Home » Penny Racer, Not A Pen Eraser: Cold Start

Penny Racer, Not A Pen Eraser: Cold Start

Cs Pennyracer

This little plastic, highly stylized and caricatured Baja Bug toy sits on my desk, and it’s something I’ve had since I was a kid. It’s called a Penny Racer, made by the same Japanese company that made Transformers, Takara. For whatever reason or quirk of brain chemistry, I remember quite vividly the day I’d saved up enough chore/allowance/illegal Now-N-Later-on-school-bus-sales money to get one. I was determined to get the Baja Bug one, as even then I was an air-cooled VW kid. I also remember that nearly every place I went to find one, whomever I spoke with thought I was saying “pen eraser,” a product I had absolutely no interest in at all as a little kid who never made mistakes in ink, and, if I did, I’d own that shit, not try to abrade away the paper under the ink in shame. I just wanted a tiny pull-back car I could stick one cent into the back to make it do a wheelie. Was that too much to ask?

As you can see by the picture, eventually I found one. Over the years it seems to have lost its little transparent glass insert that formed the window glass, and the plastic dual surfboards on top. That’s understandable, as most of this car’s playing career involved it slamming into walls or furniture at high relative speeds.

As far as why I wanted one so much as a kid, I bet these commercials were the key factor:

I like how it starts with an excited Abraham Lincoln, who normally only got that excited about President’s Day Mattress Sales. Also, there was a kid who looked like that bespectacled one in pretty much anything you’d see on TV in the early ’80s. I think it was a law or FCC ordinance or something.

Interestingly, the exaggerated design of the Penny Racers was very heavily influenced by one particular artist/cartoonist: Dave Deal.

Cs Davedeal

You can see there the distinctive bonkers proportions Deal used to like to draw. And he drew these for all kinds of magazines and ads and even designed the 1971 NORRA Mexican 1000 race poster.

Anyway, good morning from the crap on my desk!

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26 Responses

  1. Reminds me of that one or two years (2005? 2006?) where every shop was selling tiny little RC cars which you charged on the controller, and which ran off of capacitors inside the vehicle.

    Anyone else know what I’m talking about?

    1. As someone else already pointed out – they were ZipZaps. I used to have a 350Z that I would race around on my coffee table. I was a grown-ass adult when those things came out, and I loved them. I wish someone would bring those things back. In the meantime, the smallest RC toys I have is my fleet of Kyosho Mini-Z’s.

      1. If you don’t mind dealing with sites like Banggood/aliexpress etc, I believe the Turbo Racing 1/76 cars might be of interest; 2.4ghz, fully proportional RC, slightly smaller than ZipZaps, and avalable in a few different styles (new mini, FD RX7, R34 skyline, monster truck). Not tried them myself, but they’re apparently pretty good. Diatone also do a couple (still proportional etc), including a cartoonishly proportioned 240z, that are available with a camera, although they apparently don’t handle as well.

      1. Oh wow, I think I still have those tucked away somewhere. I think my parents couldn’t find them near us, but the Radioshack by my grandmother had them probably because it was more rural. I didn’t ask for anything specific but fairly sure I had a Civic and a PT Cruiser.

    1. Dude, Stompers! I loved mine, even after it got caught in my hair and I ended up having to go to school that day with an impromptu haircut by my friend’s mom.

  2. I also have a soft spot for Penny Racers, I had a few as a kid, and there’s also the G1 Transformers connection mentioned elsewhere in this convo.

    BTW, they are still around! In Japan they are known as Choro-Q and have been in production in various forms since 1978. I know because at one point they made a Nissan S12 200SX and I’ve been trying to collect all the variations and liveries of it.

  3. I remember these, and I am pretty sure I had the same one, although mine is now long gone.

    The one car toy I wanted so bad as a kid, and never got was the Guzzler, which was a car that somehow ran on a 9 volt battery and water that you poured in with a tiny gas can. As a kid I was convinced they really ran on gasoline, which I thought was amazing. I still don’t really understand how they worked, and would love to have one. Of course they also made one as a beetle as well.

    1. Dude I remember those. I had one when I was 10ish. You dribbled water into the little filler neck on the car, and it would dribble out the bottom slowly until you were ‘out of gas.’ inside the tank were two wire probes the water just completed the circuit. Damn I’ve got to go to my mom’s house and see if that’s still around.

  4. On shelf above my desk I have a 1978 Honda Civic Matchbox (in honor of my 1983 Civic HF I owned in high school, loos almost the same!), a 1969 BMW 2002 Matchbox (Nice!) with box it came in, and a 1996 Porsche 911 Carrera Hot Wheels my son gave me as a gift when I asked for a “new car”. I also have a mini Lite Brite, a mini basketball water game, and a couple fidget toys. If I didn’t have the space on the shelf, I’d probably still have all this in my drawer. Gotta be a kid sometimes, even at work.

  5. I used to send mine across the counter and into our hall bathroom sink. If I got it just right it would drop in, pop up on the other side and turn around and come back, like a skateboarder. This was without the penny.

    1. I remember those! I remember saving up for a Herbie one as a kid. I bet it’s still in a box at my parents house somewhere. I was literally just thinking about this last night, for the first time in years.

  6. Those were the days. I had a few myself. They zipped just fine without the Penny, but with it the fun started.
    Bonus if you had a Water Wheels. The idea that adding 6 drops of water made the spring powered toy car run was ludicrous but it earned my $6.

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