Ever since cars were invented, car games and toys have provided families with hours of entertainment. That’s why when we think of the best car games, we remember our childhood spent sprawled on the floor racing toy cars, swapping between old Dinky Toys and Corgi Cars or gathered as a family racing for victory on the Scalextric.
Perhaps your childhood consisted of arcade racing games, challenging kids in the area to races on Gran Trak 10 or trying to beat the highest score on Pole Position. Maybe for younger generations, your days were spent holed up in your bedroom with friends, playing Need for Speed in multiplayer mode.
No matter how you spent your younger years (or an occasional evening or two now), car games ignite the same nostalgic feeling in us all. Working our way through the years, we have begun with retro car toys and games, transitioning into arcade and video games from the 70s onwards, to cover all the best car games invented!
Almost as soon as cars became a feature of everyday life, toy and model versions catapulted into popularity too. Children of all ages loved to play with miniature cars, and some are now considered to be highly collectible.
Ford’s Model T was the first mass-produced car, released in 1908. By the 1920s they were ubiquitous and children wanted to join in the fun of driving. Ride-on pedal cars in highly detailed steel became the toys of choice.
Dinky toys were die-cast zinc alloy miniature cars produced by Meccano and made in Liverpool. The company started out making trains and soon launched a range of vehicles, including a sports car, a tank and a tractor. Over time, hundreds of miniature versions of cars were designed, tracking the real-life changes in design and engineering.
This retro driving board game invited players to take a road trip tour of England and Wales. The aim was to drive around the country by the shortest route, starting and ending in the same town.
Like the earlier Dinky Toys, Matchbox cars were die-cast models sold in boxes the same size as matchboxes. The company’s first major success was a scale model of Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation coach.
Corgi Toys launched another die-cast cars brand in the 1950s. These new miniatures became an instant hit with their intricate detail and transparent plastic windows.
Scalextric slot car racing sets were a toy sensation from the moment they launched. Inventor Fred Francis put small electric motors into model cars and created a slotted track to race them on.
Radio controlled cars were invented in the 1960’s after new radio technology gave users the ability to steer the cars and dial the throttle up or down. The first remote controlled car in the UK was a Ferrari 250 LM model made by Italian brand Elettronica Giocattoli.
AirFix plastic modelling kits enabled children (and grown-ups) to make detailed scale models of aircraft and military vehicles. In the 1960s AirFix released a range of classic and modern model cars for meticulous assembly and painting.
Hot Wheels were launched by American toy maker Mattel as a rival to other die-cast models. They were more stylistic car toys than their true-to-life British counterparts, but they quickly became a toy car sensation.
Aurora AFX slot car racing was a toy sensation when it launched. Children could get the car chassis and switch it up a range of interchangeable body shells to transform the look and style of the cars.
With demolition derbies growing in popularity in the United States, toy companies got in on the action. The aim of this retro car game was to pull the rip cord to set the cars off, then let them smash into each other.
The 853 car chassis was a LEGO set car base that you could turn into any car, real or fantasy. It had basic car functions like steering, movable seats, a two-speed gearbox and a four-cylinder engine with moving pistons.
What’s better than a toy car? A toy car you can race from your wrist, of course! These popular toys comprised a car with a wind-up motor that you wore on your wrist like a watch. Simply wind it up, extend the ramp and release it on your chosen surface.
By the 1970s, technology had advanced dramatically and interactive car games and toys came to the fore. First came the expansion of video game arcades, and then the technology moved to home gaming systems and computers, eventually allowing multi-player mode to let friends compete against each other.
This retro Atari arcade game let players drive a car along a track with a birds-eye view, avoiding walls and trying to pass all the checkpoints before the time ran out. It was housed in a custom cabinet containing a steering wheel, accelerator and brake pedals and a gear stick.
A few years later, rival arcade game brand Sega released a Formula 1 racing game in a similar vein. It came in three cabinet styles: standard upright cabinet, a cocktail table and a sit-in ‘deluxe’ cabinet.
Pole Position was an iconic arcade racing game where the view was behind the car, rather than above it. It quickly became the most successful arcade game in the classic era, even spawning a cartoon show spin-off. (Video below)
This was a retro car racing arcade game with added excitement. It had cars that transformed into boats, as well as weapons to throw off your opponents.
Out Run was a 3D road racing arcade game where the user controls a Ferrari Testarossa Spider from the driver’s position. At every junction, the player had to choose one of two directions, each one leading to a different environment.
This retro arcade race game put the player in the shoes of cop Tony Gibson. The objective was to chase down bad guys in a pixelated Porsche 928 and arrest them before the clock ran out of time.
Stunts was a fast-paced racing game where players completed laps of the track as fast as possible, with special features like loops, jumps and corkscrews, plus a custom track editor to change the course.
This super-speed Nintendo game was developed for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. It was set in the distant future and players race hover cars belonging to the game’s four characters across a variety of tracks.
This first Mario Kart game sparked one of the most successful car game franchises in the world. Players took control of one of the eight characters and raced against the computer or each other, using a host of power-ups.
This strangely popular video game saw players race tiny toy cars through home settings like table tops and kitchen worktops. You had to dodge obstacles in the form of household items and avoid falling off the edge.
The first Need for Speed game was a racing sensation, praised for its exceptional graphics and head-to-head racing multiplayer mode. Gamers raced glamorous sportscars with spoken commentary and detailed performance statistics.
This game followed a similar racing style as Mario Kart, but included additional tricks and traps to wipe out your opponent. The cartoon-style kart racing game allowed players to strike their rival while dodging explosives littered across the track.
For many of us, these were our first experiences of cars before we got to the age of seatbelts and speed limits. So for a short time when we switch on our games console or dig out old toy cars, we’re able to revert back to the carefree ways from our youth.
Why not put your knowledge to the test and prove you’re a driving master on the virtual race track and as well as on real-life roads? Take our Driving Genius Quiz to prove you’re a true motoring aficionado.