Hot Wheels

Hot Wheels Legends

Here’s a cool story on on the process of taking a real life car (a 1970 Pontiac Trans-Am in this case) and turning it into a Hot Wheels model. Easy right? How about 9 months design, refinement, pre-production testing then manufacture. Even though these things are small there’s a fair bit of work going on behind the scenes to create a new model, especially to be part of the Legends series. If you ever wondered what that process was like check this out, this type of toy design and manufacture looks like a great job!

If you’ve got kids show them that, then maybe take another look at that old beat up Hot Wheels you may have lying around, maybe a bit more went into the making of that than they might’ve thought:)

Power Puncher Tonka Clutch Popper

Mini metal model matters

I’ve added a page on Power Punchers, as these are a pretty common type of Tonka Clutch Popper that are pretty easy to find, and can often be picked up for a bargain at your local buy/sell site/store. I have a couple of these from when I was a kid, they are in pretty good condition, mainly because these things run at a fraction of the speed of the larger clutch poppers, funny they decided to call them ‘Power Punchers’ as there is not really much ‘power’ there!

Having a closer look at the ones I have, the motors are miniaturized but simpler, much smaller flywheel and all nylon gears. Also the gears seem much ‘looser’, maybe that’s an age thing or maybe that’s just how these things are, I think it’s one of the reasons (together with the small flywheel), that make them move much slower.

Still a fun & cool little car for younger kids that may have trouble charging up the larger models, which do need a certain amount of strength.

Maintenance Tonka Clutch Popper

Maintenance: Fix slipping wheels

One issue I’ve come across with a very beat up Clutch Popper, which is pretty easy to fix is where one (or both) of the rear wheels slips around the axle, therefore not driving the motor. This can happen on very well used/beat up models, and they’ve effectively been written off as no longer working. It’s an easy one to spot, if you turn one of the tires and the opposite tire doesn’t also turn, then that tire is no longer fixed to the axle. Solution – glue it back on! This is another one you could get kids to do (with help), but they need to be a bit older as for a couple of the steps (particularly the gluing) you need to be careful what you’re doing and where you’re getting that glue – i.e. don’t get a 5 year old to give this fix a try on your dining room table:p

So first you’ve got to get the tire off, and even though it’s turning on the axle it still may take some force to lever it off. Easiest to put it in a vice, and with a large screwdriver between the wheel and the chassis, lever the wheel off a bit at a time until it pops off.

Then you just need to glue it back on, but not any old glue for this one. You’ll really need to use an epoxy type (2 part) glue to make sure these wheels stay stuck on for good! Mix the epoxy according to the instructions, just need a very small amount, then apply a little to the axle (use a nail or something like that as an applicator), and put a little into the hole in wheel where the axle will go. Push together until the wheel is fully on, if any extra epoxy has bunched up on the axle near the chassis, then carefully scrape that away – you don’t want to epoxy the wheel to the base!:) Let it sit for a good 8 hours to fully cure/harden (even if it says it cures in 30 minutes or something like that), and it should be good to go.

I had/have one like this, very beat up, but once the wheels were fixed back on (both of them slipped around the axle) it turned out to be one of the best!

Maintenance Tonka Clutch Popper

Maintenance: Fix curving (hook/slice) Part 2

Following on from the previous post, there’s another thing to try to help with this (I’ve also added to the bottom of that one) .
!! Caveatonly try this (and the other fix that involves either taking the motor out, or pushing the frame walls) if you have a very uncontrollable car where the other less invasive hacks/fixes haven’t worked – this is namely:
Adding weight & sanding smooth tires
Using a meter of PVC anti-slip mat on smooth surface – like this

PVC anti-slip matting

. This is because it’s possible to make things worse if you’re not careful and difficult to undo i.e. put the frame back into the state it was before.

So after a bit more investigation and experimenting, I think there is another piece to the puzzle – kind of related to the point about the axle movement, and that is movement of the flywheel from side to side. The same effect of crashes applying force to the steel frame of the motor, applies even more so to the flywheel. A spinning flywheel carries a lot of energy and if that is directed against the frame (in a crash) then it will push that out a tiny bit each time. If the flywheel has much movement in a left to right direction, then when it is spinning it may ‘kick’ a bit to one side or the other affecting the direction of the car. So same as with the axle, pushing that far side wall back in a bit will reduce that movement. In fact this should be the first thing to try (for very bad ones only – ones that immediately spin out even with the other hacks/fixes applied) as doesn’t require removing the motor, and it may be all that is required!

You could also try putting in an e-clip/circlip in this gap (could do the same with the axle gap), with some grease, if you don’t want to push the frame. I haven’t tried that yet but could be a good solution – just need to make sure it’s not too tight as getting one of those clips out once in could be difficult/near impossible:)

I have a close to original factory condition model, which is useful for reference, and on that one the flywheel hardly moves from side to side at all. They also applied a factory grease on that joint between the flywheel and the frame, which often has dried up and goes kind of orange with age. So maybe a good idea to put something similar back there before pushing the side back in, maybe like a small amount of white lithium grease or similar.

After this it may still need a little weight, like the one I tried this with, but this fix may just be the ticket for those that really hook/slice badly. I found the best way to push that frame wall in (slowly and gently) was using bent nose pliers like these:

Bent nose circlip pliers

Then you can push in a bit gripping both sides, a bit at a time until that flywheel movement has pretty much gone – there should still be a little movement to allow the flywheel to spin freely, so just push a little, check then spin of the flywheel to make sure it’s not rubbing or too tight – it’s a lot harder to pull that wall back out than it is to push it in!(see caveat above!). Or, as I said before, if you’re not keen on forcing the frame then maybe try an e-clip/circlip, I’ll try this sometime and see how it works and write up the result.

Give it a run, and maybe that’s all it needed!

Maintenance Tonka Clutch Popper

Maintenance: Fix curving (hook/slice)

It’s pretty common for one of these clutch poppers, particularly well worn in ones, to curve off to one side when going at full speed. Some may do that extremely, some only a little, and some by some miracle go pretty much dead straight. Why they curve at speed is complicated and probably a combination of several things. But the first thing is whether you really need to care much about it at all, if it curves just a bit then just pointing it on a angle from the start can help, but if it’s a bit extreme there are some things you can do to straighten them up. If you are doing this with your kids it can be quite a good little project as there is a bit of physics involved here.

So as to why this curving happens, I think it is a combination of a few things, but almost always is relative to the speed the flywheel is turning, which as you may have noticed is very fast. There is a lot of kinetic energy stored in that flywheel and I think that is part of picture. Another part is surface it is running on, and how flat that is and how much grip the car can get on it (for this you may need an anti-slip grip mat for the first couple of meters where there is maximum torque applied). And another is how much side to side movement there is in the rear wheels which can cause the body to shift slightly on the axis, which at speed magnifies this in a small (or large) direction change.

With all of these, adding weight to the right place more or less addresses the issue. This is because it can:

  • counter the force of flywheel if it is shifting and causing movement
  • push the car more firmly into the ground to counter surface variation and give more grip
  • center its weight more and make it more difficult to move much on it’s axles if there is some decent movement there

Generally you’ll want to add about 20grams of weight (maybe more maybe less, depends) to the opposing side that the car is tending to turn/curve. You could use coins or a lead fishing sinker hammered into the right shape. Add the weight to either the far side tray (between the front and rear wheel), or right up the front by the bumper, I’ve found for some right up by the bumper works best, not entirely sure why! Use blu-tack or similar to hold in place so can easily rejig if needed.

Here’s an example, do the opposite if curving to the right.

Where to add weight to help counter curving

You may still need to use some PVC anti-slip matting for the first meter if running on a very smooth surface – like this stuff:

PVC anti-slip matting

So one thing I have found, I think, is that the more horizontal movement in that rear axle is a pretty good indicator of how much it is going to turn. I think this movement is caused by many repeated big hits on the axles after crashes, which causes the internal brass gear and ring on either side of the axle to push the steel side wall out just a tiny bit each time, resulting in a larger gap and therefore more movement. Thing is I’ve got one that is extremely beat up, and not a huge amount of movement, and one that is not too bad that had quite a lot – and that one spun out like crazy, so its not always about how beat up they are. Pushing the side walls back in a bit to close that gap more or less fixed the bad one – but that was very difficult and I very nearly stuffed it for good (and required drilling the motor out and putting it in a vice).

So I wouldn’t really recommend trying to fix like that, and actually the right amount of weight should still more or less sort out even those bad ones, and I wouldn’t worry too much about small veering off – with kids they can even make a game out it as it can make a challenge to go through a certain gap/ posts/ finish line / bowling pin targeting:)

You could also try putting in an e-clip/circlip in this gap, with some grease (white lithium), if you don’t want to push the frame. I haven’t tried that yet but could be a good solution – just need to make sure it’s not too tight as getting one of those clips out once in could be difficult/near impossible:)

They actually addressed/solved this issue in the single clutch Dune Crawler, by adding brass sleeves to the exterior part of the axle between the wheel and the motor which stops/absorbs any horizontal movement before it is translated into the motor gears. Unfortunately for whatever reason they decided not to add that enhancement to any of the subsequent models which is a shame as is quite difficult to add something like that post assembly.

All in all I think real kudos needs to go to the designers of these things, the fact that they continue to operate at all with the force and speed they crash at, repeatedly over years, is a credit to the design engineers, end to end.

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:)