Tag Archives: slot cars

Other things I have driven #3 – Slot Cars

20 Sep

For the uninitiated, think Scalextric, but much faster. As a hobby sport it emerged from rail guided racing in the late 50s and early 60s and there were a large number of clubs and commercial raceways around by the end of the 60s. On the US scene there were even professional builders and drivers, people like Mike Stuebe and John Cukras (both of whom are still around).

I got into it through my brother in law who had bought an Airfix slot car system and, when he and my sister split up, I inherited the lot. I built a permanent layout in my bedroom (I had a huge room over the  8 car garage) and began to modify commercial cars and then to build my own. I was even able to get my metalwork teacher to allow me to build a couple of cars as school projects as many of the syllabus elements were there; design, calculation, drawing plans, cutting, bending, shaping & soldering. That I could report back on track performance and, as necessary, look at developing the ideas was all part of an engineering grounding.

I may not have gone on to study engineering, but I can still design and build stuff that works and I, like many others of that generation, built our own cars and won with them at local club nights and in open competitions.

Building the chassis wasn’t the only facet of what we would do either. Custom winding armatures for the motors that would power the cars was another part of the hobby. Choosing the gauge of wire to use and the number of turns for each pole of the armature, winding them accurately to be as close to natural balance as possible, gluing the windings and properly balancing the finished product were all part of the skill set.

We would also get up to all sorts of tricks with the magnets we would use in the motors to build one with a specific set of characteristics to suit our driving style and/or a particular track. That would be matched to a chosen gear ration which would, in turn, dictate one of the crucial chassis dimensions.

In many ways because it was a hobby I didn’t at the time realise just how much technical stuff I did learn, nor much of the other things; team work, self reliance, handling competitive pressures, even just finding your way about to obscure locations and so on. Did I win much? Not really. I did win a few races and I do have a couple of club championship trophies somewhere in the loft. My most public success was probably winning the concours cup for the best turned out car at a 12 hour race in Southend-on-Sea in about 1970 for which I got my photo in Model Cars magazine (I think we came 5th in the race).

A 12 hour race you might ask? Yes, we ran 12 and 24 hour races for both 1:32nd and 1:24th scale cars. There were national championships (still are) and some of the commercial raceways, notably the one in Tottenham, ran events that the US pros would come over to run in.

I started racing seriously in 1966 when I was 13 and gave up in the mid 1970s when I started to try and get into full sized racing. A few years back I found a box of old cars, motors, body shells and spares. Through the good offices of eBay it brought in around £1000 for the holiday fund selling it in dribs and drabs. And some said I was wasting my time!

Slot car racing is still thriving, albeit below the late 1960s early 1970s peak. Below are a few links that you might like to follow if
you would like to know more about the current scene.

Some books that you might find interesting:

The  Slot Car Handbook: The Definitive Guide to Setting-Up and Running Scalextric
Style 1/32 Scale Ready-to-Race Slot Cars

Digital Slot Car Racing in 1/32 Scale: Covering: Scalextric, Carrera, Ninco, SCX and Specialist Digital Systems

A link to the British Slot Car Racing Association (BSCRA) where you can find details of local clubs, competitions and more about the hobby in the UK.

Visit our on line shop and check out the slot car page

For US readers, a link to the LA Slot Car Museum

And, finally, a You Tube link to a video featuring John Cukras and Mike Steube in recent years, still slotting.