Friday, September 23, 2011

Z Man The Brain Car - About My Profile Photo

If you look really hard, you can find photos of me on the Interweb.  I'm on enough standards committees that this is inevitable.  Given a choice, I travel incognito.  As of this writing, my profile is a cryptic robot looking guy.  He goes by the name of Z Man The Brain and is one of the first, if not the first, programmable battery powered toys.

Who is this masked man?  He looks vaguely like some modern custom vinyl piece but also very retro.  Truth is, he's in love with his car.

Mine is not a perfect example as he is missing missiles, tail lights and a motor.  However, he is a pretty rare, if obscure, toy.  A pristine one would cost more than a couple of really nice typewriters.  I like Z Man because he is different and not found in everyone's robot collection.

Z Man was produced around 1956 by a long defunct company.  One of the regulars on Alphadrome put together great information including the original patents.  Yes, patents.  Programmable toys were something new and different in 1956.

So, how did he work?  If you flip down his visor, you find this:
Timing Switch Assembly
Simple binary - you move the switches in or out to define a turn. The disc spins and closes a connection. That is translated into running one of two front drive motors.  In that respect, he is similar to the Chevrolet Volt.
Drive Motor
The whole system is somewhat recursive.  The front drive motors move it along and the rear wheels operate a timing gear that spins the disc to send power to the front wheels.  Repurposing another motor to get this running is on my long to do list.

Rear Wheel with Timing Gear Shaft
The timing system also automatically fired missiles at semi-random intervals.

This toy came in several variations, primarily with different front end grill treatments.  Based on the fact that mine looks like the patent drawing (no grill) I would guess he is from an early production run.  Z Man is very much a product of the Space Age and is a valuable part of the household robot and space toy population.


  1. Z Man looks a little like Marvin the Martian, sans bristle.

    VERY cool Space Age toy.

  2. I am 66 now and I had one of these robotic car toys when I was a kid. Nothing is left of it now except the circular circuit board from the top of his head. I do remember that if I carefully placed a slider on that board in the center of its range (so that it indicated neither right nor left), the car would come to a stop when it reached that step because power was sent to neither motor.

    1. I am 83 and I had one of these too. I didn't think that I would ever find anyone that ever heard of them. When I tell people about this amazing toy, they look at me like I had two heads.
      Mike C

  3. I had one of these too. I am 63 now and I never thought that I would find anyone that ever heard of it. When I tell people about this amazing toy they look at me like I have two heads. I'm sure that my mother tossed it out one of the many times we moved...
    Mike C

  4. Wow.Thanks for sharing this info.I am 68--never owned one, but it was one of my major "dream toys".

  5. I am 62 and still have this toy. My uncle brought it to me from a toy show he attended in New York in 1956. It was marketed by Sears. "The Brain" has a few broken parts but mostly all there including the Sears box it came in. Wonder was its worth is?

    Randy Washington Utah.


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