Scalextric is the great leveller. While some kids may be naturally proficient at football, or sprinting, or drawing amusingly subversive cartoons of their teachers being savaged by monsters, you don’t need to have an inherent talent for slot-car racing to be good at Scalextric. You just need to teach yourself to modulate your throttle finger.
In time it becomes increasingly about nurture rather than nature; not who’s necessarily the best driver, but who’s the bravest. How quickly can you go round that corner – at three-quarter throttle? A little more? How much more of an incremental squeeze can you give before your car loses grip and tumbles off the track, meaning you have to run across the room to fetch it, all the while losing ground on your opponent as you reposition your stricken machine and resume your racing stance? It’s heady stuff.
Scalextric has been uniting families and creating simmering rivalries between friends ever since its launch in 1957. Marrying the classic wind-up Scalex models with a sparky supply of electric (hence the name), the formula is simple and has remained fundamentally unchanged since – although, as we shall shortly see, the world’s favourite slot-car brand is not averse to moving with the times.
With Christmas just around the corner, maybe it's about time you invested in some Scalextric. If you’ve got kids, you’ll probably find that it’s one of the longer-legged gifts that they’ll receive – they’re pretty unlikely to play with it just once and put it back in the box, as it’s hugely addictive.
If you haven’t got kids, don’t worry: you can indulge in the thoroughly grown-up sport of Scalex-drinks. (You can probably guess how that works.)
Whatever your life stage, scale model racing may very well make your Christmas. So here are six sets that you might want to consider – three old-school classics, three brand new fancy ones. Forza!
Mighty Metro [from £15]
This is very much a beginners’ Scalextric setup; indeed it was the first one I ever had at the age of about six. (It pains me slightly that it’s described as ‘vintage’ in some quarters now…)
The premise is simple: two Metro 6R4s, a figure-of-eight circuit with banked corners - and that’s it. This is the perfect scenario in which to build up that bravery we were talking about earlier, as the Brooklands-esque angle of the corners means that an over-zealous tug on the throttle can see your boxy little hatchback flying across the room and slamming into your hamster cage. Trust me.
Night Stages [from £15]
This was the set that the six year-old me coveted more than anything else in the world. In a way, it’s the next logical step up from Mighty Metros.
The track is fundamentally the same – figure-of-eight, banked corners – but with a few piquant extras; clip-on Armco and the like. What was most exciting, however, was that the cars it came with were a pair of mk3 Escort XR3is with working headlights. So you could actually play it in the dark! How cool is that?
I’ve no idea how cool that is, to be honest, I never got round to buying it. Maybe now’s the time?
Le Mans 24hr [from £50]
Ah, now we’re talking. This is the classic set to sort the men from the boys (and the women from the girls, and any combination therein – there’s no gender divide in Scalextric).
You get quite a lot of track, so you can make a vast circuit that vaguely approximates La Sarthe, or a variety of other track layouts if you fancy. The Le Mans 24hr set – and we’re talking about the late-eighties one here, rather than the later variants – pioneered a number of thrilling innovations: hand controllers that made engine sounds,
Magnatraction that employed magnets to help you hold your line through the corners, a lap & time counter… and the Porsche and Jaguar racers had working head and tail-lights. There was a control tower building too! Magnificent.
Drift Kings [£89.99]
Something rather more modern now. ‘Drifting’, as you may be aware, has become a global phenomenon in recent years. Growing in the mountains of Japan, the sport’s purpose is to be deliberately and constantly breaking traction both in corners and on the straights, never driving in a straight line, steering from the rear. How on Earth can this be possible with Scalextric cars, you may wonder? Aha, they’ve made this work by fitting clever guide blades beneath the cars – Nissan GT-Rs, incidentally – to allow 360-degree movement. Clever, eh?
They’re strong cars too, designed to stand up to constantly banging into each other. Look what they can do!
Rally Stage [£129.99]
Another step toward earning your Danger-lextric badge, the Rally Stage set takes the thrills and peril of the rally stage (the name was a clue, wasn’t it?) and plants them firmly on your living room floor – with the added bonus that you won’t get wet, muddy and cold. And you won’t have to make yourself a flask of Bovril. Well, you can if you want.
The track is fundamentally another figure-of-eight, but this one has straights and a sharp hairpin at one end, as well as a devilish crossover section where you can ram your opponent off the track. Not easy, that, without taking yourself out too. The Mini Countryman WRC and Ford Fiesta RS WRC are, like the drift cars above, solid and sturdy, almost encouraging your 1:32-scale vehicular violence…
Pit-Stop Challenge [£249.99]
This new set adds an extra dimension of strategy to the endeavour. For starters, the set comes complete with three cars – all McLaren MP4-12Cs – and it’s possible to race four cars at once on the two-lane track. There’s a pit section (again, the clue’s in the name – they’re very shrewd with their naming strategy), and the pit lane randomly activates at certain points throughout the race; the cars are fitted with chips so that the system knows which car has pitted, and the first one to extinguish all of their little LEDs by pitting the required number of times can then go on to take the chequered flag. Genius!
You can also use the crossover section to jump into your opponent’s path and block their progress. This is the stuff of slot-car dreams. It had better be, though, for £250…(in fact, you might want to consider adding it to your home insurance policy if you end up getting one, lest slot car fancying thieves take a shine to it - Ed)
There is only one downside to Scalextric: it takes up a lot of floor space. But all you need to do is designate an area within your house for racing (do you really need your dining table?) and you’re good to go – there are no barriers to entry with Scalextric; young or old, novice or expert, it’s basically just racing little cars around a track. And since Christmas is a time for family, it’s the ideal activity to unite one and all as a means to ease the post-dinner meat sweats. You barely even need to move…