in the 1960s, but it wasn’t until the ’70s that you could buy a set that steered. Aurora was the undisputed king of slot cars in those days, and their Ultra 5 slot car was what every kid was hoping for at Toys “Я” Us.
Billed as “the closest thing to real racing,” the Ultra 5 set had the perfectly 1970s-named “Steer-A-Con” controller that allowed full steering control. AFX also produced some of the most detailed cars, which looked as good sitting on the shelf as they did on the track.
AFX developed the “Thunderjet” or “T-Jet” chassis for these cars in 1963, and because of their reliability and the detailed bodies, Aurora was able to sell more than 25 million cars in just two years.
Aurora was a marketing powerhouse in those days, contracting top-shelf race car drivers like Peter Revson and Jackie Stewart as spokespeople, and artists like James Bama to create the incredible box art.
C. B. McHaul
For about 10 weeks in the 1970s, the Citizen’s Band Radio was a huge craze. Thanks to C.W. McCall’s mega-hit “Convoy” — the story of which you totally need to read at CarTalk.com — CB radios were a huge deal.
New York toy manufacturer Mego — pronounced “mee-go” — jumped on the craze in a hurry, and latched onto C.W. McCall’s name with a toy truck called “C.B. McHaul.” Not only was it a big-rig, it also had a CB-style handset, connected to a speaker in the truck so you could yell to your mom in the next room that you were out of Ding Dongs.
In order to keep kids coming back to Toys “Я” Us, Mego had a line of “action figures” to accompany the two trucks and police cruiser it manufactured. The bowlegged figures were permanently fused into a mid-crouch that indicated some kind of colo-rectal issue.
Say you liked playing with dolls but weren’t all that cool with the over-the-top militarism of G.I. Joe. Mattel had you covered with Big Jim, who was a manly dude into camping and rasslin’ with his denim-vested frenemy, Big Josh.
The Big Jim Sports Camper looked kind of Winnebago-like, but it was really just a cardboard box wrapped in vinyl.
Bionic Woman Sports Car
Girls who were into cars didn’t have many toys marketed directly to them, but Jamie Somers’ sports car was a pretty good one. She drove a 240Z in the show, but in a bid to not have to pay any licensing fees, Mattel designed this non-descript two-seater, which was sort of Fiat X1/9-ish.
It had wires that connected from the car’s battery to Jamie’s bionic arm. Not sure if those were for jump-starting the car or Jamie.
It also had a unique driver’s side suicide door. If the brakes failed, Jamie could hang her bionic gams out the door and bring the car to a halt.
We’re sure there were other transportation-themed toys that you were desperate for at Toys “Я” Us. Let us know what you’re searching for on eBay today.