Conceived for kids, built for adults: Bernd Pennewitz makes iconic
An old journalist’s axiom holds that children and animals always make for good stories. Hardly anyone can resist the charm of an adorable infant or the eyes of a loyal hound. Add a sports car, such as a
Boys prefer technology and like playing with cars, while girls are more socially attuned and like playing with dolls. Or so it’s said. Bernd Pennewitz’s daughters turn such hoary clichés on their heads: these girls drive
Their father was an avid collector of Wiking toy cars as a boy. In 2000 he started exploring how his personal passion for model cars might be used to enhance the family’s dollhouse. Two years later, the result was a silver James Dean
The Spyder was originally conceived as a one-off but, encouraged by the response to his prototype, Pennewitz decided to produce an entire series. He set up a workshop at his 120-year-old farmhouse in Lüdersfeld. The only problem was that, before he could begin production, the
Pennewitz threw himself into his work. To help finance his start-up, he sold his real
What this one-man operation needed for series production was a network of suppliers—all the more so when he developed a second car, this one modeled on the 356 Speedster. He found skilled providers for the plastic car bodies, but spent sleepless nights worrying about the paint jobs. “Painting plastic is a supreme skill in this industry. I spent years trying to find a company that could do what I needed.” The search for turn-signal lights, wheels, and other special parts was no less time-consuming. Pennewitz and his wife managed to locate a number of items online that could then be adapted. But some things were impossible to find, like headlight covers. Pennewitz had to make the molds himself to have the thermoplastic parts cast.
But how does he sell his precious creations? “There’s a surprisingly wide range of customers,” he notes. And then adds that discretion is a matter of honor in this business. That makes sense—the price for one of his 356s starts at US $11,753. Hence many vehicles in his fleet are probably driven on winding roads through park-like estates. But Pennewitz is adamant that he does not advertise his products as children’s cars. For one thing, this would lead to problematic liability issues. Aside from that, an astonishing number of buyers are adults who have simply fallen in love with his little classic cars. “One of our first customers was a man who ran straight up to our stand at the Techno Classica fair in Essen and shouted, ‘I want this, where do I have to sign?’” he recalls. Other interested parties turned out to be owners of 356s who wanted to have exact miniature copies parked next to their originals.
Pennewitz has now made more than 150 small cars, including models of the equally legendary
By Frank Giese
Photos by Ole Spata
Toy or model car? The boundaries blur for self-propelled little cars. Regardless of what type of motor they have, these small vehicles may only be driven on private property. When sold explicitly as toys, insurance regulations limit them to walking speed, which means a maximum of 5 mph. Pennewitz’s