Petrolhead Playthings

Small Wheels, Big Thrills: 10 Best Automotive Toys


Kids love cars and trucks and things that go — get ’em hooked early and they’ll be motorheads for life. Whether you want to start small with miniature die-cast models, build patience with tedious model-building or see how well your offspring hoon, there’s a car toy out there that’ll fit the bill. We’ve rounded up ten awesome — and classic — car toys that you’d be proud to bestow upon your kid and he’ll be more than happy to crash pilot it. (And you know you’re gonna end up playing with them anyhow, so might as well get something you love now.)

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Hot Wheels


Hot Wheels have been around since just after the Beatles came stateside, and they’ve got just as much staying power as those harmonizing Brits. The die-cast models are almost entirely 1:64 scale and come in all forms: from custom hot rods that don’t (and couldn’t) necessarily exist in real life to automotive classics like all our favorite Ferraris and American muscle. Hot Wheels are the perfect combination of collectable and playable — anybody can enjoy ’em.

Slot Cars/Track


Slot Cars scream around miniature tracks fast as hell, kept in place only by small pins on their undersides that follow grooves (slots) in the track itself. Powered by tiny electric motors and usually controlled by handheld remotes, when not being raced by hobbyists these fun models are sometimes used in films to depict automobile traffic in the miniature. There are also thoroughly modern, app-controlled “slot cars” that in fact use no slots at all. Oxymoronic? Oxymoronic.

Radio Controlled Cars


Driving a car remotely is always a blast, regardless of its size — there are small, zippy toys for kids and larger, complex vehicles for adults bigger kids. Some feature tiny electric motors while others are powered by actual fuel. We’ve always been fans, but still have our fingers crossed for a full-size version.



“Robots in Disguise” are alien beings that literally transform their bodies to form any variety of mechanical objects: cars, trucks, jets, even a boombox. But let’s focus for a moment on the vehicular morphers: the good guys are Autobots and they transform only into automobiles. That’s really all you need to know because Good always triumphs over Evil and cars are awesome. Any kid worth his salt will love to configure these dudes in all their forms, be they ready for battle or ready for the road. Bonus points now that Shia LeBarf is no longer part of the franchise.

Model Cars


Model Cars are for the patient. Countless tiny pieces, instructions, paint, glue — it’s all tedious, delicate work. But in the end the final product can be stunningly real, if only very small and plastic — and you made the damn thing. They’re also cheap, which, especially for fickle young ones, is a boon.

Pedal Cars and Push Cars


Little tykes who perhaps aren’t quite ready to handle artificially powered vehicles can still scoot around town (well, the driveway), Flinstones-style. Pedal cars and push cars have been around for decades, and they’re often styled after classic cars, fire engines and even airplanes. They’re traditionally fashioned from sheet metal (like the vintage motorcars they ape) but are available in more modern materials too.



“Toy” names don’t get all that much more literal. These low-slung trays with racing seats feature wheels pushed as far toward the corners as possible, which any amateur physicist will tell you means stupid amounts of fun. They handle like dreams, whether they’re electric- or gas-powered, indoor or outdoor machines. Indeed, many a career racecar driver has gotten his start in a kart. Pick up one of your own or head over to your friendly neighborhood Karting track and race your face off. (Note: In real life, dropping bananas on the track is not smiled upon and can lead to criminal punishment.)

Tonka Trucks


Ever walk past a construction site and linger a while, looking at those lucky guys operating those huge yellow toys to dig and build and haul? It’s likely you first became fascinated with trucks and construction equipment when you first laid eyes on a Tonka toy. Dump trucks, cement mixers, cherry pickers, pick ups, car haulers — these are toys a man can appreciate his whole life long.

Big Wheels


Sort of like a custom hog for kids, this is the low rider of kid’s bikes and has been since the 60s. Pedals drive the single, large front wheel and high handlebars make any lad feel like a real cool dude when ramblin’ down the road.

Power Wheels


Every man remembers the first time he saw a Power Wheels Jeep. It was also the first moment he ever wanted to chomp on a cigar. Nowadays luxury SUVs, sports car convertibles and much more are given the battery-powered treatment, instantly engendering envy in neighborhood proletariat. (No, adults don’t fit. We tried.)