Getting Groovy in the 1960’s: Lotus and Slot Car Racing


This article is something of a cross over multi layered which enables us to examine three related subjects in one. These are:-

  • Model Cars Magazine and Model Car Science [ reference our Speed Reading Series of Magazine reviews]
  • Slot Cars in General
  • The Interrelationship of hobbies , competition , model making and product placement –the Lotus dimension

The A& R has a 1960’s “Scalextric” set with related buildings track etc. and Lotus single seater racing cars.

The editors feel that their quality and importance is worthy of review. Their design content is significant and they provide benchmarking.

Model Cars Magazine and Model Car Science

The A&R have copies of both magazines dating from 1965 through to 1971.

Model Car Science

Was published by Delta Magazines of West Los Angeles with Stephen D. Urette their editor at least in 1965.

Their emphasis is heavily on slot car racing but they also provide lots of practical and technical assistance relating to construction techniques. Of course much of their advertising supports the subject matter e.g. American Model Car Raceways, Inc., BeverleyHills, see also copy advert enclosed for the Lotus 30 by K&B MFG.Corp, Downey, California.

The popularity of slot car racing in America is easy to understand with the contribution of American engines, drivers and events like Indianapolis and Can-Am. Many of the slot car manufacturers provided scale replicas and it was perhaps possible with some ingenuity to replicate individual races with their cars and drivers.

The hobby was given considerable status with competitions like the 1965 world Model Car Racing championships with prizes of around $100,000.

Model Cars

Was published by Model Aeronautical Press Ltd .This company was founded just after the Second world War and was based in Bedfordshire,UK.They published a wide range of modelling magazines and enjoyed an excellent reputation. Titles included Aeromodeller and Model Maker. They also published a supporting range of books see below for examples. MAP expanded up into the 1970’s and has since changed hands.

Model cars were based at Hemel Hempstead, Herts, UK .Their editor was DJ Laidlaw –Dickson. Published monthly and sold in UK, USA and Canada. Model Cars was a practical hobby magazine with an interest in both slot cars and static models. Their covers were frequently very evocative [see illustration] and might comprise engineering working drawings, an artist’s impression or photograph.

It was the official magazine of the Electric Car Racing Association [ECRA]

Model Cars typical content included articles on:-

  • Race Event attendance – Reviews with photographs
  • A collectors corner
  • Die cast
  • Modifications and customisation of kits
  • Trends of the Trade
  • Hints and tips and assembly and report on kits [ see typical example of Lotus 30 illustrated]
  • Club news and Letters
  • Components
  • Review of manufactured  kits
  • Prototypes on Parade which were articles on significant automobiles with drawings permitting their construction. It is worth noting that MAP provided sets of plans in  8th, 10th and 12th scale with a large selection in 32nd corresponding with main slot cars. The A&R has several of these drawings in its archive.
  • A wide and diversified retail advertising network providing for all the hobbyist practical needs. Again it’s worth noting that Profile Publications [See A&R article plus archive] provided extended analysis of specific automobiles with very attractive scale working drawings eminently suitable to the model builder.

The editors were particularly interested in the Prototypes on Parade series as it was felt these gave the enthusiast hobbyist an affordable entry or link with engineering whilst developing craft, mechanical and design skills. It was a magazine of the era and integrated and possibly extended the Mecano practical instinct in boys. These are desirable qualities and perhaps somewhat lost in the virtual era. The A&R believes that the hands on practical design and problem solving mentality ought to be extended and believes the CCM&EC has a role in this. The practical nature of Model cars is reinforced by the typical books they advertised. Subjects included:-

  • Practical armature winding
  • Soldering and brazing
  • Using the small lathe
  • Workshop hints and tips
  • How to read working drawings
  • Three dimensional project drawing

In many respects the publication was very well structured, informative and practical. It stimulated enquiry and proceeded to provide the help, theoretical and practical to achieve realisation of dreams. The network of retail specialist ensured the backup and support to aid completion.

Although the magazine did not follow an intentional educational role the editors feel it did encourage an appreciation in engineering that might have led to either academic of craft apprenticeships etc. Certainly in the realm of slot cars the competitive drive ensured that technology was exploited and would have been a preparation towards formula racing.

Slot Cars in General

Slot cars originated in the UK in the late 1950’s and migrated to the US. It offered a hugely popular commercial and competition success through the 1960’s when many racing drivers and celebrities were involved. After a period of decline there has been something of a recent revival.

Scalextric is a brand of slot racing cars which first appeared in the late 1950’s in the UK. [See illustration] The inventor is believed to have been B.”Freddie “Francis. Some records suggest that the product was launched in 1957. Then in 1958 Tri-ang acquired the rights.

Slot racing provided the opportunity of a hobby that worked at many levels. It provided thrills spills, excitement, team or individual involvement. It was intended to be created at home in the minimum of space and to be packed away if needed. The manufacturers saw the participants acquiring driving skills.

The majority of slot cars were built to 1:32 scale with a small minority at 1:24.

Built in plastic they were faster than an earlier tin predecessor and of course were cheaper and could be made in volume with a greater range of marques to choose from. It was claimed they could reach a scale speed approaching 200 mph.

Scalextric marketed itself as both a sport and hobby requiring skill concentration and fun with the thrills and spills. Additionally it perhaps represented accuracy and realism that an ever discerning taste demanded. Furthermore they was scope for customisation and many permutations to meet taste and interest level.

The Scalextric catalogues were graphically illustrated and the author records that Lotus were represented in the Formula Junior Series  ;Set F.J.31[ see A&R article] and Grand Prix Series GP 32and 33. Additionally Lotus cars featured in catalogues:-

  • 1960   Ist Edition      Lotus and Vanwall Cars [ Chapman input see A&R ]
  • 1962   3rd Edition      Lotus
  • 1963   4th Edition      Lotus
  • 1969   0th Edition      Lotus Indianapolis

Amongst the current generation a Lotus 49 Cosworth of 1968 is included.

The accessories offered as self-build included Control Centre, Racing pit, Marshall’s hut and Owners stand/ racing pit, miniature tools and equipment grandstands ,entrance buildings , time keepers hut, refreshment kiosk  and first aid hut, track side minutia was available including crash barriers, bushes , hurdles, oil drums track safety barriers, track signs ,hedging, half tyre markers , lighting and straw bales supported by scale figures such as mechanics and driver, spectators , vendors ,TV crew  allowed considerable representation of period racing. To which the owner might be able to adapt to specific machines, drivers and circuits.

Scalextric also included a sound effect record enabling a total ambience to be achieved. The racing set with lights enabled night racing to be invoked

Another UK slot car manufacturer; less known is Wrenn [see illustrations]. This company was owned by George and Richard Wrenn. They are believed to have been involved in model railways but branched out into slot car racing in the 1960’s.It’s possible that they saw that the two elements might be incorporated in the same scale  providing a structured and integrated system and increasing interest / realism. Their range was known as 152 and constructed to 1:52 scale. It was possibly not as technically good as Scalextric and failed commercially.

It’s believed that Airfix and VIP were also UK manufacturers of slot racing sets.

The popularity of slot racing in the US is evident by the number and diversity of products, manufacturers, clubs, magazines, organisations and competitions that supported the hobby.

Lotus Slot Cars

Lotus Scale Models Slot Cars Ref.No
Type No Manufacture’ Scale






















38 [Indy] Classic





65 Indy IMC Not known
Various Scalextric C/54,63 ,67


The editors do not wish to exaggerate what might seem an innocent hobby out of all proportion. However there are some important parallels with sponsorship. Primarily for a product to sell it needs to be successful and seen in the public mind as desirable. Sponsorship contains an aspect of identification and projection of values. Scale model and toy makers have to address the perceptions and needs of their audience.

It’s easy to understand why Lotus featured so highly in Scalextric sets in the 1960’s.

Some of the reasons are:-

ü  Lotus were successful at almost every branch of motor sport internationally and particularly in USA where they were using American V8 engines and had won at Indianapolis etc.

ü  They had engaging young designers and drivers “of their time” ; who acted as role models again both UK and US

ü  The 1960’s was a youth generation with disposable income and an appetite for excitement

ü  Scalextric in particular must have seemed an opportunity to participate or “drive” before attempting a racing school

ü  Lotus was known through the TV and media in programmes like the Avengers and The Prisoner [ see A&R articles]

In turn Lotus had further exposure and recognition. This was possibly to a younger audience than the normal purchasing group. However it was an introduction and perception/ imagery/ desirability would remain in the mind’s eye. All of which are important aspects of branding. Some manufacturers are willing to pay for product placement.

It’s very likely that Colin Chapman/Lotus received small royalties for the licence to use their cars and possibly provided drawings that enabled the scale models to be created.

The point the editors wish to make is that Colin Chapman/Lotus were so successful they were a household name and that their success was so indelible  and recognisable that they had entered and lodged in a popular psyche.

When the editors recommend a museum to promote and articulate these achievements it is based on their permanence and the common acceptance of their contribution, especially in International motorsport.

Purpose and Function of Scale Models.

They permit the following with relative ease.

  • Affordable and collectable in relative volume
  • Easily and attractively stored or displayed
  • Provide near infinite groupings by theme or function etc. including benchmarking and peer comparison
  • Relative scale permits realism and reliable body shape contour
  • The evolution of the marque to be studied and traced
  • Value to artist and draftsmen / designers – opportunity for tactile analysis of form and function.
  • Value to students of coachwork design
  • General value to the automobile enthusiast
  • They provide inspiration to child and adult increasing their appreciation of design.
  • They offer meaningful learning opportunities integrating design construction, attention to detail, patience and timetabling.
  • They are examples of a branch of design and model engineering worthy of study in their own right.

The Proposed CCM&EC

The proposed museum believes that commercial considerations are both necessary and complementary with its educational objectives.

For these reasons our Business Plan includes provision for promoting products and services which share Chapman’s ideals of mechanical efficiency and sustainability. In addition we propose merchandising that explain and interprets the social and cultural context of Chapman’s designs in period. It’s suggested there will be catalogue for on line purchasing.

In particular it’s intended to have a range of scale models and books/publications supporting model making / detailing for various age groups ranging in complexity and price.  These will be consistent/ complementary with exhibitions and permanent displays. Furthermore they might serve to encourage students and visitors to examine exhibits for minute detail that they can incorporate in the construction/ customisation of their models. There are many models and manufactures to choose from and the proposed museum can retail collector’s items alongside contemporary subjects.

It’s further proposed that the Museum will have permanent slot racing circuits where specific races can be re-enacted. Furthermore technical skills of modelling will be promoted with the tools, skills and components to make this a reality. As such this forms the interface between learning and entertainment.

The museum would have the potential to host and sponsor competition and events ought be structured and integrated with the archive, permanent and visiting exhibitions.

Slot racing has an important family dimension which ought to be encouraged and to ensure attendance is gender friendly.

It’s firmly believed that every opportunity has the seeds of an educational dimension and that this might be exploited within the hobby of slot racing. Seeds grow and it would be hoped they might develop within the fertile and development environment that the proposed CCM&EC could provide.


Magazines as noted above

Motor Modelling.Rex Hayes.Acro.1961

Model Car Collecting.FB Jewell. TemplePress.1963

Scale Model Cars.H.Pratley.MAP.1956

How to Go Plastic Modelling.C.Ellis.Futura.1975

ISBN: 0860071596

Plastic Model Cars.c.Gibson.MAP.1962

Model Cars. Consumer Guide.1979

ISBN: 0517294605

Scalextric –Miniature Electric Motor Racing Catalogue 4th edition .1963

Electric Model Car Racing.DJ Laidlaw-Dickson. Museum Press

Table Top Car Racing.RF Demepwolf.Allen & Unwin

Simple Electric Car Racing. Vic Smeed.MAP