If you’re racing with slot cars now, it’s probably because the toy was introduced to you as a child and you’ve never been able to get over the interest, simply because new things keep popping out. Some of you might have been brought into the fold by friends who find camaraderie among other racers. Did you know that slot cars were marketed as a children’s toy when it first came out of the market? Even more interesting is the fact that these model cars cars have been commercially available since 1912. The fact that it’s almost a century old is impressive to say the least. Very few toys and hobbies stand the test of time.
The very first slot cars were introduced to the market by Lionel Corporation in the USA. These first models were powered by the grooves of a toy train rail. However, if children wished to race using this model, they still needed to add-on individual speed controls. Lionel’s toy cars were really meant for display purposes, and the production of these cars stopped in 1915. The next forty years saw hobbyists attempting to make the cars and the tracks more race-friendly.
It wasn’t until the 1930s when serious hobbyists made exact model miniatures of real cars. These cars did not yet think of remotely controlling the speeds of their cars so the races were “gas-races” or time runs whose results completely depended on how well the engine and the car itself was made. slotxo
Britain’s hobbyists in the 1940s were the ones to experiment with remote-controlled cars. Most of these were produced by the Southport Model Engineering Society, although their use of the raise railway was challenged by a patent-holder in 1954. The members of the society, determined to pursue the hobby, made an electric 60-feet 6-lane track of their own made for 1:32 scale slot cars. This particular race track is the progenitor of future slot car race tracks made by various hobbyists. Hobbyists debated the pros and cons of the rail vs. the slot system, but eventually, the race tracks gained favor an in 1963, rail-racing clubs in the UK and the USA switched track styles.
Among the most notable vintage slot car models you’ll see today are made by Scalextric. These were made in 1957 and represented Gran Prix cars (the Maserati F250 and the Ferrari 375). These started out as metal-bodied models, but were eventually made commercially available in plastic. The plastic molding technology allowed the production of controllable racing cars. The Minimodels and Victory Industries in the UK were responsible for these slot cars and they were well-received not only in the UK but in the USA as well. Soon hobbyists in both countries explored other scales. The slot car boom went on between 1960 and 1970 with technological advances coming from different toy corporations.
Despite the “passing” of the boom, interest for slot cars still exist today. It’s not a casual hobby anymore, though, with specialized “experts” in the field. The 1:32 model is the most prominent today, and in the 1990s, tracks included 3D figures of buildings, trees, etc. to give racing a more realistic feel.