Open accessibilty tools

Clockwork Car (1930s)

The fastest toy car in the world can travel at over 100 miles-per-hour. That’s faster than real cars are allowed to travel on the motorway.

Talking about old toys

Use the questions below to talk with children about old toy cars. Talk about the car here, or use the questions to explore old toy cars and other vehicles you and the children may have brought in to your classroom or setting.

Exploring through play

Create a toy vehicles workshop area in your setting or classroom. This could include:

  • Different construction sets such as Duplo, Meccano and Mobilo
  • A variety of toy vehicles
  • Toy tools
  • Dressing up clothes such as aprons, overalls and caps
  • A special area for repairing old toy vehicles
  • Labels for different tools, parts, or materials, and signs to help keep workers safe – children could help make these.

How many different parts of this toy can you name and describe?

  • Wheels, windows, bumpers, door…
  • What colours and shapes can you see?
  • This is a clockwork toy car.
  • The key was used to wind up the clockwork inside the car, this is what made it move. You can see a picture of it here.
  • Do you have any wind-up toys at home? Do you have any in your classroom or setting?
  • Batteries
  • Batteries and a remote control
  • Pull-backs (another way of winding up a toy)
  • Pushing or pulling it along
  • Rolling it down a slope

It’s made of tin – a type of metal, which has been painted. Even the tyres!
Old cars like this were made of tin because it was quite simple to make into different shapes, and didn’t break easily. It was also quite cheap.

  • Plastic – this was used from around the 1950s. Like tin, plastic is cheap and can be very hard-wearing. It’s also waterproof. Plastic is good for making toys that are very detailed – melted plastic can be poured into a mould of any shape and then left to set hard.
  • Wood – some toy cars are still made of wood. It’s good for making cars and other vehicles that are a simple shape – especially for very young children and babies. It’s also more environmentally friendly than plastic.
  • This is the sort of toy your grandparents – or even their mums and dads – would have played with when they were children.
  • It would have probably been played with by a boy. In those days people thought some toys were only OK for boys to play with. Others, such as dolls, were seen as toys for girls.
  • What do you think about that? Does that sound fair?
  • Today, this toy belongs to the Dorman Museum, where they take good care of it.

Imagine you could shrink down and climb inside this old car.
Where would you go..? Are you the driver or the passenger? Who would you take with you?



An axle is a bar that connects a pair of wheels on a vehicle. It keeps the wheels in place and allows them to turn. Children could experiment with different construction sets or materials to create simple vehicles with an axle. How will they fix the axle to the wheels so that they stay in place and still turn?

The fastest car: a fair test

Children could take their axle experiments a step further to see what makes a vehicle go faster.

  • Who can make their vehicle go fastest or furthest after they have rolled it down a ramp?
  • What makes a difference? Bigger or smaller wheels, a heavier or lighter base? What if you give it a push?
  • How will they make it a fair test?

Young historians

What questions do children have about old toy cars? Encourage them to think carefully about something they would really like to find out about this toy car or an old toy car in your classroom. They could take it in turns to hold a picture of a large question mark, and think of a question beginning with Who, Where, Why, What, When or How to share with the group or class.

Where could they find out the answers? They could:


Click on the ‘Playing in the past’ tab to find old pictures of children playing with toys and games.