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The History of the Little Tikes Cozy Coupe

It’s one of the most iconic toys in history — the little red car with with yellow roof. But do you know how it was invented? In 1979, inventor Jim Mariol was inspired to create the toy as he scooted around on his office chair. A former automobile design student who had dreamed of designing cars while growing up during the Great Depression, he earned a university scholarship for a car concept he developed as a teenager and worked for Chrysler while studying, but was drafted into the Army during the Korean War before he could finish his education. Still, his interest in designing cars persisted, and upon his return, he founded Design Alliance and began creating many different products. In 1982, he achieved his dream of designing a car when he received a patent for his “Toy Automobile.” Mariol was designing toys for Little Tikes at the time and took his idea to the president of the company, Tom Murdough, who wanted to get it into production as soon as possible. Mariol built a full-scale prototype — it was red with a black roof — and did all of the engineering for the plastic-molding process, too. He even had his own children test out the prototype to ensure that everything was ideally situated for little bodies. The whole design and testing process took just a few months and the new toy hit stores for the first time in 1979. It was marketed as the “Cozy Coupe.” Sales began to soar almost immediately as the toy caught on first in the United States and then globally. Before the Cozy Coupe, there weren’t many large-scale toys for toddlers and the toys that were in production didn’t provide the mobility that the famous foot-powered cars offered. By 1991, the Cozy Coupe had technically become America’s bestselling automobile with 500,000 units being churned out annually! Today, the product line has been expanded to include cars with different designs such as police cars, fire trucks, and racecars — there are even ladybug and dinosaur themed vehicles! However, the original model remains the most popular and retains its iconic red-and-yellow design, although the latest version now features eyes for headlamps and a smile on the front panel.

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