Evel Knievel rides back into fashion with motorbike toy

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The Independent Online

A wind-up toy that allows today's children to recreate the daredevil tricks of 1970s American stunt hero Evel Knievel has become a cult hit in the shops.

Fathers who were children when the "grand-daddy of extreme sports" was at the height of his death-defying fame are said to be behind the strong demand for the Knievel Deluxe Dare Devil Stunt Set.

A determinedly low-tech product, the 40-piece kit propels a Knievel doll on a motorbike up ramps and through a paper "ring of fire" or "brick wall". In complete safety, of course.

In real life, Knievel broke almost every bone in his body during a career that peaked with a televised attempt to jump the Grand Canyon in 1974. He announced his retirement in 1975 after smashing his pelvis during an otherwise successful attempt to clear 13 single-decker buses at Wembley Stadium.

At the height of his fame, toymakers were estimated to have made $350m from an array of Knievel motorbikes, back-up vans, scooters, cars, dolls, watches, pinball machines and even a miniature plastic canyon.

Ideal Toys has re-issued the best-remembered spin-off, the Knievel stunt set, in the run-up to Christmas in the hope that nostalgia for the 1970s will encourage parents to re-live their childhoods getting the biker to leap over obstacles.

Unlike many new versions of old toys, the £30 set has been made from the original moulds used in the 1970s and comes with a "certificate of authenticity". The kit - which does not require batteries - includes a Knievel doll in his distinctive white leathers, a motorbike, two ramps, brick walls and a wind-up gyroscope to power the bike.

Firebox, a leading gadget website, said demand for the toy had been "phenomenal". Spokeswoman Charlie Morgan said: "As soon as we had it in, it just went mental. We had so many calls from people saying 'I remember this from the first time around'."

She added: "[This toy] has such wide appeal for children and for their parents. We had one call from a dad who said he had persuaded his son he wanted it and then persuaded his wife that they should buy it for their son."

The revival may rekindle interest in Knievel, who has faded from the public eye. Now a painter of wildlife scenes, he requires 24-hour oxygen for a lung disease.

Born in Montana in 1938, Knievel began his motorbike stunt career in 1965 when he formed a troupe that rode through fire and jumped over live rattlesnakes and mountain lions. He became friends with Elvis Presley and Muhammad Ali and his career was credited with single-handedly revitalising the toy industry in the 1970s.

Lindsay Hardy of Flair, which has licensed the toy for sale in the UK, said its simplicity was central to its appeal - particularly where fathers were concerned.

Graphic designer Shaun Cole, 38, from Lincoln, who has bought a set for his four-year-old son Oliver, said: "When I was younger I had one and my wife's ordered one for Christmas so I can play with it with my son. But it's for me really."