Introduction: How to Restore an Antique Pedal Car
Pedal Cars are an icon of Mid Century children's lives. Talk to anyone over the ago of 50, and chances are they had a pedal car, or at least wanted one! Today, pedal cars are considered highly collectible, and with a wide range of designs and prices, make for an very fun restoration project. The car in this project was completed by my 66 year old father and myself over a few weeks time (For a few hundred dollars). We had some help with certain parts - but as is the beauty with projects like this, you can make this as "DIY" as you like!
Step 1: Selecting the Pedal Car
The first thing you are going to do is select your pedal car.
One of the coolest aspects of this is the total variety of pedal cars available on the market. You can basically spend as much or as little as you like. You can go "Pre-War" (rarer because a lot were salvaged for the war effort) or you can get one from the 1970s! Do a google image search for "Pedal Car" and you will see the extent of the availability!
Buyer Note: They still make "Vintage Style" pedal cars today - So do a little research so you don't get burned by someone who bought a modern reproduction and let it rust.
I found this pedal car (a 1941 Chrysler) on ebay. It had all it's original parts, and was in restorable condition - If it's "Too far gone" it can just become a money suck to repair.
BEFORE YOU START THE RESTORATION:
It's a really good idea to take detailed pictures of EVERY angle of the car, especially the workings. This can help a LOT when you are trying to remember how to put the parts back together!
Step 2: Restoration Step 1: Disassembly and Stripping
The messiest step.
The actual disassembly isn't too hard. Most of the bolts I was able to get open with WD-40 and pliers. Some however required being drilled out, or cut with a Dremel cutting tool attachment. Be sure to keep some of the hardware, damaged or not, so you can find matching replacements later! (I found all new screws, etc. just at a local hardware store)
Once disassembled, you have to start the tedious task of removing all the old rust and paint. There are endless ways to do this. Some of the less rusty parts could be sanded and stripped using chemical rust eating agents. The larger parts - like the body - ended up needing to be sand blasted. You can generally rent time at a booth to do this, or if you get the body repainted by a professional, they will probably do the blasting for you.
The first picture of the body above shows what it looked like after HOURS of trying to strip it with chemical compounds and sand paper. (This is where I gave up and started googling Sand Blasting booths) The second photo shows the disassembled car with some smaller and less rusted parts primed. 2 of the 4 rims were beyond repair, as well as the chrome hubcaps and the rubber tires. the plastic pedals were shot also. I managed to salvage 2 rims, but was able to buy replica rims, hubcaps, tires, and pedals online. You will be shocked how many pedal car restoration parts places there are!
Step 3: Restoration Step 2: Priming and Powder Coating
Now that the pieces are apart, clean and stripped, you need to prime them.
While I was doing this, I decided that I was going to powder coat the moving pieces. This made more sense considering that powder coating is a much tougher finish than paint, and I didn't want the paint to wear in those areas and just start rusting again. Side Note - If you want to go with Powder Coating, the place you take or send the pieces will probably sand blast them for you.
I took the internals to the powder coater and in a few days, got them back. Power coating is not only tough, but has a great flawless finish as well!
Also - this can totally be done with spray paint if you like. I chose powder coating because it just seemed like an interesting way to do it - But a lot of coats of spray paint and a good clear coat will leave you with a nice finish as well!
The downside of powder coating is that you have to coat metal. The powder won't stick to bondo or fiberglass or any type of filler - So if your parts need any type of refinishing first, paint is a better option. That is actually why the body of the car was painted instead of powder coated - Once the rust was blasted off, I discovered a hole in the front grill area. I fixed it with fiberglass and primed it, making it look great, but un coat-able.
Step 4: Restoration Step 3 - Painting!
This is a really fun step.
There are so many ways to do this - You can do it yourself with spray cans, you can rent a spray booth, or you can have it done for you. If you want someone to paint it, try taking the car body to an actual autobody shop - They can totally do this for you!
I have friends who have an autobody shop, so they let me paint it there using their equipment. Again, this can also be done with spray cans - Just spray a coat of paint, wet sand, spray a coat, wet sand, etc. take your time. This is a step where patience and proper prep really helps get a great finish. Much like painting a real car!
I taped off some areas of the car also to do a second color. Choosing the color scheme is really fun - I copied an old design I really liked that I found online, but some people do "Hot Rod" colors, or a solid color, or go back to the original color and buy reproduction stickers, etc. You can really go any direction at this step.
Step 5: Final Step - Reassemble
Where it all pays off!
Also, where the pictures come in handy!
Everything is painted and you have your replacement hardware. Just put it all back together and enjoy your restored pedal car!
This project was a lot of fun, and really rewarding. This car now sits in my house as more of an "art pice" than a toy, and is a great memory I have of time spent with my dad.
I hope this encourages anyone who has wanted to try something like this to just jump in and give it a shot!