The glory that you are currently beholding is one of the largest vintage child car seat collections in the world. Trust us, this is way more interesting than it sounds. A Jalopnik reader named Scott has spent the last 30 years collecting nearly 100 vintage car seats, some of which, he says, have even been featured in blockbuster Hollywood movies. Here’s what this world-class collection of old and quirky car seats looks like up close.
Back in 1971, Scott was involved in a car accident in which his mother smashed into the windshield of his family’s 1960s Plymouth Satellite, and he—sitting directly behind her—flew into the back of her seat (both only sustained minor injuries).
It was during this accident that Scott noticed that his friend, who was fastened next to him in a child seat (which looked like nothing more than a lawn chair with a tubular c-shaped arm rest—see image to the left), ended up completely unharmed.“This funny little contraption; it did something!” Scott thought, and from that moment on, he was in love with child safety seats.
That accident had such an effect on Scott, that he at one point wanted to design child safety seats when he got older, even applying for a mechanical engineering program at a college and getting accepted. And while Scott didn’t end up pursuing that dream, after picking up some old seats from the curbside and then on Ebay, he managed to accrue perhaps the largest collection of vintage car seats in the country.
Scott stores the herd of car seats in his attic, but displays them to the world through his Pinterest Page, Vintage Seats, using the handle Bobby MacDonald (named after one of his favorite vintage car seat brands, Bobby-Mac—you can see one in the top photo). There, his collection has garnered so much attention that production companies have reached out to rent the seats for use in movies.
Scott told me the Evenflo Dyn-o-mite infant seat shown in the image to the left has been his most requested car seat, having even been featured in the Reese Witherspoon film “Hot Pursuit” and set to be used in the upcoming “Shaft” movie as well as “The Shade Shepard.” Scott told me his vintage seats have also been borrowed for court cases, and for research meant to understand how a car seat might have affected the outcome of an accident in the past.
Over the phone, Scott admitted that his hobby may seem a bit odd to others, which may be part of the reason why not many people know about it (Scott asked me not to use his last name for this article), and those who do, Scott says, “just tolerate it.”
Scott even asked if he was scaring me off with his copious photographs of car seats, but of course, as unique as I find Scott’s passion, there’s no way I find it off-putting; in fact, I sort of get it. If he were collecting modern car seats, perhaps then I might be a bit confused (Scott’s collection includes seats from between the ’50s and 2000s, but the few from this millennium he uses “mostly for comparison to the old ones.”), but the vintage seats in Scott’s collection are not only visually stunning pieces of art, they’re functionally fascinating.
We’ll start with Scott’s 1950s-era Kiddie Drivette, a seat that really exemplifies the state of child safety technology (and just general car technology) before the 1960s. It’s essentially an elevated chair meant to keep kids from moving around and to help them see out of the window. The Drivette simply hooks over the seat back, and the child sits fastened via a small belt on the elevated platform. The whole contraption really offered no real safety benefit.
But child safety seat technology changed in the 1960s when two men by the names of Jean Ames (a Brit) and Len Rivkin (an American whose grandson Scott once spoke with to learn more about the first car seat designs; Scott told me “he probably thought I was a nut.”) each designed their own style of car seat meant to help keep kids safe in a crash. It was about a decade later, though, that child safety seats really became mainstream with Ford’s “Tot-Guard” and General Motors’ “Love Seat.”
To someone only accustomed to modern child safety seats, the Ford Tot-Guard is a bit of an alien. It’s a three-piece setup consisting of a 5.5-pound “hollow-molded polyethylene” shield, a removable foam pad for that shield, and a three-inch tall polyethylene seat. Ford’s press release for the seat said “Tot-Guard provides greater safety for the child in the event of an impact by vastly improved load distribution over the surface of his body.”
It really is a strange looking contraption. Here’s where the child actually sits:
And here’s a look at how the car’s safety belt simply goes over the crevice between the shield and the Tot-Guard’s main plastic leg-tunnel:
General Motors’ setup, the “Infant Love Seat,” was quite a bit different than Ford’s design in that it had the child facing backwards, and used a Y-shaped shoulder strap, along with the car’s lap belt—which went through the two notches on the sides of the polypropylene body—to hold the child in place.
GM also offered another version of the Love Seat called the “Child Love Seat.” Unlike the Infant Love Seat, which was meant for babies under 20 pounds, the Child Love Seat was set up for bigger kids under 40 pounds and less than 40-inches tall. In its advertisement, General Motors said the seat was “made to protect the child while giving him freedom of movement for his arms and legs.”
The seat was forward-facing, and secured to the car via the lap belt that went over the plastic body, as well as a “special top strap” that anchored the top of the seat from the back. The child was held into the seat with a five-point harness.
Both seats came padded with urethane foam, and were portable enough to be “conveniently stored in the trunk.” Here’s a look at how children used to be secured in these GM seats (the Infant Love Seat is at the top right, the Child Love Seat is shown at the bottom right—notice the black anchor strap at the top):
But even if Ford’s Tot-Guard and GM’s Love Seats were the high volume sellers, there were tons of other interesting designs out there, like this amazing chrome and red one called the Firestone Protect-A-Tot, which used a shield to protect the forward-facing child, just like Ford’s Tot-Guard did.
Then there was the astonishing recline-able Rex Stroll-O-Chair with its incredible adjustable footrest (I honestly have no clue how this thing fastens to the car’s seat—maybe the seat belt just goes through those little metal loops near coming from under the seat’s bottom cushion?):
One of the most interesting contraptions in Scott’s collection is the Bobby-Mac “2 in 1,” which sort of just looks like a standard bucket seat with a big plastic shield that clips to the front. On the top of that shield is a metal safety latch through which the lap belt fastens the seat to the car. The shield can be taken off, and the seat reversed, hence the name “2 in 1.”
What’s cool about the “2 in 1" and also about the Stroll-O-Chair above it is that both of them could also be turned into strollers and high chairs. Here’s a look at the high chair kit for the “2 in 1":
And here’s a brochure showing the stroller kit at the bottom right (Scott also collects brochures, ads and old photos of the seats):
That Bobby-Mac, with its cocoon-like clip-on shield, is among the most functionally fascinating of the bunch, even if it’s not the prettiest. But if you want pretty, there’s always the 1974 Kantwet recline-able seat. Just look at the metal frame and the pattern in the fabric:
And while we’re on the topic of aesthetics, check out this space-age Union Carbide prototype from 1968:
It’s definitely worth checking out Scott’s full collection, because I haven’t even scraped the surface in this article (for example, the collection also includes a bunch of vintage advertisements and pictures of seats with children in them, both of which Scott has amassed over the years in a quest to fulfill his car-seat obsession). There really are some wild seats that just make you scratch your head trying to figure out how they work.
Especially these days, people are adamant about throwing away obsolete or even “expired” child seats, so it’s no surprise how rare vintage seats have become. For Scott to have a collection of 100 is mind-blowing. But I, for one, am glad he does.