I thought I'd kick this big, misty-eyed "nostalgia fest" off with the greatest toy ever produced. Pound for pound, no other toy ever created can touch the sheer greatness of this toy. The degree of fun this toy generated made playing with all other toys seem about as much fun as playing with a bowl of flour.
I'm talking, of course, about the Evel Knievel Stunt Cycle from Ideal Toys.
In the 1970s, Evel Knievel was a phenomenon that's difficult to describe to those that weren't "of age" in that decade. Evel was almost like a living super hero. In the eyes of a child, a man that would try to jump the Grand Canyon (it was the Snake River but we didn't know any better) in a rocket, seemed capable of ANY feat. Evel was a merchandising phenomenon, as well. There were Evel posters, t-shirts, toothbrushes, drinking straws, model kits, lunch boxes...the list goes on and on. However, to kids, it was the toys that mattered most. In 1973, the Ideal Toy company started producing the line of Evel Knievel toys that would become almost legendary in the minds of so many adults today. For countless people, this was their version of Ralphie's "Red Ryder BB Gun" at Christmas time. When Evel passed away near the end of 2007, it was truly the end of an era for many "kids" from the 1970s. Somewhere deep down, I don't think we thought Evel's death was even possible. He had faced death so often in the past and won every time.
Why was the Evel Knievel Stunt Cycle so fantastic? Apart from the fact that it allowed you to bring a mini-Evel into your home, this toy allowed several different styles of play. This toy allowed a Mego-esque style of action figure play with a poseable figure, vehicles, and accessories. There was even a van playset available that was similar to what you would expect to find in a Big Jim or Gijoe toy line. However, the Stunt Cycle set also allowed an extremely fun "rough and tumble" style of motorized play when you mounted your Evel figure on the cycle and headed for open hallways or the outdoors looking for impossible jumps to test the King of the Stuntmen. This was a toy that kids PLAYED with. An Evel Knievel Stunt Cycle set rarely sat idle. This toy could really make you work up a sweat, as well. Revving it up as fast as you could before letting Evel fly was part of the fun. Although a durable toy, most kids played with these so hard that they eventually "ran them into the ground," often quite literally. For this reason, not many pristine examples of this toy exist today and can be quite expensive when they do show up for sale or auction. Not to mention the fact that Evel's pristine, gleaming white jumpsuit seemed to get dirty and stained almost immediately after only a few jumps.
Part of the thrill of this toy was the fact that as Evel's cycle left the launch energizer, things were completely out of your hands. You had just unleashed an excessively powerful thing of beauty and terror upon the world... and you never knew where it was going to end up or how many casualties it would inflict before eventually coming to a stop. The flywheel mechanism in the stunt cycle must have been designed by NASA scientists or something because it just flat-out HAULED without any inkling or desire to stop for quite some time after being launched. This toy seemed to do the impossible. It would, most often, fly off any jump put before it and then continue to go on and get tangled up in your sister's hair, wander into live traffic, or maim the family cat. Good times. Evel was not for the feint of heart.
The set consisted of the energizer (the base unit that wound up the cycle), a bendie-style Evel Knievel figure in a cloth outfit, and Evel's stunt cycle. Evel had a removable belt and helmet. Early issues of this set also included Evel's cane which Ideal called the "swagger stick." Each stunt cycle set also came with a set of decals to adorn the cycle and a set of instructions to help you get Evel's adventures underway. The energizer unit came in several different colors (red, blue, white, yellow, and orange) and since the toy was "blind boxed" you never knew which color you were getting until you opened the box. The painted seat on the stunt cycle also came in several colors (black, blue, and red). The exciting illustrated box artwork remained the same throughout the production run of the set. Although, the size of the box was reduced, somewhat, around 1975.
The earliest version of the stunt cycle included chrome forks, handlebars, and (short) exhaust pipes. Eventually, Ideal dropped all chrome from the cycle and produced it in all white plastic version with black extended exhaust pipes. The chrome versions of the stunt cycle are more rare and generally more desirable to collectors. Although, any version of the stunt cycle in good working condition is quite a prize.
The Evel Knievel Stunt Cycle is still such a beloved toy today that two different companies since the Ideal Knievel "heyday" have released reproductions of the set, both with differing degrees of success. I hope to cover both of those sets at a later date. I will also be covering quite a few of the other vintage Evel Knievel vehicle sets.
What a great toy!! What's your favorite toy from the 70s?