Like many kids, I grew up with toy cars. And as I got older, I moved on to Scalextric slot cars, and eventually radio controlled models. But Scalextric will always hold a special place in my heart, partly due to the annual challenge race between me, my father and my uncle. Two of us were car fans, and all three were sore losers when it came to missing out on 12 months holding onto a small plastic trophy I suspect was originally part of a Subbuteo football set.
Did other families have to scrutineer their Scalextric cars to discover hidden Blu-Tac ballast, or the subtle addition of magnets before they could even start fighting over what were obviously the faster car models?
All those memories and more came back during a recent trip to the Hornby Visitor Centre in Margate. It’s a great collection of the various brands Hornby launched or acquired, including Scalextric, Airfix and Corgi alongside Hornby model trains. And following the move of the company from the former Margate factory, it might be moved or closed in the future, so it’s worth visiting now while you have the chance – it’s cheap at £5 for adults and £2.50 for kids, although you might end up spending a fair bit more in the shop. They’ve also got an exhibition of rare and detailed Pocher 1:8 scale car models at the moment, but we’ll put the Corgis, Pochers and other static car models to one side for a later article.
It turns out the original slot car racing sets first appeared as an invention of Minimodels Ltd in the late 1950s to replace their original wind-up Scalex clockwork toys. Hence the name, when batteries and a simple on/off switch was used to control electric cars on a slotted track. After being unveiled in 1957 the demand was intense and in 1958 the Minimodels company was sold to Triang, before being transferred to Rovex in 1968 . And eventually becoming part of Hornby.
The 1:32 scale cars have evolved over the years to include control over your speed, Scalextric Sport Digital which allows up to four cars to race on a single slot and change lanes, and a six car powerbase as well as a smartphone Race Control System app.
But essentially the trick remains the same – to go as fast as you can without either crashing or becoming hypnotised by the sight of the cars lapping. The visitor centre has a couple of tracks set up for use with the new digital cars, while the older models remain behind glass cases. What’s slightly scary is seeing some of the toys I had as a child in the 1980s on display.
The older cars are more fun to see, as they don’t remind me of my age. They include some of the earliest Scalextric models – the first editions were the metal bodied Ferrari 375 and Maserati 250F. They were mainly followed by the F1 cars of the day, including Lotus, Vanwall, Aston Martin, BRM etc, before branching out into sports cars and road cars.
It’s slightly scary to see the price of the modern ‘classic’ Scalextric cars, which seem to start around £39.99 per car and go up from there, but there’s an awesome range available including American Tran Am racers, rally cars like the RS200, MG Metro 6R4 etc and high detailed classic F1 cars. Fortunately you can still pick up a full new set with track and a couple of cars for less than £100 (Around £50 for the micro 1:64 scale sets). And there’s a ridiculous amount available on eBay and similar sites. The only important distinction is between the Classic Track (1962-2000) which had plastic ring-shaped connectors, and the Sport and Digital tracks which have square connections.
Now having seen the prices of some of the classic cars, even used, I’m off to investigate my parent’s loft and see what I can find….