Penny Racers

Penny Racers

When you purchased one of Takara’s Penny Racer toy cars, you made sure you had an extra penny left over. One small cent made all the difference. It made for stunt car spinning happiness, with Matchbox and Hot Wheels track driving seeming bland and dull when compared to these 80s marvels.

The cute little vehicles were first released in Japan as Choro-Q cars and debuted in 1978. Their diminutive design was the brainchild of popular Japanese illustrator, Yasuhiro Nakamura. For U.S. consumption. the toy was renamed the Penny Racer, and in 1981, kids were astounded by the TV commercials that demonstrated their amazing abilities.

Penny Racers were basically just a pull-back motorized car, something that had been available in some form for years. The twist of this car, however, was the placement of the penny. Kids could slip a penny into a slot on the back of the car, and that would shift the weight of the car around.

If the penny was over to the right, the car would move towards that side, spinning and taking off in a new direction. If the penny was right in the center, you could expect some serious wheelie action, as the weight of the car favored the back. The package made some suggestions, but kids experimented with all sorts of penny positioning.

With names like Van Man, Baja Blaster, Grizzly Gasser and Z Machine, Penny Racers were all the rage in 1981. Takara continued to make Choro-Q cars in Japan, but eventually the fad began to wane in the States. Other toy companies like Tonka began to make similar die-cast models, but with limited results.

Penny Racers were given one more opportunity to shine when the were immortalized in a line of video games that bore their name. The Nintendo 64, Playstation 1 and 2, and Game Boy Color have all released Penny Racer (or Choro-Q) games over the years.

These days, there are very few things you can do with a penny. Heck, you don’t even need one to keep your records from skipping anymore (ask your parents). But in the 80s, the oft-maligned coin showed its worth in the toy world, bringing smiles to every kid that bought a Penny Racer.

If you were the proud owner of one of these little cars, we’d love to hear all of your recollections in our comments section below. Penny for your thoughts?

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