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!


Service: Pickup

So I managed to get hold of one of these Tonka Pickup trucks for about $5 so pretty happy with that, was mainly interested in having a look inside as this one has a front wheel drive flywheel. It was actually in pretty good nick and motor pretty clean, just needed a bit of lube then was all good.

The motor is a little different in configuration to other Clutch Poppers, it has the front axle out in front of the motor, therefore there must be one additional gear to reach it, though this may be a “neutral” gear. I didn’t take the motor out to look closely (as there was no reason to), but from what I can tell that is what looks like is going on. The “Turbo Sound” maker is also in a different configuration for this reason, it sits above the front axle and vibrates against the top of the dust cover.

Tonka Clutch Popper – Pickup – Disassembled

I thought this model would look better without the hood sticker/decal (I think that’s true for a lot of them to be honest), and I’m no collector purest so I took it off:) Looks way better in my opinion.

So it turns out these do run pretty quick, probably not as fast as the other car type (rear wheel drive) models, but not too bad – probably due to that extra gear out in front. The front wheel drive also seems to help them from spinning out too much, but they will still drift to the left. This is the side of the spinning flywheel on these front wheel motors, it is essentially generating mass. I added extra weight, using fishing sinkers and blue-tack, to the right (to counter the flywheel), and now it goes reasonably straight at speed. Bit of a hack but works well! And if anyone wanted to get rid of them you can just pull them out.

The other cool thing with these ones for kids is that they can chuck stuff in the back tray, probably have to Plasticine them in to stop them flying out, but a bit of fun you can’t really do with the other clutch poppers. So all in all I’m pretty impressed with the Pickup, not as much as a looker as some of the other models, but still a pretty cool toy car to have lying around.

Tonka Clutch Popper – Pickup – Post Service

Here it is below with the hood sticker removed

A photograph of a Tonka Clutch Popper, Pickup
Tonka Clutch Popper – Pickup

Maintenance: Sanding rear tires/ Regrip

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.


Maintenance: Lube around the motor

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, Noxy, Power Lube with PTFE, or Multilube Gel 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 – these ones all do that more or less). 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.

Any type of lube that you can spray on as a liquid then evaporates into a gel or tacky film-like grease (but does not attract dust), is pretty good for the outside of this motor around the gear rods and flywheel, as this type resists fling off at high speed and will likely last longer. Also probably pays to check that whatever you choose is ok for plastics, there are some nylon gears in there, and even though nylon is pretty stable with most lubes probably good idea to go with something that is non destructive on plastics. Synthetic lube that has penetration capability and is long lasting would be a good choice. Once you’ve got everything moving pretty quick, you may need to look into some of the other maintenance points related to counter-balancing and grip on smooth surfaces.


Maintenance: Cleaning axles, motor (outside)

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.


Maintenance: Disassembly

Removing the main body from the base

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. Also – do not overtighten when screwing back into the base/turbo piece, just get it so it is firm and tight but stop there. If you do stuff up the turbo piece or thread channel of the base, it is fixable with a thin layer of epoxy on the inside, that once hardened you can carve a new thread channel into, however this is a bit of a pain in the butt so best avoided!

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.


Maintenance: TCP Motor

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.

Tonka Clutch Popper – Chevy Chevelle – Post initial clean