One evening a couple of years ago, the Dragusian family enjoyed a pasta dinner that had been delivered to their home in Brooklyn, New York, in a cardboard box. But instead of being a standard rectangle, the box had a tapered shape that reminded one of Vlad and Cristina’s daughters of something.
Dad, the 8-year-old asked after dinner, could you make a car out of the box?
As a teenager in Romania, and before he had gone to school to become an architect, Vlad Dragusian couldn’t afford a new car so he bought two old Volkswagen Beetles and combined parts and pieces into one running, functioning vehicle. He went to work on the pasta box, cutting discs for wheels while his daughter drew headlights and other details onto the cardboard.
Today, Candylab Toys will introduce five vehicles to its fleet of wooden cars, toys designed for child’s play but toys, we suspect, that are just as likely to find homes on the display shelves in the offices, garages and man caves of car enthusiasts.
“Modern vintage wood toys,” it says on the sturdy cardboard box that contains one of the cars. “Inspired by mid-century American design and car culture.”
Type on the box says these are “heirloom wood toys that are durable, elegant and simple, giving children a chance to create their own stories around the objects they play with.”
The cars are made from beech wood, are painted bright colors with water-based paint, covered with a clear urethane, with plastic wheels and tires made from “food grade rubber,” which Dragusian explained is the same silicon material used for such things as kitchen spatulas.
The cars are more than 7 inches long, nearly 3 inches wide and weigh almost a pound each.
“They have a weight related to their size that’s pretty close to a (real) car,” Dragusian said of the cars that are designed in Brooklyn, produced in China, designed for play by children ages 3 and older, and have been safety tested to regulations for the United States, Europe and Australia/New Zealand.
The cars are priced at $30 or $35 (depending on model). That may seem expensive, but Dragusian notes “we didn’t cut any corners” in their design, production of packaging, adding that it took 18 months and three generations of prototypes to achieve the quality he, his wife and their partner Florin Galliano wanted.
Galliano and Dragusian were friends as teenagers, working on their personal VWs while Galliano also restored and sold vintage World War II-era BMW motorcycles. Dragusian and Galliano moved to Chicago some 15 years ago, though Dragusian ended up in New York while Galliano, who specializes in product prototyping, lives in Los Angeles.
“What it is, I think,” Dragusian said of the toys, “is they’re so different and so simple and you get it within the first few seconds of interacting with them. Children may not know what a Pontiac Judge was, but they like the colors and they’re durable and you don’t have to worry about them breaking.”
He said he also sees appeal in the fact that the toys are ready for play right out of the box.
“They’re not a set you have to build,” he said, adding that they’re sturdy enough for “a careless type of play.”
But, he said, “at the same time they appeal to grownups. We didn’t want to make art, just a nice toy car that can bridge the gap between generations.”
The cars are available through the Candylab Toys website and are on sale at design and museum stores and a growing list of toy stores as well.
Today’s launch will add a tow truck, taxi, trailer, blue racer and station wagon with walnut-veneer trim to the Candylab lineup.
For information, visit the www.candylabtoys.com website.
Larry Edsall is a Phoenix-based freelance writer. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.