Cars have a universal appeal that makes them popular with young and old, with a motor being designed for every age group. The same can be said for small children, as a successful model was the Austin J40 pedal car. Considered a mini version of the A40, the J40 was created as a recreational machine that children could enjoy driving around their neighbourhood. As a toy and collectable, J40s are popular in the modern day and we’re looking into the history of the vehicle.
A car built by miners
The origin of the J40 can be traced to 1943, with the government passing an act that acknowledged miners were being struck down by a illness called ‘The Dust,’ AKA pneumoconiosis. Many miners could no longer work, so the act helped to get them work with other employers. Chairman of the Austin Motor Company, Leonard Lord, wanted to provide a stable working environment for many ex-miners, hiring them to develop a toy car based on mainstream models.
The team were given a factory in South Works and specific guidelines were developed. The car needed to be suitable for children between four and nine, there needed to be enough room for two, the bonnet and boot needed to open and the car also needed to have working lights with a dummy engine.
Producing a children’s car required that a child be measured, with design expert Alf Ash’s daughter being used. The prototype came with 12 inch tyres fitted on 8 inch wheels, a plywood frame and a leather seat stuffed with horsehair. Christened the JOY 1, the prototype was unveiled in 1946.
The next step was to create a production model, with various changes taking place, until the Pathfinder version was chosen. A new factory in Longbridge was opened in 1949 and production began. After a year, the Pathfinder was dropped and replaced by the J40 in 1950.
The J40, made out of scrap off-cuttings of metal, came with a high-quality design. Building on the JOY 1 prototype, the J40 featured working headlights, detachable wheels, opening bonnet and chrome paint job.
Austin sold the J40 for £33 and though it was meant for an American audience, the car sold around the world. The J40 proved to be extremely popular with children, being used in a number of situations. They made excellent road safety vehicles, appearing in safety films as well. J40s were also fitted to roundabouts at fairs.
A total of around 32,100 J40s were produced, with the last one coming off the assembly line in September 1971. The J40 retained its popularity, becoming a collector’s item for a modern audience.
Image Credit: Car Transplants