Pedal Car Collection Drives to Auction: Know Before You Bid

James Ardis
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RM Sotheby’s Presents Items from the Collection of Bruce Callis

Lincoln-Zephyr pedal car. Photo from RM Sotheby’s.
Lincoln-Zephyr pedal car. Photo from RM Sotheby’s.

Collector Bruce Callis originally bought and restored pedal cars as a way to spend more time with his grandson, Michael Ready. “I can remember working with Papa in his garage,” says Michael. “I would run and grab tools for him, and I went to the paint shop with him.” Together, they pored over catalogs to ensure their restorations were faithful to the original model.

Available in the upcoming Pedal Power auction, presented by RM Sotheby’s, are 53 pedal cars from the collection of the late Bruce Callis. Pieces in this event represent the history of the pedal car from 1927 to 1977. Bidding begins on June 17th at 1:00 p.m. EDT, and lots will begin closing at 11:00 a.m. EDT on June 24th.

From the earliest days of the automotive industry, pedal cars offered children a replica of popular models on the street, dating as far back as the 1890s. These cars weathered the turbulence of the early 20th century, including the Great Depression, when few families could afford such luxuries. During World War II, metal was needed for the war effort, which temporarily halted the production of pedal cars.

Junior Forty ‘J40’ Roadster pedal car. Photo from RM Sotheby’s.
Junior Forty ‘J40’ Roadster pedal car. Photo from RM Sotheby’s.

An example of a post-World War II pedal car is among the featured lots in this upcoming event. The Junior Forty ‘J40’ Roadster was produced in England from 1950 to 1971. The company that made the J40, the Austin Motor Company, received government funding because it employed many Welsh coal miners affected by black lung disease. Some of the features the J40 offered its young riders included a fully-operational horn, battery-powered lights, and even a spare tire. 

As pedal cars gained popularity after World War II and increased spending power allowed more families to purchase them, companies began branching out beyond automobiles. Among the products made available to these families was the 1968 Skipper Run-A-Bout boat, which is also on offer from Callis’ collection. The Murray-Ohio Manufacturing Company was the first to bring a pedal boat to market. They not only produced the Skipper Run-A-Bout, but two other boat-themed pedal cars, the Jolly Roger and the Dolphin Gulf Stream. Distinctive features of the Skipper Run-A-Bout include its outboard motor and chrome-plated rails.

Skipper Run-A-Bout pedal car. Photo from RM Sotheby’s.
Skipper Run-A-Bout pedal car. Photo from RM Sotheby’s.

Bidders interested in Americana can consider the US Army Pursuit from 1941, also made by the Murray-Ohio Manufacturing Company. A key design element of the US Army Pursuit is its propeller, which turns when the driver moves forward. This pedal car was designed by Viktor Schreckengost, the noted industrial designer and artist. During this era, he was also commissioned by Eleanor Roosevelt to produce bowls for the White House.

US Army Pursuit pedal car. Photo from RM Sotheby’s.
US Army Pursuit pedal car. Photo from RM Sotheby’s.

Before coming to auction, Bruce Callis’ pedal car collection was on display at the McLean County Museum of History in Bloomington, Indiana. The cars were exhibited for two years, from 2018 to 2020, in the late collector’s local community. “We felt it was time to share them,” said Callis’ son, Kevin Callis, when the exhibition opened. “Dad always loved to watch his grandchildren playing with the pedal cars.”

Interested bidders can learn more about the featured lots in this RM Sotheby’s article and register to bid on the auction house’s website.