Spotlight on slot car racing – find out about the early days plus what is on the market now

17 November 2011
imports_CCGB_slot-it_86064.jpg Spotlight on slot car racing – find out about the early days plus what is on the market now
Alwyn Brice investigates slot car racing and takes a look at the well-known manufacturers within the hobby, including Scalextric, Ninco and Slot It. ...

Once upon a time any schoolboy who was considered to be with the ‘in crowd’ had to be interested in slot racing. The halcyon days, those of the 1960s and early 1970s, saw model shops purveying all manner of stuff relating to the hobby: you could buy complete sets, bits of track, single cars and accessories and even the requisite materials for scratchbuilding your own models. Everything, literally everything, from brass rods for the spaceframe through to rubber ‘doughnuts’ and vacuum formed bodies sat on the shelves, just waiting for buyers. Various after-market manufacturers would sell you an electric motor and the cognoscenti in the playground talked knowledgeably about rewinds, armatures and sidewinders. It was a heady time, with slot racing clubs offering multi-lane tracks: all you had to do was join and turn up with your hottest vehicle.

Nearly five decades later, there’s a rich vein to mine if the slot-racing urge takes your fancy. Karl Cornell, a long-time collector and who helped with advice in this feature, reckons that now is a good time to buy, since prices have dipped a bit because of the recession. But not everything’s dropped through the floor: like other branches of the collecting hobby, you need to shop around a little.

Slot cars have been covered before within the pages of this magazine, so this time around I thought we’d look at some peripheral items. Let’s start with box art, a topic that is seldom discussed in print.

Scalextric box art was always very dynamic (frequently featuring a red car coming straight at you) and often the same imagery was used for different sets. This can be frustrating for collectors in the early period, for some artwork, for example, depicts low slung, two seater road/race cars but the box contents themselves may only contain a pair of simple F1 cars.

The fact was Scalextric eked out what was available: according to Karl, it wasn’t until the 1970s that Scalextric started to depict the actual cars within the set, plus the track layout, on the box itself. Thus the earlier artwork is a joy in its own right and the original material (much of this was executed by one Ron Knockholds, who also did some of the catalogue covers) seldom comes to market. If it did, it would be worth bidding for!

PICTURED Standard box art from Scalextric often depicted a red F1 car in the lead.

Mix ‘n’ match

It’s worth remembering that Scalextric as a brand was prolific in France and Spain, as well as the UK. While box art is similar when it comes to comparing countries, nonetheless you’ll find variations, such as the background colour, for example. That said, you’re most likely to find British and French examples in the UK. In fact the French were ahead of us in some respects: although the factory was only just across the Channel (in Calais), the French were fitting swivel guides to their cars before we were.

Another interesting point is that guides and screws differed simply because the continent was switched on to metric and we weren’t. So if you had, for example, an English body and tried to attach it to a French chassis, the pair wouldn’t mate up. A lot of swapping around of bits was par for the course, though, at least up until the 1990s, and in consequence you could have ended up with a Spanish body containing English mechanicals, for example.

Today, it’s all different: SCX is made in Spain and the rest of Scalextric hails from China. Some tooling and moulds were exported to Mexico, and these models occasionally surface: great box art and unusual colours have made these models highly desirable, and a decade back they were swapping hands at £1,000 on a good day. Stocks have dried up since, and prices have dropped as these models are more of a known quantity now.

Around the track

Moving on, what about all those desirable accessories without which any layout looked bare?

Once the excitement of joining up the track and racing the cars wore off, small boys tended to look for the next layer of realism, which meant adding trackside bits and bobs.

Scalextric wasn’t slow to catch on to this and today some of these ancillaries fetch astonishing sums. The 1960s merchandise is the most popular: boxes are desirable (whether of the light blue and white pattern or the earlier white with the Scalextric logo). There are four variations of the Grandstand for starters, and top of most collectors’ wish lists is the Control Tower, which can sell for £200-300. This came in kit format, as did the more common Pits, the Open Stand and the Marshall’s Hut. All are collected if unmade and boxed, with the Pits typically worth £35-50.

Then there was the famous Dunlop Bridge, initially in black then grey rubber. Hard to find, a good example will pass the £150 mark. This was superseded in the 1980s by a plastic Goodyear/Dunlop version. Karl reckons it’s worth keeping an eye out for the Timekeeper’s Hut (especially if it’s working); and foreign buildings are also collectable, even though they are intrinsically the same, merely differing in base or roof colour.

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Don’t forget, too, the Paddock (especially with a canopy) which can make three figures; and then there’s the Camera Crew which, if complete, can be had for around £55-75. Hardest of all to find is the Trophy Set in its original blister: odd cups turn up but a mint carded set, with laurel wreath, is the Holy Grail for many enthusiasts.

With buildings come figures: the 1/32 scale figurines were popular and were painted (through outsourcing), although the two seated groups of four were retailed only in naked pink plastic, perhaps because of their interlinked complexity. In contrast, Scalextric’s 1/24 figures were made for the US market and came out for a short run at the start of the 1970s. They flopped – and so now are hard to find: expect to pay £200 for a trio.

PICTURED Ninco’s Audi R8 is bang up to date and looks good enough to put into a display cabinet.

The rivals

Slot racing isn’t all about Scalextric, of course, but this company has stood the test of time. Its main rival today in terms of cars is Ninco; indeed, Karl rates its car quality as one of the best overall and the Harrods McLaren, he thinks, has become truly desirable.

In Spain Ninco is a much more popular brand and is a worthy adversary. The N-Digital system allows up to eight cars to race simultaneously on a two-lane circuit, for example. Advanced software and unique track sections permit true-to-life overtaking as well as race strategy through a selection of race modes, which can include the use of pit stops.

Each year Ninco sponsors the Catalunya-Costa Brava Rally-Slot event and the first World Cup was held back in 2005. More than 16 countries around the world support this event.

New models are released every year including some iconic race cars like the McLaren F1-GTR and big branded liveries like Red Bull. Some new releases from Ninco include the Audi R8 GT3 ‘ABT’ Lightning (RRP £60.99 50558), Ford FT ‘Medley’ Lightning (RRP £60.99 50533), the Austin Healey ‘LM Classic’ (RRP £55.99 50590) and a BMW M3 E30 Rally RACC Costa Daurada 2011 limited edition (RRP £128.99 60019).

Rare early models and limited number special editions have become extremely sought after by collectors. For more competitive racers, Ninco offers a large range of aftermarket spares ad upgrades with its ProRace EVO series.

Ninco’s latest innovation is its XLOT range, which adds a further dimension to slot-racing with even more realistic driving sensations achieved through slightly larger scale and fully adjustable metal chassis design.

A relative newcomer to the market is Slot It, which was founded by Mauricio Ferrari, who used to work with Ferrari F1 racing team. The range embraces Le Mans winners, these models all come in a presentation box along with the history of the car. They are all of high quality, revving to 21,000rpm. Slot It cars use the standard in-line configuration, parts are all laser cut and generally they are very fast. New Slot It cars to be released soon include Audi R8c (RRP £53.99 451 SICA12C) and a Ford GT40 RRP (£42.99 451 SICA18Z) - PICTURED TOP RIGHT.

Finally, we can’t leave out Revell, who has been making slot cars since the 1960s. Like Scalextric, its products are positioned at entry level rather than being true competition racing cars.

This feature was first published in Collectors Gazette's December issue. To see which issues of Collectors Gazette are available to buy, click here.