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Slot Cars – Then and Now

Friday, 7 January 2011, 17:27 | 1/24 Slot Cars | Comments Off | Read 10957 Times
by Slot Car

Slot cars have been around for over 50 years.

We think of slot cars as having a guide flag that rides inside a slot cut into the track surface. The first slot cars were just the opposite. The slot was a channel in the car and it fit over a rail. Below are early examples of when the slot cars concept was very new. The very earliest we can trace it is back to 1912 when Lionel produced a set of two cars and a rail guide.

gurney slot carLets jump to 1963. Slot cars by this time had some buzz and commercial raceways with 6 and 8 lane custom built wood tracks were starting to appear. Revell entered the market with, first with 1/32 scale cars and sets featuring the Corvette and Ferrari 250. They then fed an eager racing crowd with 1/24 scale F1 cars like the Lotus and BRM of that year. Right on their tails was Cox, Monogram, K&B and then all the rest you know of. 1964 saw and explosion of popularity in slot cars.

sonic needle

Sonic Needle "Thingie"

The next big transition came in 1968, when the need for speed sold better than the scale aspect of slot cars. What I mean is, slot cars were conceived to be exact miniature replicas of actual full size race cars. It wasn’t long before the slot car version of concept cars brought about what were referred to as “Thingies” Non scale wield looking slot cars that were more aerodynamic that something scale. Lower, smaller wheels, colored tires, sleeker lines. Kids especially liked these. The Cox LaCucaracha is a classic case of speed over scale. There was no such real car. A real person would not have room to sit in such a car to drive it.

This was when technology entered into slot cars. The motors switched from the popular and cheap imported Mabuchi to purpose built domestic motors. Every component was significantly better in these motors. In fact. By 1970, motor theory reached it’s peak. The physics principals understood and produced were amazing. Even today, those secrets have not been relearned. At least I have not seen anything produced today that convinces me anyone knows what I am talking about.slot cars

Chassis were hand built. They were made of brass and steel. The designs were innovative and complex. The slot car tracks of the day were not produced to help speed like they are today. Tracks back then were designed to be challenging so as to require extensive participation by the slot car driver. Track owners liked it to as they sold lots of profitable track time since practice was essential for racing success.

commercial slot car tracksBecause these tacks were bumpy and had dropoffs in the straitaways, heavy cars with powerful motors to pull them were the way to get slot cars to use gravity as their ally to get through the rough parts without slowing to much.

Once the scale aspect was history and speed took over, the popularity of slot cars took a huge hit. By 1972, the hobby was almost dead. With speed comes a high price tag. Fads always wane and technology always advances too quickly for those with limited budgets.

The most significant changes in the 1970’s were first a switch from the large size D can motor to the more compact C can motors from Mura and Champion primarily. The second was the advent of air control. This is the addition of a front spoiler, a rear diaplane, and two clear sheets of mylar attached to each side of the slot cars body. This trapped air above the top of the body and caused a massive amount of downforce.

In the 1080’s, motors got smaller and lighter still. Trinity brought polymer magnets to market that had cobalt particles in them. Not only were they light but they has more than twice the strength of ceramic magnets of the day. Next up was the Proslot cube cobalt motor. These really allowed chassis to get lighter and lap times to drop. The early issue with these motors was that the cobalts would tend to find and suck up any pin or metal debris on the slot car track resulting in it seizing up and frying. Basically, everyone, especially track owners would have to be more aware of losing metal bits.

But another significant change was in the tracks Hasse Nilsson came to the states and started building smoother more banked versions of the famous American Blue King. Sad to say this spelled the demise of the beautiful formica sided tracks as they are mostly in landfills today. Lap times dropped again.

gerding kingThis cycle of lighter slot cars and smoother tracks continued and we have about peaked in performance today. A very light car, with air dams or without easily stays on todays swoopy cradle tracks. The advantage can only be gained in motor and car prep, not in driving ability. This means very high prices, even for stock beginner classes.

But here we are. Slot cars have survived even through the worst of economies. Today there is a diversity of offerings. There is extreme scale slot cars out of Europe. There is blinding speed air control “wing cars”. There are semi scale, non wing cars that almost resemble cars much like the LaCucaracha.

Slot cars today come in 4 different scales

HO slot carH.O. Or 1/64 scale. OK I am well aware HO is not 1/64 scale it is 1/87 scale. But in terms of slot cars what is called HO is 1/64. These do have a professional commercial element with companies like BSRT but it is truly unknown to most. HO is mostly relegated to wacky sets that climb wall that kids get for Christmas. These are technically slot cars, but because the use magnetism instead of gravity, I will ignore them on slotcarsforever.com for the most part.



1/43 slot cars are about 3” long. These are what most stores sell as a slot car set. Made in China, these are usually powered by 4 D alkaline batteries. They are toys, but they are definitely slot cars. If you think I sound unimpressed, I have to make the point that without these sets introducing 6 year olds to the hobby, slot cars in general would take a big hit. We need these sets in every store.

scalextric slot cars1/32 slot cars have taken up the scale mantle. Carrera, Scalextric, Ninco, Slot it and Fly are all out of Europe. These slot cars have decent motors, hard plastic molded bodies and are more scale accurate than anything from the early 1960’s. Computer controlled graphics application to the bodies and modern factory technology, allow these truly scale slot cars to be sold in America imported for $50 to $80. These are more toys than commercial, and they do use magnets because of crude one piece plastic chassis. However they dominate slot cars as a hobby today in rec rooms and garages across the country. Organized series are common among home track owners. We will be covering some of these.

wompParma has been producing metal chassis, lexan bodied 1 32 slot cars for 4 decades. They continue today to produce the best selling ever womp womp. Now it is hard to say this is a scale slot, they are all semi scale. But this is the slot car that kids can still likely afford. All remaining raceways should always have a womp racing program. Unlike the plastic magnet cars out of Europe which can’t run on a King track, these are made for it. Champion was making a similar car called the Thumper but Parma has since acquired Champion. JK is another manufacturer that makes a semiscale 1 32 slot car for big tracks. It is an anglewinder and a bit more expensive.

1/24 slot cars are what gives this hobby excitement. This is where all the technological development takes place. The big commercial tracks run many classes of these. There are too many variants to list so I will just talk about the root of each class.

wing slot carWing Cars – these are the blindingly fast air dam equipped racers built for speed. Absolutely no illusion of scale. They range in price from $100 for the low tech beginner cars to $700 for the latest super lightweight open car the professionals race. All wing cars are very easy to drive. With the application of a tacky petroleum substance nicknamed “glue” these slot cars can be dialed in to not require any modulation of the hand help controller at all. Most though will have to “blip” the controller a couple times per lap at the tight turns. Most wing cars require several motors to be used per race. Motors can cost $400 each. The motors must be reconditioned after each race to remain competitive. This is high dollar racing and is the equivalent of F1 in auto racing.

Production Cars – these slot cars are commonly nicknamed “flexis” after the flexicar that Parma first made popular. These characteristically have a 2 piece soft steel chassis with the pan section floating on top of the center section. Many manufacturers produce a version of this type chassis and offer ready to run car. These use semiscale Lexan bodies of about any type of car you can imagine. NASCAR, American Lemans, street cars, high downforce wedge, or F1/Indy. Bodies are available in thicknesses .007, .010, and sometimes .015, .020 or ,040 for rental bodies. All are lighter than injected molded plastic bodies. These are the bread and butter of slot car racing. They are still affordable, and simple enough to work on for most.

Eurosport/semiscale open – these are essentially wing cars without the side dams that use high downforce wedge bodies. The chassis are spring steel, and have a little movement. Nothing like the articulated masterpieces of the late 60’s. These two are very fast and require a budget similar to that of open wing cars.

hard body slot carsHardbody – This type of slot car can be found running at most raceways. You have to custom make the chassis and buy a model to have one of these. Or buy one from someone who can build. The other option is to fit a model body to some commercially available chassis that require some adaptation. Spectators enjoy watching these because they look much more like cars and are slow enough to actually watch race. Drivers enjoy racing these because even on todays easy tracks, a hardbody slot car must be drive in every turn.

That is a very basic overview of slot cars then and now. It is impossible to cover all that has happened and all that exists and is raced worldwide over 5 decades, or even this past year. At slotcarsforever.com we will write about the most interesting things in the world of slot cars.

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