Slot car

Slot car

A slot car (sometimes, slotcar) is a powered miniature auto or other vehicle which is guided by a groove or slot in the track on which it runs. [Hertz, L.H. "The Complete Book of Model Raceways and Roadways", 1st Ed. 1965.] [Reed, R. "Know About Model Roadracing", 1st Ed. 1966.] A pin or blade extends from the bottom of the car into the slot. Though some slot cars are used to model highway traffic on scenic layouts [] , the great majority are used in the competitive hobby of slot car racing or slot racing.Slot cars are usually models of actual automobiles, though some have bodies purpose-designed for miniature racing. Most enthusiasts use commercially-available slot cars (often modified for better performance), others motorize static models, and some "scratch-build," creating their own mechanisms and bodies from basic parts and materials.

Drivers generally use a hand-held controller to regulate a low-voltage electric motor hidden within the car. Traditionally, each car runs on a separate lane with its own guide-slot (though recently-developed digital technology can allow cars to share a lane). The challenge in racing slot cars comes in taking curves and other obstacles at the highest speed that will not cause the car to lose its grip and spin sideways, or to 'deslot,' leaving the track altogether.

Some enthusiasts, much as in model railroading, build elaborate tracks, sculpted to have the appearance of a real-life racecourse, including miniature buildings, trees and people. Hobbyists whose main goal is competition often prefer a track unobstructed by scenery.

Model motorcycles, trucks and other vehicles which use the guide-slot system are also generally included under the loose classification of "slot car."

How it works

The diagram at left shows the wiring of a typical 1:24 or 1:32 slot car setup. Power for the car's motor is carried by metal strips next to the slot, and is picked up by contacts alongside the guide flag (a swiveling blade) under the front of the slot car. The voltage is varied by a resistor in the hand controller. This is a basic circuit, and optional features such as braking elements or electronic control devices are not shown. Likewise, the car's frame or chassis has been omitted for clarity.

HO slot cars work on a similar principle, but the current is carried by thin metal rails which project barely above the track surface and are set farther out from the slot. The car's electrical contacts, called "pickup shoes," are generally fixed directly to the chassis, and a round guide pin is often used instead of a swiveling flag.

Today, in all scales, traction magnets are often used to provide downforce to help hold the car to the track at higher speeds, though some enthusiasts believe magnet-free racing provides greater challenge and enjoyment and allows the back of the car to slide or "drift" outward for visual realism.

Common slot car scales

There are three common slotcar scales (sizes): , , and so-called HO size ( to ). These are also commonly written as 1/24, 1/32, 1/87 and 1/64. Usual pronunciation is "one twenty-fourth," "one thirty-second," and so on, but sometimes "one to twenty-four," "one to thirty-two," etc.

- 1:24 scale cars are built so that 1 unit of length (such as an inch or millimeter) on the model equals 24 units on the actual car. Thus, a model of a Jaguar XK-E (185" or 4.7 m overall length) would be 7.7" long (19.6 cm) in . 1:24 cars require a course so large as to be impractical for many home enthusiasts, so most serious 1:24 racing is done at commercial or club tracks.

- 1:32 scale cars are smaller and more suited to home-sized race courses but they are also widely raced on commercial tracks, in hobby shops or in clubs. This scale is the most popular in Europe, and is equivalent to the old #1 Gauge (or "standard gauge") of toy trains. Our Jaguar XK-E would be about 5.8" (14.7 cm) in .

- HO-sized cars vary in scale. Because they were marketed as model railroad accessories, the original small slot cars of the early 1960s roughly approximated either American/European HO scale (1:87) or British OO scale (1:76). As racing in this size evolved, the cars were enlarged to take more powerful motors, and today they are closer to 1:64 in scale; but they still run on track of approximately the same width, and are generically referred to as HO slot cars. They are not always accurate scale models, since the proportions of the tiny bodies must often be stretched to accommodate a standard motor and mechanism. The E-Jaguar scales out to 2.1" (5.3 cm) in 1:87 and 2.9" (7.3 cm) in 1:64. Though there is HO racing on commercial and shop-tracks, probably most HO racing occurs on home racetracks.

In addition to the major scales, slot cars have been commercially produced in 1:48 and 1:43 scale, corresponding to O-gauge model trains. 1:48 cars were promoted briefly in the 1960s, and 1:43 slot car sets are generally marketed today (2007) as children's toys. So far, there is little organized competition in 1:43, but the scale is gaining some acceptance among adult hobbyists for its affordability and moderate space requirements. The E-Jag would be 4.3" (10.9 cm) in 1:43.


The first commercial slot cars were made by Lionel (USA) and appeared in their catalogues from 1912, [cite web | last = The Lionel Corp. | first = | title = Lionel History - The 1910s | url= | accessdate = 2008-06-16 ] drawing power from a toy train rail sunk in a trough or wide slot between the rails. [Hertz, L.H. "The Complete Book of Model Raceways and Roadways", 2nd Ed. 1967, p. 24.] They were surprisingly similar to modern slot cars, but independent speed control was available only as an optional extra. Production was discontinued after 1915. Sporadically over the next forty years, several other electrically powered commercial products came and went. [ [ SlotForum -> Kokomo Electricar ] ] Although a patent was registered as far back as March 1936 for a slot car, [ [ Slot Car Patent Applied for March 27, 1936] ] until the late 1950s, nearly all powered toy vehicles were guided by raised rails, either at the wheels (railroad-style), or at the lane center, or edge.

By the late 1930s, serious craftsmen/hobbyists were racing relatively large (1:16 - 1:18 scale) model cars powered by small internal combustion engines, [Dempewolff, Richard F, "Table-Top Car Racing", 1st Ed. 1963, p.22] [ [ Vintage Miniature Gas Powered Ra ] ] originally with spark-ignition, later with glow plug engines. For guidance, the cars were clamped to a single center rail, or tethered from the center of a circular track, then they were started and let go for timed runs. There was no driver control of either the speed or steering, so "gas car" racing was largely a mechanic's hobby. [Hertz, L.H. "The Complete Book of Model Raceways and Roadways", 1st Ed. 1965.] [] In the 1940s hobbyists in Britain began to experiment with controllable electric cars using handbuilt motors, [ [ Slot Racing 1942 Style ] ] and in the 1950s using the small model train motors that had become available.cite journal | last =Laidlaw-Dickson | first =D.J. | authorlink =D.J. Laidlaw-Dickson | coauthors = | year =1954 | month =December | title =Table Top Rail Racing Track & Cars | journal =Model Maker | volume =4 | issue =49 | pages =694–696 | id = | url = | format = |accessdate = ] In 1954, the Southport Model Engineering Society in the U.K. was challenged by a patent-holder for using rail-guided gas-car exhibitions to raise funds, [J.R. Davies, quoted at] so, as a replacement, the members constructed an electric racecourse, a groundbreaking 6-lane layout nearly 60 feet long, for 1:32 rail-guided cars, which is widely considered to be progenitor of electric rail- and slot-racing. In 1955-56, several clubs in the U.K. and U.S., inspired by the Southport layout, [Dempewolff, Richard F, "Table-Top Car Racing", 1st Ed. 1963 pp. 26-31] were also racing electric cars guided by center rails, and soon after, by slots in the track surface.cite journal | last =Sinclair | first =V.N. | authorlink =V.N. Sinclair | coauthors = | year =1957 | month =February | title =A Pioneer Electric Rail Track | journal =Model Maker | volume =7 | issue =75 | pages =64–66 | id = | url = | format = |accessdate = ] The term "slot car" was coined to differentiate these from the earlier "rail cars".cite journal | last =Laidlaw-Dickson | first =D.J. | authorlink =D.J. Laidlaw-Dickson | coauthors = | year =1957 | month =November | title =Slot-Racing De Luxe | journal =Model Maker | volume =7 | issue =84 | pages =538–539 | id = | url = | format = |accessdate = ] As the member-built club layouts proliferated, the relative advantages of rail and slot were debated for several years, but the obtrusive appearance of the rails and their blocking of the car's rear wheels when sliding through corners were powerful disadvantages. [Dempewolff, Richard F, "Table-Top Car Racing", 1st Ed. 1963, pp.48-50] New clubs increasingly chose the slot system. By 1963, even the pioneer rail-racing clubs had begun to switch to slots. [Dempewolff, Richard F, "Table-Top Car Racing", 1st Ed. 1963, pp.46-47]

In 1957, Minimodels (UK) converted its Scalex 1:30 (later, 1:32) clockwork racers to electricity, creating the famous Scalextric line of slot-guided models,cite journal | last =Laidlaw-Dickson | first =D.J. | authorlink =D.J. Laidlaw-Dickson | coauthors = | year =1957 | month =April | title =Scalex Goes Electric | journal =Model Maker | volume =7 | issue =77 | pages =168–169 | id = | url = | format = |accessdate = ] and Victory Industries (UK) introduced the VIP line,cite journal | last =Laidlaw-Dickson | first =D.J. | authorlink =D.J. Laidlaw-Dickson | coauthors = | year =1957 | month =October | title =Introducing VIP | journal =Model Maker | volume =7 | issue =83 | pages =487–489 | id = | url = | format = |accessdate = ] [cite web | last = Parker | first = Malcolm | title = Victory Industries of Guilford; part 12–VIP Electric Roadways | url = | accessdate = 2008-07-16] both companies eventually using the new plastic-molding technologies to provide controllable slot racers with authentic bodies in 1:32 scale for the mass market. Both lines included versatile sectional track for the home racer - or the home motorist; VIP produced sports cars and accessories slanted toward a "model roadways" theme, [cite web | last = Parker | first = Malcolm | title = Victory Industries of Guilford; part 13–VIP Electric Roadways | url = | accessdate = 2008-07-16] while Scalextric more successfully focused on Grand Prix racing. [cite web | last = | first = | title = Slot Car Portal - Scalextric 1960 Catalogue (UK) | url = | accessdate = 2008-07-16]

As Scalextric became an instant hit, American hobbyists and manufacturers were adapting 1:24 car models to slots,cite journal | last =Hope | first =J.F. | authorlink =J.F.Hope | coauthors = | year =1958 | month =May | title =Slotracing | journal =Model Maker | volume =8 | issue =90 | pages =242–244 | id = | url = | format = |accessdate = ] and British-American engineer Derek Brand developed a tiny vibrator motor small enough to power model cars roughly in scale with HO and OO electric trains. In 1959, Playcraft division of Mettoy produced these in the UK, and a year later, Aurora Plastics Corp. released HO vibrator sets with huge success in the USA. The tiny cars fascinated the public, and their cost and space requirements were better suited to the average consumer than the larger scales. In only a year or two, Scalextric's 1:32 cars and Aurora's "Model Motoring" HO line had set off the "slot car craze" of the 1960s. [Graham, Thomas "Greenberg's Guide to Aurora Slot Cars", 1st Ed. 1995, Greenberg, USA.]

("pancake") motor, [] also created by Brand, and what is probably the best-selling slot car in history, the Aurora Thunderjet-500 was born. Faller (Germany) produced it for sale in Europe, and competing companies tried in vain match the speed and reliability of Brand's design. The Thunderjets and their improved versions, the AFX, sold in the tens of millions, [] completely dominating the HO market for almost a decade, until challenged by the Tyco cars in the early 1970s. [Graham, Thomas "Greenberg's Guide to Aurora Slot Cars", 1st Ed. 1995.]

By the late 1970s the slot car boom was well over, the model train tie-ins and miniature motoring concepts largely forgotten, and the market returned to the more serious racing hobbyist, with local and national racing organizations evolving to set standards and rules for different classes of competition. Technological innovation brought much higher speeds in all scales, with faster motors, better tires, and traction magnets to hold the cars down in curves, though some of the '60s enthusiasts thought that slot racing had become too specialized for the casual hobbyist, and fondly remembered the more primitive cars of their youth as not so fast, but more fun.

systems which had revolutionized model railroading in the 1990s began to appear in 1:32 slot cars, offering the ability to race multiple cars per lane with more realistic passing.

Related systems and developments

A number of technological developments have been tried over the years to overcome the traditional slot car's limitations. Most lasted only a few years, and are now merely historical curiosities. Only digital control is currently in production.

Around 1962, AMT's Turnpike system (USA) used multiple electrical pickups within the slot itself to allow drivers to control, to a limited extent, the steering of special 1:25 cars.

In the late 1960s the Arnold Minimobil system (Germany), also marketed as the Matchbox Motorway (UK), used a long hidden coil, powered by trackside motors, to move die-cast or plastic cars down the track via a slot and detachable pin. Cars in different lanes could race, but cars in the same lane moved at the same speed, separated by a fixed distance.

In the mid and late 1970s several manufacturers including Aurora, Lionel and Ideal (USA) introduced slotless racing systems that theoretically allowed cars to pass one another from the same lane. Most used a system of multiple power rails that allowed one car to speed up momentarily and move to the outside to pass. Though briefly successful as toy products, none of these systems worked well enough to be taken up by serious hobbyists. [Graham, Thomas "Greenberg's Guide to Aurora Slot Cars", 1st Ed. 1995 Greenberg, USA.]

In 2004, a number of traditional slot car manufacturers introduced digital control systems, which enable multiple cars to run in the same lane and to change lanes at certain points on the course. Digitally-coded signals sent along the power strips allow each car to respond only to its own controller.

In addition, imaginative manufacturers have used the slot track system to allow the racing of a variety of unusual things, including motorcycles [Hertz, L.H. "The Complete Book of Model Raceways and Roadways", 1st Ed. 1965.] , boats ["Model Car Science" magazine, October 1965.] , airplanes [Greenslade, R.W. "A History of Electric Model Roads and Racetracks", 1st Ed. 1985 ISBN 0-94-8793-007.] , spacecraft [Greenslade, R.W. "A History of Electric Model Roads and Racetracks", 1st Ed. 1985 ISBN 0-94-8793-007.] , horses [Hertz, L.H. "The Complete Book of Model Raceways and Roadways", 1st Ed. 1965.] , fictional and cartoon vehicles, [Graham, Thomas "Greenberg's Guide to Aurora Slot Cars", 1st Ed. 1995 Greenberg, USA.] snowmobiles [ibid] , futuristic railroad trains [] , and no doubt many more.

Slot car track

The very first sectional slot track from Scalextric and VIP was molded rubber and folded metal, respectively, but modern slot tracks fall into two main categories: Plastic tracks and Routed tracks.

Plastic Tracks are made from the molded plastic commercial track sections. Sectional track is inexpensive and easy to work with and the design of the course can be easily changed. The joints between the sections, however, make a rough running surface, causing the derisive term "clickety-clack track." The many electrical connections cause voltage drop and contribute to more frequent electrical problems. For a permanent setup, the joints can be filled and smoothed, and the power rails soldered together or even replaced with continuous strips, but the surface is seldom as smooth as a good routed track.

Routed Tracks have the entire racecourse made from one or a few pieces of sheet material (traditionally plywood or MDF, but sometimes polymer materials) with the guide-slots and the grooves for the power strips cut directly into the base material using a router or CNC machining. This provides a smooth and consistent surface which is generally preferred for serious competition.

Electrical equipment

Power for most slot car tracks comes from a powerpack. Powerpacks contain a transformer which reduces high voltage house current to a safe 12 to 20V (depending on car type) and usually a rectifier which changes AC to DC, for cooler running and simpler motors. High-capacity lead-acid batteries are sometimes used for hobby slotcars, but toy race-sets may use dry cell batteries at 3 to 6 volts.
thumb|250px|left|">Types of Slot Car Controllers (L to R, from top) Telegraph Key, c.1955.Thumb button, c.1957-1970 (1967 shown).Wheel or Dial Rheostat, c.1959-1965 (1963 shown).Carbon Disc Plunger, c.1965-1970.Rheostat Plunger , c.1960-1970 (1966 shown).Full-Grip Style, Marx, c.1962. Russkit Pistolgrip Rheostat - c.1965 onward (Aurora 1972 shown). Electronic Controller, 1970s onward.Controllers ("throttles") vary car speed by modulating the voltage from the powerpack. They are usually hand-held and attached by wires to the track. Besides speed control, modern racing controllers usually feature an adjustable "brake", "coast", and "dial-out". Braking works by temporarily connecting the rails via a resistor; this converts the car's motor into a generator, and the magnetic forces that turned the motor are now slowing it down. Coast allows a certain amount of power to continue to the track after the driver has "let-off" (which would normally cut all power to the car). A dial-out allows the driver to limit the maximum power that can reach the car.

The early rail-car tracks used telegraph keys, model-train rheostats and other improvised means to control car speed. The first commercial race sets (1957) used handheld controllers with a thumb-button; like the telegraph key, these were either on or off, requiring the driver to "blip" the throttle for intermediate speeds. Later versions had an intermediate speed, and one late version used a buzzer mechanism to provide full-range speed control.

From 1959 to about 1965, most HO slot sets had a table-mounted controller with a miniature steering wheel or simple dial-knob operating a rheostat (variable resistor), which gave precise control throughout the car's speed range. This type could be left on a particular speed setting, making it very suitable for model highway layouts, but they were awkward for racing. Around 1960, handheld rheostats began to appear. The earliest had vertical, thumb-operated plungers. Aurora had a plunger design in which a stack of carbon/silicon discs replaced the rheostat. Thumb-plunger controllers, were popular throughout the 1960s, but eventually were supplanted by the trigger-operated pistolgrip controller, introduced by Russkit in 1965. In this style, control was by the index finger and the heat-generating rheostat was moved up above the grip for comfort and effective ventilation. The Russkit configuration has remained the standard controller style, both for race sets and serious hobbyists, from the late 1960s to the present day.

For good response, rheostats must be matched to the particular cars involved - to race different classes of cars, several controllers with different resistance ratings are often required. In the 1970s, electronic additions to the rheostat controllers became popular, which allowed them to be tuned to the particular car being raced. Some modern electronic controllers dispense with the rheostat altogether, and can be used for all classes and types of car. Digital slot cars generally use a controller that is trigger operated, though the rheostat housing is replaced by a slim bulge containing the electronics.

On most tracks, a driver will plug or clip his personal controller to his lane's "driver's station," which has wired connections to the power source and track rails. Modern controllers usually require three connections - one to the power terminal of the driver's station (customarily white), one to the brake terminal (red), and one to the track terminal (black). Conventional slot car tracks are wired in one of two ways: with the power terminal connected to the power source positive and the brake terminal negative (called "positive gate"), or the other way around ("negative gate"). Modern controllers feature a switch which adapts them for either gate configuration.

Formal Competition

Slot car racing ranges from casual get-togethers at home tracks, using whatever cars the host makes available, to very serious competitions in which contestants painstakingly build or modify their own cars for maximum performance and compete in a series of races culminating in a national championship. For information on types of formal competition, racing organizations, standards, etc., see slot car racing.

ee also

* Slot car racing - The competitive hobby, organizations, etc.
* Tether car - Gasoline powered model cars which also run on guided tracks
* Inline; Pancake; Sidewinder; Anglewinder - Types of slot car motors and motor arrangements.
* Goop tire adhesive
* - German language Wiki slot car page

Partial list of past and present slot car manufacturers

* A.C. Gilbert Company - American manufacturer of 1:32 scale cars and sets
* Airfix Motor Racing - A popular UK brand of slot cars in the 1960s
* Aurora - American manufacturer and developer of the pioneering Model Motoring and AFX lines (HO) as well as 1:32 and 1:48 slot cars.
* Boss Bodies - Slot car aftermarket 1/32 scale body manufacturer in New Hampshire, USA
* Carrera - Current Austrian manufacturer of 1:43, 1:32, and 1:24 cars, track, and digital control systems
* Cox Models - Formerly one of the USA's most respected manufacturers of slot cars
* Eldon - American manufacturer of 1:32 and 1:24 scale cars and sets
* Fly - Spanish manufacturer of highly detailed 1:32 cars.
* Jouef - French manufacturer of slot cars in 1:36 scale, some of which were also produced and sold in the UK by Mettoy-Corgi under the Playcraft brand
* Lionel - Iconic American toy train company that created the first slot cars (1912), an HO line in the 1960s, as well as toy racing cars that ran on railroad tracks.
* Matchbox - Marketed the Matchbox Motorway in the late 1960s, and briefly produced a commercial slot car brand called Powertrack in the 1970s and early '80s
* Mettoy - Manufacturer of the first HO slot car line (Playcraft Electric Highways), which was later manufactured and developed by Aurora.
* Penn Line - American model train manufacturer who briefly produced 1:52 scale slot sets endorsed by A. J. Foyt
* Ninco - Spanish maker of 1:32 cars, track and digital control equipment.
* Playcraft - see Mettoy.
* Scalextric - The longest-established manufacturer of model slot cars. Creator of the landmark 1:32 slot car line in 1957.
* SCX - Spanish manufacturer of 1:43 and 1:32 slot cars and 1:32 digital slot car systems. Formerly Scalextric of Spain. Sold under the brand name Scalextric in Spain and Mexico. Outside those markets, sold under the brand name SCX.
* Strombecker/Bachmann - American Manufacturer started in 1962. 1/32 slot car
* Tamiya - Japanese manufacturer whose first exports to the European market in the 1960s were a range of 1/24 slot car kits
* Total Control Racing - A slotless HO Scale system introduced in the late 1970s
* Tyco Toys - American manufacturer of HO Scale cars and sets
* Victory Industries - British manufacturer of the pioneering [ VIP Roadways] 1:32 slot car system (1957), contemporary with Scalextric.
* Wrenn - Manufactured an innovative 1:52 scale slot car system in the 1960s capable of running three cars independently in each slot
* WIZZARD HIGH PERFORMANCE - Manufactured an innovative 1:64 scale slot car and is the only American manufacture left all other 1/64 cars are made in China.


^ Clark, John A. "Aurora Ho Slot Car Identification & Price Guide", 1st Ed. (137 pages, 499 Color pictures) 1995 ISBN 0-89538-030-7.^ Timothy, John K. "The Collector's Quick Reference Series - Volume 1 Aurora Vib's and T-Jets", 1st Ed. (95 pages, 101 photos) 1994 ISBN 1-883796-04-0.

External links

* [ The Origins of Slot Racing] A brief account of the very early days of the hobby.
* [ A History of Slot Racing] John Ford's short history of the hobby from the 1940s onward.
* [ Slot Car Portal - Pictorial Reference Library] Hundreds of photos of products, historical catalogue covers and pages, packaging and much else. Focus is primarily on Scalextric and 1:32, but has info on other companies and scales.
* [ History of Victory Industries (UK)] The story of the company whose 1956 hobby show displays began the commercial slot car industry, inspiring the creation of Victory's VIP Electric Roadways (1957-1969), and also of its main competitor, Scalextric.
* [ British Slot Car Racing Association]
* [ SlotSide]
* [ HO Slot Car Racing]
* [ nssrc]
* [ Rossendale Model Stock Car Club]
* Autosprint Slot Club Genova 1974 (Italy)
* [ Slot Forum the best place for info on slot cars]

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