Technical developments of Scalextric

Inventor: Fred Francis of Minimodels Ltd.

1957       Introduced as Scalextric at the Harrogate International Toy Fair between the 12th and 19th January. The track was made of rubber with an inset twin-rail for each lane into which the car’s gimbal wheel rested. Electricity passed through the twin rails, through the two-piece insulated gimbal wheel and onward to the electric motor. Initially, an On/Off button was the only means of controlling the amount of electricity sent to the motor – and therefore, the speed of the car.

1960       Introduction of the plastic range of cars; production of the tinplate cars ceased.

In the 1960s the first plastic track system was introduced, called ‘flexi-track’ then it is now known as the ‘classic’ track system. Around the turn of the century the ‘Sport’ track system was introduced. The race track surface was smoother in texture and offered less grip than classic track. However, although not perfect, it was flatter due to additional support walls on the underside and doesn’t suffer from the warping that affected classic track. The track connections were changed to make it easier to assemble and the rail electricity connectors were changed to improve electrical continuity. The whole system is nicer to look at and easier to assemble. Alas, the nett result is that the grip is less (arguably the most important element), track connections are less positive leading to electrical breaks, the rail connections are not an improvement and still lead to electrical discontinuity – power loss or complete power failure! On top of this many iconic track pieces were not converted from classic to Sport resulting in a track system which is a shadow of its former self.
In the 2000s, a new track system called ‘Start’ was introduced. It was innovative in that its geometry was designed in such a way that only 8 pieces were required to make a figure of ‘8’ layout where the normal Scalextric system needed 15 pieces in Sport track and 17 in the Classic system. However, one huge flaw existed – it was designed with a completely different geometric system where by it was not compatible with the current Sport system! It only had a 90 degree standard curve (R2) and this was of a radius somewhere between an Inner Curve (R1) and a Standard Curve (R2) and the straights were not standard. Consequuently, it was withdrawn from the range after three years.

1960       The first Lap Counter was announced in catalogue 1, 1960, although it was probably not available until 1961 when it was advertised for either electrical or manual operation. Since then there has been a variety of lap counters marketed both mechanical and electrical, some more successful than others, all relying on the car operating a mechanical switch in the slot. However, it was not really until the ‘Sport’ track was announced that the system worked really well when not only did it count the number of laps but could also record fastest lap, including various race and practice modes. By 2014, technology had moved forward a pace and a Scalextric APP for use with smart media such as mobile phones and tablets enabled a much better and more reliable way to count laps and display lap times and other in-race data.

1970s     Autostart, Think Tank, Sound Track, Fuel Load Gauge, a working Public Address system, Supersound and Hazard (track pieces with rows of flashing LED lights) were all electronic analogue devices to provide, for their time, exciting real world-like.

1991 saw the release of Permalite Control, an accessory designed to keep cars’ lights full on when racing instead of varying intensity when the throttle was released, including when they were standing still on the track.

1992       A major improvement in 1992 was the availability of Power Base, a simpler and more efficient method of fixing the current supply to the track, transformer and hand controllers.

1993       Following on from this in 1993 was Supersound which featured in many of the sets that year; three different racing sounds came from a separate unit. The same year Megasound was to be found in the more expensive sets, this had a sound unit built into the controller itself so that an engine sound actually worked in conjunction with the speed of the model. This system lasted for some four years when Pole Position Sound was announced.

2002       New CD-driven RMS Race Management System programme for use on a personal computer. This features race times, fastest laps, lap counting, start lights, pit stops, a track design facility and much more. It will accommodate up to six lanes.

2004      ‘Digital Scalextric’ introduced– the invention to take Scalextric into the future.

Sport Digital:  A separate lap counter/race position unit C7039 was added to the range as an accessory, this unit counts up to 999 laps, pre-set as required and will show the lead car on each lap finally displaying the winner at the finish, it can handle up to 6 cars.  Catalogue 49 (2008) illustrated the new Pit Lane game (C7041) adding more play value. 6 cars can be accommodated with up to 3 random pit stops and penalties if a pit stop was missed or entered at the wrong time. This new unit was accompanied by a new 6 car (digital or analogue) Powerbase (C7042), including 5 skill settings, various game modes and even individual hand controller calibration.

2007       The Sport World System allowed Scalextric racers worldwide to race against each other by connecting their layouts to the internet via a PC or laptop. The hardware comprised a control unit incorporating a LCD screen connected to the circuit through a half straight. 9 different race modes were available and the software also included 3D circuit design with buildings and landscapes, pit stops and even weather strategy.

2008       The Gadget Show set a Guiness Book of Rcords record for the fastest Scalextric car.

2008       Whilst earlier games generally were independent of the track the advent of the digital system now allows far greater scope. With C7041 ‘Digital Pit Lane’, introduced in 2008, the game play is actually attached to the circuit layout itself.  Up to six cars can be accommodated and the object of the game is to select and complete up to three pit stops throughout the race. Enter the pit lane when the randomly applied ‘open’ light shows; leaving the pit lane extinguishes the ‘pit’ light for that particular car, enter the pit lane at other times and a pit lane penalty is imposed. The winner is the first to complete all the selected number of pit stops, adds more play value. Additional to this game play device is the C7042 6-car Advanced Power Base which allows full race parameter set-up, race time variable such as Yellow Flag and Penalties. Full power can be lowered for individual cars to either better balance cars against each other or balance the driver abilities.

An important policy decision was taken by Hornby that it would encourage the slot car community to develop its own independent firmware and software options for enhanced race control. C7042 was, therefore, developed and built with a output port for such Open-Source activities. Indeed this led to the active participation of experts from the community to give substantial input in to the systems development. The decision to make the 6-car powerbase compatible with a computer was a sensible idea and has proved to be so with enthusiasts and slot racing clubs taking up Scalextric Digital software systems.

2011       Apps: The advent of digital ‘Smart’ media devices such as iPhone, iPad and similar tablets created more possibilities with Scalextric to create tracks and race cars by oneself.  An ‘App’ (application) software program could be downloaded from the iTunes App store (59p in 2011) called simply SCALEXTRIC.

2013       A new APP called SCALEXTRIC DIGITAL was launched.

2014       A new product was announced in the catalogue – ‘RCS’ –  Race Control System! During 2014, before it was released, the product was renamed ‘ARC’ – APP Race Control to reflect the important point that it used blue-tooth technology that required smart devices such as an I-Pad or similar notepads and smart phones and from which an APP could be downloaded. The APP, called ‘ARC’ allowed the owner to set up races, penalties, driver names, number of laps, etc., etc., from the smart device. When the race was in progress all the race time information would be displayed on the smart device. This enabled a huge step forward in that the need for electronic lap counters, hand controllers with wires and plugs and such ‘cumbersome’ devices such as computers would be a thing of the past. How quickly technology becomes redundant!

2017 saw the introduction of the high-end ARC-PRO system. Essentially a digital version of ARC-AIR featuring many more game play scenarios, wireless hand-controllers and the ARC-PRO APP.