Earlier this week Tanzi, wrote a great article about his favourite childhood toy and, in so doing, threw down the gauntlet to the rest of the Cheese-Magneteers. I rushed to be the first to take up that gauntlet, because, you know, free gauntlet. That bad joke aside, anybody who knows me is all too familiar with my love of toys in general and nostalgic toys in particular. The problem I have, however, is defining that one favourite toy. Even if you assume I did away with childish things by the time I was 15 (which, I didn’t), that is a long time period to choose one favourite toy from.
First I’ll rule out the toys from when I was really young. I may have dragged around that homemade stuffed dog I christened ‘Soft Dog’ (I was one imaginative kid) but it probably doesn’t make a very interesting read. On the other end of the spectrum, I’ll exclude Star Wars action figures. I had a lot of figures (and vehicles, and playsets) but by then I was already in collector mode. I didn’t play with them as much as set them all up and admire them.
That still leaves a lot of toys to choose from. Due to Tanzi’s mention of them in his article, I was tempted to talk about Micronauts. I amassed a pretty decent collection of them and they might be worth an article someday but they didn’t feel right as my favourite. I also briefly considered the Snoopy & His Flyin’ Doghouse Vertibird. Any toy you can actually make fly, even if while tethered, is a quality plaything.
In the end, I decided on a toy that I can recall making a special trip out to the store to buy. In the ‘70’s Kenner offered the SSP Racers toy line. These were cars about the size of a shoe. SSP stood for Super Sonic Power and the gimmick was that the cars all had an oversized wheel in the centre of the car. When a rip cord was inserted and then yanked out, the wheel would spin and your car would be off!
But I didn’t want just any SSP. No, I wanted an SSP Smash*Up Derby set.
The Smash*Up Derby set didn’t rely on just the flywheel gimmick (which was a pretty good gimmick). No, it included two cars that were meant to be crashed. What kid wouldn’t be giddy over a toy that you are supposed to wreck? The cars had snap on doors, hood, trunk, wheels, and bumpers/grill. An ingenious but simple mechanism inside the car would cause some assortment of parts to come flying off when the cars were hit just right (which wasn’t difficult). Then you would snap the cars back together and do it again. As if that isn’t enough to quench your young thirst for destruction, the set came with two ramps so you and a buddy could try to launch your cars skyward and have them collide in mid-air.
I don’t recall the justification for the purchase of a Smash*Up Derby set. Maybe I saved up my allowance or had gift money from grandparents. Maybe my parents just decided to splurge a little as parents are wont to do from time to time. Whatever the reason, I can remember standing in front of a shelf of boxes with my Mother to pick out my set. As this was before the age of hermetically sealed packaging and tie wrapped accessories, Mom opened a box and carefully checked the contents. I imagine we then had the brief are-you-sure-this-is-what-you-want-you-can’t-change-your-mind-later discussion that parents and kids have been having for time immemorial. We then picked up a box, paid at the cashier, and took it home.
At home I dumped out the contents of the box intent on the first step in acquiring any new toy: the placement of the decals. It was then that I realized, horror upon horror, that one of the ramps was broken. I’m not talking about a small crack. I mean there was a giant chunk completely missing from one side of the ramp. The missing piece was not even in the box thereby shattering any hope of gluing it back together.
I took the broken ramp to Mom who assumed I had somehow managed to break my brand new toy before even getting it out of the box. After all, she had checked over the box’s content. This is when I made my big reveal. I had indeed watched her open the box and had seen her check everything over. She had then put down the box while we talked about the purchase. I had then watched her pick up a different box and purchase it. Yes, I can still remember her doing this and still remember telling her she had done it. However, I have no recollection of what was going through my head that prevented me from pointing out her error while we were still in the store. There’s a lesson to be learned in that somewhere, kids.
For whatever reason, we never took the set back to get it replaced. Maybe the receipt was already gone. Maybe Mom was just too busy to get around to it. It seems to me, however, that in that era you just didn’t tend to do that as much. We seemed more accepting of the buyer beware mentality. Anyway, the ramp being broken was not that big of a deal. As long as you put a book under one side it was useable. If you didn’t prop up the one side, it meant the ramp would tip from the weight of the car. This added an element of the unknown as you never knew in what direction the car would wildly careen.
There were a number of different Smash*Up Derby sets although they all seemed to be one of two different sets of cars in different colour schemes. The cars were designed to look pre-dented up and have mismatched parts and paint.
The set I had included the pickup truck and the Volkswagen beetle. This seems like a rather one sided match up. The beetle was actually the more fun of the two simply because it had both a hood and a trunk. That meant more parts to go flying.
The pickup truck had the moniker Tough Tom.
Kenner advertised the Smash*Up Derby line, and most of the SSP cars, as having ‘Sonic Sound’ and the ‘Howl of Power’. As I recall, the sound was provided by a small flap of metal rubbing against the flywheel and was the equivalent of a hockey card in your bicycle spokes. As a kid who did put hockey cards in his bicycle spokes, however, this still seemed pretty cool.
Despite the abuse heaped upon them, these cars held up quite well. They really were sturdy little cars designed to take a beating. Over time, however, the odd part would get lost. Not surprising really for a toy that jettisons pieces every time it is played with. My only other complaint is that occasionally you would pinch the skin of your hand in the flywheel. That was a pain that would linger a bit.
While writing this article, I realized the song from the Smash*Up Derby commercial was running through my head. I figured it must be a pretty catchy little tune for me to still remember it. Well, you decide for yourself as I’ve included it…”right c’here”.