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.