Scalextric is a track based slot car racing system first invented by Fred (B F) Francis. Scalextric was first made in Havant, Hampshire in 1956.
The forerunner to Scalextric was Scalex which Francis first produced through the company Minimodels Ltd which he founded in 1947. The company was based in London and made tinplate toys and models. Early products included the Startex toy car range and the quite popular Scalex, which was introduced in 1952. Scalex was a range of toy racing cars with a clockwork motor which was activated by pulling out the steering wheel.
In 1952 Minimodels moved to a larger factory in New Lane, Havant to meet the growing demand for the toy cars. At the peak of its popularity, over 7000 Scalex models were being produced weekly. By 1956 the novelty of clockwork racing cars had worn off and sales began to fall. Eventually the future of the company and its 100 employees was threatened.
In an attempt to revive his company’s flagging fortunes, Fred Francis began to look at alternatives. He was inspired by seeing model car racing tracks, but wanted to develop the player’s control of the car so as to increase the sense of competition. He experimented by putting small electric motors into Scalex cars and running them on model railway track. Next he introduced rubber slotted track and gave the cars a ‘gimbal’ wheel to pick up the electric current in the groove of the track. Power was supplied by batteries hidden in a little cardboard hut, with players having their own on-off button to control their cars.
Scalex-electric became Scalextric.
Scalextric was unveiled at the Harrogate Toy Fair in 1957 to immediate acclaim. It appealed to both adults and children, combining speed, competition and the glamour of Formula One motor racing. Demand for the toy was immense and the Minimodels factory struggled to keep up with the orders.
In 1958 Fred Francis sold the Minimodels company to Lines Brothers (who operated as Triang). The popularity of Scalextric continued. In 1960 plastic bodies replaced the original tinplate and in 1961 production moved to a new factory in the Leigh Park area of Havant. By 1964 Scalextric was being advertised as ‘the most complete model motor racing system in the world’.
Production of Scalextric was transferred to Rovex in 1968 (although the Minimodels factory remained open until the early 1970s). It is now owned by Hornby Hobbies of England.
The first models Francis introduced in his Scalex line of tin-plate clockwork cars was the Jaguar XK120. These 1/32 scale models had a few unique features including a clockwork motor which wasn't wound by a key but by a 'fifth wheel' device. This wheel is found under the chassis behind the front axle and works by pressing the car down on a hard surface and being pulled backwards. This wound the clockwork motor and when the car was released it shot forward at speed. The Scalex range expanded to include 6 cars; the MG TF, Austin Healey 100, Aston Martin DB2, Jaguar 2.4 Saloon, Maserati 250F and Ferrari 375. The last 2 were in a slightly different 1/28 scale.
Scalex was quite successful, at one point the company was producing up to 7000 cars a week. Later cars additionally featured a steerable front axle which can be set at an angle and the cars would then run in an arc.
Most Scalextric models are 1:32 scale, though between 1968 and 1970 Super 124 cars and track were manufactured at 1:24 scale. In the late 1990s, Micro Scalextric at 1:64 scale was introduced. Cars and track aren't compatible between scales.
At the beginning of the twenty-first century, Scalextric track underwent a major redesign to make it easier to assemble. The new design is known as Scalextric Sport and can be connected to the original track using special adaptor pieces. The new track was designed to be compatible with all earlier 1:32 cars.
Many additional manufacturers, including the likes of Fly, Slot.it, SCX, Airfix/MRRC, Carrera and Ninco, produce cars that can run on Scalextric track with minor or no modification.
In 2004 Scalextric Sport Digital (SSD) was introduced, with which up to four digital cars can be raced in a single slot. The cars can change from one slot to another using special slot-lane change tracks, the lane change or otherwise being controlled by a button on the throttle. Sport Digital cars will run on analogue layouts without modification, but analogue cars require a digital decoder to be installed before they can run on a digital layout.
Many of the original Scalextric cars can be fitted with a digital decoder depending on available space within the body shell. Performance of converted cars on a digital system can vary, but enthusiasts have been able to successfully convert a wide range of cars, both from Scalextric and additional brands.
As use of Scalextric Digital has increased, a community has established itself where users have developed enhanced powerbase functionality, fuel management and timing systems for increased realism.
To convert Scalextric Sport into Scalextric Digital requires a digital power base, power supply (transformer), lane changing track (to utilise the full benefits), and digital controllers.
In late 2010 Scalextric released a revised six-car digital powerbase, C7042. This powerbase includes a separate screen which aids set up and additionally displays race information such as lap times. The company worked closely with customers when developing the new system. The result includes features such as yellow flag options for dealing with crashed cars, ghost cars to race against which can run and change lanes automatically, and the ability to race in analogue mode for older models that haven't been converted to digital.
In Spain, Hornby Scalextric is marketed under the brand Superslot, as the Scalextric brand is owned there by Tecnitoys, whose products are sold internationally under the SCX brand. Whilst there are a few common standards, parts of the two ranges, particularly in their digital offerings, aren't compatible.
Scalextric is typically sold as a set containing enough track to make a circuit, the necessary power supply and throttles and two cars. The cars are usually based on real vehicles from Formula 1, A1 Grand Prix, NASCAR, rallying, touring, or Le Mans, or based on ordinary road going cars. A number of novelty sets have been produced; for example, horse racing sets and 360 degree sets. The latter, produced sporadically after the 1960s, have a specially-made guide that enables the car to run back the way it has come by spinning through 180 degrees.
TV and film licensing
Since the 1960s Scalextric have offered TV and film tie-ins, beginning with the now rare and valuable James Bond 007 set featuring an Aston Martin with multiple action features as shown in the film Goldfinger. Even the 'baddie' car in this set, a Mercedes, had action features of its own whilst the set additionally sported a large number of additional unique action points and props. It was a few time before Scalextric returned to licencing in the 1970s first with the The Amazing Spider-Man (the 1970s series), which had specially liveried TR7 cars and white track. Then in the 1980s came the original TV series based Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Power Rangers, Knight Rider and then Tim Burton's Batman film.
Since then the franchises have grown to include Batman Begins, The Simpsons, The Transformers movie, James Bond 007 films Quantum of Solace and Skyfall, Starsky and Hutch, The Italian Job (models from both the original and re-made films), Top Gear, Star Wars and the Pixar/Disney Movie 'Toy Story.
Many of these have appeared in both 1/32 and 1/64 scales.
Scalextric has additionally recently licenced the Need for Speed brand from Electronic Arts and has produced a set based on the popular video game series.
In addition to all types of cars, Scalextric vehicles have included motorbikes, sidecars, go-karts, pickup trucks, SUVs, racing trucks, articulated trucks, horses, skateboards and bicycles.
Standard track consists of straights of various lengths and corners of different radii and degree of turn. Special track includes several different styles of chicane, cross-over tracks, crossroad track and humpback bridge. Novelty pieces of track have included pit lane tracks, Le Mans start, blow-out track and loop-the-loop tracks.
There are five generations of 1/32 scale Scalextric track:
- Original Scalextric Track (Mk. 1): This was made from rubber with thin, vertical electrical connectors, and held together with separate metal clips. This track had white lines between the lanes.
- Original Scalextric Track (Mk. 2): Released in 1962, the material became plastic, electrical connexions were through wider, horizontal pins, and the track was held together by two integrated circular, spoon-shaped pins and sockets moulded into each end. Converter pieces were available to link the two types. It is now known as Classic track. Classic track is compatible with another leading brand, SCX's classic track.
- Scalextric Sport: Released in 2001, another plastic track, but with a smoother surface. The track connectors are square and slot into place unlike the ring shaped Classic track ones. Converter pieces are available to link to Classic track.
- Scalextric Digital: Released in 2004, Scalextric Digital is compatible with Sport. It allows up to 6 cars on a 2 lane track at one time, with each car fully controllable. This was a feature previously unavailable from Scalextric.
- Scalextric Start: Released in 2010, Scalextric Start aims to be a basic track for children. It has only one type of straight and corner, and each set can be made up into various layouts; the cars included in the sets are fantasy models, which reduce manufacturers' licencing costs, and a converter track piece is available to allow cars to cross from Start track to Sport and back again.
Scalextric racing in popular culture
In 2009, BBC Top Gear presenter James May announced plans to recreate the full length Brooklands racing track using Scalextric track and cars. This was undertaken with a team of 350 volunteers building the track from an uncounted number of pieces of Scalextric track, navigating ponds and roads, closely following the route of the old Brooklands track. This event broke the Guinness World Record for the longest ever Scalextric track in the world, intended to measure the original 2.75 miles (4.43 km) of the original Brooklands circuit but in reality recording 2.95 miles (4.75 km) in length, because of the need to navigate modern features that block the original course. The episode was first shown on BBC2 on 17 November 2009 as part of James May's Toy Stories.
Early Scalextric cars as they appeared
- 1957 - Metal-bodied Ferrari 375 and Maserati 250F with gimbal pick-up
- 1st edition catalogue 1960 - C54 Lotus, C55 Vanwall, C56 Lister Jaguar, C57 Aston Martin
- 2nd edition catalogue 1961 - C58 Cooper Car Company, C59 BRM, C60 Jaguar D-type, C61 Porsche Spyder
- 3rd edition catalogue 1962 - C62 Ferrari, C63 Lotus, C64 Bentley, C65 Alfa Romeo, E1 Lister Jaguar with lights, E2 Aston Martin DBR with lights
- 4th edition catalogue 1963 - C66 Cooper, C67 Lotus, C68 Aston Martin, C69 Ferrari GT, C70 Bugatti, C71 Auto Union, E3 Aston Martin with lights, E4 Ferrari GT with lights
- 5th edition catalogue 1964 - C72 BRM, C73 Porsche, C74 Austin-Healey 3000, C75 Mercedes 190SL, E5 Marshal's car with lights
- 6th edition catalogue 1965 - C76 Mini Cooper,
- 7th edition catalogue 1966 - C77 Ford GT40, C78 AC Cobra, C79 Offenhauser front engine, C80 Offenhauser rear engine, C81 Cooper, C82 Lotus, C83 Sunbeam Tiger C84 Triumph TR4A, C85 BRM, C86 Porsche, C87 Vanwall, C88 Cooper, C89 BRM, 90 Ferrari, C91 D-Type Jaguar, C92 Porsche
- 8th edition catalogue 1967 - C75 Mercedes 190SL Sports (James Bond), C97 Aston Martin (James Bond)
- 9th edition catalogue 1968 - C1 Alpine Renault, C2 Matra Jet, C3 Javelin Special, C4 Electra Special, C5 Europa Vee, C6 Panther, C7 Rally Mini Cooper, C32 Mercedes 250SL, C99 Fiat 600
- 10th edition catalogue 1969 - C8 Lotus Indianapolis, C9 Ferrari, C14 Mantra GP, C15 Ford Mirage, C16 Ferrari P4, C17 Lamborghini Miura, C18 Ford 3l GT, C19 Scalextric Team Car, C36 Honda GP
- 11th edition catalogue 1970 - C20 Dart GP, C21 Cougar Sports
- 12th edition catalogue 1971 - C22 Porsche 917GT, C23 Scaletti-Arrow, C24 Team Car MkII, C34 Jaguar E-type, C37 BRM
- 13th edition catalogue 1972 - C26 March Ford 721, C41 Ferrari GT330, C43 McLaren M9A, C44 Mercedes Wankel C111
- 14th edition catalogue 1973 - C25 Ferrari 312B2, C28 Renault Alpine, C37 BRM, C46 Porsche 917K, C47 Tyrrell Ford, C50 JPS Lotus 72