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FIRST CORVETTE PEDAL CAR

 

This is the only Corvette Pedal Car known to have been built by Harley Earl outside of GM. Were there others built inside GM? Nobody seems to know the answer to that question.

The car was built by industrial designer Clair Samhammer, at Harley Earl Incorporated in Warren, Michigan, who had supervisory and hands-on responsibilities for the construction of the car. Construction of the car went on between 1953 and 1954.

It took a four-person team approximately three months to build the car and was not a full-time effort. Estimated cost to build the pedal car was approximately $15,200. Comparing the cost to build the pedal car to replicate it today and you'd have a $106,000 toy car. And remember, a real production 1953 Corvette was priced at only $3,734.55.

I wonder, as I'm sure many others wondered at the time, why did Harley Earl build this toy car? According to those involved at the time, the stated reason for building this car was to help improve slow Corvette sales. Pedal cars would be sold to Corvette dealerships to be used as an added incentive to potential purchasers of Corvettes, or as promotional items. It is possible that this car may have been the catalyst for the pedal car program at GM. However, there is also the possibility there may have been other reasons to build the car, although that is pure conjecture since there are no records to corroborate the suggestion.

This pedal car was built to carry the (child) driver and a passenger, allowing both to pedal, apparently at the direction of Harley Earl. Only one car was known to have been built.

 

Specification of the body, trim, chassis, wheels:

  • Built to 1:3 scale.
  • Body made by hand-laid fiberglass.
  • Who at GM supplied the trim parts and body lofting? It appears that none other than Harley Earl was involved in supplying the trim.
  • The clay model was scaled from GM supplied body loftings.
  • All trim was scaled from original, full-sized trim, in brass and was made on a 3-D pantograph from the original supplied by GM (via Harley Earl).
  • All trim pieces and probably the hubcaps as well, may have been machined at the Stiller Brothers shop in Royal Oak, Michigan. There is a possibility that the hubcaps might have been made by Lyon Incorporated.
  • All trim, nut, bolts, screws, threaded posts and washers are brass.
  • All brass components were used to avoid problems with dissimliar metals.
  • The headlights were not functional, but were planned to be functional.
  • The original colors were Polo White exterior and dash. The underside of the body was red.

As pedal cars go, this car was exceptionally heavy, originally weighing 150 pounds. The restored car weighs approximatey 100 pounds. Nobody seems to know what caused a 5 pound weight reduction in the restoration process.

The original tires were Goodyear Diamond Tread, 10x2.75, pnematic tires. Whitewalls were painted on. Tires on the restored car are the same. The hood and horn emblems were originally made using the SEE-DEEP process. The hood and horn emblems on the restored care are laser engraved on clear acrylic and painted.

Dimensions:

Length: 64.5 inches (168cm)
Width: 29 inches (75cm)
Height, on wheels to the top of the door: 13.5 inches (35cm)
Height, on wheels to the top of the steering wheel: 21 inches (55cm)
Axle-to-Axle distance: 38 inches (99cm)

 

Identity Crisis - There are anamalies surrounding the trim and body:

  • The license bezel, with fourteen screws, was scaled from a full-size bezel. Production cars and EX-122 had only eight screws.
  • The headlight rings have two screws each versus only one screws per ring on a full-size ring.
  • The hubcaps have vertical spinners. Only very early production 1953's and EX-122 had vertical spinners.
  • Attention was given to painting detail on the hubcaps, while other paint detail was unaddressed.
  • The body has fender scoops. Only EX-122 had fender scoops. Fender scoops then re-appaeared on the 1956 Corvette.
  • The left and right front and rear bumpers have a detail ring on the nose of each piece, just like EX-122, but is absent from the production cars.
  • There is no Chevrolet side script. Production cars and EX-122 had the side script.
  • The Chevrolet shield and bow tie are on the hubcaps, which seem to be at odds with the absence of the Chevrolet side script.
  • The hood and horn emblem have the US Flag with the checkered flag, instead of the bow tie and fleur-de-lis with checkered flag.
  • The emblem with the US Flag has not been used since January 12th, 1953, and was only used on EX-122 prior to the 1953 Motorama.
  • The spear on the left and right side of the body is pointing up, just like the production cars. EX-122 had the spear pointing down.
  • The headlight buckets were chrome plated, rather than being painted black as on EX-122 and the production 1953's.

 

Ancillary information:
The car was in the possession of George A. Lyon I, and then George A. Lyon II, at his home in Birmingham, Michigan. The kids in the photos of the finished car are Craig and Gary Hughes, the sons of Harley Earl Incorporated product designer and photographer Bob Hughes, and were taken when the car's construction was complete. It has been reported that the car had been found years later in an old carriage house, somewhere in Michigan. After being strapped to the back of a junkman's truck, the car was sold at the Saline swap meet in Ann Arbor, Michigan, on April 28th, 2002 and then resold on eBay on May 5th, 2002. Some photographs of the car were found in the archives of Ford-Earl Design Associates

The car was never known as anything other than a 1953 Corvette. The fiberglass fingerprints of ths body match exactly those in the original photographs. Clay from the clay model was recycled. There are no mirrors, exterior or interior, on the car. These would have been child vulnerable items.

The chassis has been re-created, using photographs of the original as a reference. Pedal cars, with two sets of pedals side-by-side , are extremely rare. Approximately 500 hours were spent on actual resoration. The restoration began on May 15th, 2002 and was completed on May 12th, 2003.

There have been several notable appearances of the pedal car, including: Featured car at Eyes on Design 2003 in Warren, Michigan. Featured car at Corvettes at Carlisle 2003 in Carilsle, PA. On display at the National Corvette Museum on August 28th, 2003. Invited to the Concourse d'Elegance at Cranbrook on July 25th, 2004. Went on display at the GM Heritage Center on July 26th, 2004.

Urban Legends:
This car is not connected with Esa, or the Eska cars of 1956 and 1957. This car was not known as a "Kiddie Corvette".

There is not connection with the Shah of Iran.

The Austin J40 Pedal Car was not used as a model or reference for this car. Harley Earl Corporation did not design the Fig Newton for Nabisco.

I am not obsessed with tires, nr do I collect ashtrays

Unsolved Mysteres and Unanswered Questions:
The photograph date codes cannot be explained, unless one stores film for fourteen years before using it.

Where was the between Birmingham (~1957) and Ann Arbor (2002)?

The issue of fourteen screws on a full-size license bezal is a mytery as there is no known bezel, prototype or production, with fourteen screws

It is not known how the emblem with the US flag was supplied, although it is believed to have been provided by Harley Earl.

It is not know what became of the original molds for this car.

It is not known what happened to the orginal chassis, wheels, hubcaps or steering wheel, although it is believed that mounting the body on a differant chassis was attempted at some later point.

How the project to build the car was funded is unknown.

How it came to be in the Lyon's possession is unknown, but it is believed to have been given ny Harley Earl to George Lyon, Sr.

The location of the carriage house where the car was reportedly found is unknown.

Why was a LYON license plate apparently on the car when completed?

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