Revell’s Back-Firing Hot Rod toy car should have come with a holster

This article was originally printed in Old Cars Weekly
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“So what do you want to be when you grow up?”

We all remember hearing that question during our childhood, and in post-World War II America the answer at least among young boys was often either an astronaut, cowboy or race car driver. While parental aspirations might have leaned toward their children becoming doctors, lawyers or even president of the United States, the likes of NASA legend John Glenn, western movie hero Audie Murphy and speed champion A.J. Foyt inspired many a young man to seek the road more reckless.

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Helping to fuel those youthful dreams of touring outer space, chasing the bad guys in black hats and man-handling high-powered race cars were toy manufacturers whose products helped transform make-believe into reality at least in youthful imaginations. One of those manufacturers was Revell, based in Venice, Calif.

According to Krause Publications’ Collecting Toy Cars & Trucks, Revell was founded by Lewis H. Glaser circa 1950. One of Glaser’s first toys offered to the public in 1951 was an inspired merger of two of young boys’ favorite playthings: cap guns and cars. The “Maxwell Auto Action Pull Toy” featured a 1/16th-scale mid-’teens Maxwell roadster complete with driver that had a wire cable topped with a thumb-and-two-finger grab handle. Its chassis had a metal contact through which a roll of caps could be fed.

As the Maxwell was pulled along by its front-mounted cable, a lad could depress the grab-handle mechanism that fired the contact producing a “bang” as the cap exploded. The box containing the Maxwell carried the slogan: “The Car That Keeps America Laughing.” While the toy received the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval, its slogan was probably not popular among the former owners and employees of the real Maxwell automobile company, which ended production of the car just 25 years earlier in 1925.

In 1952, the “Maxwell Auto Action Pull Toy” was replaced with “The Backfiring Ford: A Dizzy Lizzie,” a replica of a 1917 Model T closed coupe that also featured a driver and was 1/16th scale. The toy Ford’s chassis and cap contact mechanism were likely a continuation of the Maxwell’s set-up, but now the cap’s “bang” was used to promote the backfiring noise commonly associated with early car operation. The same grab handle and wire cable were also retained so a child could pull the Ford along while making it “backfire.”

Whether the Maxwell was part of Revell’s “Play Planned Toy” series could not be verified, but the Ford Model T prominently included this motto on its packaging. It also promoted the fact that it was made from 475 Styron Plastic, making it “A More Durable Toy.”

Both the “Play Planned Toy” logo and use of 475 Styron Plastic carried over to the next Revell offering, the “Backfiring Hot Rod,” which is illustrated here. The launch date of this fenderless roadster was believed to be immediately after the production run of the Model T, circa 1955.

With the hot rod craze hitting its stride in the years following World War II, it’s likely that Revell found a toy that mimicked a current vehicle offered more marketing appeal than trying to get kids excited about Maxwells and Model T’s.

The design of Revell’s “Backfiring Hot Rod” also offers some mystery, as it is more in line with racing track roadsters of that time than street-legal hot rods. The car’s driver is clad in a uniform-appearing top with a crash helmet and there is a number on each door. Even the box the car was sold in carries art on one side depicting a trio of these cars racing.

Not that any of that mattered to youngsters who opened up a birthday or Christmas present in the mid 1950s to find a “Backfiring Hot Rod” and a roll of caps inside. Here was the chance to pretend to be Audie Murphy and A.J. Foyt rolled into one.

But remembering that aforementioned more-conventional parental outlook, once the toy was taken out of the box and the caps loaded in, the rules most assuredly were laid down: “No backfiring in the house, young man, or you’re grounded.”

Ron Kowalke is a market analyst and editor for Old Cars Weekly, an enthusiast publication for collectors and fans of old cars, restoration and old car memorabilia. He may be reached at Ron.Kowalke@fwmedia.com.

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All photos courtesy Ron Kowalke
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