With one of these old Clutch Poppers, there’s a good chance the rear tires have become quite shiny. This means they will not grip as well to a surface, therefore not travel as well/fast or spin out if going too fast on a shiny surface. There may also be some rubbish embedded in there that it would good to sand out/even out. They are made of pretty hard wearing rubber, and a light sanding can bring them back to full grip.
So take a small piece of sandpaper (120 grit or so) and just hold the rear tire and sand it lightly to rough the surface, slowly moving the tire around around doing a bit at a time until it is all even. Do the same to the other tire. Then as an optional extra you can tape a piece of sandpaper to a bench, spin up the tires to full speed and then slowly lower them onto the paper evenly a few times.
Now the thing with doing this, as well as the other two steps (axles and lube), is that if the motor is still in proper working order, the car may well go very fast if it gets revved up to max speed, and that’s where you’ll see whether you need to address any of the next maintenance steps. This one is one of the main fixes/hacks that will help it stay straight(ish) going very fast on a smooth surface, the other is weight which I’ll do another post about.
The next main thing you’re going to want to, after cleaning the axles, is is to get some lube around those axles and potentially (read ‘A bit about the motor’ here, and blog post here) into the motor. You don’t want anything too sticky or oily, I’ve found CRC 556 or CRC Noxy the best, this is because you don’t want anything that’s just going to attract more dirt (you want something that will repel it – CRC does that). Also it is difficult to get to the innards of this motor (unless you drill out the rivet), so you need something very fine that can penetrate through a small crack (again CRC). Once you sprayed a little around the axles – using a straw nozzle attachment, spray a little along the top (again with the straw nozzle), and a little around the flywheel axle joints. Then give it a good rev up a push the clutch flap (that button normally presses) to get the lube moving into the motor and parts.
This is usually the first thing you’ll want to do, and often the main issue that will be stopping the car from functioning properly. After years of abuse a fair bit of gunk can build up where the wheel axle meets the body of the car and the motor. Once you’ve got the body off, and dust cover removed, you’re going to need a very fine screwdriver or tweezers. You’re going to use this to scrape out all the gunk from around the axles, bit by bit until it’s all gone. Don’t think about using water and some kind of brush for this – water and this motor aren’t great together, probably not the end of the world, but you don’t want to get water in there, and you don’t want to blow any of this dust and gunk into there either, so just pick and scrape it away. The front wheels don’t normally have any problem, but check those out while you’re at it.
As far as the motor itself goes, you’ll want to try and clean that down as much as possible without taking it out if you don’t need to. So easiest way to do that is with some cotton buds sprayed with CRC (WD40 will also be ok for that) then just wipe away at it, all around until it’s as clean as you can get it.
There are two main methods for the common Clutch Popper Chevy models. For both you’ll need a number 10 size star type Allen key or screwdriver. The Chevelle type (bonnet/hood screw) has standard Phillips head screw. You don’t want to do this procedure too many times, as each time you unscrew/re-screw you will be wearing down the thread channel in the plastic.
Chevy Monza & Vega (Red & Blue)
These two both have a ‘turbo’ block piece on the top of the front bonnet/hood, the screw on the underside in the front of the base screws into this block. Unscrew this screw (I find it easiest with an allen key star type), then lift the top off, the two tabs at the back will slip forward out of the base.
There is a plastic dust cover over the motor, remove this for maintenance but it is important not to lose and put put it back on before reassembling. That plastic cover does a very good job keeping dust and crap from getting sucked into the internal gears, which over time would clog it up, slow it down, and be much more difficult to fix.
Follow the listed maintenance steps described here, as with all of the models you’ll want to give everything a good clean while you have the body and parts separate so that you reduce the number of times it gets taken apart.
Chevy Chevelle (Yellow)
This one (and models of this type) has screw (Phillips head) going the other direction, and is in the top of the front bonnet/hood, under the decal, going down into the base. You’ll need to lift the decal to get at it so this one’s a bit more annoying and intrusive. If the car is already pretty beat up (good chance) then it doesn’t really matter that much and you could just lose the bonnet decal (can look really good – see here), if you’re not a fan of that then you’ll just need to be careful.
Once you’ve got that screw out it’s the same as above for the other Chevy types.
Follow the listed maintenance steps as per the other models, as with all of these you’ll want to give everything a good clean while you have the body and parts separate so that you reduce the number of times it gets taken apart.
The motor in these Tonka Clutch Poppers is actually quite interesting for a toy friction car. The main unique feature is of course the clutch mechanism, this allows for the flywheel to be spun up to high speeds independently of drive engagement with the rear axle. Then the button push, or clutch drops one of those reductive gears out the way and engages the flywheel to the rear axle through another gear. The other main feature is the gearing itself, it was designed with a very low ratio for some reason, which you can feel in the resistance when spinning up the flywheel, which drives the car really pretty quick for a friction powered toy car. Sometimes so fast it will spin out on any kind of smooth surface if driven to maximum rpms.
The gears themselves are a combination of brass and nylon which was a good design choice considering what they were trying to do with this. As mentioned on the maintenance page, these originally ran dry very effectively, and if run in a clean dust and dirt free environment continually they would require zero maintenance. Of course that was never going to happen, and instead they were used and abused through every type of condition – as intended, over decades in some cases. And in reality they coped very well with that. The fact that you can pick one of these up now, that can be in pretty bad shape, and have very good chance of getting it back to normal function says a lot for the design.
And this is a process that is easily done, and could be a good project to do together with your kid, grandkid, neice, nephew etc. A good chance for them to learn some stuff about motors, gears, flywheels, kinetic energy and inertia, and just restoring something that’s considered broken/stuffed. The kinetic energy is a cool one, where did the energy now captured in the spinning flywheel come from? Your arm! You have essentially powered the car and transferred that energy into the flywheel, good stuff for kids to learn about then actually see through to the result. What’s more if you’e lucky you can pick one of these up for $10 (sometimes maybe even a few bucks) from Ebay / second-hand store / garage sale – especially if they are sold as not working (which is hardly ever actually a problem with these things). Take $10 to Kmart now and you will likely get a piece of plastic crap, with batteries that need constant replacement, that might see out a years use if you’re lucky. These were sold for $5 at Kmart in 1980.
The one thing to watch out for though on Ebay or the like, is if someone says ‘it feels like it slipping when trying to rev up’ or similar. Then that is very likely that a tooth has sheared off on one of the nylon gears, probably because of excessive dirt and something else that caused it to start grinding away at the base of one (or more) or the teeth. In this case it is unfortunately almost impossible to bring back to full normal function, but maybe worth a shot if you or your kid are keen for a little project like that.
The whole lubrication thing with motors like this is a tricky one, and is a rabbit hole if you take a look at whole world of hobbyist toy, train, RC & robotics motor stuff. The general school of thought is that brass and nylon should in fact need no lubrication at all if everything is kept clean and closed off. They tried to do this with this motor, but the way these cars get used meant that dirt and crap was always going to get in there, the challenge then is what to do about it. Like I said on the other page, if it’s running pretty good with just some lube on the outside of the motor to free up any seized shaft points and the flywheel, then there’s a chance the motor may still be clean inside – in which case leave it alone. Otherwise you need to decide what to do about it. Either take a punt and squirt a little CRC (or similar) in there to try and loosen it up, or take the motor out and try and clean it down – getting out as much dirt as possible, because ideally you’d want this to be a one time thing. What you don’t want to do is actually end up making things worse by creating a lubricated paste in the teeth of those nylon gears, that is what will ultimately wear away at them and reduce their life, potentially in pretty quick fashion. So keep that in mind.
This is an early model Chevy Monza (no turbo sound), was in very good condition and actually in pretty good working order, just a little noisy, understandable for 40 odd years old, I’m a little noisy sometimes myself:p
So this post is mainly just going over disassembly and basic lube, that’s all this one needed, and a bit of a cleanup. I used CRC 556 as a penetrative lubricant, great for loosening up parts that are a bit seized up noisy, and safe on metals and plastics. I would not recommend WD40 for this, for reasons that I might do a blog about later, but it is not really a lubricant like CRC 556 (although that also is really a light lubricant). After a penetrative, cleaning, loosening lube, you could also use a silicone based lube around the flywheel and (potentially) in the motor parts, in a nutshell if at all possible keep it to minimum (to loosen seized parts), as this motor was originally intended to run dry. In this one I did apply a little Super Lube with PTFE (Teflon) on a couple of the shaft points on the outside of the motor, just a little is all that’s needed. At the end of the day this motor ends up transferring quite a lot of kinetic energy into the flywheel and the engagement of that into the rear axle can cause the car to go very fast if everything is in order. It then can become sensitive to any kind of shiny surface and needs something to grip onto from take off, and/or extra weight. But all that’s all part of the fun! This one is not one of those models, and runs at what I would call a good speed for the average kid in the average house. I suspect from around 1980/81 when they added the ‘turbo sound’ (not in this car so it must be pre that), they also added an additional gear that spins the flywheel even faster (which seems like a ludicrous thing to do but there you go!). I’ve found that the ones I have with the turbo sound feature, once cleaned and lubed (as above – just a little around the shaft pints and flywheel, and potentially none in the gears themselves) go significantly faster to the point of needing some kind of grip mat to run on (if revved up to the max, you can also control that by dropping the revs/flywheel rpms).
This is an early 1980’s Tonka Clutch Popper, Chevy Chevelle model (‘Yellow Streak’) that came into the workshop (aka ‘the shed’) in a ‘not working/don’t know how it works’ state. Exterior actually good condition considering. Disassembled and found the usual culprits, dust and crap built up around the wheels and motor (but not as bad as the other one – probably because it was a slightly later model, less mileage:p). This one has the ‘turbo sound’ so is 1980+ as far as I can tell. You can see in the below picture the little white-ish plastic bit sticking out the back of the motor, that is the turbo sound maker – it vibrates against the dust cover to make that high pitched noise.
Took it through standard service steps 1-8 (kept the turbo sound on though), which you can see in detail on the maintenance page, but was essentially cleaning up around the wheels and motor, lube, cleanup body, sand tires to resurface them for maximum grip.
Then I test it out to see how it runs (this one was basically back to normal), and if all good I leave it at that (as did with this one), if still a bit rough then I’d look at taking the motor out (involves drilling the steel rivet out – easy, or plastic ‘rivets’ out – more of pain/destructive), but I’d rather not do that if it doesn’t need it. I’ll do a blog post about that at some point. You’ll notice on the picture below this is one of the models with plastic ‘rivets’ on each side of the front of the motor, and a hole where the steel one is in other models. Not sure why they made this design change (it may be there were 2 different factories?) as the ones with a steel rivet really have all three (its just that the plastic ones aren’t squashed down) so those models are: a) tougher – more belt & braces, b) easier to maintain.
This one now runs very fast if revved right up so i used a grippy mat to run it on in the test. I’ve since found another trick/hack that will keep it straight(er) at full speed which is essentially additional weight and getting the balance right. But if you just rev it a couple of time it’s fine and still very quick. I’ll leave it up to the kids to sort out:)
Anyway here’s some photos and a short video of how that went, sorry didn’t video the actual maintenance steps as didn’t have a way of holding the camera and doing that at the same time – I’ll work something out for that for the next one. But this one is now ready for a new life of getting run into things by kids (& adults:)) with a bit of imagination, and a strong forearm :p.
This is an original Tonka Clutch Popper 1978-80 Chevy Chevelle (Action Series – no ‘turbo sound’), that was is pretty good nick really for its age, but running like a dog, in fact sold as ‘not working’. Which was correct, it was not currently working and did need a service before being returned back out for duty!
This one needed a good clean-out inside, for such good condition outside, the inside was pretty shite and did take a bit of cleaning.
After disassembly the process with this one was:
Scraping around the axles and picking out everything that was wrapped around there with some tweezers
Lifting out any large clumps of fluff/dust/crap around the place
Spraying some CRC on some cotton buds then using those to wipe down all around the motor
Getting some lube (CRC 556 at first, followed by some NOXY) all around the flywheel.
Getting some lube (CRC 556) around the gear rods on the exterior of the motor and along the top joint (not too much, you don’t want a pool of the stuff down the bottom)
Spinning it up to get the lube moving around, then actually needed the motor out as was still a bit rough, and sprayed down with CRC to remove all the dirt as much as possible, air blown dry then a light coat of NOXY that dries to a light film (could’ve also used a dry lube spray which may have been a better bet, but didn’t have any, maybe next time).
Spin up again
Sand rear tires to re-grip as they’d become quite shiny
This is a Tonka Clutch Popper, Chevy Monza model (probably had the Cragar series decals, 1980-ish, was hard to tell with what was left of them!), that came into the workshop (aka ‘the shed’) in pretty rough condition, beat up and down on its luck, barely running and a bit sad.
It was looking like the above picture. Not great, but you can see the potential here. The more beat up the better (to a point:)) on these cars, those are badges of honor for a toy car like this. Sorry a didn’t get a before video of how it was running, but use your imagination, sounded like shit and crawled a few inches. So it was time to get it sorted out and back on track!
So I took this through all the maintenance steps I’ve posted about on the maintenance page (may not have posted on all of them yet, but will update later), bar taking the motor out (which would’ve meant drilling the rivet out) as I wanted to see how well it could go with just the basics. So this was: cleanup axles, cleanup motor (without removing), lube axles & motor (CRC), lightly sand tyres, tire alignment, removed remaining decal/sticker remnants (with citris degreaser – in the states you could use something like Crud Cutter), cutting polish & wax, plastic cleaner, body buff/shine.
Here it is disassembled, post cleanup, body with a wax polish waiting for buffing.
Here it is finished, and running well! I’m not sure how far it will go now on a full rev as I don’t have a stretch long enough to find out, it currently always ends up smacking into something, but I expect it could do 30 odd metres (or more) on a good surface, one day I’ll find out and do a post about it.