What Is The History Of Slot Car Racing?
Let me give you the short version first. It is simple. Everything in slot car design that worked was developed by 1974. More, everything that worked was designed between 1964 and 1974. Ten Years. Beyond that everything else was a detail. Mostly the stuff that worked was invented by some 1/32 club racer. Everything since then has been detail improvement or rules change.
There were, in the beginning, two distinct groups - the builders and the runners. 99% of the racers in any given period just want to buy a car and go. The other 1% want to scratch build a faster car and beat the kits and ‘ready to runs'. All the innovations that work (and the ones that do not) happen with the builders.
Most builders are not writers. The bane of the magazine editors is that they cannot print what is not submitted. So, some of this stuff was seen and talked about among the scratch builders, but appeared (if at all) after it became obsolete, or was picked up by the manufacturers of kits. Like many things, the machinery did not improve until the participants decided what it was that they were doing. They all agreed that they were trying to make a model car run. The devil was in the details. A great many modelers wanted a system where model cars would motor around layouts in conjunction with trains and boats to produce a model layout. Some systems used a raised railroad like rail to control the vehicle. Some used a buried slot. Some used raised walls. Most of this happened in England.
In the late 50s Scalextric and VIP settled on a simple system with a sunken slot with power strips on each side. This worked so cleanly, was so simple to manufacture, that it became the agreed upon system except that no one could agree which side of the track was the positive connection ! Between 1950 and 1963, the big effort was making a car that would reliably run on a model roadway. Racing was incidental. The slot car of 1962 looked like this : The motor used an iron lump for a magnet and was of railroad train origin. The frame was a very simple connection between the motor and the axles. The guide just sat there in the slot, commonly it was just a pin with brushes dangling on either side. The rubber tires were derived from some other source, such as static car kits or model aircraft or Toys. If the racer had a factory built car, it was slow, probably had a steering front end, and probably came from Scalex, VIP or Strombecker (American Scalex as it was jokingly referred to). Of the three, the VIP was preferred by the people actually racing. The scratch built car was only marginally faster mostly due to the superiority of tires manufactured from model airplane use, and the selection of motors for the track's individual condition. Bodies were either of model origin (Plastic), carved from balsa (sometimes covered in nylon), or made from fibreglass. Scale was usually 1/32 scale or 1/30.
In early 1963 the typical car changed. Cars without steering got a drop arm. Tracks were rough, the drop arm was supposed to follow the vagaries of the track surface. We struggled with this turkey idea for years and never did get it right. In any case, the first Vacuum-formed bodies came out, most notably from American Russkit. They were very scale. 1/24 and commercial tracks became common. In 1964 slot racing became an American Hobby. There were clubs everywhere in 1/32, and more than enough 1/24 commercial centers to be noticed and running gear was similar to that of 1963. Drop arms were more common and steering existed only on British cars. The 1/24 motor of choice was the Pittman 704/705, the chassis usually a Tube "space frame" of 4 rails in a box configuration holding everything together, or a Kemtron or Pitman 65 powered car. Tires were usually derived from Veco model airplane sources. Dynamic Aluminum frames were competitive with the scratch builts and gave a real boost to commercial track racing. Most would- be racers were not car builders. Lionel, Varney, Eldon and Aurora weighed into the big car classes lending credibility to the hobby.
In 1/32 scale, the next big change in chassis was underway in the Midwest. It became known as the pan chassis. Until the pan, all chassis were essentially designed to just tie things together. The pan/plate was the first chassis idea developed whose intent was to make the car faster in the corner. In late 64, the first "real" Mabuchi motors became available. A couple years earlier, Strombecker had started using a barrel shaped Mabuchi called the "15R". The brushes were held under pressure by fiber spacers but the motor was hard to mount. Mostly, it was slow. Racers largely ignored the motor. It was easier to continue to run the hotter open frame motors derived from railroad sources.
In mid 1964, Revell and Russkit started improving the Mabuchi 16D, the literal ancestor to the motor in every slot car today; and they started importing the 36D. This was the same motor but much larger. The 16D motor was 16 millimeters high; the 36D was 24 millimeters high. I have no idea where the 36D part came from. The 36D was the weapon of choice on the commercial tracks for the next couple years. It was much cheaper than things like the Pittman DC65 and Kemtron motors, made similar power, and displaced the railroad motors on the commercial tracks. The Smaller 16D was the motor of choice for the 1/24 racers building skinny Formula 1 racers of the period, and in the 1/32 club circles stated replacing the small railroad open frame motors. The adaptation of the Mabuchi 16D was the second big step in getting to the modern slot car.
In 1965, slot car design started breaking up. The usual 1/32 club track was 30 to 50 feet long with 12 foot straights and 9" radius corners. The usual commercial track was 150 feet long with 30+ foot straights. The conditions were so different that winning required radically different things from the cars. In the 1/32 clubs, cars got heavier and heavier in an attempt at better cornering. In 1/24, the cars mostly got lighter and lighter. The motors were not that strong, the average modern home-set womp-womp has more power. "Rewinding" was the big fad, producing a lot of blown motors and armature wire dropped on the track and melted endbells. Big motors in light chassis dominated. Mild rewinds, and rewinds from motor companies were winning a lot of races to the extent that there was a movement to protect the average racer. In the 1/32 clubs this surfaced as a class for "Stock" Pittman 196's geared 3.5:1. In 1/24 it came out as a "12 volt" class. 12 volt motors being defined as having a wind of 2 ohm or more and derived from an approved list of motors. Class racing to make it easier for the hobbyist rather than the no limits racer failed as the "fast guys" sneered at the guys who wanted slow cars. The usual 36D had a #30 single wind, the same wire as the modern Parma 16d, a 2 ohm rating, the usual stock 16D had a #34 single, 4 sizes slower than the modern Parma, magnets at about half the strength of the Parma, and endbells so cheap that they would often melt.
1966 was a hot year. There were purportedly some 20,000 commercial tracks in operation. In late 1965, I drove, pre freeway, cross country. I spent several weeks doing so. I did not drive through a single town that did not have a commercial track visible from the main drag. A lot of people were struggling to come up with a faster car, and most of the ideas did not work. The 1/32 guys were still tinkering with the pans. They all decided that having the pan loose and rattling worked. The problem they had was that no one had enough horsepower to carry that weight on the long straights of the commercial track. 1966 was the year of a big controversy over motor placement in Sports Cars. Sidewinders were seemed more drivable, inlines allowed wider tires. How ? What !!? Well up till this point, all the bodies were pure scale models. Most serious tracks required the tires to fit UNDER the body. The super-light inline Formula one/Indy car had all the fast lap times in the commercial centers because they did not have to struggle with these problems. The dominant car was called "Morrisey Style" or "Russkit". It had a brass tube frame, a Russkit 23 motor (also called the "500B"can, endbell drive with hoods on the endbell) and a rewound arm of #31 wire (the stock arm was a #34, the current Parma 16D is a #30) and Graupner model airplane foam tires. The whole thing weighed about 3 ounces. The tube frame was so fragile that many people used solid rod or piano wire at some weight penalty.
This was the year when Mabuchi produced its first can end drive motor in both 16D and 36D sizes. Confusingly most racers also called this a "B" can, declaring the endbell drive motors as "A" cans.
The model railroad derived motors just disappeared. Charles Pittman, the best of the railroad motor guys tried producing his own can-style motor. The quality was astounding, the speed was not. Cheap Japanese motors that were being rewound by everyone in sight drove the expensive Pittman out. Factory rewinds from companies like Dyna-Rewind and Champion became available. And Mabuchi came out with a new size motor, the 26D that was an attempt to compromise between the torque of the 36D and the speed of the 16D. But so many builders were working on 16D's, that the 26D proved to be a dead end. In 1967 the usual procar was made with piano wire, was in-line with a 26D with a #29 single rewind. Sidewinders lost out as an option in the pro-car circuit.
The real change that affected racing was the invention of the Dynamic guide model #659. This is the father of every guide in use today. Until this guide, there was no standard. Braid was cut from strips and screw mounted to the guide. With the #659, braid came with clips that plugged into the front of the guide. The guide itself was secured to the drop-arm by collets or nuts. The modern flag is just a development.
Air control came in. Until this point, all bodies were scale. People stated lowering and lowering, flaring the fenders on sports cars out to the (at the time) 3" limit. And adding wings ! Not the big, non-scale airdams of today, but scale sized wings with endplates. The reason was that real full-size cars were also sprouting wings. Power was so much better that the Midwest style 1/32 pan became common on all the cars, any scale or type. The typical California style pro-car was a brass or steel wire chassis with outrigger pan mounts and a drop arm. In the east the same car usually had a full pan so loosely mounted that it rattled. Everyone used the 16D motor with an unbalanced armature was probably about 65 turns of #30 wire. The motor usually had a stronger set after-market set of magnets. Essentially the equivalent of the current Group 10 flexi-motor. Some people were tinkering with no drop arms, a radical idea at the time. How fast were these cars compared to today ? On the blue king, there were 2 banked turns, the main bank and 10 degrees in the finger. The fast lap of a pro car was 6.2 seconds. The car was usually four main rails of brass, with a 26D and a #29 single wind but things were changing almost weekly.
During 1967 a guy named John Wessels started hinging pans on sports cars. The cars worked so much better that everyone who could build was doing it. In late 1967, Dynamic introduced the ‘handling' body. All other bodies at the time were scale so racers, the serious guys, started selecting the widest body they could find and chopping it down as low as possible. A lot of tracks banned these and required factory available bodies. Dynamic complied by marketing a line of sports car bodies uniformly 3 1/8ths inch wide (the width maximum of the time) and flat as they could get.
Unknown to most racers, the next big change happened in the Chicago area in mid to late 1967. A guy named Glen Seegars was exploring chassis options. Inlines were inefficient but easy and sidewinders were a pain because in order to have enough room to have decent width tires, you had to chop up the can. Half inch was commonly sliced off the can housing and armature, and a hole drilled through the magnet to clear the axle. A lot of work ! Seegars decided to compromise. He reasoned that motor angled off the axle about 20 degrees would clear the tire, letting him get away with not modifying a motor. These chassis were originally called 'sidesaddle sidewinders". Today we call them anglewinders.
In 1968 things got crazy. Bob Schleicher, long a writer on the subject of slot cars, wrote up the first article on the anglewinders in the March 1968 Car Model magazine. He did so after seeing the cars in the Chicago area on a business trip. A drag racer and famous non-driver, Gene Hustings, took the idea to a 1/24 California Pro race and won. Within weeks half the racers in California had anglewinders. In August 1968 an article by Hustings was published, and the rest of the pro racers across the country took notice. They, too, started building anglewinders. Anglewinders produced a big split between the hobbyist and the dedicated racer. Until then, the hobbyist could be reasonably competitive with a Dynamic or factory wire inline from champion or Phase III. The anglewinder put the inlines out of business quickly. In San Francisco, a company named Chaoti started producing the modern air control body. No claim of scale was made, the bodies looked like door stops (not meant to be derogatory) and were as wide as the rules allowed. At the time, since a pretence of scale was demanded, they were not allowed on a lot of tracks. The usual chassis was either wire (brass or steel) with some brass strip added and floppy pans. The motor was probably a 16D with hotter aftermarket magnets by Champion or Mura and probably had a wind of #30 or #29 wire. This is the wind of the modern group 12 or 15 motors used today.
Quickly the anglewinder changed again, more hinges were added to the pans. One hinge allowed the pans to tilt forward, called a "plumber" due to the complex tubing on the front. You will notice all the flexi's, wire 12s and 15s use this hinge. Stepping back to 1965 or so, commercial tracks, individually or as groups, would attempt to run a limited money class. Often it would focus on a kit or ready to run car. Monogram-only or Revell-only races and similar were held. And all of them were failures. In 1967, the fast cars were of the Formula 1/Indy style. Motors were limited, weight was paramount, Indy cars were lightest. Car Model Magazine proposed something called "Formula III" which was to be a limited class, limited to off the shelf motors and chassis ("or their equivilent"). Most tracks put a $12 limit on this class. The class proved popular, usually the racer ran a Dynamic magnesium inline chassis, or wire chassis from Champion or Phase III or Ferret. A lot of cars would show up with severely modified chassis and for some reason this was allowed. However, even in Formula III, which was usually expanded to cover sports cars (usually with the Cox La Cucaracha). This led ultimately to the group 10/12 class we know today. The big rule was that the whole car had to cost $12.98 or less !
In early 1969, Dynamic, long the standard in Formula III/Group 12 racing came out with a new car. The chassis was stamped out of brass and it was an ANGLEWINDER. This was the car that made "Group Racing" practical. It handled nearly as well as the scratchbuilts. It came with a 16D motor, good magnets, and #30 single wind armature very much like the Parma 16D in the Flexi.
At the same time the manufacturers got together and agreed to limited class racing. The Classes? Group 12, Group 15, Group 20, Group 7 (open). For the first time, a racer could buy an off the shelf car, travel anywhere and be legal. By the end of 1969, we were almost there. Racing was falling apart. There weren't very many tracks. Commercial track slot racing was falling into a dark age where there were only a couple of hundred tracks, not thousands. The foundations for a Renaissance in slot racing was there. We had multiple hinged pan anglewinders with trick motors with astounding winds and monster magnets. And we had a successful nation program for limited class racing.
1970 came in with even fewer tracks. But the technology was still growing. Lexan is the trade name for a polycarbonate plastic of great toughness. Prior to Lexan, bodies were made of butyrate plastic or styrene. With age they yellowed and became brittle - actually they were always brittle. Vacuum-formed butyrate, at least, was cheap and replaceable. And nearly as heavy as the Styrene and Fibreglass bodies it replaced circa 1965 in the pro-cars. But Lexan, ah Lexan, was tougher. It was literally the stuff used for bullet proof plastic. And could be molded in a thickness only 1/4 that of butyrate, and still be stronger. And lighter. Lexan made cars faster. And it made wings practical because it was so tough when thin. The unmodified Blue King record was in the 4.5 second range.
Oh, I almost forgot : Motors. In 1968, the usual Mabuchi had a can inside the can to shim the magnets closer to the arm, and close off the magnetic field. Mura introduced the "B Production" motor. This was a #29 single wind in a new can that was lower than a 16D. Despite the fact that in times past, various other Mabuchi's were called the "B can", everyone started calling this motor the "B Can". A couple years later, Bob Green started producing a can that was really just a can made out of the full can shim that used to be in every pro label 16D. It was always called the "Green Can" but only for a couple years. By 1974 everyone called this can the "C-Can".
By 1974 a lot of car builders were using the 16D offshoot motor called the "13uo". This motor was just a 16D with tiny magnets and a smaller can. It was about 13mm tall. This motor started showing up in 1970 among the 1/32 racers because a 13uo allowed a tighter angle on the anglewinder in the limited spaces of a 1/32 car. Oddly in 1/32, they never went to non-scale racecars ! What was going on is that everyone realized that the smaller the can, the lower, the better handling. The solution was to take C-can magnets, sand them down to fit the 13uo, cut down the un-meltable endbell of the C-Can to fit. They were powerful and racers started cutting away the can for cooling. It produced a "strap" looking can. A frame motor as open as the old Pittman motors.
By 1974 we were done. The most common level of racing was Group Racing. Group12 used one of the stamped chassis RTRs with a #30 single wind. Group 15 used a single hinge wire and brass chassis factory built with a special category for scratch built single hinge chassis (box stock and International) Group 20 was limited to 2 hinges and the #20 wind. Group 27 was popular with a scratch buillt chassis and a #20 wind. Open cars were, well, open. Everyone used a Lexan body with air control of some sort. The hotter motors used C cans or Strap Cans along with impressive magnets. Details? Well, things like cobalt magnets were a development. Air dams were derived from the wing endplates that everyone was using in 68. (with the minor quibble that an air dam that made the car wider under power would not be allowed in the sixties. I know.....we tried !). [Rockland Russo]
The Slot thing in the 60s was a FAD! Like Hoola Hoops, Frisbees, Danial Boone, Pet Rocks, Chia Pets and others. Unlike other Fads, ours eventually developed into a HOBBY.
I don't agree with you, Rocky. Slot car racing was a hobby that became a fad. The hobby was commercialized, and s lot of people made a lot of money from it. But when it got too expensive and people started to lose interest, they got out and turned their backs on the industry.
I am sorry you missed my point. I did not Say that slot cars were invented during the FAD, or the FAD invented slot cars or that they disappeared afterwards. The original post was musing about how today was like the 60s. Chia Pets existed before their fad, and still get sold on late night TV. My Point was that the FAD of the 60s was its own thing. Except for a handful of collectors indulging in nostalgia, it has NOTHING to do with slots in the 50s or slots in 2002. I am not sure what you mean with "The hobby was commercialized". Course it was. Still Is. Hornby doesn't make a profit, they are GONE. "It got too expensive".....My memory of 1973 through 1993 is this. Most racing consisted of little clubs in basements and spare rooms with a large segment of Scalextric types. Most Scalextric racers were either kids with a one time set, or collectors who did not run their stuff. The RACING that persisted. The big organized racing that PERSISTED that I know of was: ECRA in England, and Group 7 in Texas Series. And, these 2 are easily the most expensive racing EVER. People who weren't there in the mid 60s in the US don't have a clue about how pervasive it was. In the US, at least, you would be hard pressed to find any town larger than 5,000 people that did NOT have a commercial 8 lane raceway in it. In 1965, my dad retired from the military, and we drove slowly cross the country. No free ways. Slowly ? spent 2 months. Pre freeway meant that you drove through the main street of every town and village. AND EVERY ONE OF THEM HAD A SLOT TRACK visible from the main drag. What is going on NOW, is just Hobby stuff. Smaller than rail, smaller than RC cars (which are much more expensive), smaller than RC airplanes. And definitely smaller than GOLF! [Fate]
I have several cars of this period running. So, if it does not bore the rest of you I will talk about "keeping them running". Hmmm Sidebar, PDL used a car not unlike this (I am certain he will proclaim much better) to be the "French national champion" in 67 (I think) or 68. I have an old Anderson car that is brass rod. I have several of my own. Though most of the survivors were built for others who gave them back to me when they were obsolete (well actually decades later !). I would often use the Pactra Hemi modified with a rewind and such. The problem with Hemis is that the Can bearing is only good for a half hour or so. So, in recent times, i discovered that the old unbalanced 16d/Parma set motor is the same in performance and that is mostly what
they use as the modern Parma slots into the old Hemi brackets. I just trashed my last in the Stash of Pactra 66 Ferrari F1 bodies (I run these cars a LOT), but PDL came up with some repros for me that I have to paint. The early super light cars used mild winds of about 30s. The Heavier Cars. like the Anderson car, used a 27 or 28 usually a modified Champion 507 or 517. But years ago I discovered that the old "Super16d" not the recent ones, rang up on my meters with the same readings as the old motor. But easier to keep in bushings and stuff. So, the heavier cars have old Parma 16ds with about 10 deg. timing, stock magnets and so one. Pretty cool to run them knowing that you can replace the bits. I buy foam blanks to mount on old rims unless I am being LAZY. A few years ago when the Drag racing got popular it suddenly became EASY, to buy wheels and tires in the old sizes. My older 36ds use "drag smoothies" that are 1 1/8th inch by 1/2 wide, the drag guys also use 1" and 7/8ths meaning I can buy things RTR ! How do they run ? Well, just fine.
All the motors are in a milder state than when I was racing them. But that is OK as I am not SERIOUSLY racing them. I could probably build up a couple modified Dynamics of the period of I wanted. Something that was popular in the mountain west that I am not sure were run elsewhere. These were designed by Ben Millspaugh in Denver (at the famed Celebrity Sports). I know that Mike Gillett in the great White North ran them on the plains .... Anyway, a bounty hunter would take the dynamic bracket, and plug in a Wire and sheet front in that was cinched down by the mount screws. This was popular, particularly, in those tracks that had a limited cost class. I used one in a series that required a 12 buck limit on the parts ! I could restore a couple of those. Hmmm. I cannot remember if I have had Alan drive these cars. I KNOW that Luiz has( and he liked them). A neglected period, to be sure.
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