Evel Knievel

Evel Knievel

It was nearly impossible to be a kid in the 70s and not know about Evel Knievel, an iconic folk hero for a generation that grew up a little too late to catch the space race or Daniel Boone. Eyes sat transfixed to television sets each time he put on his helmet and propelled his motorcycle towards a ramp – sending the daredevil flying over cars, buses, fountains, canyons, and anything else that seemed worthy of being jumped over.

Of course, part of the allure of these spectacles was that Mr. Knievel didn’t always make the most graceful landing. Often he landed just a bit short, or perhaps his wheels came down a bit off their mark, sending him tumbling head over heels just ahead of his motorcycle – which was following in hot pursuit.

Each failure only increased his legendary status, however, and made him a superhero in the minds of many. From his legendary Caesar’s Palace fountain jump to his ill-fated rocket journey over Snake River Canyon, Evil had his share of horrific accidents that often left him with multiple fractures. In fact, as legend would have it, he supposedly broke every bone in his body at one time or another – a statistical tidbit that every kid from the era could rattle off with ease.

While imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, in Evel’s case, it could be downright dangerous. On suburban streets all across America, little boys set up shaky plywood ramps, tied a makeshift cape around their necks and pedaled with all their might, eager to see how many obstacles they could jump with their own bicycles. In the process, some had the unfortunate luck of breaking a few bones of their own. Still, nothing deterred them from wanting to be just like Evel Knievel, which instantly caught the attention of the toy companies.

Ideal Toys was the first out of the gate when, in 1972, they released the first action figure, complete with white jumpsuit, American flag proudly adorned on the back, a motorcycle helmet, and oddly enough, a walking stick (something Evel would probably need in the future?).

Soon to follow were vehicles that allowed kids to send Evel flying over Tonka Trucks, the family dog, or any other obstacle their devious little minds dreamed up. The Stunt Cycle, in particular, became a staple on Christmas lists around the country. Wind up the hand crank on the side, release the lever and off he would go, racing fearlessly towards eventual doom. Rarely, if ever, did the motorcycle land successfully – just like the real Evel!

These items sold in such massive quantities that it was inevitable that other accessories would follow. The Super Jet and Sky Cycle were introduced as well as a Crash and Stunt Car (Did Evel ever even drive a car?) and the more fanciful Silver High Jumper Stuntcycle and Strato Cycle. Even a dragster with a working parachute joined the mix. And when Evel needed a little R & R from the high-stress daredevil world, he could kick back in the Scramble Van and the Road and Trail Adventure Set, basically an RV with a set of mechanics tools, ramps, and any other little devices Evel might need during a rustic retreat.

But wait, there’s more! What better place to show off Evel Knievel’s talents than your very own Stunt Stadium, complete with the painted faces of cheering fans adorning the stands. Or, for the ultimate challenge, there was Stunt World, providing a death-defying obstacle course for Evel to traverse. Then there was the bizarre Escape from Snake Canyon set, with boulders and trees, and (if the danger factor wasn’t already extreme enough) even a scraggly werewolf monster for him to battle. Okay, so they were scraping the barrel.

While these were some of the more memorable toys in the lineup, the ones that every boy in America absolutely had to have, they were only the tip of the iceberg in terms of the Evel Knievel marketing machine. There were board games, toothbrushes that looked like the Snake River Canyon Skyrocket, lunchboxes, pinball machines comic books, die-cast vehicles, bedsheets, and any other item that could possibly have an Evel Knievel image slapped on the front.

The popularity of Evel Knievel raged on throughout the 70s, finally running out of gas towards the end of the decade, a few years after Evel hung up the motorcycle helmet for good and began his convalescence and eventual legal troubles. But, of all the toys issued in the 70s, these red, white and blue action figures and playsets are some of the most popular, sought after by collectors all over the globe. Offering a little taste of nostalgia, Back to Basics toys (fine makers of retro playthings) reissued a number of these classic toys in recent years – much to the delight of former little boys everywhere that fondly remember an era where a man on a motorcycle became a folk hero to an entire generation.

If you have fond memories of tuning into ABC’s Wide World of Sports to watch Evel jump the obstacle de jour, especially the Snake River Canyon debacle, or if you ever jumped over a makeshift plywood ramp with your bicycle just like Evel, or if you just thought his toys were awesome, tell us all about it. Share your memories in our comments section, as we tip our helmet to this beloved daredevil that gave us immeasurable thrills throughout the 70s.

5 Responses to “Evel Knievel”

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  1. Jennifer harris says:

    He was something. His son,Robbie is following in his footsteps. Evel is gone now. Chef from South Park said”Elvis,Im’Evel Knievel,why would I dress Up like Elvis?”

  2. Jimmy says:

    I had an Evel Kneivel playset that was called Skull Canyon I believe. It had a ramp and some fake boulders that you would set up and when he landed the boulders would crash around him. It worked a lot better on the commercial than it did in real life.

  3. Anthony Scott says:

    The wind-up motorcycle / action figure (doll?) was one of my favorite toys and one of the first I found again on Ebay to start my collection.

  4. Andy Pappal says:

    I had and still have a bunch of this stuff, the scramble van, the stadium stunt set and the funny car that explodes. I’m think of selling it if anyone is interested contact me at the email above.

    • Georgia Davenport says:

      Hello, wondering if you still have your Evel Knievel items and have the stunt bike in your collection and still wanting to sell?

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