Slot cars can be a good bet for collectors

Recapturing memories of those carpet grands prix of our youth can be addictive – and costly if you want to collect the best and rarest, says Gordon Cruickshank

Scalextric Bentley

Apparently Scalextric chose Bentley YU 3250 after the directors had visited Beaulieu.

There’s probably not a reader of this magazine who didn’t grow up with Scalextric, and just as with full-size cars there’s been a surge of interest in historic slot cars, which can be just as much fun to play with as anything new – as long as it isn’t so precious you wouldn’t dare unleash it around your sitting-room Silverstone.

As far back as 1912 Lionel introduced a system in the US with a rail instead of a slot, and between the wars there were other attempts, one backed by racer Tim Birkin. But slot racing, appearing in the 1950s, really took off in the ’60s. A new book Slot Car Dreams illustrates a huge variety in the US in 1:24 and 1:32 scale from Cox, Strombecker, Russkit etc, plus Aurora’s smaller HO system, while in France Circuit 24 was the favourite. Cox’s 1:24 Chaparral with tilting wing is one to hunt, but over here 1:32 dominated, with Scalextric the undoubted leader.

“The Bugatti Type 59 is the Holy Grail, worth £5000”

The earliest 1957 Scalextric tinplate cars with on-off controllers are for the very specialised (if you see the Austin Healey, grab it – one sold for £1120); most will search for the classic sets of the boom years of the ’60s on, an F1 Vanwall being the debut model in 1960.

Scalextric brand manager Simon Owen cites the Holy Grail: “It’s the Bugatti Type 59. Only about 100 were made in the 1960s, and they never appeared in shops – you ordered one and they ran it off in whatever colour you wanted. One of these could be £5000. Back then pre-war cars just weren’t popular. The same for the Bentley 4½, Alfa 2.3 and Auto Union – not many were sold.

Rare Scalextric cars including a Bugatti Type 59

The desirable Bugatti, right

“The 1967 James Bond set [with working ejector seat] was very expensive at the time and not many were bought. They’re not all that rare but they are sought-after, although the accessory pack that went with it is much rarer and more valuable.” Currently complete sets are advertised at £1000 and up.

Scalextric AC Cobra and Porsche 904 setThere were rivals, too: VIP made nicely detailed cars from 1957 while Wrenn 152, a small-scale system that allowed overtaking, arrived in 1960 but didn’t take off. Airfix/ MRRC brought historics such as Maserati 250F and Auto Union into the mix, along with fourwheel drive. According to Roger Barker who sells on Ebay and Facebook, the 4WD Felday- Ford is a prime target. “I’ve just sold a good one for £250. Some customers buy to a theme –I have one who wants every item in the no8 catalogue – but others are recapturing memories. They want the cars they had in their youth, and Scalextric has been astute in reissuing those – Escorts, even Maestros.”

Keen types can restore originals with repro tyres, gears, windscreen, even boxes, but some want unused, unopened examples. Which seems a shame – who wouldn’t want to recapture that smell of burning 12v motors?


Lionel slot car setTrack pioneers

Despite being made for play, this pre-WWI Lionel set managed to survive in good shape, although one driver had lost his head. The Stutz-inspired cars ran on AC.

Pook & Pook, £594

Bentley Scalextric slot carSecond time around

With new interest in old cars, Scalextric reissued its Bentley 4½ in the 1990s using the original tooling, and these in their turn are now collectible.

On sale
Roger Barker Slots, £150


Vintage Scalextric setBoxed set and chill

Grand touring in miniature: a complete boxed set featuring DB5 and Ferrari 250 SWB, and even those flimsy fold out cardboard bridge supports that allowed a figure of eight track to be laid out.

Bonhams, £600

Strombacker dirt track racer kitWhere there’s muck…

Strombecker’s 1:24 scale Dirt Track Racer kit of AJ Foyt’s USAC championship winner is scarce and desirable, especially when boxed and unbuilt. It featured a brass frame.

On sale
Ebay, £370