Automoblox is one of those toy ideas that, when you see it, you smack your forehead and go “Oh, why didn't this come out when I was young enough to play with them?" In a nutshell, it's sort of a cross between hot wheels cars and Lego bricks - you take the pieces and parts and make your own custom wooden bodied roadster. In terms of visual appeal, they're very Art Deco with streamlined, aerodynamic shapes, and look sort of like a 1950s vintage vision of the future on the basic line. The R series line are a bit sportier, lower down to the ground and more aerodynamically shaped and “modern" looking.
The basic concept is that you buy a kit - made of maple - where three pieces snap together to make the chassis for the car (a body, a front (with axle) and rear (with axle) and various snap on parts let you customize it (from wheels, to windshields, to spoilers and airdams. )
The pieces are constructed of high quality wood, and while the plastic bits are, well, plastic, they're obviously built with the understanding that this is a high price item, and furthermore, a high price item meant to be played with by kids. (Though I don't doubt that a lot of adults end up buying a set for the kids, and a second set or two for themselves. )
There are three lines - the basic Automoblox system, the R series, and the minis. Parts from the basic Automoblox and R series are interchangeable, but parts from the minis series are not. The minis series parts are interchangeable with other minis parts, and Automoblox says that they're releasing new concept cars for both lines each year.
The Basic Line has six models:
- Red C9 Sports Car
- Aqua M9 Sport Van
- Purple X9 SUV
- Green T9 Truck
- Blue S9 Sedan
- Orange A9 Compact
Because of the interchangeability, Automoblox toys encourage, for lack of a better term, “fiddlyness". Kids (of all ages) will take them apart and put them back together. Want to see what your R series race car looks like with a fire engine front end? It'll fit! What this does for kids is make them learn fine motor control (getting the bits stuck together), and encourages a lot of creativity and problem solving, and exploration of combining parts into custom vehicles. One of our testers created a stretch truck that he thought was “super cool" especially after filling the truck bed with skittles!
The R Line has three models:
- X9X Sport Utility
- C9-R Sports Car
- S9-R Sport Sedan
The parts are built sturdily enough that they're nearly kid proof. They aren't quite indestructible, though. We found that the solid wood construction meant that the pieces held together nicely, and they have a reassuring solidity in the hand that injection molded plastic pieces don't have. On the two main lines (but not the minis), the pieces are large enough that we're not terribly concerned that a toddler would swallow them; the minis pieces have smaller parts and should really not be handed out to kids under the age of 5 or 6, in spite of what the packing says. (Honestly, we think the miniatures are really aimed at adults. )
The Mini Line has three models:
- Mini Green S9 Sedan
- Mini Blue T9 Truck
- Mini Yellow C9 Sports Car
One of the clever things about how they're designed and built is that the connectors on the front and rear ends are custom-keyed - the front ends will only connect to the front end pieces of the same design, the rear end pieces will only fit onto the rear end of the chassis. This helps cut down on frustration among the young set, and causes adults who collect the parts to do some careful swap and trade bits.
Automoblox for adults taps into the same sort of mindset that builds on customized cars, and, frankly, are just a lot of fun to play with and make “vrooming" noises. (We confess that we keep a couple of the miniatures lines in our desk drawers for stress relief at the office. Judging from where Automoblox get sold, we're not the only ones. ) In much the same way that true adult Lego fanatics will scour web sites for specific sets of bricks, we can see a real subculture growing up around Automoblox owners as adults.
As for price, this toy line is not cheap. You can find them on eBay and Amazon, however the company itself will not sell to mass merchandisers. They prefer to sell to niche sites that can represent the product as a specialty toy and not a commodity. The basic and R Line can be found for a tad under $30 and the mini's go for about $10. We feel the price is fair if not a little on the high side, but our poll felt that a 10 - 20% cut would be more in line with consumers expectations.
Alycia Shapiro is Vice President in charge of product development for SensoryEdge. She has advocated for special needs children in order to get them the services they are entitled to and need. Many parents either have difficulty getting the proper services or might not know these services are available. You can visit SensoryEdge to learn more about Wood Toys and Pretend Play.