I began writing this history more than 20 years ago. Its original purpose was to give my then 16 year old son some backgound about the hobby we both enjoyed. It is still unfinished. In particular, the period from 1995 to the present is blank. I hope to update it gradually but, given my choice between building and writing, the scale is usually tipped in favor of building. I am including it here in part to provide those who were not involved in those very early days (and that include almost everyone!) a view of the hobby "way back when"
It is presented "as written" in 1985-86 and thus predates my return to the hobby in the mid 90's. Some of the material is out dated and much will be seen as redundant but I decided to preserve the original text because it reflected my view of the hobby at that time.
ECURIE MARTINI: HISTORY AND TECHNICAL OVERVIEW
Part One - The Early Years
It really all began with a Varney kit model of a New York Central box car bought in 1947. While this may seem an odd way to begin the story of a model race track, much of what happened between that first model and the REAL beginning shaped the whys and hows of Ecurie Martini, so, begging the reader's indulgence:
Hobbies were not casual affairs at my house and my father and I were soon immersed. One car led to another, and then a locomotive and a section of track, more cars, locomotives and within three years a substantial portion of the basement had been co-opted by a sprawling HO model layout. Since these were the days before "buy it in a box"at the toy store model railroads, a fair range of skills were (more or less) acquired: drilling, tapping, soldering and elementary metal bashing along with rudimentary electrical skills and scenery building. High school came along and girls, college plans and my younger brother's disinterest allowed dust to fall.
College made its own unique contributions to this history. Aláin Hénon, my Belgian-born roommate and life-long friend brought with him L'Auto Journal, a French language weekly newspaper of the European motoring scene. Sports cars and SCCA racing entered my life and the business of tinkering with cars began. During these years, the early-mid 50's I became aware of various types of model racing cars, mostly from occasional references in the almost impossible to find British magazines. There were even the occasional experiments with CO2 powered cars running on a stretched string or gas-powered sprint cars circling on a tether. These were not satisfactory representations of the close-quarter dicing at Thompson, Lime Rock, Montgomery or Brynn Fan Tyddn. We will close this preface by noting that the appetite was there and some skills were at hand.
Graduate school, New York City, and reasonable proximity to Polk's Model Craft (34th street and 5th Avenue) and a wonderful little shop called "Motor Books" (about 57th street) planted the seeds that were to become Ecurie Martini. Motor Books carried a slender magazine, published by the Model Aeronautical Press, entitled "Model Builder" In each issue, sandwiched between plans for model boats, sailing yachts,and steam engines were a few pages devoted to model cars. These were almost exclusively rail racers, drawing their power from two raised rails, one higher than the other, set in the center of each lane. They were 1/32 cars, often with wood bodies from SMEC kits, and relied on model railroad motors for power. The winning models almost invariably had steering front ends, the steering input provided by the pick-up/guide shoe. (this latter point has always been a mystery to me. In all my years of experimenting with slot cars, I have never found steering to be of any use. I remain convinced that the physics of guidance of a model car whose front end is constrained to follow a fixed path has nothing to do with the behavior of the real thing. Perhaps there is some difference inherent in the rail system that I, having never seen it in operation, don't understand) Although rail racing was clearly the dominant system, with a well formulated set of rules and standards, there was occasional mention of SLOT racing - somewhat denigrated since it seemed to be the province of toy makers, not model builders. I will note in passing an item whose importance will be apparent as the story progresses: Motor Books also carried a line of extremely well made 1/24 plastic racing car model kits by an English firm, Merit.
AND THEN ONE DAY, having stopped into Polk's to "see what's new" I saw a figure eight slot track around which were careening two metal-bodied cars that were rough approximations at about 1/30th scale of Maserati and Ferrari GP cars! These were the first Scalextric cars. They consisted of a stamped base plate and body, a rubber driver, a purpose built "sidewinder" 3-pole motor with integral gears and axle and a most peculiar and elaborate guide/pick up. The latter consisted of two flattened metal bells, bonded at their edges to an insulator, and having a pair of axles which contacted separate, semi-circular tracks in a molded plastic race set into the base of the body behind the from wheels. A "differential" effect was achieved by two different rear wheels - one rubber, the other hard plastic. Never mind the fact that the pick-up was sensitive to dirt, the body was held together by clearly visible bent tabs and the rubber driver looked like the Michelin man, these cars screamed and slid around the rubber track in a most satisfying fashion. All that stood between me and what was to become a life-long fascination was a graduate student's budget. It is axiomatic in New York that if you talk to enough people, you can get anything wholesale! In due course, a figure eight of track, two spare cars and a cobbled together power supply (lantern cells in series expired in 30 min) occupied the Queens apartment I was sharing with my aforementioned college friend, Al Hénon. The name, Ecurie Martini, is his inspiration, and owes nothing to Stan Mott's Cyclops saga in Road and Track but rather saluted our then favorite tipple!
THE FIRST "SPECIAL"
I soon discovered that the body, held on by tabs inserted into the raised edge of the base, could be pried off and reattached with the tabs underneath the base. This improved not only the looks of the car(now bearing a little less resemblance to a racing bread van) but also improved the handling. This modified car was taken to the New York Auto Show, where Polk's had a working Scalextric track. It bested all comers for two hours, and then, while cooling down, disappeared, as best we could determine, into the quick hands of one of the spectators. I must add that the Polk's staff was greatly chagrined and replaced it with their best car.
One day, while rebuilding one of the cars, an idea struck. To put this in perspective, recognize that I was operating on the kitchen table of my New York apartment, with a screwdriver, pocket knife and soldering iron, all of the modeling tools residing in my parents home 70 miles away. A "Merit" Vanwall kit was obtained, by sheer chance a piece of metal tubing was found that, when heated on the stove, could be used to punch just the right size hole in the plastic lower body half to receive the guide roller, the motor was screwed in (screw holes courtesy of a red-hot paper clip),upper body half secured with tape and the whole cobbled-up mess put on the track. It ran! It ran faster, accelerated better and handled better than its metal ancestor.
A lot happened over the next six months. My father became interested in this new hobby, I changed schools with an intervening summer at home and word was spread to a number of the local sports car fraternity. Soon, individuals were subscribing for track and cars (by this time obtained directly from a supplier in England, via an ad in "Model Maker") the trains had been dismantled, and a new sprawl was appearing in my father's basement. A four lane track, with an overpass and carefully balanced lane lengths and turns was constructed. Racing began in earnest. It was marred, however by the deficiencies of the Scalextric cars. Despite the marginal current carrying capacity of the rolling contacts, the motors tended to overheat, and, if not carefully monitored, cease to function. A little exploratory surgery revealed that this was almost always due to the armature wires becoming unsoldered from the commutator - an easy fix but one that could be repeated only a few times. Eventually the nylon driven gear would perish and the pick-up rollers tended to wear grooves in their contact surfaces so that the roller would rotate about its rolling axis but would not turn around a vertical axis leading to terminal understeer. The same English source provided spare armatures, motors and pick-ups but a better solution was clearly needed.
It was now the winter of 1958-59. I had resumed my graduate training in New Haven and returned only occasionally to my home town for the odd week-end or school holiday.(It has been suggested that graduate studies are the last vestiges of indentured servitude) Experimentation with old model train motors and some gears found in mill supply stores had been less than successful. When I described my problem to my local hobby shop owner he produced a recently introduced item he thought might interest me. It was a Pittman DC 703 - called a "conversion motor" because, as I recall, it was designed to replace a (cheap Japanese!) motor supplied in a popular line of HO gauge diesel locomotives. It was a compact unit, crude by Pittman standards (the armature stampings were not machined after assembly) but had a 4:1 reduction gear driving a long 1/8" diameter axle parallel to the armature. It was immediately clear that this unit was better than the Scalextric motors, cheaper ($3.50 as I recall) and wouldn't fit the Scalextric cars. It also had no readily apparent means of mounting it save two useless slots designed for its specific railroad application.
More Merit kits, or in some cases early Strombecker 1/24 bodies, new aluminum wheels from England, a few ruined motors and things began to fall in place. How do you secure alloy wheels (having been drilled from 3/32 to 1/8) to a steel axle - cross drill the wheel, tap it very carefully 1-72 and use a set screw. How to mount the motor? After the first experiments - soldering mounts to the brass side frames - destroyed the magnets, glue was tried. It sometimes worked - for a little while. A more pressing problem was the clear inadequacy of the Scalextric rolling guide. Apart from other failings, it deteriorated rapidly from arcing due to the greatly increased current demand of the new motor and tended to jump the groove due to the speed and acceleration of the new cars. I cannot recall whether I was inspired by a less than perfect part obtained from England or if the ultimate answer was developed from first principals:
POWER AND DIRECTION
A block of teflon was obtained (at that time a very exotic material) and a T - section machined about 12" long. A 1" piece was cut off and the vertical leg was shaved to a tapered section to match the depth of the Scalextric slot. The leading edge was cut at a 30 degree angle and rounded. A clearance hole for a 2-56 machine screw was drilled, on center, from the top of the T into the flag and, using a small knife, a window was cut in the flag at the junction to permit the insertion of the machine screw from below to form a stud and pivot extending up from the top of the T. Phosphor bronze spring contacts were bolted to the flange on either side of the flag with 00-90 jewelers screws and bolts. A length of brass tubing was dropped over the pivot screw, the whole assembly inserted in a mounting block and held with washer and nut. The pivot tubing was notched top and bottom to allow the wires from the pick - up to be carried concentrically up the pivot shaft inside of the tubing. (see sketch) This paragraph passes mercifully over a fair pile of scrap teflon, unsuitable contact material and other sources of bad language but, when the result was finally tried, the results were startling. A dramatic increase in speed gave witness to the fact that despite its lower friction, the rolling pick - up had not been delivering the current the Pittman motor needed. It was no longer necessary to heavily weight the front of a car to assure good contact and tracking. In short, the day of the Scalextric car ended suddenly one evening in 1959 and none of then were ever seriously raced again.
This new format was not without its problems. The basic cars were still plastic kits with a motor fastened with spit and chewing gum at one end and a guide assembly and front axle carrier, usually brass sheet, bolted onto the other. Their speed and power was such that something was always coming adrift. In addition, the use of a lower body shell as a chassis meant the a car that had any amount of abuse displayed an ugly separation line between upper and lower sections. A lesser problem arose with use: the nylon driven gear would gradually loosen on the axle. The latter problem was cured by cross-drilling the gear hub and axle and driving a pin through both.
PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER
After a series of marginally acceptable attempts to fabricate a sheet metal chassis and have it come close to square, I decided on the "brute force approach" The graduate department in which I was working had a complete machine shop, including a large milling machine. A block of aluminum was set up and machined into a long "U" shape with enough meat at the base of the U to mount the guide and front axle. The legs of the U, about 3/4 X 1/16 in section, extended to the rear to "grasp" either side of the motor. The motor was mounted by (very carefully) drilling and tapping the brass side frames and bolting through the legs of the U with 2-56 F.H. brass screws that were cut short enough to clear the ends of the armature. This basic format was immediately successful and has endured. All of the cars built on this pattern in the late 1950's and early 1960's are still running today although the original motors are long gone. Some still run refurbished 703s, some have the later 704 with the 3:1 brass gear and one has been converted to handle the 706 of more recent make. Front axles vary. The earliest examples, the 2 D type Jaguars, have a front axle that rides in a vertical slot with lateral location by soldered washers bearing on the sides of the U. The most successful car of this format, the Vanwall, uses a center pivoted axle with limited swing
The limitation of this format is the width of the motor. Although almost any 1/24 sports/racing car has ample room, the only Formula one cars that I could fit with this chassis were the Vanwall and the W-196 Mercedes Benz. Other, minor problems arose. The phosphor bronze contacts wore at the point where they ran on the metal edged Scalextric groove. About 30 minutes of running was sufficient to produce a crescent edge that would no longer provide reliable contact. I learned that they could be trimmed with a scissors, a little at a time until they were to short to use. Unfastening the worn contact and replacing it was time consuming. I soon learned that soldering new contacts to the stub of the original was just as effective. (We ran several multi-hour races and, with practice, a pit stop for new contacts could be accomplished in 30 seconds)
Other chassis formats were tried, of course. My model building agenda was directed as much from a desire to have a broad cross section of cars, especially Grand Prix cars, so that historically accurate races could be run as it was from a desire to come up with "the best solution" The body shape of most of the single seaters demanded and in-line motor. Thanks to the increasing availability of gear sets from England, drive and drive ratios were no problem. A number of such cars were built. They explored the limits - from very light cars with small motors and tube frames to the Alfa-Romeo type 159 Alfetta which used a Pittman DC-70, a machined alloy chassis and ball-bearing rear end. Although in many cases, the in-line cars displayed better acceleration and top speed, the handling edge of the side-winders was such that in a race of any duration, the outcome was never in doubt.( Before nodding your head and murmuring "of course" let me remind you that this was 1960) It is also important to recognize that these cars were optimized for the track on which they ran - a very short, tight course. The longest straight was 12'; the inner lane of the 4 lane track (designed for the 1/30 -1/32 Scalextric cars had 3"radius corners; there were six corners and lap times were well under 10 seconds. Power control was on-off via cord mounted push buttons and cornering technique was simple but exacting: off power soon enough to avoid a spectacular excursion, one or two "blips" to position the car for the next straight, then full "on." Within these constraints the formula was clear: rear motor with weight concentrated on the driving wheels, a light front end with a low friction guide carrying most of the weight and pivoting about a vertical axis close to but in front of the front axle. (Current building programs that I will describe later seem to suggest that the advent of the wide sponge tires has reduced but not eliminated the handling advantage of the sidewinder configuration.
WHERE THE RUBBER MEETS THE ROAD
A short discourse on tires - and, a perhaps surprising revelation: The hobby was, at this time, being sustained by a regular flow of parts and accessories from England. Slot racing had not only reached respectability there but was beginning to displace rail racing as the leading form of the hobby. "Model Maker" magazine had changed its name to "Model Maker and Model Cars." (It was to later spin off the model cars into their own publication. I lost track of it when my activities went into hibernation and it disappeared sometime after the mid 60's) All of my wheels and tires were ordered from England, some by mail order with international money orders and, in one case by barter for good cigars! A variety of sizes were available, generally molded from high quality rubber. Nothing was available here until Strombecker began marketing their 1/24 slot cars, a D-Jaguar, a Lancia Ferrari and a Scarab complete with 3 volt (Japanese) motors and rubber tires. These tires, apparently molded of some sort of gritty synthetic, were the best! (Yes, these were the kits that Yr Hon Ed referred to in a recent issue as motorized display models) Some of the English tires had an edge in traction but lacked the smooth break-away and controllability of the Strombecker rubber. They only made one or two sizes but fortunately they were just right for most of the racing cars of that era. This was before drag racing taught the racing world that enough rubber on the road could give you a frictional coefficient greater than 1 and racing tires differed little in size or appearance from those on road cars. In other words, as Frolian Gonzalez, an Argentinean driver of considerable ability and girth, observed when looking at a modern Formula One car "In my day the drivers were fat and the tires were skinny." I also noted that there was a very real "break in" phenomenon - new tires required some running before they provided the best performance. After some experimentation I discovered that I could eliminate this break in period and further improve performance by carefully sanding the tires, after mounting, to "break" the edges and form a very gently rounded profile! I recognize that our slot racing tires have seen technical progress and change at least equal to that of the real thing but I offer the above with the suggestion that anyone wishing to built to-scale racing models of the pre 1960's cars will find tire supply and performance to be the greatest problem. (The rebuilding of Ecurie Martini in 1981 was almost abandoned when I discovered that my entire stock of tires had hardened to the point of brittleness.)
ROMANCE,NEW FRIENDS AND ECURIE MARTINI GOES INTERNATIONAL
Now the story gets a little complex here. I shall do my best to see that the threads are intertwined but not tangled! About this time I began spending long evenings in a coffee house with a female graduate student (don't start scanning to the next heading - it's relevant) She came from a small town in Pennsylvania that adjoined, along an indiscernible border, another small town - Sellersville - the home of Pittman Motors! On one of our trips to visits parents etc. I brought along several examples of my current cars and called to arrange a visit. I spent a long afternoon with Mr. Pittman (the founder I believe, he was not young at the time). I recall receiving the distinct impression that this was the first time this particular hobby/application had been brought to his attention. About a month later I received a package. In it were two motors (about DC 196 size) with integral axle carriers and brass/nylon contrate gears. The brushes had been re-mounted perpendicular to the magnets so that the brush carrier was on top of rather than on the side of the motor. The accompanying letter asked for my evaluation. The only obvious difference between the two was the color of the armature wire. They were duly tested to the limits of my less than exacting track timing gear and a reply sent. I heard nothing more but did see motors much like these as a commercial offering years later. Was this the first (albeit short-lived) factory sponsorship? Did I plant the seed of Pittman's participation in the hobby? With these two very compact motors in hand, another opportunity presented itself. I had by now become a regular reader of Model Maker and had struck up a correspondence friendship with a chap named Ken Wolstenholme who belonged the model car section of the Marchon and Solway Sports and Social Club (for these and other omissions and misspellings that will follow, I apologize and offer 30 years as my excuse. This was a 1/32 slot racing club and appeared to be one of the leaders in the conversion of the English tracks from rail to slot. I had also made telephone contact with Bob Braverman and, in addition to discussing with him the pros and cons of various technical concepts had purchased a 1/32 fiberglass "Birdcage" Maserati body. Finally, while nosing about a New Haven hobby shop one day, I learned of a small groups of racers in a nearby town. The group met at Fred Parker's home once a week for racing, talking and coffee. When I first met them, they were considering of converting from rail to slot and ran 1/32 cars. ( I have forgotten the names of the others in the group - if you are out there, I apologize.I do recall that the racing persona of one of the most faithful attendees was "Foolish Palizzo") Fred had a remarkable talent. He could take a block of balsa, a knife and some sandpaper and in remarkably short order turn out a very good image of a racing car. If you scaled them to drawings they were less than perfect but they looked "right" (much as Russell Brockbank's cartoons often looked more like racing cars than the real thing). With this as a basis, I generated a fiberglass Vanwall in 1/32 scale (more about how later). The Maserati and the Vanwall were fitted with the two Pittman experimental motors and mailed to England to be raced by proxy by K.Wholstenholme in the first Whithaven Grand Prix Slot International, 2 July 1961. I should love to report that these emissaries covered themselves with glory but it was not to be. They did respectably in the heats but did not make the finals. In a later letter Ken commented that although they were very fast, the handling "left a bit to be desired" My guess is that this was due to two factors: The Pittman motors were much, much more powerful than the 3-pole Triang that was almost universally used in England and, the guides, having been cut to fit the Scalextric track for testing purposes, were probably too thick and too shallow for the MRRC standard track.
There were a couple of notable excursions with Fred Parker and the group. We met once at my track for a day of racing. I think it was that experience that really convinced them that slots beat rails. We also visited a friends of Fred's in New Jersey: A model car collector introduced as Joe Rodriguez. His apartment was filled, tables, bookcases, closets and window sills with model cars! I have often wondered in later years if he was the Jose Rodriguez who wrote so prolifically on model cars and slot racing?
The young lady who gave me access to Pittman was now my fiance and it was proper that she become active in the hobby. We found a plastic model of a Mercedes 300SL convertible. By building a somewhat more complex chassis, with a widened "box" in the middle of the "U", it was possible to preserve the detailed interior of the open car. The universal DC 703 was fitted, a roll bar added, bumpers omitted (with the mounting holes filled and painted) and a pony-tailed driver installed! The car was a little slower, due to the weight of the more complex frame and the heavy body but nevertheless often successful because the weight made it almost immune to "bumping" One quickly learned that attempts to pass it on the outside of a corner were likely to earn one a trip to the boondocks.
A DRIVING LESSON
Implicit in the preceding paragraph is one of the challenges of driving on the Ecurie Martini track that profoundly influenced car design and driving technique. The slot spacing of the Scalextric track is 3". The 1/24th cars range in width from 2.5" ( a typical 50's G.P. car) to a little more than 3"- a "second era"(which phrase will become clear as the story progresses) car such as a 917K. Given the fact that the typical cornering stance is tail out, it is abundantly clear that one does not pass a car on an adjacent track on the outside! You either eat him on the straight or outbrake on an inside corner. Since only one straight is long enough for any of the cars to attain top speed, exit speed from a corner is critical. These conditions put a premium on tidy driving. A wide but recoverable slide can cost you half the length of a short straight. Open wheel cars a particularly demanding since car to car contact will almost certainly lead to one or both cars exiting the track. Cars running on the inner and outer lanes require additional techniques. The inner corners are so tight that the tail must be kicked out or the car will simply grind to a halt crosswise in the corner. To compensate for the additional length of the outer curves, one makes judicious use of the shoulder and scenery to motor more rapidly than gravity and frictional coefficients would appear to permit.
BODIES IN FIBERGLASS (GLASSFIBRE IF IT'S AN ENGLISH CAR)
By 1960-61 the basic design of the racing cars and engineering of guides, chassis and wheel systems was pretty well established. The cars were practically invincible on local tracks and increased speed seemed to run afoul of limits of tire technology so that the performance trade-off was usually negative. Efforts centered on reliability and an expanded range of prototypes. Since the limits of the commercially available plastic kits had been reached, A system was developed to add other, less common marques to the team. A variety of bodies were available as resin castings from England. These had several disadvantages. They were very heavy, prone to breakage and, because of the thickness of the resin, had limited space for motor and chassis. In addition, balsawood and a good set of plans could yield, according to the skill of the maker, a more or less acceptable pattern. My first thought was to produce a two part plaster mold. (I has limited experience with these in the model railroad days) These were never successful. There were too many undercuts and depressions in the patterns. Another hobby to the rescue! In a shop devoted to people who want to make plaster models of everything and paint them, I discovered latex mold compound. This material, when applied in an exhaustive number of coats to a pattern, will eventually yield a flexible mold that can be pulled off a complex form. Simple? - almost. If you are using a purpose build pattern, where, for example wheel wells and cockpit openings are scribings, it's easy. If any existing body is to form the pattern, these wells and openings must be partially filled with modeling clay to provide a solid surface and an adequately rigid mold. Remember as well that any surface irregularity in the pattern will be faithfully reproduced in the mold. All that remains, or so I thought, is to slap up a layer of glass and cloth, pull of the mold paint and go. It's not quite that simple. The ordinary glass cloth found in auto supply store fix-up kits is simply too thick and coarse to follow the contours of a 1/24 body shell. I found a roll of glass tape, about 1.25" wide and having a weave and weight like that of an oxford shirt. I have no idea where I found it or what it was intended for but similar material is available from Carolina Narrow Fabrics (1100 Patterson Ave. POB 1400 Winston-Salem NC 27101 919-724-3638). Polyester resin is tricky stuff. I found that the typical auto patch material didn't cure completely next to the mold surface. Whether this was due to the surface, the release agent, wax, or the exclusion of air remains a mystery. Suffice it to say that gel-coat patch, designed for marine use, is a suitable outer (first) layer in this system. The purpose of the first several coats is to produce the thinnest possible outside layer that will not permit the weave of the fabric to show through. After the gel coats have dried, one or two layers of laminate is set in regular polyester with attention paid to thorough wetting of the cloth and elimination of air pockets. The resultant body will be thin enough to flex but very strong. A couple of notes: the higher the ratio of cloth to resin, the stronger and lighter the body. If you harbor illusions of popping a gleaming, gel coated body out of a mold be prepared for disappointment. Perhaps my technique was faulty, but in the confines and corners of a small body mold,I always found a few bubbles or voids on the finished body that required filling. The up-side is that unlike styrene, the fiberglass body can be painted with any type of spray lacquer and mounting points for the chassis are easily laminated into it. This is a time consuming job but there is no comparison in the realism that can be achieved in a body from a female mold vs a vacuum formed body. This technology yielded Cooper and BRM 1500 cc formula One cars, the aforementioned Vanwall, and sometime later, a Mercedes 300SLR in 1/32 scale into which I managed to cram a Pittman DC 704 ! More of this last effort later.
SUNSET OVER THE PACIFIC
In the summer of 1961 I relocated from New Haven to Storrs, Connecticut. The distance effectively severed my connection with the Parker group and, nearing, I hoped, end stages of my graduate career, weekend excursions to the home track were few. In 1962 I married, and moved lock, stock and barrel (but no little cars) to La Jolla, California. The withdrawal symptoms were extreme. At Christmas time 1962 I found, in a toy shop specializing in exotic playthings for overpriviledged children, a Wrenn 1/52 slot car "toy" - shades of my first encounter with Scalextric. After much debate, we scraped together the $80 asked for the package and it appeared on a significant portion of the very small living room of our apartment. The Wrenn system was unique. It was a two lane track and each slot had 3 contact rails, a common on one side and two hot rails on the other. The cars had asymmetrical pick-ups, each car having a common wiper and a second wiper positioned to run on one of the two hot rails. Thus two cars could run in one slot under independent control. The track had a "flipper" section, which, when activated would (usually) bump the car from one slot to the other. The possibilities were intriguing. The realization was less than perfect. The cars were so small and the components so delicate that it was rare to have two cars adjusted well enough to make a good race. After a few months of (once again) ordering parts from England and being frustrated by my inability to do more than slightly modify the stock systems, we reclaimed the floor and packed away Wrenn. Not to be discouraged, and, having a nose for this sort of thing, I soon discovered, in a hobby shop in San Diego, the first commercial track I had ever seen. It was a relatively relaxed affair. I think the owner ran it out of enthusiasm and as an adjunct to the sales of supplies. The drill was simple: you showed up with you car(s), paid a very modest entry fee, and raced in a series of heats. At the end of the evening, the owner kept a fraction of the pot to cover his costs and the remainder was distributed to 1st,2nd, and 3rd place drivers. I suppose it was illegal but this was not big money. A 1st place purse would buy coffee and dessert on the way home. After looking over the competition - some early commercial cars, home builts based on newly available commercial parts and some English hybrids (1/32 chassis stretched to fit a 1/24 body), a quick phone call to the "home office" resulted in a package containing some rudimentary tools, the Vanwall and the 300SL and a few spares being dispatched. We shot off to the hobby shop with visions of victory laps in our heads. The cars wouldn't run! My phosphor bronze pick-ups were incompatible with the track. With some misgivings (it looked sloppy) I clipped the springs off and soldered on braid pick-ups like everyone else was using. Success! Ecurie Martini triumphant - coffee and dessert became a regular occasion. The cars were as fast or faster, handled better and were much more reliable. The only downside was that the track was running a 16 volt supply which meant that the 703's had a racing life of about 4 hours. The heat gradually weakened the magnet and performance slipped. All went well until one night, a competitor showed up with a rather rough looking Porsche G.P. car - with two 703's stuffed into the rear and dual wheels at each end of the two rear axles. It was fast. My observation that it bore little resemblance to any know car fell on deaf ears. (the counter argument was" no, but it might have been"). Others were inspired by the success of the "road warrior" and, in the ensuing weeks, more and more bizarre arrangements appeared. This was, I suppose, the beginning of the "thingie" era. I began to build a "super car" based on a Globe industrial 6 volt motor that would turn 20,000+ and still fit in a scale body but it was never finished. In 1963 Ecurie Martini packed its cars, carefully cushioned, in their metal travelling boxes. Unfortunately, one of the casualties of this cessation was the aforementioned 1/32 300SLR which was designed to answer the handling criticisms leveled at U.S. cars sent to England to compete by proxy. As I walked away, I strolled into "The Model Ship Chandler's" and bought a ship model.
"I HAVE RETIRED FROM RACING" (ALMOST) 1963-81
This, the longest time period of the saga, has the shortest history. Not much happened. After moving to Louisville, Ky in 1964 I found a local hobby shop that had a small track. I bought my first commercial slot racer - a Cox 1/24 Lotus G.P. car. It was all very elegant with a cast magnesium frame and beautifully detailed wheels ( and a driver's head at least 50% too large) I built it and took it to the hobby shop. It didn't run very well. I bought some sponge tires. That helped some but they didn't look right. Shortly thereafter the track disappeared and the Lotus was packed away. My attention turned to rebuilding (real) old wooden racing dinghies, raising Irish Wolfhounds and similar arcane pursuits.
1970 brought a move to suburban Chicago, the arrival of the next generation of Ecurie Martini driver, my son Steven, and the acquisition of a 50 year old North Shore tudor style house. Although my father, having decided to reclaim his basement, had carefully disassembled the track and shipped it to me along with all of the relevant bits and pieces, and although I regularly unpacked some of the cars and fondled them affectionately, several factors stood in the way of a revival. Steven had to have trains. I had an aging house with multiple ailments of structure and systems. There was only a half basement. The most telling blow of all came one evening when, for no good reason, I inspected my extensive spares inventory. The tires, all carefully sanded and arranged by size, had hardened to rock-like consistency! Since I was working in a large research laboratory I had access to a wide range of solvents. I could shrink the tires, swell them, dissolve them or disintegrate them but nothing would return them to resiliency.
Despite all these good reasons to elevate (or relegate) the slot cars to the status of display mounted collector's items, i couldn't quite abandon the quest. One day, while driving through Evanston in search of a replacement for some obscure broken piece of the house, I passed a shop with "Model Raceway" emblazoned across the front. Of course I stopped. I went in and, to my horror found a linear extrapolation of the dual motored, six wheel Porsche of ten years before. There was a large track with wide, sweeping turns, six or more lanes and a rack mounted power supply that looked like a utility sub-station. The drivers, most of whom appeared to be about 14 were (more or less) in charge of cars that were motoring at unbelievable velocities for brief intervals between crashes. The only thing less believable than the speed was the design of the cars themselves - shallow, wide vacuum formed wedges with sheets of clear plastic attached to the sides and mounted on chassis sporting what appeared to be O - ring front tires and very wide rear tires that were pale green! O tempore ! O mores ! A brief conversation with the proprietor convinced me that there was little hope of finding my "scale" Pirellis there.
Now one can argue that art imitates life or life imitates art. I was certainly aware of the progress in aerodynamics that yielded wedges and wings on racing cars. I knew that racing tires had changed radically in the 60's after the American hot rod fraternity, mercifully unschooled in theoretical physics, had taught the racing world that it was possible to achieve effective frictional coefficients greater than 1 but come on - pale green tires?
To be continued.......