THIS YEAR YOU, TOO, CAN DRIVE IN A GRAND PRIX—AROUND YOUR CHRISTMAS TREE
The miniature cars cornering dangerously in the picture at the left and roaring down the straight on the preceding pages look and act as if they were going 130 miles an hour. They literally are going only a fraction of that, but since they are only a fraction the size of real cars and are running on a small, table-size track their "scale speed" may actually be as high as 150 mph. "Driving" them requires some of the instincts and reflexes—and luck—that a Grand Prix driver needs on a real course.
On the toy counters this gift season, for fathers and sons, there are racing car sets by 12 different manufacturers. The cars in these sets range in scale from 1/24 to 1/87 actual size. The lower-priced sets allow two cars to be operated on the course; the better ones accommodate up to six cars and permit a variety of track layouts simulating classic courses such as Sebring, Le Mans and Monza. In many of the sets, including the one pictured opposite, each car has its own motor, rear-wheel drive and individual speed control. A guide pin beneath the front wheels of each car keeps it on the slotted track but allows the rear to fishtail, so that the car drifts around corners—or spins out if the living-room operator is too heavy-handed on the controls.
The U.S. boom in very, very small cars began, typically enough, with a foreign import, the Scalextric line produced by Minimodels Ltd. of England. The basic Scalextric set has two cars and an oval track ($40), but for the truly interested there are such elaborate accessories as paddocks, control towers, grandstands, pits, Le Mans starts and driving lights. Among the accessories offered by the American companies that have jumped into the business, one of the best, by Strombecker, is a chicane obstacle, a narrow section of track where it is impossible for two cars to pass simultaneously. Some scale model sets, with cars only two inches long, such as those by Aurora (below), can be combined with model railroading to give the drivers the extra challenge of racing a train to the crossing. For the family that wants no part of racing there are turnpike sets, notably A. C. Gilbert's Auto-Rama ($40), complete with intersections and right and left turns, authentic enough to bring some of the pleasures and weekend horrors of highway driving right into the home.