I’m really, really lucky, because just this year some switch flipped in my little boy Otto’s head and now he adores cars. He liked them okay before, but like he liked a lot of other things. Now, he draws pictures of tiny Peel P50s and Jaguar E-Types and loves every single car toy he gets or steals off my desk. That means I have a real excuse to buy way too many car toys. I know this isn’t always the case, but I have some ideas.
The key here is to find car-focused toys that are just fun, period. Then you can get away with buying car toys that seem like they’re for your kid, who will enjoy them regardless, but they’re also car-focused enough you’d have bought them anyway if everyone wasn’t such a judgmental prick with all kinds of dumb rules about how to be an “adult.” I’ve got a freaking mortgage, what the hell else do they want?
Okay, let’s see what we’ve got:
Really, any of these Anki Overdrive track sets work, but I picked the Fast & Furious one because it comes with a classic car, an old Charger, and I’m fond of older cars. But really, all these sets are fun, and if you’d rather not give money to the F&F franchise, I get that. But it does have some cool cars in there.
I got to play with one of these sets, and they’re like slot cars, but so much better. Modern technology that makes people over 30 say things like “holy shit, modern technology” has turned the old slot car setup into something really remarkable.
You assemble these flat track pieces in whatever shape you want, magnetically, and can even add jumps and elevation changes. You control the cars with your phone or a tablet (they have apps for the Kindle Fire so the cheapie tablet you got your kid will work and you get to keep your phone) and you can see the cars ‘learn’ the track on screen.
Once the track is learned, it’s like live action Mario Kart: you can adjust throttle, brake, steer, and lots more exciting stuff I think I’ve seen referenced but didn’t have time to try, like Mario Kart-type weapons and power-ups.
It’s engaging and fun, in that old-school slot car way: racing little fast cars around a track. Just better than it used to be, and easier.
The cars have rechargeable batteries so there’s no hoarding AAs needed, too.
The sets aren’t cheap: the F&F one is a bit cheaper at $129, and other sets go for $149. It’s a big present, sure, but if you have the cash, they’re a hell of a lot of fun, even if your kid doesn’t love cars half as much as you do.
Any kid who’s interested in cars is likely to be giving toys and models of cars like Mercedes and McLarens and Lamborghinis and other supercars and other conventionally ‘desirable’ cars. But what about kids who want to keep their imaginary play within more modest means?
Kids who dream, but not big. Attainable dreams. Cheaply attainable dreams. Craigslist dreams. There’s cars for those kids, too, even if that kid is several decades old and just thinks it’d be hilarious to have a toy Dodge Diplomat or even a Pontiac Aztek.
Because it is hilarious, especially if displayed more prominently than your Ferrari toys.
I put these guys in every gift guide I do and I have zero regrets. Rocket Craft is a Japanese company that makes custom automotive plush toys, like cars or just engines or whatever. Just browse around on their website and tell me you wouldn’t kill to have your favorite engine rendered huggable or a giant Toyota Hi-Ace pillow you could rest your weary head on.
If I had the money, I’d secretly replace every throw pillow in the house with soft, wonderful cars.
This electric, drift-able little go kart was the cheapest actual motorized vehicle I could find. At $235 it’s an expensive gift, but an incredibly cheap vehicle. Its chain-driven electric motor will propel the kart at a respectable 12 mph, and will run for 40 minutes per, charge, giving an effective range of, what, about eight miles? There’s people who could commute to work on this thing.
Even if you goal isn’t the most minimal transportation solution possible, it still looks pretty fun. I mean, these guys seem to be having a blast, right?
If you don’t like Lego car models, then I guess I’m sorry your mother didn’t pick you up enough as a baby or you got stuck with the wire monkey instead of the fabric monkey or whatever went so wrong with your life. I really am sorry. Because Lego cars are wonderful things.
This Lego Caterham Seven is a particularly wonderful thing, because Caterhams are great, distilled-to-the-essence examples of motor-based joy, and the Lego model has a detailed engine and cones, so you can make tiny autocross circuits and motor noises with your mouth.
Even a kid tepid to the idea of cars will enjoy the Lego-ness of this, so it’s a win-win for everyone.
Even if you don’t even want to pretend you’re getting something for a kid, your life’s joy coefficient will dramatically increase with the use of an old ‘80s Tomy dashboard toy modified with a Raspberry Pi computer to play old arcade driving games like Out Run. Look:
There’s full instructions on how to do this right here. Here’s the main essentials you’ll need:
Sure, it’s a little work, but it’s worth it. The kids you lie about having will absolutely thank you.