As long as adults have had cars to drive, kids have had toy cars to play with. In recent years, those have ranged from diminutive, detailed Micro Machines to elaborate, kid-sized buggies, fully motorized and ready for cruising. But all along, puttering quietly in the background in some form another, there has been the simple wooden toy car. In a way, it’s almost the platonic ideal of a toy—a product both durable and dynamic, a sort of blank slate on which generations of kids have projected their automotive imaginings. And recently, for an exhibition at Milan’s National Museum of Science and Technology, it became a blank slate for a generation of designers, too.
The project was born out of a company, TobeUs, that was started by the Italian designer Matteo Ragni a few years back. He had grown frustrated with toys that would entertain his kids for a few hours, only to be relegated to the old toy pile swiftly thereafter. The solution, he decided, was to be found in creating a simple, universal toy that could provide endless enjoyment. The first idea that came to Ragni’s mind had four wheels.
He knew that such a toy would require "the right material," states the project’s site, "with a recognizable smell, an unquestioned resistance to impact . . . and, when the time comes, a dignified end: recycling or reutilization." Ragni decided to make his cars out of "strong and sweet-scented" cedar wood, and after, tapped other designers to craft them. The project quickly gained momentum, culminating in the current exhibition, which shows 100 toy cars by 100 different designers.
Some are whimsical, like Topolino Amaranto’s rabbit-inspired design, or the buggy dubbed "Journey of a Cedar," by Marcel Wanders, which adorns a simple cart with a small tree, made of wooden jigsaw puzzle pieces. Others are just well-crafted interpretations of toy-car standards like trucks and race cars. Some are sleek investigations into aerodynamic forms, while others, like Fabio Novembre’s contribution, playfully deconstruct the toy car as a greater concept. His vehicle, "Trojan Mustang," includes an elegant silhouette of a galloping steed—on four wheels.
Only a handful of the designs are currently available as toys, which you can peruse on the ToBeUs site. But all 100 beautiful designs included in the Milan exhibition can be seen on the dedicated 100% TobeUs site. If you’re buying for any youngsters this holiday season, and have been dreading the inevitable, life-sucking, last-minute trip to Toys R Us to secure This Year’s Hottest Toy, feel free to use these as inspiration to go in a slightly direction. Or, failing that, just a little chicken soup for the soul.
[Hat tip: MocoLoco]