Category:Slot car systems

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Slot-car systems appeared in the late 1950s, and sales boomed during the 1960s, with the UK market leader being Scalextric. The number of different systems that appeared during this time is in the double digits, and we hope to expand these pages over some months during 2019, to cover most of the main makers.

pre-1950s: "Railed" car racing

Unlike model railways, powered model cars suffered from the problem of how to keep them under control ... even with the advent of affordable radio control after WW2, which was great for model aircraft (which had a huge volume of space to pass through), the precision necessary to race cars on a track wasn't really feasible, especially with the high speeds obtainable with miniature petrol engines. This led to racing on tethers, which limited cars to travelling in a circle (see, e.g., the Jetex rocket-powered toy car), and was only really suitable for speed trials. In the US, some clubs also built large steeply banked tracks for racing that helped cars turn "naturally".

The idea of racing model cars on rail guides is sometimes attributed to a model car club in Birmingham in 1946, who apparently set up a railed track with rubber band-powered cars as a way of keeping younger members amused while the adults worked on "proper" model car business, after which local press coverage made the idea take off. However, it's worth pointing out that Märklin was already selling a commercial railed track system in the 1930s for their clockwork cars.


The Portmouth Model Car Club opened a large track in ~1953, egged on by MRRC Ltd, and held a large outdoor meeting in the summer of 1954:

Rail Racing at Portsmouth

THE Portsmouth Model Car Club, who have been holding regular track meetings for the past year, held their first Open Rail Racing Meeting on Sunday, June 20, at the Eastern Road site, Portsmouth. Since the completion of the 168 foot 3-rail track (MM July 1953) numerous modifications have been carried out, the latest being the installation of a lap recording apparatus, which, on its first try-out at this meeting, proved quite satisfactory.


— , -, , Model Maker magazine, , September 1954

This seems to have been a very pleasant outdoor event with the large 1:12-scale model-aircraft-engined cars buzzing around the long track and making car-engine noises and car-engine smells.

Model Road Racing Ltd (MRRC Ltd, founded 1951) had also built a circuit in Blackpool, and then opened an improved showcase circuit in Boscombe, Bournemouth, in ~1954 (described in Model Maker Magazine's May 1954 edition) demonstrating the use of concave rollers ("zonkers") on either side of a guide rail, with 1:12 and 1:16 scale cars, fitted with 1.5 cc and 1 cc model aircraft engines, respectively. They also showed an 0.5 cc -engined prototype car using an Albon Dart engine.

Some in the model motor racing community were alarmed by MRRC's patenting of the roller system, but the company managed to "mend fences" with the community and assured them that they had no intention of using the patent to stunt the growth of the hobby.

Rail Racing Peace

We are happy to announce that the differences existing between Model Road Racing Cars Ltd. and the Model Car Association have been amicably resolved, and that we can now look forward to M.C.A. sponsored national rail racing contests. It would be a very happy gesture if the first such event could take place on Alban Adams' magnificant track at Boscombe.

— , editorial, , Model Maker, , December 1954

In the event, it turned out that the successful version of tracked car racing wouldn't actually use the rail-and-roller system anyway.

1:32, "Tabletop" scale

The next major breakthrough happened with the publication of a December 1954 article on miniature indoor "Table Top Rail Racing" in Model Maker magazine, describing how home builders could produce their own racing car layouts by cannibalising commercial FROG and/or Scalex model cars and fitting them with Mighty Midget electric motors.

Rather than design and build a permanent dedicated layout, the article described how modular foot-wide disassemblable track could be made from a combination of straight, 90-degree and 60-degree curved peg-together sections, with raised wooden guides with wire contacts. This approach radically "lowered the bar" on the amount of effort and commitment needed to build a model racing system, and the risk that it might not work properly. The modular track allowed free-form "flat" layouts for play and reconfiguration into a bridged figure-8 layout for racing (as it made the track lengths the same).

The appearance of slots

Although the layout described in the December 1954 article didn't yet use slots, it brought in almost every other aspect of modern slotcar racing, with a scale of ~1:32 (depending on what was available), and the proof of concept of fitting small motors to commercially-available bodyshells and wheels, and have them scoot around a layout with a physical guide, picking up current from a pair of conductors.

The possibility of racing competitions in the new scale created a desire for standardisation and competition rules, and after a brief period of accelerated development by critical enthusiasts, exchanging information directly, via clubs, and by articles in Model Maker, the final refinement of creating a surface that looked more like a real road by replacing the two conductor raised rail with a two-conductor slot suddenly made the system look like something suitable for commercial mass-market production. A sudden rash of commercial systems then appeared in toyshops, with track-racing pioneer MRRC Ltd teaming up with Airfix to produce the Airfix Road Racing system and MiniModels Ltd. (who'd produced the Scalex model cars that were being hacked about to produce some of the homebrew systems) being bought by Lines Brothers and producing the famous Scalextric system.

Just like model railways, it was now possible to buy a complete ready-to-go system in a box, with clip-together parts, without having to know woodworking or electrical engineering, and slotcar sets became a popular family Christmas present.

Boom and slump

More and more companies climbed on the bandwagon over the next few years, until the hobby seemed to reach a peak some time around ~1966, by which point almost every major toy company one could think of seemed to have their own slotcar system or products.

With vast numbers of systems sold during the "craze" years, the slotcar market then went into a predictable decline, partly since the profusion of different proporietary systems (in the double-digits), and the inevitable withdrawal of some of these makers from an over-populated market led to large numbers of sets mouldering in attics with no obvious way for the average (uncommitted) owner to get spare parts. With model railways, the use of pretty-much standardised 32.5mm 00/H0 track meant that almost any old two-rail system could be got going again with modern components, but with an old slotcar system, an owner who wasn't part of a club might find it more difficult to get back up-and-running again.

Other scales

The US model car racing clubs had already embraced the use of the larger models for tethered speed trials and banked-track racing in a way that didn't really take off in the UK, so some early American slotcar products were built to 1:25 or 1:24 scale. The enthusiasm that shop customers had for playing with store demo layouts also led to a small market for commercial "pay to play" systems. Since these tended to want several parallel lanes to allow visiting groups to race together, the tracks had to be comparatively wide, which meant that large layouts took up more space, which in turn meant that 1:32-sale cars looked out-of scale compared to the track, and were more difficult to see on the more distant parts of a largeish layout. This encouraged a resurgent market for the larger cars, and the US market ended up divided into 1:32 and 1:24-scale, whereas the UK market was mostly 1:32.

The further development of miniature motors allowed a third market: for people who wanted a road system, not necessarily for racing, that would be of a small enough scale to be able to work with an 00 or HO model railway without the sizes jarring too much. Triang's Minic Motorway system was not just size-compatible, the company produced a range of accessories that combined rail and road, including a flatbed loading ramp that allowed one to drive a slotcar up onto the back of a flatbed railway wagon for transportation on the rail network.

External links and resources

  • Vic Smeed, "Electric Car Racing", Hobbies 1967 Annual pages 12-16.
  • OFFICIAL RULES of the Electric Car Racing Association (summary), Hobbies 1967 Annual page 17.


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