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Slot Car Gallery
 

 

Slot Car History
Part 5
as gathered by Dennis David


 

The Mabuchi Motor Company
MabuchiIn 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. Open frame motors by Pitmann and others 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 William produced the American made 517 and 617 with a high-temperature endbell as well as other design improvements over the motors produced by Mabuchi. 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.

 

The Rise of the Factory Teams
Team RusskitIn 1964 Phil Barchetta who was Strombecker's PR man started one of the first factory sponsored teams that raced at various tracks in the Greater Chicago area. 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:

Team Russkit"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!"

Team Russkit"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 finally supplanting Russkit as the top professional slot car team. 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 were rumored to benefit from an income of $50,000 a year. Howie Ursaner, a champion at 14 along with Sandy Gross formed slot car's legendary "Gold Dust Twins".

L. M. Cox Manufacturing would sign a sponsorship deal with Jim Hall's Chaparral team, which would carry the slot car manufacturer's emblem on all future racecars during the 1965 season.

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 Slot Car   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 probably a Pittman. Ursaner was a professional slot car racer by the age of 14 driving for teams Cobra and Russkit.
     
1965 Ron Quintana Chaparral Slot Car
               

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 Slot Car  

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 Slot Car   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 Warmac Lola T70 Slot Car  

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  

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 Slot Car  

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  

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.

     

Cutting edge slot car technology did not take long to filter down to the local raceway. In fact Northern California racers looking for ever lower lap times were incorporating aerodynamic designs for their bodies with little resemblance to actual race cars were made in late 1966 by John Chotia. Later side air dams were added and the transformation 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.

 
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The story to be continued ... In writing the history of slot cars 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