Among the raft of new electric vehicles arriving in the coming months is one based on no less a car than the ’57 Chevy, that much-revered star of road and track. To be built in the UK by Jolly Roger, based in Skegness on the North Sea coast in Lincolnshire, the electrically powered model will bring iconic 1950s American motoring to an emerging audience.
Designed to withstand the harshest weather, the new vehicle boasts a tough glassfibre body reinforced with steel and protected by a durable gel coat. The compact body permits only two people of limited stature to occupy the interior, sharing a bench seat. Advanced features include autonomous steering that leaves the occupants free to play an interactive game, fitted as standard.
Dave Watson, director of Jolly Roger, has high hopes for the new model. “Knowing how much customers like our cars and vans – Spydero and Classic Camper are our biggest sellers – we’re very excited about the launch of the ’57 Chevy. It satisfies a desire for a return to the past and a cosier, more secure world.”
As if you hadn’t guessed, the new car is, of course, a kiddy ride – a fixed, coin-operated sit-on such as you find outside supermarkets and at theme parks. Which means you could forget it and move on to more serious stories, except that the popularity of the Chevy’s sibling models suggests that toddlers continue to be delighted by cars – a fact that bodes well for the future of our four-wheeled friends.
Which is why, one early October day, I find myself on a marathon drive from London to the Jolly Roger factory in Skegness to learn more. Along the way, I’m buoyed by the prospect of coming face to smiley face with vehicles in the company’s line-up, such as Hank’s Hot Dog Van and Hank’s Ice Cream Van. Also Bykero, a kind of sporty Sinclair C1; CBeebies character Bing and his Talkie Taxi; and IX Pod, a futuristic city car that could actually work if only it weren’t immobile.
Meanwhile, there are three-seat models City Fun Bus and Eco Freddy, a garbage truck, to relish. Both offer impecunious grown-ups the prospect of three rides for the price of one, except that, kids being kids, the right of each to sit at the front is likely to be vigorously and expensively enforced. And then there’s the shockingly pink, Shopkins-based Melon Car – what the industry calls a cutie car ride. Moving on…
What does Alice think of one of Jolly Roger’s most exciting creations, the Spydero, a two-seat roadster with ‘alloy’ wheels, ventilated disc brakes, red calipers, sporty dials and, the crowning glory, a Plexiglass cover through which can be viewed the rear-mounted engine? It looks suspiciously like a Bugatti Veyron, which is why the car maker asked Jolly Roger to change the design of the radiator grille. Is it a bit boyish for the girls?
Watson explodes my ignorant gender stereotyping by saying that little girls are more likely to be drawn to the Spydero than little boys, who prefer the firm’s train rides. “Girls are less fearful. They will try anything.”
However, like the boys, their interest lasts only around a minute and a half before they get bored and try to break the ride or pinch any poorly tied-down features. “It’s why we’ve had to reinforce the Spydero’s windscreen frame (the kids love pulling on it) and remove the clutch and accelerator pedals,” explains Watson. It seems that, just like grown-ups’, children’s love of cars has its darker side, too.
Meanwhile in Leeds…
Squaring up to Jolly Roger on the other side of the arcade is arch-rival Kiddy Rides. Based in Leeds and in business for more than 25 years, it has a range of rides that include the Rally Car, which looks like an Audi TT but has one seat, so there’s no room for the navigator.
No problem: there’s always the Mk2 Rally Car, a Mini-like model with two seats. It reappears elsewhere in the range as the Mk2 Police Car, although its two steering wheels represent something of a security risk for any hapless copper trying to take his ‘tea leaf’ to the nick.