The Scalextric Story
Scalextric is one of the most difficult words to pronounce in the English language, but its range of model cars is one of the most successful.
Synonymous with electric slot-car racing, the Scalextric brand has enabled children of all ages around the world to live out their dreams of being racing drivers. Unlike so many of their contemporaries however, Scalextric is still going strong today!
The Scalextric story began in 1948, when wartime toolmaker Bertram (Fred) Francis established “Minimodels Ltd” in Mill Hill, London. Minimodels manufactured tinplate clockwork toys, one of the first was the MG speed record car of Goldie Gardner.
Success was moderate, however, as all the designs and tooling were made by Fred Francis himself, and expansion was slow.
Scalex - World’s first pull-back toys!
In 1952, Minimodels introduced two new clockwork toy ranges: “Startex”, which was wound by a ripcord; and “Scalex”, which incorporated a patented keyless clockwork mechanism – a 5th wheel engaged by pressing down lightly and drawing the car backwards to wind the mechanism, then letting go, it rolled forward under its own power. The Jaguar XK120, was the first Scalex and the world’s first “pull back and go” toy car!
Scalex was a success, with a high level of playability at an affordable price.
Demand was high, with up to 7,000 Scalex models produced per week in 1954, yet by 1956 increased competition had led to slowing sales.
The 1950’s saw growth in electric model car racing clubs, most using custom-built wooden circuits with raised guide rails, running home-made cars – often using a Tri-ang railways electric motor with a tinplate Scalex model!
Fred Francis saw this opportunity and the first Scalextric set was released in January 1957, which featured two ‘Electric Scalex’ tinplate racing cars, a set of clip-together track pieces with two independently controlled lanes for racing (on and off buttons on a central plinth), and a slot to guide each vehicle while allowing it to slide around corners. The original tinplate range was three vehicles, the last and rarest was the Austin-Healey 100/6.
Changing owners and materials
In November 1958, Fred Francis sold ‘Minimodels Ltd’ to Tri-ang Toys, who introduced Spot-On diecast cars in 1959 (TME Issue 28) and bought Meccano, which included Hornby Trains and Dinky Toys, in 1964 (TME Issue 27).
Tri-ang phased in plastic bodies for Scalextric cars from 1960, as they were lighter, faster, cheaper to produce and with better detail than tinplate.
1960 also saw the introduction of ‘variable speed’ hand-held controllers. This enhanced playability saw sales sky-rocket worldwide.
When Tri-ang went into liquidation in 1971, the profitable Scalextric and Hornby Trains companies were sold to the Dunbee-Combex-Marx group, and production was transferred to Rovex Ltd, in Kent.
Dunbee-Combex-Marx eventually ran into financial problems, so Scalextric and Hornby formed a new, independent company called Hornby Hobbies Ltd in 1982. Hornby Hobbies has continued to grow, acquiring Humbrol (including Airfix) in 2006 and Corgi in 2008, and is still based in Margate, Kent.
Scalextric was manufactured in England until 1998, then in China. However, in the 1960s Scalextric production occurred in Spain, France, Hong Kong, North America (briefly), Mexico, Australia and New Zealand. Due to import restrictions in those countries Tri-ang had already established ‘local’ toy factories, so it was relatively simple to begin Scalextric production.
This was the case with the Australian-made Scalextric. In 1956 Tri-ang purchased a plastic moulding company in Fairfield, Melbourne, called Moldex Ltd. From 1960 Moldex made most of the items in the Australian sets, with the boxes labelled “Scalextric made by Moldex Ltd”.
The items generally retained their “Made in England” markings, with moulds being copies of the UK originals. The exception was the C54 Lotus 16 racing car, which has either “Made in Australia” or “Made in Australia & NZ” on its base.
However, some vehicles were locally made in unique colours for the Australian Market, including green and gold Typhoon sidecar motorcycles, a Jack Brabham Cooper F1 car and two Minis – detailed further on.
Australian production ceased in 1968.
Despite Scalextric’s obvious UK connection, there were remarkably few BMC-Leyland vehicles in the range, due to its focus on sports and racing cars.
The Jaguar D-type (C60) was featured from 1961 to 1965 and 1968. It reappeared in a limited boxed set with Mercedes 190SL (C3058A) in May 2010 and is a current model in the Ecurie Ecosse livery (C3205).
The Austin-Healey 100/6 was one of the first tinplate models, as previously mentioned, and was available in red/cream or blue/cream liveries. The Austin-Healey 3000 (C74), with plastic body in red or green, was available between 1963 and 1968.
The MG Metro was widely available in the 1980’s while the Mini, not surprisingly, was immensely popular. There were also Triumph TR7s and a Rover SD1 Police car, of all things.
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