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Homepage. This page: A very stylish, and no doubt expensive, child's car of the 1920s/1930s.
Old cars for children

Compressed air toy car of the 1920s/1930s.

By definition, this section of OCC tends to look at pedal-powered children's cars. However, for the lazy youth, with well-off parents no doubt, there were other options to consider. I have little information to hand about this magnificent toy car, so I'm hoping that by uploading this page, more details will be forthcoming from readers who find their way to this page, and perhaps recognise it.
Two pictures show a well-finished vintage child's car, that instead of relying on pedals, uses stored compressed air to propel it along. Its speed was controlled via a throttle available to the driver, and levers for both the brake, and selecting reverse gear, were also incorporated within its design. What a stunning gift for a lucky youth of the 1920s/1930s era.
Compressed air car for children
The obvious question is: "Who built it?"
Was it a home-built car, built by a gifted engineer in his shed for a very lucky child or grandchild? Or, did a company produce these, for retail at a high street emporium? Although the photographs aren't the clearest, the attention to detail is impressive. The tapering - aluminium? - radiator surround is reminiscent of sporting cars in the 1920s, as are the overall lines of this delightful single-seater's bodywork. Note the small steps. The scale of the car can be judged approximately by the fitment of a standard Brooklands-type aeroscreen.
A hand pump is used to feed air into the two air cylinders that are slung beneath the car's chassis, so the child did get to do a modicum of exercise, even if pedalling was not a requirement once behind the wheel. I'd love to know how quickly the car would run, and for how long between re-charges of air. And what happened to it, I wonder? Is it still out there, somewhere, just waiting for a new owner to dust it down? I can think of a good home for it :-)
Shortly after posting this page, a regular on the site forum pointed out that the British Pathe website, has a film about what looks to be the exact same car "in action". Thanks for that, here's the link: My Car! Judging by the child's attire, the same boy is in the video as in the photos above, and both may well have been taken on the same occasion.

A full-size car fitted with a pre-heated compressed air motor.

A number of imaginative minds did consider compressed air motors for use in full-sized cars, at about the time of this child's car (1920s). One inventor in the USA called Roy Meyers, built a test car with four large compressed air tanks strapped to the back of its chassis, behind the two front seats. A specially-developed compressed air "engine" replaced the petrol unit originally fitted to it. The gist of the design was given in a contemporary magazine, which describes how an electric heater, powered by a battery and supported by an on-board generator, heated the stored air to a pressure of 200 psi. The air went through the motor, cooling as it did so, before being drawn into a compressing chamber, where it was re-heated and returned to the tanks for re-use. Apparently the car was designed to have a range of 500 miles or so, while maintaining a speed of 35 mph. A true zero-emissions car.
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