Friction toys are driven by springs or a friction motor. This is a simple mechanism to propel toy model tin trains, cars, action figures, and other toys. The motor consists of a large flywheel which is connected to the drive wheels of the toy via a very low gear ratio, so that the flywheel revolves faster.

The drive spring of, for example, a friction-driven toy car is wound when the back wheels of the car are pushed backwards against a high-friction surface. Carpet, or even a wood floor, can work very well as a friction source, spinning the wheels backward and winding the spring. Glass or a wet surface work less well, failing to provide enough friction to move the wheels. In essence, the wheels and axle of a spring-driven friction toy car are being used in the same way as a winder for an old mechanical clock.

While many spring driven toys require a cog or series of cogs to change the direction of the force of the winder or the force of the spring, a simple friction toy car seldom needs any cogs. The axle serves as a spool to wind the spring; the backward friction rotates the axle to wind the spring. When the car is released, the spring unwinds again, spinning the axle forward and propelling the car. This use of a spring lacks elegance and control but is delightfully easy to understand.

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Comments (2)
Lolly - September 25, 2018
I also have a tin race car set (4 cars with 2 pitstop tunnels and straight and curved track) Also US zone Germany. Also from my grandfather. Ex cond too. Would like to know its value. May also sell. Many thanks.
Steve - February 26, 2013
I own a Clark Hill Climber Friction toy,and want some in put as to what it is worth and who are collectors of these toys. Mine is the Fire Steamer mechinized and the exact one was on sale on e bay in October of 2012.
There are always collectors for nice toys from the past, and they're always looking on eBay, so you might try and sell it there.