I remember my cousin getting a scalextric set for Christmas one year and we (my cousin, myself, and our respective Dad’s) spent most of Boxing Day when we went to visit playing with it. My cousin is a good ten years or more older than me, so this would have been some time during the 1970’s. I remember wanting one for myself so much, but I really wasn’t old enough to have one.
Scalextric wasn’t new then of course, as it first came out in 1957, so the concept is now over 50 years old. Initially the cars were made out of tin but in the 1960’s plastic started to be used. Whilst Scalextric as a brand has been owned by various companies over the years it has mostly been released under the auspices of Hornby, who are best known for their range of model train sets.
The average Scalextric set consisted of a couple of model cars and a selection of track pieces with the familiar double metallic lines running parallel to a groove in the plastic. Curved and straight sections could be clicked together to form a number of different track layouts, and extra cars and track pieces could be bought separately, including bridges, crossroads, lap counters and even track side scenery such as grandstands. A couple of triggered controllers were connected to a special part of the track, which altered the voltage that was running down the metal rails, thus allowing the cars to travel as slow or as fast as the player desired – just make sure you slowed down at tight corners otherwise your car would go flying off the track.
Sadly it was during the 1980’s, our chosen decade, that Scalextric actually suffered its lowest point in its popularity. This has been mostly attributed to the release of home computers at this time, which became many a young boys primary interest for a number of years. Attempts to combat this saw innovations such as cars with lights, so you could race in the dark, and cars with sound and smoke effects. I recall one set where the cars could be made to wheelspin somehow and generate fake smoke!
Despite this hic-cup during the eighties though, Scalextric is still well and truly with us I am glad to report, and is stronger than ever. There are now junior editions (why didn’t they think of that back in the 1970’s), Micro Scalextric and the new Scalextric Digital, which allows up to six cars to race around the track at a time, and the cars can even change lanes! Sounds pretty clever to me!