Friday, November 10, 2023

When Slot Cars Were A Thing. But are they Back?


I was crazy about cars when I was in Junior High School early 1970s.  Hot rods, drag cars, plastic 1/24 models and HO Slot cars were all connected in my way of thinking then.  This was way before I discovered electronics and audio.

The American model car magazines Model Car and Model Car Science covered it all,  and I had tracked down a few imported issues at Sydney newsagents. Magazines like ROAD & TRACK and AUTOSPORT and others covered the remaining cool stuff.  Most of it didn't exist like that in Australia though. American styled Hot Rods and Choppers, where tires where not completely covered by fenders, for example,  were not road legal in Australia. The only home slot cars back then were the UK Scalextric, which were really dull in comparison. They didn't even have fat tires back then.

The American stuff just seemed very exciting.  And then something really amazing happened. AURORA AFX slot cars came to Australia!  I could buy my own set. Similar to the way Hot Wheels had come to Australia end of the 1960s. 

I saved like crazy and eventually bought a set.  I remember ALAN MOFFAT, a top touring car driver for Ford being at the Chatswood Grace Brothers store in Sydney promoting the AFX slot cars, and that may have been the day I bought my set. I do remember most of the kids there being about 5 years old, so image their fathers were there to see Alan, rather than the slot cars.

I have kept 2 of the cars from back then, the  101 UOP SHADOW CAN-AM car and the PORSCHE 917 Coupe, pictured at the top of the page.  These are from the time before magnets were added to attract to the power rails, to increase the speed they could go around corners.  I remember reading the slot car section of Model Car when someone started doing this to their cars in a slot car club, the rules didn't disallow it, and there was much discussion as to if it should be banned or not. 

Road racing like CAN-AM and Le-Mans 24Hr was a major interest back then.  I eventually made a larger layout and had it setup on a large board with scenery in the workshop under my parents house. I played with it mostly by myself, and the friends that did visit had little interest in it.  

TYCO was the other American HO scale brand, but it never come to Australia in my time. 

Recently Youtube started to show me slot car related videos. Maybe me looking at Archives of old model car magazines I used to have but threw away in the early 1980s triggered that.  The chassis of the current slotcars looked familiar, but the brands didn't. They all have those added traction magnets now. Only today found out AURORA went out of business in 1983 (and all IP then bought by TAKARA TOMY ) and TYCO was bought by MATTEL late 1990s.

The Youtube videos covered race sets and cars from Autoworld ( has AURORA styled pancake motor cars and tracks ) and other smaller brands that make equivalent TYCO styled stuff. 

Quite a few of the videos have seen have been HO scale Drag Racing using an Autoworld set that has an electronic Christmas tree and finishing gate.  Looks pretty cool, but just know it would get boring after 5 minutes. Drag racing is partly about driver reaction time, but mostly about car performance, and having just 2 cars wouldn't have the variation in competitors to make that fun. 

Road racing is all about going as fast as possible each lap without coming off at the turns and that takes practice and the use of lots of different speeds.  Far more play value in that than purely reaction time. 

These days can see why Computer Games like ‎Forza Horizon , (even though I have never played it) makes old toys like slot cars obsolete. 

There was a big commercial slot car track, the oldest in Australia, with 2 large 8 lane 1/24 scale set ups not far from Waitara Station  that I had visited more than a few time in 1972 ~ 1974 or so. I even made a 1/24 race car with a lexan body. At the least it taught me  how to solder.

Sure I spent more time making and remaking the chassis than actually racing it on a track. Would have visited the racetrack more, except getting from my parents place in St.Ives to Waitara on the weekend was very difficult using public transport back then, with the train line closed for maintenance and almost no bus service to the local Pymble Train Station!  This was back when all shops were closed on Sundays and only open till midday Saturdays!  Had to walk over an hour home from Pymble station on a few occasions.  

Read that it shut down and closed in June 2021. "the oldest, continuously running raceway in Australia, being "Hornsby Slot Cars," originally "Waitara Raceway," in the northern suburbs of Sydney in New South Wales, will close its doors and cease operation at the end of June."

Interestingly, Applied Technology, appeared very close to that old slot car place a few years later, and became a major mecca for all things microcomputer and me in 1978~ 1983 or so, and I could drive there then!

In my Semi-Retirement I sometimes think about what I used to find fun, and why it isn't now, or why that thing vanished.  Slot cars was one of those things.

When downsizing and preparing to move back to Japan in 2019, I just took all the slotcar tracks and other stuff I still had, and the old toys our kids had to the dump and threw them away. Many car loads. It had proven impossible to sell, or even give away, anything where we lived, and time was running out to move. Just didn't have the space for that stuff any more. A shame, but it was all I could do.  A year or so later our oldest son discovered via a Netflix documentary all the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles toys I had bought for him on my trips to America had become quite valuable, but he hadn't looked at them in 20years and didn't have the space to take them before I had to throw them away. 

That is just the way things go.

Update 2023/11/22  Seen a few YouTube videos saying Slot Car Racing IS Back! I don't know about that, and if it means the 1/32 scale Carrera and Scalextric digital sets. Also 2 of the HO scale Drag Racing channels have gotten rid of their HO tracks. I am not shocked at this, as there isn't much entertainment value in a Drag Strip with 1 or 2 guys and cars. Part of the problem for circuit racing seems to be autoworld HO track isn't wide enough for many modern cars. Also QC issues.  Using 1/43 or 1/32 scale Carrera track with HO cars a better approach. The HO car guide pin needs to be enlarged with a plastic sleeve, and possibly gluing on some braid to the front of the pickups is all that is needed. 

I find it hard to believe to would really be back though...

The 2020 to 2023 Covid years were a boom to many hobbies as people spent much time at home. Music instrument sales went through the roof too. I think the booms are over now, and many will get back to what they were doing the years before 2020.   

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