Introduction: Wind-up Customizable Cardboard Car

I don’t know about you, but I have a LOT of used cardboard.

Boxes upon boxes from old deliveries, too many to be recycled at one time. And as a college engineering student (with now a little too much time on his hands) it is my dream to take this pile of boxes and make something cool!

So right before I went to bed one night, I delved into thought and I came up with… A gas powered, full-sized, customized cardboard car! (I was half-asleep at the time) But the thought buzzed around in my head until I settled with a slightly more attainable: a small, wind up customizable car.

What makes this car unique from other rubber band wind up cars, aside from being mostly comprised of used cardboard, it has the ability to work with any body shape. What makes this possible is how the car is created, in two parts:

1) The main frame, or “chassis.” A low profile frame that holds all the rubber band drive components.

2) The body, or shell that is only limited to your creativity and resources

My title picture above has three body types I whipped up after a couple hours of crafting fun, one with the main frame and two without.

Once you make the basic frame, let your creativity run wild as the car's body possibilities are endless!



Cardboard (All shapes and sizes)

Laundry clips

Popsicle sticks (preferably long, 5 ¾ in. long ones)

Rubber bands

1/5 in. (5.05 mm) width dowels or old chop sticks




Hot glue gun


X-Acto knife or razor blade

Compass (For drawing circles)

Step 1:

1. First step is to get a flat cardboard piece and cut to 3 in x 6 in. (Any size of body would work as long as you keep a relative scale and geometry.)

Step 2:

Then hot glue two Popsicle sticks so that 3 in. of the Popsicle stick extrude from one of the shorter cardboard sides.

Step 3:

Hot glue the four laundry clip on each of the four corners of the body so that two of the clip mouths are on the cardboard facing the 3 in. sides, the other two clips are on the Popsicle sticks extended side with the mouths facing the opposite way.

Step 4:

Cut two Popsicle sticks so that they are 3 ¼ in long, and place on the lip of the laundry clips not the openings.

Step 5:

Then cut two chop sticks or 1/5 in wide dowels to 5 in. long. Then with a pencil mark around it 1 in. from either side. Place in the gaps of the front pair of laundry clips and back pairs of laundry clips so that the pencil markings are covered by the clip.

The stick should now spin freely in the grove of the clip with little friction because of the increased opening from the Popsicle stick on the lip. This also means you can remove the axles easily by unclipping the Popsicle stick and removing.

*Pro Tip: Try using different types of axles to better fine tune your car’s suspension. 😊*

Step 6:

Now for the wheels, I have a lot of carpet in my house, so I went with wheels that had a radius of 1 ½ in. [Diam. 3 in.] which are a little big. If you want the ground clearance of your car to be lower adjust the wheel size to what ever you want, just keep in mind any wheel radius smaller than ½ in. [Diam 1 in.] does not reach the ground.

Step 7:

Now cut or bore a hole to fit your axle and push your axle through. I would also take the time after they are cut, to border the outside of the cardboard wheels with rubber bands to give them more traction.

Step 8:

Hot glue the wheels to the axles, and clip on you wheel assembly to the frame. From now on the axle clipped to the clips on the Popsicle sticks is going to be called the “drive axle.” Just to make it easier to differentiate the two.

Step 9:

Now cut four more circles of cardboard to keep the axles from sliding away from the body, I used a radius if 2/5 in. but anything smaller than your wheel radius would work too.

Step 10:

Then cut or bore a hole to fit the axle and push your axle through. Then remove it and cut a slit from the middle to the outside so to slide them on without needing to remove the wheels.

Step 11:

Then place two of these mini-wheels or disks on an axle by opening the slit we just cut and by re-closing them on the axle. Place both disks on the axle by the clips so that when glued they eliminate the axle from moving from side the side when rolling. Repeat for the other axle. Be sure not to place them too close to the clips so that they cause too much friction, it would affect your overall speed

Step 12:

Take the drive axle on the no cardboard side of the frame out of the clips, find its center, and mark i

Step 13:

Take a metal paper clip and break one of the straight pieces off.

Step 14:

Now bend that piece around the marked center with one tab sticking out, and glue it in place. I would recommend using another Popsicle stick to bend the paper clip around the axle.

Step 15:

Clip the axle back and test to see if everything is spinning freely and check that your clip is aligned properly.

Step 16:

Take three toothpicks and cut them in half.

Step 17:

Mark parallel from the paper clip tab on the drive axle from the edge of the 3 in. cardboard side every 1.5 cm or ½ in. with a pencil or marker.

Step 18:

Take each cut toothpick in pairs and poke them through side by side every mark you have. After doing this tilt them at a 45 degree angle away from the drive axle.

These toothpicks are the tabs in which you can control how much tension you put on the rubber band.

Step 19:

How it works is that you take a rubber band and loop it between on of the three toothpick pegs and the paper clip tab. Then you wind up the wheels and then let go!

Step 20:

Congratulations! You have just completed the drive frame!

All the steps from here on out are completely up to you to customize your brand-new car. The pictures I showed at the beginning were the product of hours of crafting around with varying model ideas inspired from classic 1930’s design, old TV model sci-fi design, and a modern dragster design. See my other Instructables to see how I make a cardboard body inspired by the 1960's Jaguar e-type.

Cardboard Speed Challenge

Participated in the
Cardboard Speed Challenge