Scalextric’s TransAm Javelin

c3731-9

Our shipment of Scalextric’s long-awaited 1/32 scale Penske TransAm Javelin just came through the door.  Of course, everything in the shop ground to a halt while we pulled one out of its case, oiled all the appropriate points, and put it on the track for a test drive.

This is a well-rendered model of the iconic TA Javelin that Mark Donohue drove to the 1971 TransAm championship.  We can’t swear that every line, contour, and dimension is faithful to the 1/1 scale original, but it certainly looks the part and the standard of fit and finish is excellent.  Initial test drives reveal that it is a  smooth runner with lots of power, at least on our small in-store test track.  The grip is above-average for stock tires, too.  

c3731-8

The tires are different from any we have seen on a Scalextric car before.  They have the look of having been turned down on a tire truer.  They have a very straight tread surface providing the maximum tire contact patch.   The motor may be an upgrade, too, as it has a green endbell, possibly indicating a new iteration of the familiar Scalextric FC130.   Everything else is pretty much standard Scalextric, though on this car the familiar components give the impression of adding up to a whole that is more than the sum of its parts.

The designers made the area between the rear wheels as narrow as possible while still providing space for the familiar Scalextric 24mm long bar magnet.  That’s good because it makes it possible to install the widest possible wheels and tires within the width of the body.  Unfortunately, the designers wasted some of this space by making the front and rear track narrower than necessary – or so it looked, anyway.  Then we took a rear tire off the car and found that the Minilites on the new Javelin are not same ones that have been fitted to Scalextric TA cars since the first 1970 Mustang around 20 years ago. They are wider overall and have a wider center rib.  They also have the correct center configuration for the Penske car as well as being much more crisply and accurately molded overall.  The fronts appear to be about the same width as the old rears.  Still, there is extra space at the front, so a longer front axle and some spacers are in order.

It struck us that the rear wheels looked a lot like the rears on a Flyslot or Slotwings Porsche 917 or Lola T70, though, of course they are a different style.  We went to the shelf and grabbed a pair of Quick slicks CB49S tires, specified for the Flyslot classics and, sure enough, they fit like a charm and instantly gave the Javelin another 1/16″ of rubber on the road on each side as well as filling the fenders completely.  They just barely clear but they do clear with no problems and give the car a lot of extra grip on our Scalextric Sport track.

That got us wondering about something else.  To our eyes, which have seen the real car up close and personal on a number of occasions, the fenders just don’t look wide enough. A quick measurement showed the Javelin to be about 58.5mm wide through the rear fenders.  For comparison we measured a Scalextric 1970 Camaro.  It is just under 62mm wide at the same point.  By 1970-71 the Transam bodywork rules were being stretched ever farther, and we strongly suspect that either the Javelin is too narrow or the Camaro is a shade too wide.  A search of the Internet didn’t immediately turn up the dimensions of the full-sized cars, but we’ll keep looking.

c3731-11

A feature of this car we really like is that it has a shallow tray interior instead of a full-depth interior tub.  Collectors may not be happy but anyone who races these cars knows that the tray interior saves weight and frees up a lot of volume for digital chip conversions other than for Scalextric’s built-in pocket for its plug-in chip. Carrera chips, for instance, are bigger and bulkier and the extra space comes in handy.  You can’t really see the difference when the car’s on the track, so why bother with the full-depth interior in the first place?

The car weighs in at a svelte 74 grams, vs. 81 grams for a Scalextric 69 Camaro and 88 for a Pioneer Mustang.  That is a useful weight and mass advantage.  Our Magnet Marshal gave a net magnetic downforce reading of 173 grams.  That’s a net downforce to weight ratio of 2.34:1. To get the same ratio the 69 Camaro would need 190 grams and the Mustang would need 206.  2.34:1 is not far off our preferred ratio for classic TA cars of 2.5:1, so this particular Javelin, at least, is close to being competitive in net downforce right out of its plastic case and probably wouldn’t need much more than slightly smaller rear tires (thereby lowering the magnet a bit) to be right up to the limit.  Quick Slicks makes tires in three smaller diameters tho fit the wheels.

The Javelin has working taillights.  This is a nice feature but we would have preferred to see them wired to a capacitor and an inertial switch so they function as brake lights.

All in all Scalextric’s new Javelin is about as well-made and capable as anyone could expect a basic slot car of its type to be. It’s well worth the price, especially since Scalextric reduced the US MSRP of most of its cars from $55 to $50.  

Now, with that said we need to address what we consider to be the Scalextric Javelin’s one major failing…

chassis-javelin-1

The jungle-drums rumbles to the effect that this car was going to be an inline turned out to be true.  All of Scalextric’s previous classic TA cars had been sidewinders and  we expect that changing the TA Javelin chassis layout to an inline will needlessly complicate the task of equalizing its performance with all the previous cars in the series, the cars it will be expected to race with.  

As you would expect with an inline car, Scalextric gave this one only one magnet position, right under the rear axle.  It should be a no-brainer that ALL the cars in the classic TA series should have the same overall configuration to maintain competition parity, but Scalextric was determined to go all-out with their “pro chassis” project, now abandoned, and their designers apparently concluded that pro chassis compatibility required the stock chassis to be inline.  One “orphan” TA car with an inline motor is part of the fallout.  We can only hope that Scalextric won’t repeat this aberration and that the 3D printing cottage industry will be quick to offer sidewinder chassis for this car.  Meanwhile, racers will have to figure out how to balance performance between two types of chassis, one with its only magnet location under the rear axle and another with no magnet pocket in that location ,at least on some of the cars, as well as different weight distribution.  A single spec snap-in magnet location (the one just forward of the sidewinder motor) is now no longer possible

The different wheel width and substantially lighter weight (due primarily to the elimination of the full-depth interior) compound the problem, especially since the new wheels will not be available as spare parts with which to upgrade the other Scalextric TA cars on which they can be made to fit.  At least some of the other Scalextric (and, perhaps, Pioneer) cars will accept them, but not all.  Getting a set of comparably sized wheels will likely require the use of aftermarket parts or Flyslot wheels that belong on a Ferrari or a Porsche, not a TransAm car.  This may not be much of a problem if stock tires are required, as the stock tires on the other cars can be and almost always are trued and the Javelin’s original rear tires are about the same width.  However, aftermarket tires available for the Javelin’s wheels are substantially wider than any that fit the older TA wheels, so there is no longer one spec aftermarket tire that fits ALL the cars.

Of course, non-magnet racers won’t be affected nearly as much by the changes, but for the other 95 to 98 percent of the slot car hobby enough things have changed to make the rules enforcer’s task more complicated.

There is much that Scalextric got right on this car and really only one big thing we believe they got wrong.  Your views on the matter may differ.  On balance, however, for a great many hobbyists this car is well worth buying.  If you really need a sidewinder. wait for Pioneer’s version of this car or for a 3D printed chassis.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s