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The topic of car safety takes many shapes and forms, and one of its strangest forms regards clown cars. How does a clown car work, you ask? Many people think a clown car is an impossible trick involving a dozen or so circus performers piling out of a tiny vehicle. Here’s a look at the history of these cars, whether they’re a trick, and how they work.

A brief history of the clown car

Clown car; how does a clown car work
Clown car | Andrew Stuart – PA Images/PA Images via Getty Images

According to GetJerry, the origins of the clown car date back to the 1950s. The first instance of this stunt traces to the Cole Bros. Circus, a lesser-known circus at the time. The Cole Bros. Circus is now defunct, but its invention of the clown car gag endures. Bob Strehlau, better known as Juggles the Clown, worked for the Cole Bros. Circus, and he’s rumored to be the inventor of the clown car.

GetJerry reports that the origin is a hotly debated topic. And according to this story, Strehlau was frustrated with Cole Bros. Circus for giving more attention to the animal performers than the clowns. Because cars were replacing the horse, Strehlau thought that instead of making a show with a horse, he and his fellow clowns could use a car instead.

Thus, Strehlau invented the gag. It was simple but effective because audiences found it hilarious yet intriguing how many people could fit inside a tiny car. Some spectators have suspected it’s just a trick and the clowns are using a hole in the ground or a trap door. 

Is it a trick or a legitimate stunt?

In reality, the clowns fit themselves inside the vehicle. This stunt, like many good tricks, is surprisingly simple to perform. According to Car and Driver, the circus performers strip everything unnecessary off the car. That includes the door panels, headliner, seats, and even the engine. 

But often, the performers want the vehicle to be operable. So it might run on a small engine that’s powerful enough to move the vehicle at a low speed, but not much more. The circus performers also upgrade the springs so that the car appears to be driving normally and not weighed down by 20 people. 

They also paint the windows so that onlookers can’t see into the vehicle. After that, the clowns just need to pile into the car, and the show can start.

Performers can spruce up this simple trick with the right car. That’s why these vehicles tend to be small and distinctive, such as the Mini Cooper or Fiat 500. In fact, Car and Driver says the record for the most clowns stuffed into a Cooper is 21. The modern Mini Cooper, which is a larger model than the original, can hold up to 25 people. 

Another popular clown car is the Volkswagen Beetle. Like the Mini Cooper and Fiat 500, it’s a teeny and unique-looking model. The current record for the original Beetle was 17 clowns, and the newer Beetle can hold up to 27. 


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