The zippiest, funnest model cars in existence had to be SSP Racers. It was all in the name – Super Sonic Powered. The cars got their boost of speed from a plastic zip cord pulled through a slot in the chassis that made the wheels spin like the dickens. That’s all the innovation it took to turn these little speed demons into a classic toy that remains beloved to this day.
SSP Racers were introduced in the early 70s and came in an endless variety of real car models, like Formula 1 racecars, Volkswagen Beetles, Corvettes and El Caminos. After most every kid got one or more SSP Racer for Christmas, the neighborhood streets – not to mention parking lots, school grounds, driveways, kitchen floors – were filled with racers competing for fame and glory.
The acknowledged king among Racers was the Laker Special that outperformed most other models. Of course, it also helped if you didn’t have spindly, pre-pubescent arms that pulled the zip cord with all the power of a wet noodle: older kids definitely had the advantage over younger ones. Still, no matter your age, there were plenty of possibilities beyond mere racing, such as sending them towards each other for the mother of all collisions. Kenner took note of this universal desire for destruction and followed up with a very well-received playset.
Combining speed with demolition derby, Kenner introduced Smash-Up Derby that featured ramps, tracks and obstacles eager to put your Racers through hell. The spectacular collisions would send specially-designed breakaway parts flying in every direction. The Derby, however, wasn’t the only playset available for SSP Racers. Fans of pure speed could prove their car’s fitness on the Time Trial Set that provided the ability to conduct your own drag races, courtesy of a starter light and timing clock. There were also Tune-Up kits that let you fiddle with your hot rods, transforming them into sleek, chromed-out beauties.
SSP Racers were popular throughout the 70s but no toy can stay on top forever. Still, the use of zip cords was too cool a device to disappear completely and other companies released their own zip-fueled vehicles, like Tomy with their Tron Light Cycles. To this day, nothing compares with the feel and sound of pulling that zip cord good and hard (provided you didn’t catch your tender young fingers in the zipper). And, the whiny screech of a half-dozen zip cords pulled simultaneously is something one’s ears don’t soon forget, even decades later.
If you had a few SSP Racers back in the day, perhaps a playset or two, we’d love for you to share your memories of these beloved toys in our comments section. Meanwhile, we tip our collective hats to a true classic, still fondly remembered by anyone who ever gave a zip cord a tug.