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Slot Cars Then and Now Part 1 - The Roots of Slot Cars

The slot car is well known by everyone in some form or another. The 1950's and 1960's were a time when people were able to enjoy all the new and exciting things being introduced for consumption. Along with new music styles and fads like the hula hoop and slinky, there was the arrival in full force of commercial slot car racing.

Companies like Revell, Monogram, Cox and Strombecker, took detailed models of popular stock cars, Indy cars, formula 1 cars and sports cars, added rudimentary chassis with motors and the hobby of slot car racing was officially was established.

Home sets were sold by the tens of thousands at Christmas time, in HO scale, 1/32 scale and even 1/24 scale. Of course, racing with family and friends on a plastic track is fun, but soon the desire to compete on a larger scale becomes a huge business opportunity.

Commercial raceways in 1963 consisted of small ovals or figure 8's in the back of hobby stores. Four and six lane layouts were common. All slot car tracks were custom made. There were no standards so no two layouts were the same and the number of lanes were as high as ten. It wasn't until American Model Raceways went into production of a full line of beautiful Formica sided tracks, that an 8 lane standard was settled on.

As the popularity of slot car racing increased, more companies were formed to meet the rabid demand. Early cars adapted toy electric motors and HO train motors for propulsion. Soon Mabuchi motors of Japan began producing motors made for slot cars.

Prior to 1966, emphasis was put on scale appearance and detail. A slot car was fundamentally a model car with a motor adapted into it. Manufacturers employed master mold makers who would examine photographs at all angles of every new race car being campaigned even some vintage models. Some would even get permission and licensing from the car owners and could precisely measure the actual car then reduce those measurements to 1/32 or 1/24 scale.

The early tires used on slot car were actual rubber, just like on real cars. The tires were molded with the shape and all the detail right down to the Firestone logo. These slot cars were top heavy and really slid around. Getting one around a track with any pace took a very good driver. Most of the people who do slot cars back then or today are not good drivers. Just like Tiger Woods is the best golfer or Michel Schumacher is the best driver, some people have an inborn skill to be good at slot car racing and most don't.

In 1966 the whole focus of the hobby changed. Going fast and making the slot car easier to drive became the new priority. The beautiful and accurate scale appearance of the slot car would become the casualty.

Today, those early very scale slot cars are by far the most collectible. Some rare slot cars sell for well over $1000. Not bad for something that was $8.95 new.