Petrolhead childhood icon faces closure from bankruptcy

All petrolheads of a certain age had a Kettcar pedal kart – and fought our siblings for a shot – but it looks as though we may lose the Kettcar for good

For millions of children in the later half of the 20th century, the Kettcar was an unforgettable slice of automotive upbringing. Perhaps the first true taste of freedom, the pedal-powered go-kart set the foundations for any youngster with oil in the blood – kick starting an obsession for cars that many still exercise.

Sadly, it looks as though the company behind such rose-tinted nostalgia may be producing their final Kettcar, as without short-term intervening financial assistance, the business could go into liquidation as early as November 9 – risking 720 jobs.

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While we’ve basked in the warm glow of reminiscence, the Kettler company has struggled to survive for years. Founded in 1949, Kettler has lived on finance from the sale of its bicycle division amid various cut backs; seeing 200 staff members made redundant in 2015.

The company filed for insolvency in July 2018 after an investor from Luxembourg threw in the towel. Funds were stripped from the firm after negotiations failed to reach a compromise between the Heinz Kettler Foundation and the saving-grace investment party.

Heinz Kettler, the company founder, built the firm from humble beginnings in Sauerland after the Second World War to one of the leading manufacturers of sports equipment, bicycles and garden furniture. However, Kettler’s fortunes took off with the introduction of the Kettcar in 1962 – a racy little pedal car that has seen 15 million units find custodians through generations of children.

Companies go bankrupt on a daily basis, but with Kettler it feels personal. As adults, every time we’ve bought a Kettcar for our youngsters, we’ve relived our own childhoods. We’d be lying to ourselves when denying an attempt at the odd stunt or two, locking the pedals in the opposite direction during an attempt to undertake our first handbrake turn. Seven time Formula 1 world champion Michael Schumacher was one such child.

The model has developed almost beyond recognition from the original concept. Once as utilitarian as a barn with exposed chains and solid wheels, the modern incarnation boasts pneumatic tyres with sporty hubs, a smooth-running chain drive and an almost indestructible mantra.

Trends change, and it looks as though time’s onward march may rob future generations of a simple yet invigorating experience – the first taste of control and speed. If you fancy buying a Kettcar before it's too late, you can do so here.

B&W photo by Karl-Heinz Kasper

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