|Model Electric Racing Cars make their First Appearance
Model cars have been around as long as there have been cars to model. Early propulsion was provided by a wind-up clockwork mechanism. The first commercial slot cars or more accurately model electric racing cars operating under constant power were made by Lionel (USA) and appeared in their catalogues in 1912. They drew power from a toy train rail sunk in a trough that was connected to a battery. They were surprisingly similar to modern slot cars, but independent speed control was available only as an optional extra. Sets of cars and track sold for between $7.50 to and $18.00. For reasons unknown Lionel discontinued their slot cars in 1915 after an estimated 12,000 slot cars were manufactured.
Sporadically over the next forty years, several other electrically powered commercial products came and went from companies such as Marx and the Bachman Brothers in the United States as well as Marklin and Fleischmann in Europe. Initially nearly all powered cars were guided by raised rails, either at the wheels (railroad-style), the lane center, or along one edge. These came to be known as rail cars as opposed to true slot cars.
Robert L. Mapson who along with Lee A. Woolley produced the Electricar for the Kokomo Stamped Metal Company. Originally the fence came rolled in two 10-foot lengths which was then assembled with wooden posts to form a continuous oval. Electrical pickup was accomplished using a front bumper guide system that ran along the perimeter of the course. In 1930 the company was consolidated with the Kingston Products Corporation. Additional bodies including dump and ice trucks and 1931 you could even race a bus full of terrified passengers using a 6th wheel chassis extension. Finally the country's continuing economic depression forced production of the
Electricar to be halted in 1933. At the time the set was considered pricey ... it cost $8.00
While certainly a novelty these early efforts did not produce the speed that enthusiasts expected from their racing cars. It should be noted that the companies mentioned so far were primarily in the business of selling model railroads and the cars were considered to be just another accessory. Leave it to an American to introduce some speed. That happened in 1937 in of all places Los Angeles, California a traditional hotbed of car racing in this country.
Without the support of the big toy companies it was left to the backyard hobbyist to keep the dream alive. In the United States the first rail racers were actually model airplane enthusiasts led by Tom Dooling in 1937. Writing later in the June, 1940 issue of "Model Craftsman" magazine, Tom Dooling noted that he and his brothers were sitting around the fire in the living room of their Southern California home, discussing the day's activities at the Los Angeles Model Airplane field located at Rosecrans and Western... at that time a barren field that was affectionately known to hobbyists as the Dust Bowl. In his article, Dooling described himself as: "an ardent model airplane fan, had a plane of my own, and like most amateurs in aero-dynamics, I managed to bring my plane home in pieces after each Sunday's flying.
"This particular Sunday evening, the discussion came around to the possibility of building a miniature car powered by a small gas engine similar to the motor used in my airplane. Being like any other average American, I have always had the desire to tinker with gadgets of one sort or another, and this model car idea could not be passed up. The following week, with the aid of my brothers, we assembled our first car." The first gas-powered car that the Dooling brothers built was a rather crude contraption, with front wheel drive powered by a Bunch Gwin Aero engine. In describing the car, Dooling remarked: "This little buggy had the beauty and grace of a one-legged duck - and with all its ugliness."
The performance of Dooling's first car was marginal; but, nonetheless, it attracted the attention of a number of fellows who had come to the Dust Bowl to fly their model airplanes. While most of the die-hard model airplane buffs ridiculed the unreliable little racer, a few decided that they too wanted to try their hand at building their own gas-powered cars. Following their initial attempt at building a gas-powered miniature racecar, Dooling noted: "The basic principle proved a success, and we immediately started designs for a new one." On that Sunday afternoon early in 1937, a new hobby was born on the West Coast and the Dooling Brothers were in business. These big cars, built to a scale of 1/18th to 1/16th, ran largely uncontrolled on tethers or sprawling tracks. In rail racing the cars raced on the surface of a board track usually consisting of 4-6 lanes. The cars were attached to a pair of ball bearings mounted on the front and back axle and guided by a rail on the track, which added more fun for the spectators. Maximum speed, which reached close to 100mph, was the goal here, as the electronics required to control these cars remotely had not yet been invented.