'Race Tuned' Scalextric Items
A Brief History
Scalextric is essentially a toy product. It is advertised and sold as such with huge quantities of boxed sets sold at Christmas via Argos etc. There is nothing wrong with that, it is their main market and they would not have survived so long otherwise. However, throughout the firm's history there have been sporadic attempts to appeal to the more serious/club racers with upgraded faster products.
This is a look back through the various incarnations, some more successful than others and including a few real turkeys.
1966 ‘Race Tuned’ Cars and Controllers
The plastic cars introduced in 1961 after the Triang takeover utilised the venerable RX motor from their existing model railway locomotives. This was a good solid product with excellent torque which would pull a heavy engine and rake of coaches with ease but was never built for outright speed. Accordingly, in 1966 the motor was given a rewind for better performance, with black side plates rather than the standard silver and the ‘race tuned’ series of cars were introduced..
Most of the range was available in both standard and upgraded form. Apart from the faster motor the new versions were also fitted with a proper guide blade instead of the original pin, softer tyres, a race tuned sticker and the obligatory 60’s accessory – a go faster stripe! A new 25 ohm controller (#A262) was also provided for these cars which had the added advantage of being wired for dynamic braking.
They were a great improvement over the standard cars with a nice turn of speed and good handling characteristics for the time. They sold very well, are still widely available and amongst the best performing cars they ever made. A couple of kit cars were also available in the range (Cobra and Porsche 904) with two differently geared rear axles as well although these utilised a Johnson large can motor instead of the RX.
Unfortunately, within a couple of years, Scalextric started to apply the term ‘race tuned’ at random and many of the later cars were anything but. Even the abysmally slow powersledge cars were promoted as such.
1973/4 Super Formula F1
By the early 70s the quality of cars had taken a real nosedive with the cheapest possible production costs taking precedence over everything else. This was addressed in 1973 with the introduction of the Super Formula range of F1 cars. Advertised as “cars for the elite racing driver”, the major leap forward was the fitting of a chassis to the cars instead of clipping the parts into the upper body! The range included the Lotus 72 JPS, March 721, Ferrari 312B2 etc and they were superior to the standard range but suffered from the usual problem of a raised front end, with the wheels waving in the air, in order to negotiate the dreaded banked curve. The catalogue photos never showed this defect though. Nevertheless they were hugely successful and were the mainstay of production for many years.
1988 Spanish Scalextric SRS
A few of these Spanish made, ‘super racing system’ cars were imported and sold by the UK firm. They featured a lightweight, factory painted Lexan body, three different axle sets, upgraded RX motor and sticky tyres so performed extremely well but weren’t very accurate models. They didn’t really catch on and were soon discontinued.
These were kit cars aimed at club racers. Standard bodies were used with metal chassis, 3mm drill blank axles, brass bearings, alloy wheels, three axle ratios and a higher performance engine which needed a special power supply. Just two cars were available – Vauxhall Vectra and Audi A4.
Scalextric ran a Protec race championship at various clubs but the quality of some of the kit components were a bit rubbish so the system only lasted a couple of years. I have lifted this photo from MRE’s Facebook page which features a very young Gary Cannell and Sean Fothersgill at a Protec launch event.
2002 The Sport Range
Apart from a new track system to replace the ageing ‘classic’ type, Scalextric applied ‘Sport’ branding to many of their cars which implied they were a new version of the 1960’s race tuned variety. In reality they were nothing of the sort. They did have metal axle bearings, ground axles and a Sport sticker on a bog standard Mabuchi motor but any performance improvement over the standard version was marginal. They really should have been named ‘collectors issues’ as they were limited editions in a fancy box and most of them ended up in display cabinets rather than on the track.
Incidentally this was also the time when magnets gradually began to dominate their design philosophy. Although they had been fitted to most cars since about 1987 they were of relatively low strength. The new Sport track had considerably less grip than the original version so stronger magnets were fitted to overcome this. Eventually they ceased to bother about basic slot car design principles and just bunged in ever stronger magnets to hide their product’s shortcomings.
2004 Motor Pods
C2521 Lister Storm and C2678 Maserati MC12 were announced in the 2004 catalogue as the first of a ‘new generation’ of Scalextric cars for the serious racers. Both cars featured, ahead of their time, separate motor pods and were very reasonable performers. They only remained in the catalogue for a couple of years, no subsequent car was ever fitted with the pods and the new generation disappeared without trace!
2005 Sport Performance Spares
These were originally announced in 2004 but didn’t go on sale till late 2005. There was a huge range of upgrade performance parts – motors, wheels, gears, bearings, deeper guide blades etc. They were mostly of excellent quality but in incompatible sizes. Sales were terrible and they soon disappeared from the catalogue. Some retailers still have stocks of them to this day!
2011/12 Pro Performance Kit Cars
These consisted of a white bodyshell, standard chassis and various upgrade parts from the Sport performance parts range, all the gears and three motors etc. There were four cars in the range: Aston Martin DBR9, Chevy NASCAR, Audi R8 and Aston Martin LMP.
They were possibly introduced to use up leftover stock from the above Sport spares range. They were good value and could be made to perform reasonably well but sales weren’t great and they soon disappeared from the catalogue. Just like the spares there are still some retailers with stock available even now.
2015 PCR Chassis
During 2014 the Scalextric development team visited a number of clubs to find out why their cars were rarely used at that level. Having been told a few home truths about the shortcomings of their product they came up with the PCR Chassis as an optional extra which would accept Slot.It tune up parts. It never seemed to occur to them that fitting alternate parts would more than double the cost of the basic Scalextric car so people might as well buy a Slot.It car in the first place.
The idea didn’t last long and very few of the promised ones were actually produced or sold. If you buy the relevant car then Pendle’s will happily give you a matching PCR chassis for free!
They also started to fit Slot.It size wheels so aftermarket tyres could be fitted, rather than doing something about the appalling grip levels of their own product.
2021 Here We Go Again
A member of the Scalextric development team is currently planning to visit clubs “to see first-hand how racers use the product and if you don't, why not?” I suspect he will receive exactly the same answers as they did in 2014! One day perhaps they will manage to design a car with decent tyres that runs well without magnets, just like they did way back in the 60s, but don’t hold your breath.