Using kids as an excuse to get back on track with Scalextric

| 27 Mar 2013

Having children is an expensive business and makes distant memories of lie-ins, two minutes of peace and quiet, and spontaneous nights out.

On the plus side, you have the perfect excuse to revisit toys from your youth. For the kids' sake, obviously.

When I were a lad, there was a room that we all referred to rather grandly as ‘the study’. In truth, it was the basement, and is where my Dad still keeps his enormous collection of Autosport and Motor Sport magazines. Some of the latter are pre-war or even wartime issues.

For a while, though, it was also my Scalextric room.

The sections of track were mostly ones from Dad’s youth, so they were already more than 20-years old. There was a ritual before each game: make sure that the connections at the end of every piece weren’t about to fall off (or hadn’t just done so) and wire-brush the most sorry-looking sections.

And that was just the track. The cars were a little past their best, too, so their wire contacts had to be massaged back into shape to coax a little more life out of them.

Even after all that, there would inevitably be a ‘dead’ section at which the cars would just stop.

The more I played, the more gleaming new sections were added, until I could create passable versions of the great race tracks of old. Not even Brooklands was out of the question, thanks to small green blocks that created banked corners.

My crowning glory, however, was Le Mans – the non-chicane layout, of course. The basement wasn’t all that big, but it was just about long enough to house a scaled-down recreation of the famous eight-mile road circuit.

Sadly, the kitchen adjoined the ‘study’ and the downstairs telephone was in the latter. One evening, Mum went rushing in to answer a call and, in the dark, tripped over the Mulsanne Straight. After that, layouts that took up the entire room were frowned upon.

To begin with, I used whatever old cars I could find in the box of bits. One was a Ferrari P4 – in red, with gold wheels – another was a British Racing Green GT40.

But then I got more serious. On Bristol’s Gloucester Road, there used to be a model shop with the wonderful name of Nobby’s Hobbies. We would pay regular visits to Nobby, mostly so that I could hand over my pocket money. Plus, no doubt, some of Dad’s own hard-earned.

There was a Porsche 961 that was raced at Le Mans by Claude Ballot-Lena and Rene Metge, plus a Lotus 79 (above), but my favourite was a John Fitzpatrick Racing Porsche 956 (below). It featured a ‘lightweight’ body and a rear sprocket that could be changed to give different ‘gear ratios’. You could also adjust the rear track and the wheelbase. All of this was grandly titled the Super Racing System.

Group C cars featured heavily, with a Jaguar XJR-9 in IMSA Castrol colours and a Porsche 962 also doing battle.

I was a bit of a purist with my Scalextric, so there were none of those silly narrow sections or lane-changing crossovers – and certainly no ‘leaps’. If my kids decide they want those, I will argue that they are not very authentic and then sulk. But I’ll probably have to give in. I won’t be letting them win, though…

That’s if I get the chance. When my wife asked what I was writing and I explained that it was a blog about my old Scalextric stuff that’s still at my parents’ house (and which took quite a lot of digging out for the photographs), she immediately said: “It’s not coming here.”