The Boom Years
In 1963 the Wall Street Journal estimated the value of the model car racing market at 100 million dollars. The Boom Years of slot car racing lasted barely two years from 1966-1968, and was never to approach that level of popularity again. During those two years you could visit any medium-size town and there would probably be a slot car raceway where you could buy cars and parts from companies like K&B, Russkit, Riggen, Classic, Dynamic, Mura and Champion. In front you would probably find a dozen bikes haphazardly parked while inside you would hear the scream of high pitched motors, the sound of laughing voices and later the smell of Oil of Wintergreen, used as a tire additive. In America it was like a wave that had crested and washed over the country, gone but not forgotten for many of those that had grown up during that time, a lifetime love of the hobby would survive Vietnam, college, marriage and kids.
In 1959, 34 year old Jim Russell, a local accountant and management consultant was looking for something to do on a weekend when a friend introduced him to a novel new hobby called slot car racing. Russ, as everyone calls him, was hooked. Then, in early 1963 while refinishing a coffee table, some Behr varnish spilled on one of Jim's cars. He didn't notice until after it dried but the effect was dramatic. Ever the entrepreneur, Jim decided to market his discovery as a way to improve and protect the finish of models and a new product and company were born.
Russkit was incorporated in November of 1963 but its first product, Russ-Cote, actually hit the shelves in the summer of that year. Russell had quit his job in April to concentrate on getting a product line together for the new company so he started selling out of his car while he put together the financing and organization for the enterprise. The timing couldn't have been better as interest in slot cars was just starting to climb. After manufacturing styrene body kits to use on Strombecker chassis, Russell introduced his own car kits featuring injected bodies.
Working with Hank Rose and attorney Russell secured a six-month exclusive sales deal with Mabuchi giving them enough time to market their newly labeled Russkit 22 motor. When the Russkit 23 came out the company still had a large inventory of 22s at the warehouse. Russell's wife came up with the idea of why not packaging two motors together. Russell quickly had his racer/developer Mike Morrissey create the "Black Widow" which just happened to have a four-wheel-drive chassis using a Russkit 22 powering each axle.In little time the oversupply of old motors was solved. Besides their parts and car kits, Russkit is also famous for a tool in building cars, a chassis jig, the "Adjusto-Jig" sold in the thousands. Hobby salesman came up with a pistol-grip controller design that proved to be a definite improvement over Russkit's thumb-actuated models. Russell seeing the opportunity produced the controller which would become the company's greatest success, eventually selling the controller business over to Parma when the company wound down. Russell would continue in the slot car business working for
Brooklyn native Lewis Glaser started a California plastics company, Precision Specialties, just weeks before the 1941 Pearl Harbor attack. In the 1930s and 40s, “serious” models were made of wood. That began to change in the early 1950s, when Precision Specialties enjoyed huge success with “Highway Pioneers” plastic car kits. Glaser changed his company’s name to Revell Inc. They had entered the slot car business producing components including a aluminum chassis, wheels tires and gears for scratch builders. Soon the company began issuing 1/32 and 1/24 kits, initially using injection-moulded bodies as well as well regarded home racing set including track, considered by some as the best ever produced. Having Ed "Big Daddy" Roth under contract they naturally released "Rat-Fink" and 'Mister Gasser" slot cars. Eventually they got into the commercial track business where they served customers throughout the world and opening a raceway in Los Angeles with six tracks of their own design that would serve as their showroom.
Another company in the plastic kit business that sought to cash in on the slot car craze was Monogram. Bob Reder and Jack Besser who had worked together at Comet Model Airplane & Supply Co. in Chicago started their own company in 1945 producing simple die-cut balsa wood ships. The first Monogram car kit was the Hot Shot jet car kit in 1948, powered by a CO2 cartridge. In 1964 they produced their first series of high quality slot cars consisting of two 1/32 kits and seven 1/24 scale kits. The 1/24 scale kits used recycled static model bodies attached to a 3-piece brass chassis. Later Monogram would also produce a home racing set including their own high-quality track. In 1967 Monogram issued a three car series of thingies, one of which, The Assassin used a stamped aluminum chassis and a sidewinder Mabuchi FT36D motor and a vacuum formed body designed by auto stylist, Tom Daniel. In 1968 Monogram stopped producing slot cars and only issued static model kits.
While producing slot cars, Monogram recognized the fact that groups of enthusiasts were gathering to race their model cars, so they made sure they also supported slot car racers with a fairly complete line of racing parts and accessories under the Tiger brand.
The "Tiger" line of 1:24 and 1:32 racing parts included everything from machined aluminum wheels with better tires to "hot" motors (like the Tiger 100 and Tiger 200 can motors) and complete aluminum and brass frames. During the late 1960s, Monogram and Revell were rivals for the scale model market but in 1986, after declining profitability in a new era of video games and cable television, Monogram now owned by Odyssey Partners of New York was merged with Revell and folded into Monogram Models of Morton Grove, Illinois.
A company that specialized in model airplane accessories since the 1940s, Robert "Hi" Johnson and Dynamic entered the field of slot car racing accessories in 1963 gaining fame with their die-cast aluminum DynaMite adjustable slot car chassis. By 1964, they entered into a joint venture with AMT, the plastic model kit manufacturer. This collaboration allowed Dynamic to have the use of AMT "purple" Mabuchi-sourced motors as well as access to the AMT injected moulded line of bodies. One of their most popular cars were root-beer colored Bandit first issued in late 1965 and the black bodied Super Bandit which used a rewound and balanced "Green Hornet" motor produced under contract by Mura and also included a Cox inspired "quick change" guide flag. In 1969, Dynamic would have their own professional racing team composed of Bruce Erickson and Jack Garcia who had by then worked for Johnson for over twenty years. AMT dropped the partnership with Dynamic in 1970, however Dynamic continued building slot cars and accessories. With interest in HO scale cars and tracks at it’s peak, Dynamic quickly shifted gears and refocused all R&D efforts on a new HO design. After some internal debate, it was decided that the new HO racer would be based on the Dynamic anglewinder design. The cars were marketed as DynaBrutes. Tragically company principal Hi Johnson was killed in a hang-glider accident in 1979.
Riggen led by its namesake Al Riggen and his business partner, Dick "Magoo" Megugorac began by making wheels and tires to supply the burgeoning slot car market. By 1966, they hired designer Gordon Brimhall and under the JAD brand, produced RTR models in the 1/24 scale. By 1967, the company produced a new brass chassis in both 1/24 and 1/32 scale were issued, and in 1968 an angle-winder version of the 1/24 scale chassis, powered by the Mabuchi FT26 motor, provided the base for a vast array of models. In addition to the larger scales, Riggen in 1970 with the help of Philippe de Lespinay would become heavily involved in HO, just in time it seems as sales of the larger scales withered.
K&B, at the beginning of the slot car boom was already a well-known company in the airplane model business that went into slot car racing in a big way in 1964, producing beautiful and well engineered kits. By 1965, a second series was issued featuring improved motors and new body styles. In 1966, K&B joined the busy crowd of the vacuum formed body RTR cars, their most famous (and elusive) being their own version of the Batmobile that featured a functional disc brake and a roof light. K&B after the 1968 collapse survived as a model airplane engine manufacturer.
Sam Bergman, heir to a Kansas oil fortune, founded Classic Industries in Culver City, California. He dove into the slot racing business by producing the first true 1/24 scale RTR car, a John Power designed futuristic racer called the "Manta Ray" which was loosely patterned after the famous Dean Jeffries show car. The car was immensely successful with a production of over one million units. Classic became known for producing some of the wildest slot cars available and their popularity required the company to keep their production lines working 24 hours a day. The third Classic model issued was the equally iconic Asp. A lime green ready to race car designed by former GM designer Robert Cadaret it featured molded silicone tires over magnesium wheels, a gray anodized sandwich chassis with ISO drop arm configuration, and a Classic CM160 motor. In order to placate more traditionalists the box also contained chassis parts and a clear body to build a 1/32 scale Maserati 250F. In 1967 Classic produced a "competition" version. Their Gamma Ray slot car featured a functional disk brake. it was part of the last series of Classic slot cars before their demise.
The greatest name in vintage slot cars was Cox. The company was founded by L.M. "Leroy" Cox of Santa Anna, California in 1945. Cox Manufacturing whose main lines involved the production of miniature gas-powered internal combustion engines along with control line model aircraft, created in 1947 the Thimble Drome Champion, the car that helped start the tether car craze before slot cars. In 1964 they joined the new slot car business with some high quality kits initially featuring die cast magnesium chassis and realistically detailed bodies. With their box art and attention to detail they are now much sought-after toys which they produced until 1969. The Ferrari 158 F1 assembled in Hong Kong for the American company was the first RTR model marketed by Cox. When Cox issued the orange low-slung slot car known as "La Cucaracha" or, "the cockroach", it created a small revolution in the slot car world. The car was fast, out-handled most of its production competitors. Still it is the Can-Am Chaparral which is what the company is most famous for. In 1965 they would sign a sponsorship deal with Jim Hall's Chaparral sports car team, which would carry the new slot car manufacturer's famous red emblem on all future race cars during the season.
The Rise of the Factory Teams
In 1964 Phil Varchetta who was Strombecker's PR man started one of the first factory sponsored teams that raced 1/32 scale almost exclusively at various tracks in the Greater Chicago area, two to three times a week. The team members were not paid but did receive free track time and parts. The team members were also issued bowling shirts with Strombecker Racing Team embroidered on the back. One of it's members, Bobby Arvidson was said to have never lost a 1/32 scale race.
The following year Jim Russell hired four local hot shoes from Southern California; Mike Morrissey, Rick Durkee, Ron Quintana Len Vucci and formed the legendary Team Russkit. The racers had their expenses paid as well as any parts required to build and maintain their cars. Team Russkit would go on a 30 day nationwide tour which had a tremendous effect on the development of professional slot car racing in America. The first thing Team Russkit discovered is that they were not as far ahead of everyone as they thought! In Car Model, February 1966, pg 24, Mike Morrissey writes, "To begin with, everywhere we went, we were surprised at how fast cars are going. From Las Vegas to Long Island, we found cars almost as fast as ours, and in Detroit... well, I'll come to that later." Detroit was the home of The Groove Raceway and there things did not go exactly as planned according to Morrissey:
"We didn't have much trouble going as fast as anyone else except in one place, The Groove, in Royal Oak, Michigan. It was here that we got clobbered, whipped, and obliterated. I mean, they could have saved themselves some time by simply beating us with hammers and throwing us outa the joint! You see, it was at The Groove that we learned all about 'supertraction' tracks... the hard way. We had heard about these midwest track surfaces, but we'd never realized just how sticky they were. They use a high-gloss paint that is nearly shiny. Then after the track is broken in and builds up a little tire goop on the paint surface, it becomes so sticky that you can't believe it! Anyway, our cars are built for normal surfaces and are, as I said, very light. They wouldn't slide or drift at all, but instead would just do snap rolls. The locals' cars weigh 5 to 6 ounces or more. They use flat brass plate about 1/8" thick for frames, those 'Silastic' tires, and a variety of motors. The flat plates give a very low center of gravity, which kills the flipping tendency, and the weight stabilizes them. To get all that mass down the straights, they use hairy motors like Dyno-Chargers, Rams, and wildly rewound Pittmans and Mabuchis. To stop they use up to 6 volts of power brakes. We'll be back that way, though, and next time we'll be properly armed! Maybe we can put up a decent fight."
A year later Team Russkit returned and that year they beat the locals at their own game. A sense of equilibrium had returned to the slot car racing scene. If you can imagine what it must have been like going up against a group of hired guns in factory blazers no less. Russkit was soon followed by teams from Cobra, Dyna-Rewind, Champion and Mura, with Team Champion of Chamblee, GA finally supplanting Russkit as the toppremier professional slot car team with Bob Cozine and John Cukras as their top racers.
In the United States, the American Model Car Racing Congress announced a contest with $100,000 in prizes, and Strombecker organized a nation-wide contest for young drivers, with the grand prize being a Plymouth Barracuda, $5,000 Pepsi-Cola Scholarship and trip to Paris for the World Title. John Cukras of Teams Champion, Mura and Riggen amongst others was rumored to benefit from an income of $50,000 a year.
East Coast racer Howie Ursaner, a champion at 14 along with Sandy Gross formed slot car's legendary "Gold Dust Twins", racing for Team Cobra.
Slot Cars Pioneers of the 60s
The name Jose Rodriguez Jr. holds a special place in slot car history. Rodriguez was an industrial designer/draftsman by trade and did some consulting work for the slot car manufacturers including Atlas, plus writing for most of the major magazines, one of which, Car Model he helped co-found. As a writer he brought the world of slot cars alive for many of his readers and . Rodriguez was also one of the scale enthusiasts behind the North American Miniature Racing Association (NAMRA), which was active primarily in the Northeast. Known as an excellent car builder, his cars won many Concours awards. Somewhat miraculously his only known surviving slot car racing box, dating from 1967-68 was found in a swap meet in New York City by slot car enthusiast Albert Bisaccia in 1998. It was eventually acquired on behalf of the Marconi Automotive Museum for Kids in Tustin, California. The box itself was custom built by Hoffman for Rodriguez and is substantially smaller than their standard boxes at the time.
A number of early slot car racers have come from the aeronautics and automotive industries. Charles “Pete” Hagenbuch graduated from West Virginia University in 1956, and earned an MAE degree from the Chrysler Institute of Engineering in 1958 before working as a Chrysler engine development engineer from 1958 to 1987. Hagenbuch wrote a column for Car Model magazine amongst others where he would expand on his views regarding the future direction of slot cars. Hagenbuch's main interest was in club racing and scratchbuilding cars in 1/32 scale. Initially Hagenbuch's material of choice for bodies was fiberglass and it was only after a more scale appearing clear bodies appeared would Hagenbuch consider this new material which he had previously referred to as "blob" bodies.
Tom Malone, wrote a column for Car Model magazine where he served as the technical editor, called "Tom Malone Answers your Racing Questions". In the column he answered questions from young boys all over the United States and beyond. The questions would run the gamut but were always answered politely. Malone was a proponent of an arm winding configuration that he titled "The Malone Torquer". While not a racer himself Malone liked to discuss his theories, backed by graphs, on the physics of slot cars, many of which have later been debunked. That being said the tone of his column gave us the feeling that what we were doing was important enough to write and talk about in a serious almost scientific manner and for a young boy this was enough.
A Brief Look at Chassis Development
The following brief look encompasses the
"Golden Years" of commercial slot car racing at the commercial level. During the second half of the 60's several important racing series were sponsored by Rod & Custom, Car Model and Model Car Science magazines.
1964 Howie Ursaner Ferrari
Howie Ursaner built car for Ray Hoy of Model Car & Science. The body was made from painted clear plastic but still features a train type motor, in this case
a Strombecker "Scuttler"
motor. Ursaner was a professional slot car racer by the age of 14 driving for teams Cobra and Russkit.
1965 Ron Quintana Chaparral
Quintana was one of the original members of Team Russkit, the first "Pro" slot racing team. The car used a Vucci-built Russkit 23 motor on a Morrissey early "jail-door" type chassis. In 1965 Russkit embarked on the second of their nationwide tours where they would visit local tracks and take on all comers. Tracks would compete just to play host Team Russkit and the "fast guns" from Inglewood, CA were not often beaten.
In 1965 pin tube body mounting also became a standard.
1966 Mike Morrissey McLaren-Elva
Built by Mike Morrissey and given to Ray Hoy for Model Car & Science the car's road holding was aided through the use of a front mounted diaplane as well as a rear deck spoiler. There were also slots cut in the body to let air escape on an otherwise fairly scale car. Around this time Morrissey was experimenting with the incorporation of 1/16 stainless steel tubing in order to save valuable weight.
Cox's La Cucaracha RTR introduced the Iso Fulcrum hinge.
1966 John Cukras Can-Am
Cukras' Car Model race wining car was powered by a new Mabuchi made can modified by Mura, a prominent West Coast motor builder. Rewound and set up by Frank Taber it sported brass spring posts, complete magnet shims and double strand lead wire. At this time Mura, located in San Leandro, CA was pumping out 700 motors per day. The best tires were no longer black but gray or orange.
1967 Bryan Warmack Lola T70
This car raced in 1967 and is noteworthy as one of the last successful inline cars. It features "floppy" body mounts invented by John Wessels and first used my Team Riggen's Dave Grant. The motor is a Warmack/Champion with body by Kovacs. Brian "Bob Kovacs" was known as the "body painter to the pros".
Later that year Dynamic introduced the ‘handling' body a line of sports car bodies uniformly 3 1/8 in wide.
1968 Bryan Warmack Lola T70
Early that year a new chassis layout became popular, the anglewinder. Gene Hustings is credited with introducing the concept to 1:24 scale pro racing from his earlier experience with drag racing. With the car Hustings was able to beat other more celebrated racers. Later Hustings inspired anglewinders dominated that year's USRA MC&S race and the entire world of pro-racing changed forever.
1970 Ron Kiddall
Bob Emott, one of the best chassis builders in history built an anglewinder that he took with him to Europe. At a major race at the Totenham raceway in England he murdered the competition. An article soon appeared in the British magazine Model Cars on how to build the "Emott" style" chassis. This Ron Kiddall built car was based upon the article which allowed Kiddall to win races in his own right.
The N.C.C. was formed and developed a common set of nationwide group racing rules of which Groups 12 and 20 proved most popular.
1973 Philippe de Lespinay Porsche 917
This car set a new world record and was the first car to cover AMCR's Blue King in under 3.5 seconds. The construction of the steel center section set the prototype for the next ten years. The Mac Porsche body is an example of the no longer scale profile that bodies were assuming in answer to the even more extreme but increasingly popular Wing Cars.
After 1973 development of chassis design has for the most part been limited to new materials and ever more powerful motors.
The Mabuchi Motor Company
In 1958 the Mabuchi Industrial Co., Ltd. was established with the goal of manufacturing small electric motors, as well as electric appliances, models, educational materials and toys. In April 1963 A high-voltage, high-speed small electric motor (FT type) is developed, and is sold for use in model racing cars. While not more powerful than the conventional, open-frame type motors previously used in model-train locomotives, manufactured by Pittman and others, the new motors from Mabuchi were considerably lighter and the difference was not in raw speed, but in cornering, where the lightweight motors simply left the heavyweight Pittmans in the dust.
Open frame motors would soon be replaced by cheap can motors from Japan and later China. The Mabuchi Corporation, which was based in Tokyo, produced two hundred fifty thousand motors per day in the mid-sixties. In order to gain more performance the armature was rewound with heavier gauge wire. This produced a side effect of increased heat which required better materials to be used for the endbell.
Other improvements included better brushes, springs, cans and magnets including the use of cobalt in their manufacture. Over the next several years a small industry led by Ron Mura in Northern California and Champion of Chamblee, Georgia would develop around the customization and aftermarket parts for these simple motors. In 1967 Champion, founded by businessman Jim Williams, a successful banker, with help from local racers Jack Lane, Ray Gardner, Bill Thirwell and Bob Cozine produced the American made 517 and 617 with a high-temperature endbell as well as other design improvements over the motors produced by Mabuchi. Champion thus became one of the first companies to manufacture pro-style equipment. In 1970 Jim Williams sold the company to Bob "Mr. Yo-Yo" Rule.
George and Ron Mura followed their lead using a can manufactured for Tradeship with some modifications, as well as a new molding of an endbell. Designated the M400 series, it debuted in early 1968. Interestingly an improved second series incorporating technical input from recently signed ex-Champion professional racer John Cukras followed shortly thereafter. This was know as the infamous "B" can motor that caused many a heartbreak when it went up in smoke. Though it had taken two attempts but the second series used a much better white endbell with pent-roof brush holders and the armatures were now tied and welded. With the help of Bob Green, Mura produced the "C" can, followed by Champion's own version. Variations of this motor would dominate the market from 1971 to the 1990 while Mura and Champion continued to battle for supremacy.
Based in Dayton, OH. the company was a supplier to the US Military and one of their chief products were small electric motors. In 1964, with the slot car boom, Globe created a division in their company to handle this new and promising side of the business. The new company was called Globe-Versitec. Globe introduced a motor on an unsuspecting slot car world as the Globe SS-81. The SS-81 was an 18-volt, 1″ diameter round motor with a 5-pole sealed arm, a very well built commutator with actual welded wires, an Alnico round magnet, shunted brushes, and two good quality caged ball bearings. It caused an instant sensation even though at $14.95 they were 5 times more expensive than the average Mabuchi motor. The high-pitched scream of the motor was quite something to the ears of an 11-year old boy. In 1965, Globe issued the SS91, a 12-volt version of the SS81, and also produced a sidewinder die-cast aluminum alloy chassis for these motors. The chassis featured ball bearings at all four corners, leaf spring front suspension and adjustable drop arm. By 1967, Globe decided to introduce a specific slot car racing motor, at a lower $9.95 price. The SS101 had the 5-pole arm from the SS91 now dynamically balanced and set in a new 2-piece welded can with black plastic ends. While the price was more accessible to most, their popularity was very limited due to their larger pinion shaft (1/8in) and the difficulty to mount it in existing brackets, and Globe-Versitec faded from the slot car business in early 1968.
Famous US Slot Car Races
Some of the most famous slot car races during this period were the Rod & Custom six-series races of 1966 that were replaced by the Car Model series of races the following year both in Southern California and the 1967 Arco Nationals in Atlanta, GA and Tottenham Open in England. The first Rod & Custom race was held at Classic Speedway in Culver City, CA. The drivers that day included Team Russkit led by Mike Morrissey who would go on to win the race. Of the six races five were won by Morrissey. The following year saw Car Model magazine sponsor the races with the first being held at J & J raceway in Long Beach, CA. The race featured all the top teams including Checkpoint, Dynamic, Riggen and Russkit though it was independent racer John Anderson who took the honors at the end of the day.
The Arco Nationals was billed as East vs West and was organized by Company of Chamblee, of Georgia and held at Williamsburg Raceway in Atlanta, Georgia. The United Fruit Company president Bruce Paschal, a man dedicated to slot car racing provided some of the financial backing. Many of the top names in slot car racing showed up, including the team of John Cukras and Mike Steube, driving their way from California. Notable racers also included the already unbeatable East Coast star Howard Ursaner of Team Russkit East as well as his team mate Sandy Gross. Team Champion was also present with its usual line-up of team captain Jack Lane, Bill Thirlwell, Ray Gardner and Bob Cozine. Altogether over 150 racers made the trip, which represented the cream of the crop of the burgeoning pro-racing class of slot racers nationwide.
Once practice began on the first of four days of racing it soon became apparent that the only teams that would be able to compete with the best of the “locals” as well as the Team Champion racers were the two-person teams of Cukras/Steube and Ursaner/Gross. Both teams made it to the main event with Ursaner leading until his motor died. Cukras and Steube then drove to a relatively easy win in their Steube powered, Cukras-built car Grand Prix car. The second day involved coupes and was dominated by Howie Ursaner. Stock cars were run on day three and saw Pete von Ahrens triumph. On day four the stage was set for a battle between Bob Cozine and Ursaner in the sports car race but an accidental crash into the wall involving Ursaner's car ended his challenge before it even began and rumors of a conspiracy floated in the air. Cozine was able to take second place behind Phil Inglis and with that won the overall points championship due to his consistent finishes even though he did not in fact win an individual race. Ursaner would have to settle for second place in the overall points.
During the late 60's two racing organizations were established, the industry supported National Competition Committee (NCC) which upon it's inception in 1969 the NCC created a series of classes originally including Group 12, 15, 20 and Group 7 (Open). Soon other classes were created including International 15 and Group 27. The classes applied to both motors and chassis with for example the Group 20 chassis limited to one hinge and the drop arm. The motor for this class was originally limited to costing under $20.00 ready to run out of the box. Group 27 was created because it was thought that the Group 20 chassis would not handle the power of the required motor. The chassis spec was then opened up and thus created what proved to be a popular class.
The other group created by racers called the United Slot Racers Association (USRA) that still exists to this day. USRA established a national championship race, commonly called the "Nats" which is divided into two divisions with each having their own National Championship event every year. Division 1 is for 1/24 scale “Wing Cars” which are raced on high speed banked tracks – most commonly on a “Blue King” track, which is a very popular design of a 155′ 8 lane commercial track. Wing Car classes range from the less expensive spec chassis & motor classes to the unlimited Group 7 class, with cars able to achieve blinding speeds, capable of completing a lap around the 155′ track in under 1.5 seconds! Division 2 is for the “Scale Car” (relative to the Wing Car) classes, which are run on both banked and flat tracks. They range from the less expensive stamped steel “Flexi Car” chassis classes with spec motors, to the faster classes with laser or EDM cut steel chassis GT-12 & Eurosport classes, which are frequently run on flat tracks, resulting in a unique blend of speed and challenge.
Cutting edge slot car technology did not take long to filter down to the local raceway. In fact Northern California racers such as John Chotia, Bob Lenz and Ron Mura were looking for ever lower lap times were incorporating aerodynamic designs for their bodies with little resemblance to actual race cars. A leading proponent of what became known as thingies in late 1966 was John Chotia who often raced at Scott's Family Raceway in Fremont California.The cars they drove were super light with chassis made of piano wire and powered by rewound motors with short lifespans. In 1977 Chotia started the Weedhopper Ultralight Aircraft company. Sadly Chotia was killed while demonstrating one of his planes at an air show. In Detroit there was another designer of thingies by the name of Larry Shinoda. A Japanese-American, Shinoda attended the Art Center College of Design and went to work first for Ford Motor Company in 1955, then briefly with Packard, then General Motors in late-1956. Shinoda was the chief designer at General Motors during the 1960s working under the legendary Bill Mitchell. Shinoda designed the Corvette Stingray and the famous Mako Shark. He also produced a range of slot car bodies that are prized by collectors to this day. Shinoda started making bodies of his own design on the vacuum-forming machine at the General Motors Research and Development Center. These bodies did not represent real cars but were quite iconic in their design where form follows function.
Later side air dams were added and the transformation to wing cars was complete. There is some controversy around the idea that wing cars hastened the demise of slot cars but the fact remains that their incredible speeds raised the bar for anyone wanting to enter the hobby at least at the commercial level. Rather than sole blame being placed on Thingies or wing cars it's the commercial hobby's tilt towards racers that may have caused slot car's downfall.
Wing cars and Thingies have now morphed into separate categories where Thingies harken back to the 60s and fantastical body designs often with period chassis such as brass jail-door frames while Wing Cars have continued to progress to faster and faster speeds with lap times a little over one second on a Blue King banked track..
In 1984 several top wing racers were experimenting with steel chassis of a perimeter design. One of these racers was Ray Kallio, a Camen Team member racing out of Elmsford Raceway in New York. His steel chassis of which he only made six or seven were cut by hand. The chassis caused a sensation at the G27 with Dick DePaso driving to victory. Similar efforts were feverishly taking place at building perimeter steel chassis in other parts of the country including Chicago by Mike Swiss. Currently these chassis are made of EDM Steel and cut with a computer controlled machine.
The story to be continued ... In writing The history of slot cars and slot car racing. there is a lot of misinformation on the web and often different individuals were creating racing systems oblivious to what was happening elsewhere. The period between the wars is especially murky. If you have comments about this article or just wish to provide additional insight please do not hesitate to contact me: Dennis David