Rumblings, April 1962

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Announcements of new examples of motor-car miniatures as they come on the market is a regular feature of Motor Sportbut we have had less to say about electrically-propelled model racing cars and the tracks on which they can literally driven, by contestants wielding rheostat controllers. Scalextric pioneered the commercial development of such “slot” racing, in which cars slide realistically on the corners, so that they are dependent on the skill of the “driver” to keep on the track and ahead of rivals. In its original form the Scalextric race track enabled two metal-bodied cars, a Ferrari and a Maserati, to compete over a simple oval. Since that day enormous progress has been made, Tri-ang taking over the original patents, and these miniature circuits constitute an important British export, particularly to America.

They say an electric shock is beneficial and certainly we received a Scalextric shock on visiting their latest factory last month. It is larger by far than some of the small-car manufacturers’ factories, exceedingly spacious and well lit, and here, at Havant, the workers, mostly young women, are engaged solely on assembling Scalextric car race circuits and their fascinating accessories.

Before you rush off to buy a model railway layout for your son or nephew, let us stake a claim for the Scalextric Miniature Electric Motor Racing, to give it the title its makers have bestowed on it.

The cars and equipment are all to 1/36-scale, the former now plastic-bodied and powered with 12-volt motors developed originally for reliable model railway operation. Lotus (front and rear-engined), Vanwall, Cooper, B.R.M. and V6 Ferrari G.P. cars cost £1 9s. 11d. each, with driver, and Jaguar-D, Porsche Spyder, Lister-Jaguar and Aston Martin sports/racing cars are available for the same price, the last two being available with working electric headlamps (for miniature Le Mans racing). Motorcycle sidecar outfits (which call for more manipulative skill than the cars) with realistic riders and passengers cost £1 12s. 6d. each, and now vintage and p.v.t. cars are to be added. The latter will at first be a splendid replica of Harry Rose’s “blower 4 1/2” Le Mans Bentley with fold-flat screen, lamps, horns, ribbed blower casing, two carburetters, bonnet straps, scuttle vents, tonneau cover, etc., all faithfully reproduced (even to mud-wings quickly detachable for racing—do you remember Birkin’s Bentleys running stripped at Pau and round Brooklands?), and a similarly accurate model of the straight-eight 8C/2300/B sports Alfa Romeo. These models should be available later this year, at £2 9s. 6d. each, and make delightful static replicas, apart from their ability to race. Incidentally, they had to be durable enough to stand accidents arising from over-ambitious “driving”; they were made from measurements and drawings made from the real cars, in the Montagu Motor Museum at Beaulieu.

All the foregoing Scalextric models can be “driven” on a wide variety of track, sold in many different sections so that all manner of circuits can be faithfully reproduced. For example, the following layouts are standardised (figures in brackets are dimensions, followed by the number of “lanes,” or cars, that can be run simultaneously): Brands Hatch (15 ft. 6 in. x 8 ft. 3 in. – 4); Brussels (11 ft. 3 in. x 10 ft. 10 in. – 4); Reims (23 ft. 0 in. x 16 ft. 6 in. – 4); Aintree (14 ft. 0 in. x 17 ft. 3 in. – 4); Monaco (33 ft. 6 in. x 11 ft. 9 in. – 2); Le Mans (30 ft. 3 in. x 14 ft. 6 in. – 4); Silverstone (52 ft. 10 in. x 10 ft. 10 in. – 2); Sebring (13 ft. 3 in. x 12 ft. 0 in. – 4); Monsanto (14 ft. 0 in. x 14 ft. 6 in. – 4); Oulton Park (21 ft. 9 in. x 17 ft. 0 in. – 4); Monza (52 ft. 3 in. x 6 ft. 6 in. – 2). A chicane, reducing the track to single-car width, is available for a Goodwood circuit and the other named circuits include the corners found on the real circuits.

On these circuits the cars are speeded up to a scale maximum of 130 m.p.h. by means of the hand-operated controllers. Spares for all parts of the cars and every conceivable track-section are sold separately, so there is tremendous scope, although those who prefer set layouts can purchase these at prices ranging from £6 19s. 6d. to £11 11s., each containing two identical cars. The range of accessories increases almost daily and there is only room to refer to fly-over bridges, pits, TV stand, straw bales, marker drums, control tower, First Aid hut, lap recorder (either manual or electric), trackside lighting, fencing, bushes, hedges and trackside figures, the last-named well-dressed fellows and girls reminiscent of the “Right Crowd and No Crowding” era. But mention must be made of the track-sections providing for Le Mans starts, the cars being lined-up diagonally and accelerating onto the track as their controllers are operated, and similar sections enabling cars to be “driven” from their paddock bays onto the course.

The scope of Scalextric model-car racing is obviously enormous it is many years since we used one of the original sets but this proved durable and we have no hesitation in recommending the latest material, for the Consumers’ Association not long ago declared Scalextric as the “Best Buy” of the miniature circuits and cars tested by Which? A colour-illustrated catalogue is available for 9d. from any Tri-ang Scalextric dealer and a very complete layout can be inspected at the Scalextric display in London’s Haymarket.

***

More than one million aluminium engines for passenger cars are now in use in the United States. There has been a steady increase in production since 1959 when aluminium engine components were first produced for the Corvair at the Chevrolet plant, Massena, New York. There they are cast on an around-the-clock basis from molten metal supplied direct from the adjacent smelting plant of Reynolds Metals Company.

During the 1961 model year aluminium engines totalled more than 10% of U.S. domestic engine production. The Corvair accounted for nearly two-thirds of this, but other engines also introduced were the straight-six aluminium engine for the Rambler, V8 aluminium engines by Pontiac, Buick and Oldsmobile and the slant-six engine for Chrysler’s Valiant and Lancer. J. Donald Shircliff of Reynolds Metals Company comments that more engines have arrived in greater numbers, more designs and wider applications, at least a year earlier than the most optimistic forecast. At the first meeting on aluminium engines to be held by the American Society of Automobile Engineers it was stated that they had overcome all initial production problems inherent in the development of any new engine. Engineers also reported a trouble-free performance record in use.

A minimum aluminium engine production of 700,000 is predicted for the current model-year, based on the Industry’s estimate of production. This means that about forty million pounds of aluminium will be used for this application alone.

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