Getting Back Into The Hobby

My first new slot cars since closing down VLH – and More

A couple of days ago I received the first new slot cars I’ve bought since I closed down the shop. They are the Scalextric 1/32 scale 1980s NASCAR Thunderbird and Monte Carlo. These cars have been out for a while and I had been eyeing them as starting points for kitbashes into TransAm or IMSA cars.

The 1980s Thunderbird appeared as a tube-frame car with fiberglass/carbon fiber bodywork in both the TransAm and IMSA GTO and actually won several races. As best I can determine these racing T-birds were built on chassis with a much shorter wheelbase than their roadgoing counterparts- perhaps as much as 10 inches shorter. The body also sits lower over the wheels. This really changes its proportions from the production model, shown below for comparison.

The difference in wheelbase is due to the T-bird body being altered to fit a tube chassis originally sized for a Mustang or Mercury Capri body. The body proportions owe some of their differences to the race car’s aero tweaks to increase downforce and reduce drag.

Scalextric’s model does what I think is a good job of capturing the stance of a 1980s NASCAR T-bird and I believe it will prove to be a good starting point for the IMSA kitbash. The Basset-style NASCAR racing wheels, BTW, are quite nice. The spec NASCAR wheelbase at the time was 110″, and may still be the same today – I haven’t been able to find the current figure. In any case, Scalextric got it exactly right. and you can see by comparing the above photos that at that figure the NASCAR T-bird is quite a bit longer than either the road car at 104″ or the IMSA car, which is probably not much more than 100″. I’m not yet sure how much I will shorten the model’s wheelbase-perhaps just enough to fit the Pioneer Mustang/Camaro chassis I’m going to put the body on. That chassis measures out to 106 scale inches. There are other IMSA/TA T-birds that look somewhat different than the one pictured and they might look better on a 106″ wheelbase. I’m not a rivet counter. I just want to capture the look and character of a car without putting so much work into it that I wouldn’t risk it on the track in a race. I want it to look good going around the track. Also, several of my other TA/IMSA kitbashes are built on that same chassis and there is something to be said for having them all on the same wheelbase for whatever it may contribute to more equal performance.

As for the Monte Carlo Aerocoupe, I found a photo of one that ran in one TransAm race, ending up looking, as you can see, rather second-hand. Still, as far as I’m concerned that makes the Aerocoupe eligible for my tube-frame TA car collection. However, I think I will put my own imaginative livery on it.

Here’s a side shot of the Monte Carlo. I’ll be writing more about it another time but right now I want you to notice how thin the A pillars are, especially compared to the T-bird model shown above. They may be in scale, but I think they illustrate one of my perennial gripes about slot car manufacturers. They tend not to understand when they should compromise scale accuracy a bit in the interest of real-world durability. Broken A pillars are a common type of damage on slot cars, especially on cars that get crashed a lot as race set cars usually do. I mentioned in an earlier post that I might buy the coming Scalextric IROC Camaros as replacements for the very rugged Porsche Boxsters and Audi TTs I’ve been using on my portable track layout for over 10 years now. I was also considering the two NASCARs for that role but now I’m eliminating the Monte from consideration. I have doubts about those A-pillars standing up to the tremendous beating they would get at public events where they are driven by children who often don’t grasp at first that they can’t just pull the controller trigger all the way back and watch the car go around.

I’ll be writing more about these projects as they go along, with photos to show you the steps in the process. I’ve also got lots of other topics to write about. Another post will be coming soon.

I welcome comments and will respond to them. you can leave your comments below or e-mail me at bob@wardsylvania.us. You can see all my blog posts at https://blog.victorylaphobbies.com/. If you have requests for topics you would like me to write about, they are welcome and I’ll do my best to cover them.

More Comments on the Scalextric 2020 Product Line

Hello, again!

This is my second blog post since closing down the shop, and today I’d like to make some additional comments on Scalextric’s just-announced 2020 product line.

The car pictured above, the Scalextric NASCAR Thunderbird, is the second car in the company’s historic NASCAR category that began, around the time we closed down, with the Chevrolet Monte Carlo Aerocoupe.

The pictures shown here are the two additions to the category scheduled for 2020 release. The T-bird is C4088 and the Monte Carlo is C4079. I could go on at length about these cars’ problems where scale accuracy and chassis design are concerned and I will at another time, but today I want to write about what Scalextric got very right about them.

If you are familiar recent slot car history you know that several manufacturers, including Scalextric, Carrera, SCX, and Revell-Monogram have produced 1/32 scale NASCAR slot cars of varying eras since the turn of the century. Of these, only Scalextric and Carrera are still doing it and both are concentrating on vintage/historic cars. One significant reason you aren’t seeing any current or recent NASCARs being modeled is the enormous complication and expense of licensing for the cars. If a slot car manufacturer wants to do a current Cup or Xfinity car it has to go through an involved process of getting every aspect of the model licensed and signed off on by NASCAR, the car manufacturer, the race team, and all the sponsors, even the contingency sponsors with the little decals on the front fenders. Any of them can and often do demand revisions where their trademarked logos and trade dress are concerned. All this adds to the cost of bringing a NASCAR slot car to market, eating into profit margins for the slot car maker. In addition, NASCAR is constantly making changes large and small to the design of the cars and expensive slot car tooling can be made obsolete between one season and the next. Several manufacturers have simply decided it just isn’t worth the trouble and cost for the sales the models can generate.

However, if you go far enough back into NASCAR’s history the whole thing becomes a lot simpler and less expensive. Licensing issues are generally much less of a problem. The slot car maker can determine in advance how many different liveries of a given car configuration can be produced and know that figure won’t change; it’s set in history. That’s the approach Carrera appears to have taken with continuing success, getting years and years of profitable new versions from its Ford Torino and Dodge Charger tooling.

Now Scalextric, much to its credit, has taken the next logical step-eliminating most or all of the whole licensing hassle by producing cars in liveries that look like they could be real but are entirely fictional. All that takes is an artist in the design department who can look at photos of historical liveries and produce original but highly evocative paint schemes with imaginary sponsor names and logos. That can go on forever.

The possibilities here go beyond the recently introduced Monte Carlo and Thunderbird. Scalextric has tooling for several recent generations of NASCAR cars that could be brought back under the same plan. These cars are highly accurate, detailed models in ways and to a degree that the Monte and the T-bird are not, and going the fictional livery route with one or two of them each year would be a way to get continuing profitable use from the tooling while keeping a supply of the cars available for those hobbyists who want to paint and decal them in “real” liveries by using the many decal sheets available from cottage industry decal makers. The generation of cars just before the COTs would be a good place to start. Will enough people buy these cars? Yes, I think they will as long as the liveries do a good job of capturing the basic NASCAR character and are bright and colorful. And if some of the logos are close enough to historic ones without stepping over the line into copyright or trade dress infringement that a sheet of eBay decals can make them “real”, so much the better.

A few words about the body shapes of the Monte and the T-bird: While I have been involved elsewhere for the last year and a half I’ve really only looked at photos of them. That can be deceiving; there’s no substitute for looking at the actual object up close when making judgments about issues of scale accuracy – something I intend to do soon. However, trusted sources tell me they both have significant problems in this regard. I don’t consider this as great an issue as one might think. The cars appear to me to have been designed to be “race set cars”, that is, cars intended to be sturdy, simple, with as few parts and possible and therefore ecomomical to produce while still looking the part of the full-sized car when running around the track and standing up well to the beating and banging they are likely to get. In other words, just what at least 75 percent of the actual and potential market needs and really wants. I believe they will be a long-term success for Scalextric and very much want them to be exactly that.

The ford Mk4 is not my favorite Scalextric car of all time but it’s good to see it being released in all the various colors in which the 1:1 car was raced. It’s an American car from an American manufacturer and seems to be doing well. The more American cars that do well the more different ones will be produced-at least I hope so. This one, C4031, is the car raced by Denny Hulme and Lloyd Ruby.

Here’s another American car, this one as it appeared in an American race, the 2019 Daytona 24 Hours, driven by Richard Westbrook, Scott Dixon, and Ryan Briscoe to 12th overall and 3rd in GTLM. Stock # C4151.

This Couugar, C4160, is a model of a car active in present-day vintage racing. To see my blog post on “How they should have made it”, go to https://blog.victorylaphobbies.com/2018/04/23/how-they-should-have-made-it-recent-scalextric-transam-cars-part-1-mercury-cougar/

The rest of the 2020 product line, while many of the models in it will be of interest to hobbyists worldwide, is not particularly focused on the US market. I’m going to try to concentrate as much as possible on new cars that have specific US connections. You can see the whole 2020 Scalextric lineup at https://www.scalextric.com/us-en/shop/new-for-2020.html

I want to let all my readers know that I welcome your comments on any of my posts and also any questions or requests for additional information. I would like my blog to be a resource to slot car racers and a means of establishing and maintaining ongoing conversations about any aspect of the hobby and industry you would like to talk about. Especially, please let me know if you have a specific subject you would like me to write about. You can e-mail me at bob@wardsylvania.us or use the comments section below.

More coming soon!

Bob

Bob Ward’s Blog is Back!

Hello, Everybody!

A year and a half after closing Victory Lap Hobbies I’m getting involved in the world of slot cars again. I have several projects in mind and lots of things to write about, some of which I couldn’t deal with before for business-related reasons. Now I have a lot more freedom to tell it like it is, giving praise where due and criticism where it’s needed.

As I work my way up to full speed in getting blog posts on line I’ll be working on new kitbashes, tech articles, and product reviews as well as observations on the current state of the slot car hobby and its direction. I will also be issuing my newsletter again. I still have the Victory Lap Hobbies website but now have deleted the e-commerce part of it. That leaves the blog and the link to my Smugmug gallery, which continues to grow as we attend more 1:1 scale races and photograph more race cars.

To start, Here’s a bit of an overview of where I am and what I’m doing now. My charming wife Pat and I are retired and still living in Puyallup, Washington where we have now lived for 34 years. We were all set to move to Oregon and even had a house bought there when family concerns derailed that plan. We will be staying put for the foreseeable future, but we expect to have the time to attend more races and have more time for the actual slot car hobby than we did when we were running the business. It will take a while to get everything moving again but over time you should see an increasing number of blog articles and newsletter editions.

Enough about me – today, here are my initial comments on some of the cars in the 2020 Scalextric product line that was made public just this morning.

This, in my opinion, is far and away the best new car choice they have announced for 2020. It’s the IROC car based on the 3rd generation Camaro that was introduced in 1982. IROC ran this body style from 1984 to 1989. This car has enormous potential both for Scalextric and for slot car hobbyists. The IROC has a unique and lasting place in American motorsports history, which should generate healthy sales over a period of several years. There were 12 drivers invited to participate each year, and each of the 12 cars was painted a different color. If Scalextric does 2 colors per year that’s 6 years of sales to all the hobbyists who want to collect the whole set. In addition, many of the IROC cars went on to new racing lives after their IROC days, usually with body modifications. The earliest iterations of Gen 3 Camaro TransAm and IMSA cars looked very much like the Gen 3 IROCs except for widened front and rear fenders to accommodate the wider wheels and tires allowed in TransAm and IMSA GTO. All Scalextric would have to do to model these cars would be to tool up a body with the widened fenders and a set of early BBS wheels inthe correct diameter and width plus a set of tires to fit them. With only those two changes the car could go on generating sales for decades to come. That said, I truly hope Scalextric will resist any temptation to turn out “on-the-cheap” unmodified IROC cars in the liveries of TransAm teams.

The other great thing about the IROC cars as manufactired is that they will make ideal “house” cars for shops and clubs and for anyone who takes a 1/32 scale track to public-participation events. With identical cars in 12 different colors it will be easy to have cars with body colors corresponding to the track’s lane color coding or vice-versa. These Camaros will make excellent race set cars and will undoubtedly be offered in race sets for years to come.

You can see from the photos that the driver names have been left off, possibly due to licensing concerns or the fact that each driver drove a different car in each race. However, you can expect decals for all the drivers to appear on eBay before long, possibly even before the cars are released. That should enable you to amass a set of IROC cars with every driver name and car color if you have a mind and a budget to do so.

Stock numbers, by the way, are C4073 for the red one and C4145 for the blue one.

For the kitbasher these cars will make it easy to model the early Gen3 Camaro TA/IMSA cars. Only the fenders were widened on these cars, not the whole body. The doors remained at stock width and the fenders tapered toward them. Here’s an example:

This is one of the DeAtley Camaros that dominated the TransAm series in 1983. Drivers included Willy T. Riibs, David Hobbs, and Jerry Brassfield. The DeAtley cars, with different owners, drivers, and liveries, went on for several more years in essentially unchanged configuration. You can see that the front air dam is different, the rear spoiler is wider, and the whole front end of the car sits quite a bit lower, but these things are not all that hard to change. A look around the Internet will find quite a number of cars resembling the IROC Camaros closely enough to make relatively easy kitbashes. In fact, you will probably find TA cars that are even closer to the IROCs and even easier to model. The IROC Camaros themselves went on to post-IROC careers in other liveries. You may even find that it won’t be all that hard to model an early 80s Firebird.

I think I will have a few quibbles with this car once I actually get my hands on one but for now I have to give Scalextric an A grade on it just for producing it at all. Something like this is long overdue and should fill a profitable niche in the slot car market and make a lot of American hobbyists happy.

Another car that is raced in America is the GT4 Mustang. There are, if my information is correct, at least two professional series and a number of amateur classes and stand-alone events in the US where these cars can be raced or soon will be. Scalextric has an all-new GT4 Mustang coming this year in two liveries. Both, if I understand correctly, are liveried as cars racing in the British GT Series, but this one, stock number C4173, at least carries the name of Multimatic, a North American organization and one of its drivers, Scott Maxwell, is well known in the US. We can hope that Scalextric will do this car in some US series liveries next year. Meanwhile, If you are into repainting you will probably find that the Internet decal makers will soon be producing decals for cars racing in the US. So, I at least have to give Scalextric credit for producing another car that at has some NA connections. The stock number of the other GT4 Mustang isC4182.

I’m not a great fan of non-racing movie cars, but this one, the Back To The Future Delorean (C4117), is certainly an icon to countless American film fans and has at least a chance do well in the US. It may even introduce some cinema buffs a new hobby. in It looks to me as if they have made the rear tires too big; as far as I know Deloreans came with the same diameter tires on all four corners. However, fans of the flick will probably neither notice nor mind. I do hope they did the tooling so that a stock Delorean can be made later. I can imagine some significant percentage of this car’s buyers going to a lot of trouble to remove all the sci-fi add-ons. There are race set possibilities here, though I don’t know what the other car might be.

I don’t know enough about the 1:1 scale car to offer much in the way of a critique of the model, but If I were designing it I’d put Dr. Brown in the car with Marty McFly.

Here, again, is a car that one would think has primarily US appeal, but not exclusively so. Scalextric again deserves credit for producing a car with appeal on my side of the Atlantic, but I’d be a lot happier if they would do a US-specific race car instead.

I guess the Scalextric designers think the Brumos name will sell VW vans in the US – I doubt most of the rest of the world has even heard of Brumos Porsche – but I’ll give Scalextric credit for trying. But for cryin’ out loud, if they are going to pay Brumos a licensing fee (or are they?) why not do a Brumos race car? Not to knock the Scalextric VW van itself. It’s a nicely done model by any standard, but it’s next to useless on the track. They should do what they have done with a few other slot cars – make a static model version that we can all buy for much less than the slot car version to populate our pit areas and parking lots.

The Scalextric C3 Corvette just keeps rollin’ along. They will keep making and selling them as long as they can find new liveries to put on them. This car has to be an all-time cash cow for Scalextric. The tooling has to have paid for itself several times over. This version is the car Ike Knupp drove in 1973. Applause to them for making this car which nobody outside America except for diehard Corvette fans has ever heard of instead of another one that ran in Europe. As welcome as this car is I do wish Scalextric would do a new C3 Corvette tool with a much more accurate body, a flat tray interior, and the motor moved to the rear. I’d also like to see a C3 coupe and more different bodywork variations. The C3 Corvette I’d really like to see is this one:

This is the notorious Duntov “funny car” corvette built for SVRA Group 6. This has to be the leanest, meanest C3 Corvette going, even more so, in its way, than the Greenwood widebody Corvettes of the 70s. Unfortunately, this car would require all new tooling to get it right. Please, Scalextreic, don’t try to do this one with the existing tooling!

This is getting a bit long and I’m still not through all the cars I want to comment on, so I’ll save several cars for another post later this week. If any of you out there are interested in re-establishing contact with me I can be reached at (253) 820-9017. That’s my cell phone. The old store number is no longer in use. If you don’t get an answer please leave a message with your name. phone number, and something to tell me you are calling about slot cars and I will get back to you as soon as I can. I would really enjoy talking with you and I will still be happy to give you as much as I can of the kind of information and advice I gave when I was running the shop

Until later,

Bob

How They Should Have Made It – Recent Scalextric TransAm Cars – Part 4, AMC Javelin, the Build

by Bob Ward

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So… How should they have made it?  We’ll tell you up front.  Scalextric should have made the Javelin a sidewinder even if only to keep it consistent with all the other 1/32 scale classic TransAm cars on the market.  That by itself is more than reason enough but there’s more to it – quite a bit more.  To cut all that as short as possible so we can get on with building the car, it has to do with where the magnets need to be placed.

If you want ultimate grip for a totally stuck-down car the magnet goes right under or just forward of the rear axle.  You can have that with any of the common chassis layouts: inline, anglewinder, or sidewinder.  But, contrary to the stereotype that has prevailed for decades on the Internet, most magnet racers don’t want a car so stuck down you barely have to drive it.  They actually want what most non-magnet racers say they want, a car that drives “realistically”, however they may define that.  They just want it with higher limits.

For these magnet racers the essential magnet position lies jut forward of a sidewinder motor.  And, in our experience, it can’t be just any magnet configuration.  It needs to be a bar magnet that delivers a healthy amount of downforce over as much of the car’s width as possible in order to make the car drivable and capable of cornering tail-out to a significant degree without abruptly losing downforce and snap-spinning, as occurs when the back end of the car slides out enough for a cylindrical or small rectangular magnet no longer to be over the track’s steel contact strips.  You can’t get a bar magnet of the size, shape, and strength you need in the right place on an inline or an anglewinder because the motor sits right where the magnet needs to be.

Why, then, do we have inline and anglewinder cars?  Some cars, of course, simply are not wide enough for a sidewinder setup to fit.  For other cars it’s mostly to provide the weight distribution needed for non-magnet cars to drift through the corners.  You can either have the weight distribution you need for non-magnet racing or the magnet positions you need to provide desirable options for magnet racers.  You can’t have both on the same chassis, at least not without interchangeable motor pods. And that means, contrary to another popular myth, that, except in the limited sense of putting higher-end, more precision (and expensive) parts on the car, what makes the best non-magnet car does not make the best magnet car.

And if it’s true that the overwhelming majority of the world slot car market, actual and potential, is magnet racers, you know which side of the question Scalextric, which makes one-piece-chassis slot cars for the masses, needs to come down on with every car they produce that’s wide enough for a sidewinder installation. Hence, a sidewinder Javelin.  (If you want more information on all this, see our 3-part article series “Musings About Magnets”)  Now, on to the car build…

We had been casting about for a sidewinder chassis the Javelin body would fit without major alteration.  Our first candidate for this kind of thing is one of the CRSes (complete running chassis), Mustang/Camaro or Dodge Charger, from Pioneer.  Alas, one was too short and the other was too long.  Of course, it’s no big deal to lengthen or shorten a chassis but we wanted to keep this as simple as possible.  Then we discovered a semi-junk Scalextric Dodge Challenger we picked up somewhere along the way and found that the wheelbase was a perfect fit.  We also found that if we put the Javelin’s wheels and tires on the Challenger’s axles the tires filled the fenders perfectly with just enough clearance.

The Challenger chassis did need a few modifications to fit the Javelin body and delver the level of performance needed to make it competitive with our other Scalextric and Pioneer classic TransAm cars.  The photo below shows what we did (not necessarily in order).

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  1.  Front and rear valences cut off at body mounts.
  2. Sloting Plus 101003 universal plastic track guide installed and cut to desired length.
  3. Javelin wheels and tires installed on Scalextric axles.
  4. Stock magnet moved to forward magnet position and booster magnet added.
  5. Chassis sides narrowed to fit Javelin body.
  6. Styrene strips added to body sides to stiffen chassis and fill body-chassis gap.
  7. Javelin exhausts shortened and glued to chassis sides.
  8. Piece of sheet styrene cut to rear contour of Javelin body and glued in place.
  9. Rear body mount cut from junk chassis and glued into place.

The car uses the Javelin rear body post in its original location and the front body mounting points of the Challenger chassis with the Javelin front body posts relocated accordingly.  The booster magnet is held in place entirely by magnetism and bumps up the magnetic downforce, as measured on our Magnet Marshal, to just the level needed to meet the specs we have established for our classic T/A cars.  We also glued the DPR trapdoor in place, as we don’t ever intend to convert the car to digital, and we replaced the entire DPR wiring assembly with simple silicone-insulated lead wire.  We did all the gluing on this project with Plasti-Zap except for the rear body mount and the front body posts, which we did with Gorilla Glue.

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This image shows the relocated front body posts.   Since we had to relocate them we couldn’t use the lugs built into the front grille/bumper/valence/spoiler piece so we cut the lugs off and glued it to the body, adding a few pieces of styrene for extra strength.

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We found the Javelin’s original tray interior to be a step in the right direction for weight saving and for accommodating different motor installation, but for this conversion we decided to adapt a Pioneer full-depth interior for two main reasons.

  1. We know many hobbyists like full-depth interiors and we wanted to show how it can be done.
  2. The fit of the Scalex interior’s roll cage was terrible, while the Pioneer cage looked like it was made for the Javelin body.  In addition, it was a very easy installation, much easier than fabricating a new roll cage.

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Here you can see what we did to adapt the Pioneer interior for the Javelin conversion.  First, we took the sides off to save weight.  Even back then most race cars had stripped interiors, so the absence of the tub sides will not really be an issue for most people.  The interior had to sit quite far forward on the chassis to position it properly, so we had to cut a notch in each of the tub’s lower front corners, indicated by the arrows, to clear the front tires.

The interior isn’t attached to the body.  Instead, we glued a piece of a body post from a junk body (the round blue shape in the right-hand photo) into the transmission tunnel, positioned just above the hole in the chassis for the case screw.  We could then attach the interior tub to the chassis with a body screw.    The rectangular white piece is a length of styrene strip placed to sit on top of the motor and hold the rear part of the interior clear of the lead wires.

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Here’s a nose-to-nose comparison  of our modified Javelin (left) and a stock one.  The patterned rectangle in between our car’s rear wheels is a piece of carbon fiber sheet to reinforce a repaired area where an epoxied-in magnet had been removed from the rear magnet position, tearing out part of the chassis with it.  It really was a semi-junk chassis when we started with it.  Now, our “Javellenger” is fully legal for classic TransAm racing and ready to take on the competition.

We should mention that we’re aware that it’s not likely that lot of people will do this particular kitbash.  For one thing, most of our readers probably don’t have a Challenger  they want to use as a donor car.  For another, we have no doubt that the 3D-printed chassis people are producing a sidewinder chassis for the Javelin or soon will be, and that will be an easier project for most people.  Our main purpose here is to build a car that comes as close as possible to showing “How They Should Have Made It”.  And maybe, just maybe, we’ve given you a bit of a glimpse into how somebody else is going to make it.

Have questions or comments on this article?  Post them below or e-mail them to bob@victorylaphobbies.com

 

 

How They Should Have Made It – Recent Scalextric TransAm Cars – Part 3, AMC Javelin, the Problems

by Bob Ward

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Scalextric’s 1971 TransAm Javelin has been controversial, to say the least, ever since the release of the first livery, the Penske Racing 1971 series champion.  The principal issue is, of course, the switch from a sidewinder chassis layout to an inline. We here at VLH think that was, shall we say, an ill-advised decision.  Before we get to that, however, let’s look at what Scalextric did right – and there are several real improvements.

The first, and it’s a big one, is making the front and rear valences part of the body, not the chassis.  I’ve been campaigning for this for, literally, decades now.  It makes giving the car body float much easier and more effective.  It also simplifies chassis transplants -fortunately, as we will see.

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Another is a sturdier inline motor mount that grips the endbell around the bushing housing rather than with two prongs engaging the notches for the can tabs on the sides of the endbell.  This improvement is not really new; they have been doing it on all their inline cars lately, but it’s worthy of recognition.  We’ve found the old mount to be the second most common failure point on Scalextric inline cars, after the guide socket, which is the most common chassis failure on all Scalextric cars.  If they just have to make inline cars this, at least, is the way to design the motor mount.  We do think, however, that the front (can end) mount should have been thicker.

The third step forward is the newly tooled Minilite wheels, a big improvement over the ones they have been using for the last 20 years or so.  These  wheels are supposed to be early examples of Scalextric’s new initiative to have all their wheels match the dimensions of commonly available aluminum wheels and thereby accept a variety of existing aftermarket tires.

We do have to say also that the OEM tires fitted to the Javelin, as well as other Scalextric cars over the past year, are a big improvement in grip over earlier OEM tires.  They look like they were trued at the factory, though the company says that’s not the case.

The designers get an attaboy for all of these.

The wheel upgrade is not without its problems, however.  One is that the rear wheels and tires are now significantly wider than those of the other TA cars, and that exacerbates the balance of performance problems created by the switch to an inline chassis.  Another is that Scalextric stopped offering spare parts a while back, so these wheels are not readily available for updating the older cars.  It also appears that these wheels and tires will not fit under the body on at least some, if not all of the other TA cars.  Another complication is that there are aftermarket tires to fit these wheels that are even wider than the stock ones and still fit inside the body, further increasing the effect of the wider wheels.

One other change may be either an improvement or a step backwards, depending on your point of view.  That’s the switch from a full-depth interior tub to a semi-flat tray interior.  More about that will be coming, also.

And so, on to the big issue, the chassis layout.

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Scalextric’s switch to inline chassis was hailed as a move to bring the performance of its  cars closer to the level of higher-end cars such as Slot It.  Their PR material said this change was made on the basis of expert advice.

Really?  Here’s a quote from the Test Track section of the Scalextric web site from February 26, 2016:  “While already present on a select few Scalextric cars, all new cars will have an inline motor fitted as standard. This configuration not only gives better weight distribution for the car but also means that both back wheels receive the power from the motor, with the gear on the rear axle.” (Emphasis mine.)  Seriously? They can’t possibly think a sidewinder drives only one of the rear wheels, can they?

All right, maybe that was written by someone in the PR department who was neither a racer nor an engineer, but the company hasn’t corrected it in the over two years since it was published.  As of April 25, 2018 it was still there for the whole world to see.

Here’s another quote from the same article:  “More detailed feedback was sought from a number of different sources to get specific details on what racers would change to get a better slot racing car. The collectors and experts who offered their feedback were fantastic in guiding our Developers, confirming a number of their suspicions, but also raising new ideas. While not everything suggested was possible, there were a large number of changes that almost everyone agreed upon and so our Development team set about making the changes a reality.”

The key phrase here is “collectors and experts”.  And that, in my view, is exactly the problem.  I have no way of knowing who these collectors and experts were, but I strongly suspect that they were the last people the designers should be listening to.  Why?

Well, to begin with, collectors mostly are just that.  To be sure, some are also racers to one extent or another, but most of them are more concerned with how the cars look than how they perform.  What collectors most often want is more and finer detail.  Performance is a secondary consideration, if it’s one at all.  And that’s fine – some of our best customers are collectors and we value their concerns and preferences.  But how relevant is their input where performance issues are concerned?

But the real problem, I suspect, is with the “experts” the designers sought input from.  The question here is what kind of experts?  I think the car itself provides the answer.  It looks to me very much like a car optimized for non-magnet wood track racing.  Unfortunately, I’ve come to the conclusion, based on 20 years of slot car industry experience and a lifetime as a slot car racer, that in this present day around 95% of slot car racing worldwide is done on plastic track with magnets.  This car is designed primarily for 5% or less of the people who actually race 1/32 scale slot cars.

The reason for that, I believe, is that the 95-plus percent have no voice with which to influence the manufacturers.  Who are the 95 percent?  They are the people who buy a race set for their kids or as a family activity.  They are the less “serious” hobbyists who just want to race and have fun at reasonable cost and probably will never participate in organized competition beyond having a few friends (theirs or their children’s) from the neighborhood over to race.  They just want cars they think are cool that are easy to make equal in performance so they can be raced with similar cars on an even basis.  They want any performance upgrades they make to be simple and inexpensive, most often just tires – and magnets.  For the 95% these two things represent all the “tuning” they will ever need or want to do.  They will likely never run without magnets.  And very few of them will ever  build a wood track.

They will probably never read, much less post on, an online slot car forum or enter a proxy race or go to one of the big slot car swap meets or big race events.  That makes them anonymous and unheard and their needs and preferences really never enter the thinking of the slot car designers who are aware, on some level, that they exist but  just assume that whatever the 5% want will serve the 95% also.  And that’s unfortunate because the 95% are the people Scalextric has to address to stay in business.

And that brings us to the inline vs. sidewinder issue and the related magnet vs. non-magnet issue as played out in the design of Scalextric TransAm cars.  There are three main questions here:

  1. Is it true that whatever makes a good wood track/ on-magnet car will make a good plastic track/magnet car?
  2. Which chassis layout is better for the 95 percent?
  3. How does one anomalous car affect the balance of performance for organized racing?  In other words, can the Javelin really fit in with the other Scalextric (and Pioneer, by the way) TA cars?

However, this article is getting up into the TLDR (Too Long, Didn’t Read) range, so we’ll take up the answers to these questions as we go through our How They Should Have Made It car build in the next part of this article, coming soon.  Here’s a sneak peek:

swjavelin-11

Next: The Javelin Car Build.

Have questions or comments on this article?  Post them below or e-mail them to bob@victorylaphobbies.com

 

 

 

 

 

Why Don’t They Make? #5 – Indy Cars

by Bob Ward

22pagenaud-2-1000

This one should probably be called “Why Don’t They Still Make”, since Scalextric made Dallara IRL cars, such as the one below, for several years.

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In addition, Ninco made very well turned-out Lola and Reynard Champ Cars some years back.  Here’s one…

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The last couple of semi-spec Indy Car body designs drew a lot of flak from Indy Car fans who wanted them to look more like the Champ Cars and less like a 70s Formula 5000 car with too many aero add-ons.  They especially disliked the large air scoop atop the engine and the DW12’s  fairings behind the rear tires.

Personally, I didn’t mind any of the recent Indy Cars.  My only real criticism of them was that they had too many fragile body elements that proved too vulnerable to contact damage.  It seemed to me that too many drivers’ races were ruined by body damage from seemingly minor incidents.  Lots of “too manys” there, but it kinda sums up the bodies of those cars.

In any case, the new-for-2018 design, which will remain until 2021, seems to have answered most of the complaints, including, to some extent, mine, and produced a body shape that is drawing a lot of enthusiastic fan support. It’s a significant reason, though not the only one, that Indy Car’s fortunes seem to be on the upswing.  So now, in my opinion, it’s time to bring back 1/32 scale Indy Cars.

The 2018 car has what should be some very attractive qualities for the slot car manufacturers, including:

  • One single tool needed for ALL the cars
  • Design stability for four years
  • Many colorful, attractive liveries available.
  • Rising fan support, race attendance, and TV viewership should increase the potential customer base.

There are now fewer permutations of the body shape for different tracks.  The car owners requested this as one way to hold down costs.  There are now really only two configurations, road course/short oval and high-speed oval,  A slot car manufacturer could produce each new version of the car with fully painted aero parts for both included in the package.  Some ingenuity in making the parts easy to swap out would make every car completely configurable by the consumer.  Hobbyists could race or display the car either way or with a combination of elements from both.  Making the wings and other appendages more durable would help, too.

There will be no shortage of liveries to choose from.  When you add in multiple primary sponsors for some of the cars, changing from race to race, plus one-offs for the Indianapolis 500 there should be, at a guess, around 50 different liveries in 2018 alone. The slot car makers would have an embarrassment of riches where liveries are concerned.

Here are just a few of my favorites:

1newgarden-1-800

Newgarden

10jones-2-800

Jones

14kanaan-2-800

Kanaan

18bourdais-1-800

Bourdais

27rossi-4-800

Rossi

Verizon IndyCar Series

Sato

Any of the mainstream slot car manufacturers could certainly produce models that would do full justice to the 2018 Indy Cars in both appearance and performance. What’s more, Indy Car seems to be on a roll for the first time in years.  Now is the time to bring back slot racing Indy Cars.

Oh, and not just the new 2018 car.  American open-wheel oval racing history is full of amazing cars just begging to be modeled…

Gurney Indy Eagle 1974 040

The 1972-75 Eagle, perhaps the single most influential Indy Car design of all time.

m16-800

The McLaren M16, the Eagle’s greatest rival.

And many more.  Think of the legendary drivers who  have won the Indianapolis 500 just since the mid-engine revolution began: Jim Clark, Graham Hill, A. J. Foyt, Bobby Unser, Mario Andretti, Al Unser, Mark Donohue, Gordon Johncock, Johnny Rutherford, Tom Sneva, Rick Mears, Danny Sullivan, Bobby Rahal, Emerson Fittipaldi, Arie Luyendyk, Al Unser Jr., Jacques Villeneuve, Juan Pablo Montoya, Helio Castroneves, Gil de Ferran, Dan Wheldon, Sam Hornish Jr., Dario Franchitti, Scott Dixon, and Tony Kanaan, among others.  And those who didn’t win but could have and should have, people like Michael Andretti, Nigel Mansell, Tony Stewart, Dan Gurney, Jackie Stewart, Jack Brabham, Fernando Alonso, and on and on…

Many of these drivers were champions in Formula One, sports cars, and other top-tier races and series,  Has there ever been any race that deserves to have the cars of its champions and contenders modeled as slot cars and one that probably has as large an untapped customer base?

There is no form of racing that has been woven into the life of heartland America for more than 100 years, as Indy Car, in all its iterations, has been and continues to be.  The 500 still draws the largest attendance of any single-day sports event in the world.  The highest attendance at a NASCAR race is somewhere between half and two-thirds of what Indy now draws and F1 doesn’t come close at any circuit in the world.  And no other form of racing has drawn the greatest drivers from around the world to anything like the degree Indy Car has at various times in its history.

It will probably take a genuine American slot car manufacturer who understands American racing and American race fans to see the potential and do something with it.  Where that manufacturer will come from I have no idea, but let’s all hope it happens.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How They Should Have Made It – Recent Scalextric TransAm Cars – Part 2, Dodge Challenger

challenger-1

What’s wrong with the above picture?  Well, to begin with, as you might have guessed after reading about our work on the Cougars, it’s mainly the body sitting way too high on the chassis.  This is supposed to be a model of a race car but it has the stance of a road car.  For comparison, here’s a photo of the real thing…

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And here it is from another angle…

Lside-2-1000

Quite a difference, isn’t there?  Check this out…

challengers-1a-1000

The one on the right is how Scalextric modeled the car.  The one on the left is how they SHOULD have done it.  And the frustrating thing is that, as on many other cars they have produced, there’s no reason why they couldn’t have.  So, since they didn’t we did.

If you have a keen eye you’ll note that we made more changes to the car than just getting the body down out of the stratosphere.  We’ll get to those as we go along.

We started with a used car that had been raced hard and was somewhat the worse for wear as a result.  We prefer to start our modification projects with preowned, even junk cars, mostly because they can often be acquired quite cheaply and we then aren’t out the price of a new one if the project goes south on us and we end up scrapping the car.  There’s also the challenge of taking a wreck and making a winner out of it.  This one wasn’t that bad, but the project did include some necessary repairs as well as the upgrades.

As with our two Cougars, the project began with cutting the front valence off the chassis and CA gluing it to the body.  On this project we also had to do it with the rear valence.  We cut it off just aft of the rear body posts.  This left part of the chassis still painted green, so we sanded the paint of that part of the chassis leaving it all black and looking much more like it came that way from the factory as, we emphasize, it totally could have.  We’ve said it before and we’ll keep saying it – THE FRONT AND REAR VALENCES AND THE BUMPERS NEED TO BE PART OF THE BODY, NOT THE CHASSIS!

The rear bumper appeared to have been broken off and rather hamfistedly glued back on.  We couldn’t get it back off so we never did get it back on right, but we did get the front and rear valences securely attached to the body. Then it was on to the next step.  That was shortening all four body posts by 1/8″.

The next part of the car requiring attention was the interior tub.

challenger-2

The first step was to cut 1/8″ off the two pegs that hold the rear axle bushings in place, followed by removing the driver figure and the steering wheel and column  Then we applied CA glue to all parts of the roll cage that touch any part of the tub.  When the glue set we marked off  and cut 1/4″ from around the bottom of the tub.  The gluing of the roll cage allowed it to stay solidly in place even with most of its original mounting points gone with the tub floor.  We cut out a new floor for the interior from .020″ sheet styrene and glued it in place.  We painted the entire tub assembly gray (not brown, as it looks in the photo above).  We now had what might be described as a 2/3 depth interior.

Of course, the original driver figure now sat too tall to fit.  Searching the junk box for a replacement we found a complete driver from a modern GT car.  Because he sat in a much more reclining position he actually fit the cut-down interior with his head below the roll cage.  However, he created a bit of a period-correctness problem, as he wore a very modern-looking full face helmet.  So, we decided to exercise a bit of creative license.  We decided that our Challenger would now be a model of the car as it might looks today in vintage racing.  To add to the modern-day vibe we added a window net cut from a sheet of plastic mesh sold in craft stores.  The window net is not strictly period-correct even for the 21st century.  The life-sized car races in Historic TransAm where, as far as we are aware, window nets are not required.  However, we like window nets so we’re modeling the car as it would have to look if it ever turned up on an SVRA Group 6 grid where all the modern safety gear is required.  So, with authenticity suitably bent we had an interior ready for our lowriding TransAm car.

Then there’s the front air dam.

challenger-9

The problem isn’t with the way it looks.  It’s more or less period-authentic, and if that is the most important thing to you, you won’t want to change it.  However, if you’re going to race the car seriously, you’ll find out it won’t last long.  It’s just stuck out way too far and there’s no real way to make it less vulnerable.  The one on our car had already been broken and glued back together at least once before we got it. Of course, you can just take it off before you run the car and save it to put back on after the car earns an honorable retirement.  We, however, think a 1970 TA car just doesn’t look right without something in the way of a front air dam, but we’d prefer one a lot less vulnerable.  So, once again a bit of creative license, again related to present-day vintage racing.  Some vintage racing groups are much less picky about aero enhancements than others, so we were pretty much free to design our own.  What we came up with is simplicity itself.

challenger-4

You can’t get much more basic than a piece of .020″ sheet styrene, CA glued to two pieces of  1/4×3/32″ styrene strip.  A little bit of drilling and two self-tapping screws and we have a simple, but strong air dam.  Most important, it’s tucked back under the nose,  out of harm’s way.  This mod is only possible because we cut the front valence off the chassis and in the process left a gap just wide enough for the air dam to fit down through.

challenger-3

This photo shows the completed chassis with the valences removed and the new front air dam in place.  It also shows the other mods the car has.  It came with the aftermarket guide and lead wires installed, along with a pair of Maxxtrac silicones.  You can also see the small “junk” magnet we stacked onto the stock one to top off the magnetic downforce to the desired level as well as the axle spacers on slightly longer axles to get the tires out to the full width that will fit under the body.

challengers-3

Here you see a box-stock #77 Challenger (top) and our modified car below.  This shot really shows the mess the previous owner made with the rear bumper. All you’re supposed to be able to see of it from the bottom is the license plate housing.  Oh, well, some things you just can’t fix.

Check these views of the finished car.

challenger-5

challenger-6

challenger-8

Time to go racing.

Next – Javelin.

Have questions or comments on this article?  Post them below or e-mail them to bob@victorylaphobbies.com