Chevy Monza Tonka Clutch Popper

REMIX: Chevy Monza

Here’s an example of recombining a couple of broken models into one new and improved one! I had a 1987 Tonka clutch popper – Monza (Scorcher) that had a stuffed motor (broken teeth on one of the gears), and another ’83 model with a smashed in wheelbase, so the kids & I thought swapping the bits around might make a good experiment. Turned out pretty good and probably better than the other two we reckon. This is because the ’83 model with a silver wheelbase has a flaw – those white coloured wheelbase’s/chassis are not UV stable (by the looks of it), which means they can become brittle over time and one good smack and they’ll crack. Also the ’87 model does not have as heavier gauge steel for the body and not quite as good a paint job (more a print), but does have a black turbo piece for the hood. So the two combined together actually work pretty well, maybe even the perfect combo! It did involve drilling the rivet out of the good motor to remove from the broken base, then riveting (just with a pop rivet) into the ’87 black base, pretty quick and easy job.

So a good example of reusing broken toys, recombining parts and making something new, fun little project you can do with kids with these kinds of toys that have modular inter-changeable parts. So if you see any of these around that are going cheap ‘for repair’ or ‘for parts/salvage’ then grab a couple and give the kids a little project, and you could chip in too:)

1983 Chevy Monza – broken wheelbase
Chevy Monza Remix – ’83 & ’87
Chevy Monza Remix

Here are the original catalog pictures of the two models recombined into this one.

1987 Tonka Clutch Popper – Chevy Monza – Scorcher
1983 Tonka Clutch Popper – Chevy Monza
Tonka Quickshifter

Service: Corvette Quickshifter

Got a hold of one of these old Tonka Quickshifters the other day, Corvette model, in pretty good condition with the usual wear of paint scratches and small dents, no big deal with these things. Flywheel motor wasn’t working too well, but I could tell all it would really need was a bit of lube and it would be back in normal function.

These old Quickshifters are a pretty solid unit, pressed steel top and chassis with quite a chunky flywheel motor. All that adds up to quite a heavy vehicle for a toy car of this size by todays standards. Which is good and bad, an angry kid hurling this thing across a room could do some serious damage, though the car itself would probably come out ok:) These are a fair bit heavier than the Clutch Popper, which essentially replaced these, improving the motor with the clutch mechanism, and giving them a high density plastic chassis that incorporated the front and back bumper, a natural refinement of the design really. Here’s an example of the size comparison.

Interesting thing with this one is that it has tamperproof (System Zero) screws in the chassis, unusual for a toy car like this I would have thought, and from what I can tell they only did this on a few models so I suspect it was a particular factory quirk as opposed to some kind of design decision. What this means is that it is very unlikely this thing has ever been taken apart, as this is not a common driver bit and without one these types of screws are practically impossible to remove. Luckily I did have one of these driver bits lying around, as luck would have it, as I used one to fix up some old Japanese hifi gear a few years ago, maybe these tamperproof screws were big in Japan in the 70’s? Anyway got the chassis off and disassembled, and all looked pretty good really, as expected just a bit old and dusty and seized up. Dust cover had done a good job protecting the motor, and on these was glued in place. Bit of a clean up and lube and everything was running smoothly again.

Tonka Quickshifter – Corvette – Disassembled

I’m not sure what age group they pitched this at initially, but you need a decent bit of strength and force to really charge this motor up, so I would have thought minimum age 6, and older kids would get more out of it as they would be able to thrash it a bit more:) Bit of car polish on the body shined it up nicely, quite a slick looking piece actually! And I’ve got no problem with it getting a few more scratches from here on in:)

Update: gave this a go and it is very quick if given a long charge, and straight as an arrow, warning – don’t fire it towards anything you don’t want damaged, this thing put a sizable dent in my front door:|

Tonka Quickshifter – Corvette – Post Service
Tonka Quickshifter – Corvette – Rear view
GMC Truck

Salvage/Service: GMC Truck

This Tonka GMC Truck was a bit of a junk sale salvage job, not great shape but really not bad for a toy truck, and at the end of the day I’ve found kids (and adults:)) aren’t really that fussy with these things, if they go then you can charge them up and get them smacking into something! So as I could tell that there was something going on with the flywheel, I was pretty sure it would be a relatively easy job to get it cleaned up & going again.

These GMC trucks (called Big Rig on the original packaging) came out in 1981, bit of a departure from the Chevy clutch poppers, less steel, bigger, not quite as styley but something a bit different I guess. I’ll be honest, if prefer the style of the chevy’s, they’ve got a certain timeless style with that single piece of pressed steel and cool design thinking.

This one had a little bit of rust creeping in the top, pretty dirty, and motor just needing a bit of lube. Very easy to take apart (basically a single screw), a few main pieces altogether and very easy to clean up. The dust cover had saved the motor from the majority of dirt so was actually just a bit seized up with age, bit of lube got it working fine. As it’s the same size flywheel as the other clutch poppers, but heavier vehicle, it does move a little slower, but still pretty respectable for a flywheel powered truck.

So all in all not bad outcome for a junker, took about 15 minutes to sort it out, still some life left in this one yet!

Tonka Clutch Popper – GMC Truck – Post Service
Tonka Quickshifter

Service: Mustang Quickshifter

I spotted one of these old Tonka Quickshifters the other day being sold as a junker (one mans junk is another mans treasure and all that:)). Guy didn’t know (or probably care) what it was, said wheels didn’t move and was very playworn, thought it might have some kind of friction motor but sold as is where is. The description was accurate, but I figured it was worth a crack to clean it up, take a look inside and see if I could sort it out and get it back on the road:p.

These things are all pressed steel, body and chassis, with plastic bumpers and window piece. Here’s a page with a bit of description about them. They are about double the size of a Tonka Clutch Popper, and double the weight. They are seriously durable toys, and this one looked like had been through one hell of a ride over its 43 year life (these were produced in 1977/78), bit of denting and paint damage, the underside scratched up in a big way, bumpers pretty dinged up front and back. Badges of honor:) And yes it did not hardly budge and was pretty seized up. Couple of the original screws had been replaced with different types.

Tonka Quickshifter – Mustang – Disassembled

The dust cover over the motor had been glued in place (not sure whether this was a factory thing or done later), so took a bit to prise it off. Found that the motor all looked fine, and it may have been that the dust cover had remained in place its whole life. The gears were just seized in place. The motor in these Quickshifters is larger than the Clutch Popper, due to the size and weight being significantly more it has a larger and heavier flywheel to drive it. It is not also completely closed off by the steel frame, with the dust cover off you can access the gears directly, which makes adding a bit of lube more straight forward. A bit of CRC in and around the axles, gears and flywheel got thing moving in pretty short order. It was/is totally functional, including it’s “Quickshifting” ability, which is basically the ability to charge the flywheel through one gear transmission line (that spins the flywheel very fast), then when you stop applying forward force, it automatically drops in to a different transmission line (and reduced output) that now engages the flywheel to the rear axle. This design and patent was essentially extended with the Clutch Popper, that enabled you to “hold back” that auto shift to the second transmission line, and instead engage it when you wanted through the push of the button on top.

Tonka Quickshifter – Mustang – Motor

Once it was all cleaned up, this turned out to be a great little (well reasonably big) car that will probably now stay in use for another decade or so with this family, then maybe others after that, who knows, its made it this far!. Not a bad innings for a toy car from ’77.

Tonka Clutch Popper

Clutch Popper patents

I was randomly reading an article on Verge the other day about the 11 millionth patent recently issued (bit of drama about it being given to a particular thing as opposed to a soy bean), and after having a bit of a browse around the USPTO website, thought I’d take a look into any Tonka patents, as you do! On the bottom of the old clutch poppers is “Patent Pend”, meaning they filed for a patent, so thought I should be able to find the original documents. After a bit of sleuthing, sure enough I think I found 2 patents, both assigned to Tonka and within a year of each other, which combined together cover the clutch popper motor as built. Regardless of what you think about patents, and whether they restrict creativity or not, they are interesting documents for whatever field of interest you may have where patents have been filed. If you have just a passing interest in flywheel motors, read some of the summary stuff further down this post, if you have deep interest, open the links, if you have no interest stop reading now or you may lose the will to live:)

Back to these 2 patents, it is a pretty unique little motor in these cars and as expected there is some fairly detailed gearing mechanism design going on there, described in great detail in the patent documents, much of which I struggle to understand:) It took the patent office 5 years to approve the second one by the looks of it. The first patent, from inventor Ohashi Yutaka, is Running toy with a flywheel – Patent 4,130,963 (here is the link to the USPTO page) , and is basically the motor that was released in the Tonka Quickshifter 1977, this provided two separate transmission lines of 9 gears (in 4 gear sets) with a slip mechanism for both engaging the axle and dropping to neutral on sudden stop without damaging the motor. Overlayed over this design was patent 4,422,263, from inventor Hiroshi Masubuchi – Gear changing mechanism for toy vehicle driving devices (here is the link to the USPTO page), filed in 1978, and it added the clutch mechanism and a small modification to the gearing.

Here are a couple of extracts from those patents as summary.

Running toy with a flywheel

The running toy with a flywheel of the invention has a toy driving unit to form a first transmission path with a first gear ratio to energize and rotate the flywheel at a high speed when driving wheels are rubbed against a floor for drive, and a second transmission path to rotate the driving wheels with the flywheel as a drive source at a speed reduced by a second gear ratio different from the first gear ratio when the drive of the driving wheels is stopped, thereby running the running toy at a speed different from the speed at time of energizing of the flywheel, a frictional rotation transmitting section provided in the second transmission path to yield a slip when the driving wheels are applied with overload.


This invention relates to a running toy with a flywheel in which the driving wheels are driven to rotate and energize the flywheel at a high speed, and then the driving wheels are rotated making use of the rotation by inertia of the flywheel, thereby running the toy.

There have conventionally been known running toys making use of the rotation by inertia of the flywheel as stated above. However, such conventional toys have been subject to various defects. For example, a first defect is that the running toy cannot move at a speed higher than the speed corresponding to the rotating speed of the driving wheels yielded by the flywheel because the flywheel and the driving wheels are coupled securely by a set of gear train. Accordingly, when the flywheel is energized by rubbing the toy automobile against e.g. a floor surface, the running speed of the toy automobile driven by the flywheel is equal to or lower than the moving speed of the toy automobile at energizing of the flywheel.

Meanwhile, a second defect is that as the flywheel and the driving wheels are coupled securely by the gear train, so, when the driving wheels are stopped while the toy automobile is running or applied with overload, the rotating parts on their relevant portions may be distorted by the large energy of rotation possessed by the flywheel or the teeth of the gears used may be broken.

A first object of this invention is to provide a running toy with a flywheel free from the aforesaid defects possessed by the conventional running toys with flywheel in which the driving wheels start rotation at a speed different from the rotating speed of the driving wheels at energizing the flywheel, thus allowing the running toy to start running at a speed different from the moving speed equivalent to the rotating speed of the driving wheels at energizing of the flywheel.

The running toy with the above-mentioned construction of this invention may be run at a speed different from higher lower speed than the energizing speed when the running toy is rubbed against e.g. a floor surface by selecting the first and second gear ratios properly. Further, by providing the second transmission path of the running toy with a rotation transmitting section employing a friction coupling, the large torque, which may be produced according to the high-speed rotation of the flywheel when the driving wheels of the running toy are applied with overload or stopped, can be dissipated through the friction coupling, thereby avoiding damage to the relevant portions.

It then goes on to describe, in intricate detail, the relationship between the 9 internal gears and the 2 primary transmission paths. Read at your own leisure if you are super interested in low level gearing and flywheel inertia mechanics:)

Gear changing mechanism for toy vehicle driving devices

A toy vehicle is disclosed including a gear changing mechanism for use in conjunction with a flywheel driving device. The mechanism comprises a gear changing lever pivotally mounted to a frame by means of a pin. The lever is biased in one direction by means of a first spring member to hold the axle of an idle gear in engagement with one end of an elongated opening formed in the frame. The gear changing lever is adapted to pivot by a depressing action against the force of the first spring member to disengage the idle gear axle from the one end of the elongated opening so as to allow a second spring member to urge the idle gear axle against the other end of the elongated opening.

And that, in summary, is way more than I ever thought anyone ever needed to know about flywheel motors with clutch mechanisms, of which of course, this is the only known example:)

Indy Car

Service: Indy Car

Got hold of one of the Indy Car models of the clutch popper series that was in pretty decent shape, but just not really functioning. Pretty easy to clean up like the others, comes with a couple of extra screws but of same type as all the other Chevy type clutch poppers. This one made in Japan like those, quite a different body style though, and as far as the original series goes (this was early 80’s, even late seventies possibly) this one does stand out as quite different to the rest. Solid pressed steel body, same motor as the others with dust cover and turbo sound.

This one had the usual dust and gunk build up, and just bit seized up flywheel and gear bushings from age and probably sitting around a while. Got rid of all that and lubed with CRC, sanded down wheels for regrip as were quite hard and shiny. Cleaned up body with some polish, this one wasn’t too badly scratched up so didn’t really need mush there.

Gave it a couple of test runs and it took off like a rocket, slightly cracked the front nose bit when it smacked into something, first time I’ve seen that happen with one of these so must be a weak point on this model, either that or age has weakened that piece (which does actually detach from the base).

All in all pretty cool car, very quick like the Chevy’s, probably not as good from a style point of view as it has a few extra pieces that over complicates it. Not that these things are really complicated at all, but the great thing about the Chevy models is they are super simple, essentially three pieces, and that gives them a certain style and strength.

Tonka Clutch Popper – Indy Car – Cleaned up
Dune Crawler 2 Speed

Service: Dune Crawler

This one was more of a salvage job, another junker that was written off as stuffed, but I thought may well be salvageable and turned back into a fun toy for the kids to play with. I was also keen to have a look inside after getting pretty familiar with these clutch poppers recently, but this one looked like it would be a bit different with its 2-speed function. This one was essentially non-functioning and pretty dirty, but I could hear it was trying to do something so was a good sign.

I found out that these have a very handy feature, you can essentially drop the motor straight out the bottom with the removal of the central underside screw. This makes these super easy to clean up & fix if thye ever run into any trouble.

Tonka Clutch Popper – Dune Crawler 2 speed – Disassembled

So I cleaned out the motor by spraying it thoroughly with CRC until it was running clear(ish). Cleaned up the body, removed the side stickers as they weren’t in great shape, gave it a bit of polish and buff up. Sliced my thumb trying to scrub one of the stickers off, so there’s a lesson there, that side edge is sharp when out of the casing! Cleaned down all the plastic parts and scrubbed down the wheels.

I found that for some reason the low speed clutch would not pop up when the buggy was pushed forward. The high speed one would, but the other gear would just not drop into place by itself. This meant that it would essentially stay in low speed by default until you set it to high speed. After a bit more investigation I found it was related to the tension of two wires the hold that gear in place (or push it back when the clutch is released “popped”). Readjusting these wires a little (probably back to what they used to be like) sorted this issue out, and it now has its 2 speeds back!

Tonka Clutch Popper – Dune Crawler 2 speed – Post Service

Overall pretty happy with how this one scrubbed up considering it was a write off, I reckon its a cool little retro toy buggy, not as quick as the Chevy’s but quite a cool looking thing and a bit of fun with its two speeds. I found the low speed gear enables it to move up slopes a lot more effectively than the other clutch poppers, which are really made to run on flat surfaces.

Chevy Vega

Salvage: Chevy Vega

I salvaged this Chevy Vega out of a junk box, it was very beat up and not even really moving at all. I took it to bits to try and get it working, and as far as I could tell all the gears were actually in reasonable condition, surprising because the motor was filthy. Gave it a good spray down, but for some reason the clutch will just not engage the flywheel, I have the feeling something has been knocked slightly out of place but I didn’t have time to really look into it in any more detail. It has definitely seen it’s fair share of knocks so I’m not surprised! At some point I might take another look at it.

I stripped what was left of the stickers off and gave it a good clean up. The thing is with these old Tonka’s is that they do clean up quite well, this one is now a pretty cool steel toy car – even without the motor working. Scratches, dents, chips and all, I reckon it looks pretty cool. It got that way through some serious play, so time to get it back in service with some new kids and see how much further they can take it:)

Here it is cleaned up.

Tonka Clutch Popper – Chevy Vega – Post clean up
Chevy Monza

Service: Chevy Monza 2

This is a Tonka that was in a junk box, basically written off so was a salvage job really, just a few bucks so worth a crack getting it working again! I wasn’t holding out too much hope given it wasn’t really showing any sign of working, but at the very least thought it could end up being a reasonable cleaned up steel car for the kids to play with. Taking it apart I found it was really very dirty so it’s only chance required drilling the motor out and giving it a thorough clean. This one had no steel rivet in the middle hole, and instead two squashed down plastic ‘rivets’, so with these you’ve got to essentially drill those right out through the base to get the motor out. Having a look at the motor I found it was very dirty, basically loaded with a very fine sand, so this one had been really put through it’s paces!

After giving it a good clean out with CRC I managed to get a better look at what was going on. The motor and gears were all in good working order, but for some reason the clutch gear was no longer dropping into place by itself when the car is pushed forward. This is where normally it would push the button up into the ready position and drive another gear that spins the flywheel.

The motor, cleaned out

What I found though was that it functioned fine if the gear was manually pulled down into place, which in turn popped the clutch up. Just needed a way of setting it when the car was back together. So a little hack I came up with was to drill a hole in the base under the gear and make a little “key” that could hook the gear down into place with a little pull. Worked a treat! This one now has a special feature where you need its “key” to make it work, I may even find an old car key base and use that as the handle, makes it a bit more fun for the kids:)

I took all the stickers of as they were not in great condition, I quite like the look of these without the stickers, bit more simple and easier to clean up. This one now runs pretty quick even on a single rev up, so I added weight to the opposite side of the flywheel to try and straighten it up a bit. Also ran it on about a meter of a grippy mat to help it get going without immediately spinning out. Here it is all cleaned up an ready to go!

Tonka Clutch Popper – Chevy Monza 2 – Post Service

Service: Porsche

One of these clutch popper Porsche 935’s came into the workshop today (aka “the shed”), very good condition at a bargain price of $10. Was just a bit noisy and slow, but body wise very good nick, hardly a scratch. Had obviously spent time in a home of very well behaved and gentle kids, it’s in for a rude awakening here:). One thing I really like about these pressed steel cars though is how well they scrub up, even if in terrible condition (not like this one), as standard car polish pretty much sorts them out. And as the pressed steel is all essentially one piece they are very easy to take apart, and also very durable as these are a fairly heavy gauge steel for toy car.

Tonka Clutch Popper – Porsche – Disassembled

This one has smaller rear tires than the Chevy models, so doesn’t move quite as fast, but still pretty respectable for a friction/flywheel powered car. Like some of the others, if you want it to go straight(ish) at speed then you really need to add weight to the opposite side of the flywheel. Either that or just point it on an angle and let it curve! The faster the flywheel spins the more mass like force it is generating which will pull the car to that side, the only way to counter that is to add more weight to the opposing side. I think the engineers who designed these either expected the car to weigh more, or didn’t expect kids to rev the hell out of them before setting them off. If you just give any of these clutch poppers just a couple of revs they’ll be fine (usually), but any more than that the flywheel will be moving at a very high speed and only additional weight will counter it. I didn’t bother with this one and just point it on an angle, I’ll leave it up to the kids to work out how best to work with it, maybe even a bit more fun that way!