Scalextric is the UK brand leader in Slot Car manufacturing. It is based on the concept of a 1/32-scale car with a guide that goes in a slot in the track. The track has metal braids on either side of the slot which feeds a 12 volt current to the small electric motor held within the car.
The only real way to describe it to someone who has truly never heard of it is to compare it to the humble train set. Now think of a train set with dual tracks so you can race them off against each other and you're getting the idea of Scalextric. The speed at which the cars race isn't fixed, it is governed by a hand held controller - try and take the corners too fast and you're bound to come spinning off the track!
Grown-ups never forget the childhood smells of hot electric motors and the brightly-coloured plastic controllers associated with Scalextric, nor do they forget the Christmas Day pleading with their elders to let them have a turn or continually replacing the cars that come flying off at the corners! Is this the reason why adults turn into the kind of parents who love to buy their children a Scalextric set for Christmas so they can play with it themselves? They believe Scalextric is wasted on their kids.
Many a bloody fight has occurred between friends trying to get their little plastic car around the track ahead of each other. Almost all Scalextric owners have tried putting both cars on the same track for no logical reason apart from the sheer stupidity of it. The whole point of Scalextric is to race the cars against each other so there is absolutely no sense in putting them in the same slot, yet still they have to try.
The Controller's Magical Power
The controller seems to have some sort of magical power. It turns perfectly rational people into self-obsessed speed freaks whose only goal in life is to lap faster than their opponent. The outside world melts away and you cannot hear if anyone is talking to you. Taking your eyes off the car for a nanosecond will break your concentration and lose you the race. Your inner self is zapped down the wire and you become the plastic driver inside the car. You are a race driver. You must win. Life itself depends on it. But there is no finish line, you have no choice but to keep going faster and faster and faster until... disaster, you've cornered too fast and spun off. That half lap lead you had is lost; everything is lost. Game over! It is physically impossible to prise the controller out of someone's hand while they are racing. This is the opportunity to change drivers. While your opponent is sitting slack-jawed at their own stupidity, swipe the controller and prepare to race.
Not every Scalextric racer has a permanent racetrack. There are many people who have to put a track on their carpet and, at the end of the weekend or holiday, they have to dismantle it again. The more dedicated enthusiast, however, will yearn to build a permanent track.
Scalextric is big business. There are many different sets available on the current market from My First Scalextric, Scalextric Micro (for those with limited space) through to the classic 1/32 scale Scalextric sets we all know and love. You can also purchase new cars and sections of track in order to expand the meek set you first bought. Take your pick from crossover points (where cars can collide), gravity-defying loop-the-loops, bridges, jumps and direction changers, to name but a few.
You can play Scalextric online, join chat groups and discuss the latest models, add-ons and how to add just a little bit more power to your cars. There are also many event organisers who have branched out and are pleased to provide Scalextric layouts for hire or purchase either for corporate events, children's parties or after dinner entertainment. Here you will find the tracks have gone from two to three then four, five, six, eight and some even to ten or 12 lanes, although today's commercial tracks almost always have a maximum of eight lanes to make replacing de-slotted cars easier for the marshals.
A Short History
It all started in 1952 when Mr B Francis invented a metal-bodied model racing car containing a unique type of clockwork motor. The small company that introduced the cars onto the market was Minimodels Ltd and they were sold under the trademark SCALEX. Four years later the novelty of the cars began to flag and Francis started his quest to update the product. After watching a demonstration of electrically operated cars running on a track he immediately recognised the potential and modified his own cars to take an electric motor.
Soon to follow was the rubber track with two parallel groves which held metal rails containing the electric current. This new product was unveiled at the Harrogate toy fair in January 1957 under the product name SCALEXTRIC (Scalex – electric). Orders flooded in outstripping the company's production capacity so much that in November 1958 Francis sold out to Tri-ang group, a company with larger resources.
Tri-ang quickly introduced many improvements and additions; the variable speed hand throttle replacing the original 'dapper' type controller and the track was changed from rubber to polyethylene. This reduced manufacturing costs by enabling the track to be made in-house rather than being bought in from a specialist rubber supplier. Within a short space of time 18 cars and two motorcycle combinations were made available and the 1964 advertising slogan proclaimed Scalextric to be 'the most complete model motor racing system in the world'.
Soon after this, the Scalextric World championships were held in London, further increasing its appeal. The game was, by now, being manufactured in Australia, France, New Zealand, Spain and the USA. The company enjoyed substantial success until 1968, when inflation meant disaster for sales. A new product was launched but sales did not recover and production was transferred to Rovex, now known as Hornby Hobbies and the Minimodels Ltd factory was closed.
Rovex introduced three new models, the JPS Lotus, the Ferrari and the March which became popular and Scalextric was soon back on the road to recovery. The advent of the home computer in the early 80's once again began to undermine sales, although this phase did soon pass and Scalextric continued to grow and develop until now, over 45 years after its first foray onto the market, it boasts an unrivalled selection of models of great racing and sports cars.
A Final Note
Last year five people in Britain were hospitalised through Scalextric-related injuries. Whether this is due to Scalextric cars flying into tender young anatomies or older brothers forcing younger siblings to put their tongues on the track 'just to see what happens', the statistics don't reveal.