So you may have heard that the tubby little robber baron that runs the Monopoly franchise, Uncle Pennybags, has decided that one of the iconic Monopoly game pieces will be retired and a new piece will take its place.
Now, normally, we wouldn't care about this. Hell, if they said they were going to be replacing one of the little murder weapons in Clue with a little chainsaw, I wouldn't even bother to get off the pile of rags I use as a sleep/work litter. And, unless you play with lots of embezzling and hush money clandestinely folded into sweaty palms, Monopoly is still a pretty tedious attempt to make real estate fun. But with Monopoly, there's a car involved. And that makes it personal.
I should clarify here that I'm in no way whatsoever worried that the car will be voted out. Because, come on, who doesn't like being the car? It's the most popular piece in Monopoly. The shoe? I know my Gawker-sibling/pal Lindy West loves it, but look at the thing. It looks like one of those shoes cartoon hobos catch when fishing. And the iron? Who the fuck wants to be an old iron?
The thimble I'll defend because, if your fingers are small enough, it actually could be used as a real thimble, so that's cool. The little cannon barely looks like a cannon, so I'd be happy to see that one go. The top hat I guess fits with the whole Capitalism theme, and the battleship is fun to picture scraping down Broadway. Wheelbarrows, dogs, whatever, I'm here to talk about cars. Specifically a car that the human race would be a big pant-filling idiot if they voted out.
But let's clear some things up first. Originally, Monopoly didn't even have a car! Check out that patent drawing. I'll give you a moment to clean up the spit-take residue from your monitor. The car as we know it wasn't added until after WWII. Before the war, starting in with the 1936 Deluxe set, there was a different design of the Monopoly car. And then, during the war, there was actually another, forgotten car — it's like Monopoly's Lilith. Actually, like two Liliths.
That first cast-zinc car was somewhat similar to the Monopoly car we know today, as it was a single-seat, open-wheel racing car. But this early car was a different design, and included a little driver as well. It's clearly an earlier model car, having a visible folded top and more rectilinear lines.
During WWII, all the metal tokens went away. See, during wartime, there wasn't metal to spare to make tiny shoes and thimbles and battleships— we needed the metal for real battleships and shoes and thimbles to beat them Nazis with. So Monopoly sets at first included boring little wooden pawns, then small, molded composite figures. Some say the composite material was sawdust and compressed paper, but some sources claim nobody is really sure what the composite pieces were made of. I'm going to guess they were made from ground baby teeth and spider milk. This car is nothing like the iconic Monopoly car we're all picturing and/or have swallowed as a kid.
These composite cars are conventional closed sedan-type cars of the era. The quality of the castings are really poor, which makes it difficult to ID the type of car it may be portraying, though I think it looks a good bit like a Chrysler Airflow.
It wasn't until the mid 1950s that the Monopoly car we're all familiar with appeared. The company that owns Monopoly now, Hasbro, says this about the car:
This decision marked the introduction of the flatiron, purse, lantern, car, thimble, shoe, top hat, and the rocking horse. The top hat was modeled after the chapeau of the game's Chairman of the Board, Mr. Monopoly, and the car, his 1930s roadster.
And we all know that's a filthy lie.
Examination of the car reveals that there is a clear template. The car is a '40s-era Midget Race car, a wildly fun and dangerous series for tiny cars with a ridiculous amount of power. The Monopoly car has all the Midget racer characteristics — small body, open wheels, long external headers, and with a bit of research and use of the Jalopnik Mainframe (located deep under Los Angeles in Bronson Pinchot's sensory depravation tank facility) we have determined the car to be a 1940s-era Kurtis Kraft Midget race car.
Looking at the Kurtis, it's pretty clear that's what the Monopoly car is. It has the rounded hood with vertical-slat grille, open wheels, long side headers, flared cowling, headrest that tapers down into the rounded rear — this is the same car.
Interestingly, with over 250 million Monopoly sets sold, that may make the Kurtis the most-produced car model ever. I wouldn't have guessed that.
So there you have it: the Monopoly car is a Kurtis Kraft, and it wasn't the first car to be used in the game. Now go vote in that funny little robot and vote out the iron or something. Thanks.