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

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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.

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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

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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…

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Time to go racing.

Next – Javelin.

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 1, Mercury Cougar

We here at VLH have long been fans of Scalextric’s classic TransAm cars ever since the first two, the 1969/70 Mustang and the 1969 Camaro.  These popular cars, produced in a huge number of colorful liveries, have made up an excellent racing class.  They have, for the most part, been easy to drive, easy to tune to almost any reasonable performance level using simple and inexpensive techniques, and easy to equalize for a level playing field.  The addition to the classic TA mix of Pioneer’s very similar 67/68 Mustang and Camaro has only added to the fun.

However, the three most recent Scalextric TA cars, while they are welcome additions to the field, have emerged with issues that need to be corrected.  This article, the first of three, will cover the Mercury Cougar.

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Our main disappointment with the Cougar is the way the front end of the body, in stock form, rides too high, making the car look as if it’s constantly experiencing a huge amount of aerodynamic lift at the front.  It has the nose-high stance of a drag race car with a gap between the tires and the body, not a proper attitude for a road racer.  A separate but related issue is that, in a departure from their previous TA cars, they put the same size tires on the front as on the rear. It just cries out to have the front end lowered.   So… we did.  Here’s the result, nose-to-nose with an unmodified car.

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We actually did the revision on two Cougars, a red #98 and a green #41.  You can see above how much better the green car on the left looks than the yellow unmodified car on the right.  Getting the most out of the project required backfitting the Cougars with the smaller diameter front tires used on previous Scalextric TA cars.  If you don’t have a supply of the smaller front tires lying around you can turn down the stock front tires to the required diameter or just shorten the front body posts a little less to get the front end as low as possible while retaining the original front tires..

The first step in this upgrade, after disassembling the car, was cutting the front valence off the chassis and CA gluing it securely to the body where it belongs.  We suspect the reason for this irritating quirk in Scalextric’s design philosophy has to do with simplifying the tooling and reducing its cost, but it adds complication to projects like this as well as to simple tuning techniques such as running the car with loosened body screws to let the body float.

cougars-3

We might add that a too-high stance and body elements as part of the chassis have been recurring flaws with many different Scalextric cars over the years.  Google photos of any of their Mustang FR500C’s for one of the more egregious examples.

The second step was to shorten the front body posts by about 3/32″.  You might decide to shorten them more or less, depending on what front height looks right to you and whether you use the front tires that came on the car or switch to the smaller ones.

cougars-4

The next step is to cut off the two round structures sticking down from the bottom of the interior tub, as indicated by the red arrows above.  You may also need to take a little off the ends of the two pegs on the flat area at the rear of the interior tub.  These press down on the top of the motor to keep it firmly in its mounting on the chassis but we have never found anything like this to be necessary on Scalextric sidewinder cars, so you could just cut them off completely if you prefer.

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The Cougar body has a piece glued into the inner body on each side just forward of the interior tub.  These need to be cut away to allow the body to be lowered over the chassis.

With these changes made you can re-mount the body on the chassis and go race.  Our Cougars, however, have a few additional improvements, seen in the photo below of our red #98.

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Two of the upgrades were on the cars when we acquired them, gently used, from another shop that went out of business.  One is the replacement of the stock guide and lead wire assembly with a Slot It guide and silicone-insulated lead wires, eliminating the DPR-related components.  This is fine with us because we don’t plan to convert these particular cars to digital.  The other is a pair of Maxxtrac silicone rear tires for a major grip improvement on clean plastic track surfaces.

As you can see in the photo, we added a smaller additional magnet atop the car’s stock magnet to bring the total downforce up to the same level we have maintained on all our classic TransAm “runners” for quite some time.  The extra magnet came from our junk box.  It’s a Professor Motor 1063 with part of it broken off, and it just happened to be the right size and strength for the task.  Never discard used or even broken magnets.  You never know when they might come in handy.  When stacking magnets like this nothing but magnetism is usually needed to hold the stacked magnets together.

Also visible is the front air dam, from a Scalextric 69 Camaro, that we added.  This, of course, isn’t “period-correct” for a 1967 TA car and it doesn’t affect performance, but it does give the car a more aggressive look we really like.

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This bottom view of the chassis shows how we fitted the air dam in place and mounted it securely.  We used a Dremel tool with a sanding drum to remove material from the air dam so it would fit around the Cougar’s guide housing.  When we got the fit we wanted we tacked it in place with CA glue and drilled holes into the chassis at the mounting points so we could secure the part with two self-tapping body screws.  We have also done this mod on Pioneer Mustang/Camaro chassis where it can be mounted via the front body screws just as on the Scalextric Camaro.  The green car has an air dam from a Scalextric TA Mustang.

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So, here are our two modified Cougars.  Both are impressive performers on the track and now look the way proper TransAm cars should. Here are a few more shots…

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Not totally period-correct but easy to do and we love the way they now look.  And, as it happens, we ran across this photo, taken at a recent vintage race…

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So, it looks like our Cougars are period-correct – if you pick the right period.

NEXT – Dodge Challenger

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

 

Ford MkIV – Scalextric vs. MRRC

by Bob Ward

November, 2017

Ford’s historic  GT40 Mk. IV only raced twice, but it won both events, Sebring and LeMans in 1967, in dominant fashion.  Too dominant, some said, and the FIA’s rules change, the day after LeMans, confirmed that it agreed.  With the big-block Mk. IV (and the Mk. II, also) banned from international endurance racing it was left to a heavily developed example of the GT40 Mk. I – the same individual car, campaigned by the John Wyer team – to win LeMans the next two years. Nevertheless, the Mk. IV’s win average in serious competition forever remains at 100%, and there are few, if any, other top-level racing cars that have equaled it.

As historically significant as the car is, it’s surprising that it has not been more extensively modeled for 1/32 scale slot car racing.  In the 21st century there have been three volume-produced models, each offered, or planned to be, in numerous liveries.  MRRC and NSR’s renditions have been around for some time, and they are now joined by a new one from Scalextric.

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NSR’s Mk. IV (above), like all NSRs, is optimized for performance and makes no pretense of being otherwise.  Its body shape is subtly stretched, slammed, and otherwise massaged for the “serious” racer in top-level competition, somewhat at the expense of scale fidelity.  This doesn’t keep it from being an impressive-looking car, not to mention by far the fastest and most adaptable of the three, but it’s not meant for the rivet counter.  It’s also a high-end car with all high-end components and the most expensive by a substantial margin.  These factors often make it less interesting to the beginning to intermediate level racer who is more scale-oriented and does not need or want to pay for the NSR’s performance.  Moreover, it’s not very useful to compare it to more basic slot cars such as the MRRC and Scalextric.  For these reasons it’s the other two this article will focus on.

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MRRC’s Mk. IV was designed and first offered for sale the better part of a decade ago.  Like most MRRC cars of recent years it’s built on the well-regarded MRRC Sebring universal chassis.   It is powered by an inline-mounted FF “slimline” motor  rated at 21,000 rpm.  MRRC Sebring-chassis cars have come at various times with either one or two neodymium traction magnets.  Our comparo car came with two, one aft of the motor and one forward, using the two snap-in magnet mounts built into the Sebring chassis.

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Scalextric’s MK. IV is all new for 2017, though it was supposed to have been out in 2016.  it was designed under the requirements of the quickly abandoned Pro Chassis initiative.  This was intended to give Scalextric an entree into the upper levels of 1/32 scale racing by making available for each newly designed car an upgrade chassis that would accept motor pods and high-end performance parts from Slot It.  The Pro chassis project never really got a chance to prove itself before it was axed.  It appears, however, that the Pro chassis-related compromises baked into their recent (and, apparently, future) car designs will be with us for a long time to come.

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One of these is the inline motor installation (in the Mk. IV an 18,000 rpm FF) which Scalextric has said is going to be standard with either the FF or the FC130 on all newly designed cars going forward.  Now, there’s nothing wrong with an inline installation, if it’s done right, for certain kinds of racing, most notably non-magnet wood track racing.  Unfortunately, non-mag/wood track racing is 2 to 5 percent of the slot car market, though its viewpoint dominates the online forums.  The other 95-plus percent races on plastic track with magnets.  And for magnet racing the best chassis arrangement is a sidewinder.  Why is that, you may ask?

First of all, it’s because a sidewinder allows the placing of the traction magnet directly under the rear axle, the optimum location for maximum cornering grip.  In addition, at the grip levels magnets allow (even stock ones, not to mention the aftermarket magnets in widespread use) the stability of the gear mesh is absolutely essential.  Two main things affect the stability of the gear mesh: the distance between the motor and the rear axle and the rigidity of the structure connecting the motor mount and the rear axle mounts.  The closer the motor to the rear axle and the greater the strength of the connecting structure, the less the gears can move out of correct mesh with each other under motor torque and the smoother and quieter the car will run.  A sidewinder places the motor right next to the axle and the pinion gear very close to the shaft bearing and connects them solidly together.  With an inline installation you have to put the magnet forward of the rear axle to clear the crown gear, and that moves the motor farther from the rear axle.

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MRRC has dealt with the shortcomings of inline motor installations a little better than Scalextric has.  MRRC, despite using a wider but shorter bar magnet, has managed to place its motor farther aft and has surrounded the motor and rear axle mountings with more and stiffer structure.  Scalextric placed the motor farther forward than it really needed to be and did not give the structure connecting the motor and rear axle mounts the heft it needed.  This makes the Scalextric chassis flexier in a place where it should be as inflexible as possible.  The net result is that in both cars you hear the sound of gear teeth not meshing right when maximum torque is being applied but you hear more of it from the Scalextric car.

In neither case does this make the car unraceworthy but, while MRRC was more or less locked into using the existing Sebring chassis for economic reasons, Scalextric could have designed their car any way they wanted.  They could have, and should have, made it a sidewinder.  It’s a shame they didn’t because their standard 11/36 sidewinder gear set (which you can’t get any more since Scalextric stopped selling spare parts) is probably the best press-on plastic gear set in the industry.  Along with the inherent virtues of their sidewinder motor/axle mounting structure it has been a big factor in making their sidewinder cars superior out-of-the-box magnet racing performers among basic 1/32 scale slot cars and outstanding race set cars that have given countless beginners an excellent start in the hobby.

And they could have made it a sidewinder, though they might have needed to make the body a bit wider than scale.  The scale width is 2.1″ or 53.3mm.  To make it a sidewinder they probably would have had to make the car about another 1/4″ or 6.35mm wider.  Yes, that would have amounted to a certain degree of subtly stretching the car a la NSR, but I’ve never been one to quibble about exact scale dimensions, especially since neither Scalextric or MRRC got the body shape perfect anyway.

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You can see in the images above that there are considerable differences between the Scalextric and MRRC cars and between both models and the full-size car. Who came closest is a question I’ll leave it to you, the reader, to decide, but the point is that since nobody’s Mk. IV body is perfect, if Scalextric had made the car a quarter inch wider and made it a sidewinder with an FC130 motor like all previous Scalextric Ford GT40 variants I’d consider that an excellent tradeoff and I’d bet only a very few people would either notice or care about the scale difference.

Here is some key information about the two cars from our testing:

Overall weight:  Scalextric – 75g; MRRC – 75g

Gross Magnet Marshal reading (weight plus magnetic downforce): Scalextric: 224g; MRRC (2 magnets) – 405g; MRRC (front magnet only) – 330g

Wheel diameter/ scale diameter:  Scalextric – 11.2mm / 14.1″;  MRRC – 12.35mm / 15.6″; Full-sized car – 15″ wheels (The diameter of center-rib slot car wheels with no outer rim effectively represents the rim diameter of full-sized wheels.  Thus, the Scalextric wheels are actually closer to 13″ wheels (2″ too small) and the MRRC wheels are about right at 15″ plus a half inch or so of rim.  This explains why the Scalextric wheels look so small and the tire sidewalls so tall, sort of like what you’d see on the rear of a top fuel dragster.  It’s worth noting that the tires Scalextric is putting on its new cars beginning this year are a real improvement in performance over the ones previously fitted.

Rear tire tread width:  Scalextric – 3/8″, 9.52mm; MRRC: 5/16″, 7.94mm

Test track best lap times (clean track, sanded stock tires): Scalextric – 3.369; MRRC (2 magnets) – 3.167; MRRC (rear magnet only) – 3.015.

With both magnets the MRRC is actually too stuck down for best lap times, though it’s easier for a beginner or a child to drive.  The Scalextric car, at 274g gross MM reading (199g net magnetic downforce) is right on the low side of the downforce range I prefer.  When the MRRC runs with only the rear magnet the downforce readings are close enough that some upgrading/detuning work with no more than tires and magnets should be enough to equalize the two cars’ lap times and also to put them on a par with other Scalextric, Flyslot / Slotwings, MRRC, and Carrera cars of similar type and era, though it may be a while before aftermarket tires to fit Scalextric’s Mk. IV appear.

The Scalextric car is digital plug-ready and comes with working headlights and taillights.  The driver’s head is badly in need of replacement by a better-sculpted one but  giving him a head transplant would not be difficult.  An MRRC driver’s head would be a good choice if you have one.

The above gripes notwithstanding, both cars are fun to drive and more than fast enough to challenge drivers of any skill level.  Both cars are well worth their respective prices.

 

 

 

 

Why Don’t They Make? #4- Fox Body Mustang

I was recently watching an online video of the 2017 SCCA Runoffs American Sedan race.  A-sedan, as it’s commonly referred to, is a class for 80s and later American muscle cars prepared to a set of rules that bears a strong resemblance to that of the original 1966 through 72 TransAm series.  No tube frames, silhouette bodies, or wings here; the cars are all built from assembly line unit bodies.  But they aren’t showroom stockers, either. They have full roll cages, stripped interiors, fuel cells, modified suspensions, and built smallblock V8 engines with horsepower figures not too different from the engines that powered the original TA cars. They do run on DOT (street) tires, not racing slicks, but that really just makes them even more like the classic TA cars.  It’s supposed to be a class for people who want to race a V8-powered sedan on a budget.  Of course, the size of the required budget depends on how competitive you want to be.   If you just want to have fun in local SCCA races anywhere up to mid-pack or so you can pick up a perfectly serviceable car more or less ready to race for under ten grand.   From there, it goes up until you get to the Runoffs where a car with a chance of winning will run to several tens of thousands, at least.

In numbers, A-sedan grids tend to be dominated by 80s and 90s Camaros and Firebirds, and 1994-2004 Mustangs – cars you could buy cheap at a used car lot and make a race car out of.  In recent years, however, the sharp end of the grid has been increasingly populated by late-model cars, including Pontiac GTOs (Australian version) and Cadillacs, but mostly Mustangs, especially the ones driven by Andy McDermid (below), who has won more A-sedan national championships than anybody else in the history of the class.

This year, however, McDermid crashed in practice and retired early from the race.  That left some breathing room for everyone else, and the race came down to perennial multi-class champion John Heinricy, in a 90s Camaro, chasing after…wow! An old Fox body Mustang.  Where did THAT come from?

This particular one had qualified on the pole and held off the vastly experienced Heinricy to take a flag-to-flag victory. The driver was Bryan Long, who had made two Runoffs podiums before but in GT-1.  After watching the video I got to wondering when was the last time a Fox body had won at the Runoffs.  It had to have been a long time, if ever, I thought.  Well, not really.  It turns out that it was as recently at 2014, at Laguna Seca, and the car and driver came from my own home state of Washington.  Not only that, he won the class championship on his first try.

Here’s the winning car, a notchback even, Driven by Dylan Olsen of Kelso, Washington, about 100 miles down the road from my hometown of Puyallup.  I wonder if he built it from an ex-Washington State Patrol car.  The WSP used notchback Mustangs as pursuit vehicles for several years, and they were fairly common on used car lots for a while until they were bought up by racers and hot rodders who recognized them as a great starting point for building really strong but lightweight performance cars.  Speaking of light weight, if you look at the photo of Olsen’s car you will see, just forward of the racing number, the figure 3100.  That’s the car’s weight.  On McDermid’s car the figure is 3300.  that 200 pound difference may not seem like much but even in a 40-minute Runoffs race tire management is vital to success.  Especially in classes where relatively heavy sedans (compared to smaller sports cars) have to run on street-type tires a 200 pound weight advantage can make a real difference.  It may help to explain why what appears to be a relatively low-dollar car was able to prevail over a field of cars many of which likely had a lot more bucks dumped into them.

Anyway, all this got me to wondering about the Fox Mustang’s racing history.  Of course, being a lifelong TransAm fan I knew the Fox body shape had formed the basis of the wide, low fiberglass and carbon fiber bodies used on frontline TransAm and GT1 cars for more than a decade.  But what about the actual production-based cars?  Well, It turns out there is more there than I realized, including some really trick-looking cars that, along with all the American Sedan competitors, would make great slot cars.    And a slot car manufacturer with some clever tooling designers could make a tool for producing the bodies that incorporates the various parts needed to make modeels of a lot of them.

The three Foxes pictured above amply illustrate the AS cars, but there’s much more.  There is an organization called the National Auto Sport Association (NASA) and Fox Mustangs abound there.  Take a look at these…

This Camaro-Mustang Challenge (CMC) car looks pretty basic.  Not much change to the stock body.

This CMC car has a couple of possibly homemade add-ons.

This American Iron (AI) car has a blade spoiler and tacked-on front airdam and side skirts, but the body is still essentially stock.

This notchback has a big rear spoiler and front airdam plus a humped hood, but still mostly stock bodywork.

This American Iron Extreme (AIX) car is really getting serious with fender work, a blended-in front airdam, and that big wing and hood.  And then, we come to…

This.  It’s still a unit body car, not a tube frame, but check out the widebody kit and the whale tail.  These could easily be included in the slot car body tool as separate add-on parts to be used or not as needed for the particular model being produced.  And from here it’s not that big a step to…

An 80s/90s DTM car.  Here is the point where we probably cross the line to new tooling for at least the body and probably the chassis, not to mention whels and tires.  The car is very like an early tube-frame Transam car, though I do believe the DTMs were unit body cars, also.  Here’s another DTM Fox…

By this time the TransAm tube frame cars had gone full widebody without distinct fender flares but they had not yet gone to wings.  This configuration probably represents the ultimate unibody Fox Mustang, and what a totally gorgeous car!  I can’t believe these two European racing Foxes (and there are others) wouldn’t sell well on both sides of the pond.

Why do I think the Fox Mustangs would make popular slot cars?  It’s because these cars, most of which are still racing in serious competition, as opposed to vintage events, where preservation of the cars precludes all-out racing, are cars people can relate to.  Anybody with a decent middle-class income can still afford to buy a Fox (though prices are going up) and turn it into something that at least looks like one of these cars.  Millions of them were produced and a great many of them are still on the road, and for many enthusiasts they are still the car they wanted when it was new and now have or still want to have.   They are quintessentially American but they have been raced in Europe and Australia as well, so they will have at least some kind of following there.  Americans love Mustangs (and Camaros and Firebirds of the same era; they would also make popular slot cars) and so, I think, do more people in other countries than the manufacturers might imagine.  There are more than enough of them to provide colorful liveries for years, enabling the manufacturer to get its money’s worth out of the tooling.

More on this in another blog post.  There’s lots more to show and tell.