About five years back I caught some fortunate breaks which increased what the beancounters would call my “discretionary income.” Being a sober and pragmatic middle-aged man, I used that windfall to chase down various childhood artifacts of deep personal significance.
This was not some wild spree, however. Taking a page from my renewed record collecting, I set very specific ground rules about how and what I would buy. The goal was quality, not quantity — a carefully curated collection of representative samples instead of complete sets. Repros and re-releases were fine, as long as the price was low enough, the quality was high enough, and the do-over captured the essence of the original item.
There was wiggle room for smaller and cheaper stuff, such as the 1984 “Action Command” rebadging of Hot Wheels’ set of mid-1970s military vehicles or an assortment of most favored MUSCLE figures. And there were a few cases where estate sale lots ended up being cheaper than a specific individual item, which is what happened with the Galactica Colonial Viper and Flying Aces PRC jet plane.
Most of the items were replacements for things I’d lost during the upheaval following my mom’s death or from the half-remembered days of the pre-Star Wars 1970s. Reassembling this toybox of the lost hasn’t radically transformed my life, but there is a certain level of restorative satisfaction in seeing them on the shelf or occasionally turning an item over in my hands and vividly recalling a specific moment in time.
Relatively speaking, there weren’t a lot of items on that nostalgic reverie wishlist. It only took a few months to acquire most of them, at which point I switched to other retail therapy obsessions (7-inch singles, collected editions of favorite funnybooks). The remaining artifacts were either too expensive, impossible to find, or instances where I couldn’t remember enough details to conduct a search for them.
The quest for most significant and coveted item in that elusive remnant — a complete, good condition SSP Smash Up Derby car — actually dated back to before the millennium. It was the focus of some of my earliest eBay searches (next to a Pakistan-made “katana” and the second series of G1 Transformers minibots). I can’t explain why the toy came to symbolize the earliest years of my childhood (instead of, say, Mego dolls which were more in line with my geeky demeanor), only that it did. Obtaining one became a background noise level obsession, held in check only by the asking prices.
For those of you who aren’t old as dirt, Kenner’s SSP cars were 6-inch long plastic vehicles kitted out with a central gyro-wheel. Slotting and rapidly pulling out a notched “T-stick” into the center of the car set the gyro-wheel literally screaming, making the toy rip across the linoleum floor at high speeds until it smashed into a wall, bit of furniture, or family pet.
The Smash Up Derby line improved the formula by adding spring-loaded front bumpers, which sent parts of the toy flying off in all directions upon impact.
So you can see, given the above description, why obtaining “a complete, good condition SSP Smash Up Derby car” might not be an easy proposition. Other toys might be incidentally subjected to rough play, but SSP cars in general based their entire concept around it.
I’d have settled for a vanilla SSP model based on a period muscle car, but even those run for ludicrous sums for ones which looked like they’d been excavated from an ancient battlefield. Eventually I settled on a smaller, but functional “Laker Special” model given out by Citgo stations as a promo during the Nixon Era. It wasn’t the big score, but it ticked the appropriate boxes well enough for me to move on and quit searching…
…until two weeks ago when I was fucking around on eBay and decided to search for a Smash Up SSP car just to see how much further that dream had slipped away. My heart stopped a second when the first listings returned was for a sealed-in-plastic deadstock 1975 Classy Crasher “Luxury Limo” with T-stick, for a buy-it-now price well within my acceptable range.
I’ve come to accept a certain degree of bullshitting when it comes to auction listings for vintage toys. The deadstock claim, where the toy had been sitting in a warehouse for forty-five years, seemed a little too good-to-be true, but the photos did show what was at least a complete model in decent condition. I mashed the buy button and awaited the what minor letdowns might arrive.
It arrived two days later and was amazed to discover that it was indeed shrinkwrap-sealed and utterly pristine. I’ve bought MIB toys from this decade which weren’t in as good condition as this Luxury Limo was.
Not only did I score a long-coveted childhood relic, I got one which was in perfect condition, looks classy as fuck, and is molded in apex-1970s orange plastic. I’ve been glancing at it on the shelf while I’ve been writing this, and I still can’t believe it’s real.
While I have revved it up a few times to savor that oh-so-familiar screaming gyro sound (Exhibit C in “why 70s parents always seemed cranky”), it has not and will never achieve its true smash up potential. While I was testing the bumper’s spring action, a wheel popped off and rolled under the sofa, and I felt my heart stop for a good sixty seconds until I retrieved it and snapped it back into place.
Should I need to terrify my animals with high-speed gyro antics, I still have my Citgo promo jobber.
(Sorry about the delay with the Crisis posts. What I though was going to be a low-key stretch of time has been filled with two major home renovation projects that have claimed most of my mental real estate.)