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Christmas Shopping: Slot Cars

Submitted by on December 23, 2009

Once people get over the initial sense that adults shouldn’t really be getting excited about the smell of hot electric engines, the subject of slot car racing soon turns to the enormous range of cars available today.  No matter what your particular penchant, modern slot cars are manufactured using computer design and 3D printing, plus high-quality, cost-efficient Chinese production.  The results are often as good as any diecast model, with the advantage of being able to race them.

For we lovers of retro racing, there’s an abundance of choice (because, most often, it’s the Dads who do the buying… even if we pretend they’re for our progeny).  This means that in recent years Group C cars, classic rally machinery and a smattering of Formula One greats have come on the market, so here are the best of 2009’s retro slot offerings:

Slot.It Jaguar XJR12
Slot.It has become the benchmark for quality in terms of buying a car off the shelf, with a range of Group C sports-prototypes and latter day GT machines.  For the true believers there is also an endless array of tuning up parts to tinker with.  This year the Jaguar XJR12 has joined the likes of the Porsche 956, Porsche 962, Sauber C9, Lancia LC2 and Mazda 787 in the line-up.

Scalextric Holden L34 Torana
Scalextric is still the biggest name in the world, and Aussie fans get special treatment, courtesy of its annual output of V8 Supercars and reliveries of such classics as the Mach 1 Mustang, Lotus Cortina and Mini-Cooper.  Yet this year sees the first genuine Aussie classic in the form of the Holden L34 Torana driven by Bob Morris and John Fitzpatrick at the 1976 Bathurst 1000.  Expect it to have massive magnetic grip and go like the clappers… but I think I’ll wait for the Stirling Moss/Jack Brabham sister car.

Scalextric Lotus 49 and Eagle-Weslake
A couple of years ago Scalextric brought out a ‘Year of Legends’ limited edition set of Dan Gurney’s Spa-winning Eagle and Jim Clark’s Lotus 49.  They sold out within weeks, and now the cars are available individually in the form of Gurney’s Race of Champions-winning Eagle and Graham Hill’s French GP-winning Lotus.  A limited edition Gold Leaf-liveried Tasman series Lotus has been and gone and sold out completely, so grab these while you can as collector’s items – although with their super-powerful motors and massive magnetic grip, don’t expect a period racing experience.

Fly Williams FW07
Spanish manufacturer Fly was thought to have been a casualty of the global recession earlier this year – but has bounced back in fine style.  Just in time for Christmas comes the Clay Regazzoni British GP winner from 1979 that set Team Willy on the victory trail, and for Spanish fans there is also Privately-entered car of Emilio de Villota from the 1980 Spanish GP.  They run better than Scalextric’s offerings, but are quite frail.

Carrera Ford Capri RS3100
Chunky German cars from a chunky German manufacturer.  Carrera cars are overweight, over-geared and over-endowed with such useless technology as a polarity reversal switch.  Nevertheless they are also about the cheapest models to buy, cover a great range and remind you that this is fun.  Just remember to pull the traction magnets out for maximum enjoyment.

NSR Porsche 917K
At the opposite end of the spectrum to Carrera comes NSR, a specialist Spanish manufacturer whose products are designed to win club-level competition.  As a result cars like the legendary Porsche 917K are a bit squiffy as scale models, but they’re virtually untouchable on the racetrack.

SCX Ford Escort RS1800
Fabulous rally cars are the backbone of SCX’s business (known as Scalextric in its home country of Spain, for byzantine business reasoning).  Few are more storied than the Escort RS1800, and with its low-powered motor and ultra-forgiving chassis all you need to do is pull the traction magnet off the bottom and go sideways in proper rally style.  This year’s livery is the 1977 Daily Express-sponsored car of Roger Clark from the 1977 RAC Rally. Thumping good value.

BSR Aston Martin Nimrod
Underlining how popular Slot.It has made the Group C era for today’s slot racers comes this little winner.  Using Slot.It’s Porsche 962 chassis and running gear, French manufacturer BSR makes a high quality resin body kit of the monstrous 1982 Aston Martin to paint, build and drop on top for a flawless model racer.  Expensive, exclusive and oh so tempting…

Team Slot Renault 5 Turbo
Another Spanish rally-mad maker of slot cars brings us a hugely popular pocket rocket from the Group B era, in the form of the dinky little Renault.  Its Gallic charm oozes, while Team Slot’s mighty motor makes it no easier to master than the real-life original.  If you want to be a miniature Jean Ragnotti, this is the toy for you.

MMK Matra M640
There are a number of hand-built resin slot car specialists out there, many producing esoteric (if not downright bonkers) choices of car.  This is a prime example – and yet one which will reward anyone who wants a car where graceful, drifting cornering styles can be applied.  The M640 was designed as a Mulsanne straight special for the 1968-69 Le Mans races.  It almost incinerated Henri Pescarolo and added little to the annals of sports car racing – but it was pretty, and while it costs the same as three Scalextric cars it will be a joy to drive and an excellent conversation piece!

Nick Garton

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