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Slot-car pioneers, developments and history


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#1 cpbell

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Posted 04 September 2012 - 21:37

Following-on from my regrettable derailing of the above thread, I thought I might place the information I have found relating to the role of Wing Cmdr. Ken Wallis in the development of slot car design. Quoting from "The Lives of Ken Wallis" by Ian Hancock (2007 Edition, published by the author):

This unusual wartime hobby for creating miniatures also embraced model racing cars and, again in 1942, he [Wallis] designed and constructed the first electric slot-car racing circuit. The model cars were 3 inches in length with self-steering front wheels that followed a slot in the track; an idea developed later by others and commercially produced for considerable profit.



The author refers to the motors being hand-made with 5/16th inch armatures, and the first track being constructed on a black-out board from one of the windows in Ken's Bomber Command billet. He describes the technicalities of the cars and track over the next 2-3 pages, including how Ken's developments ended-up being used in the "Scalextric" system after his civilian business partner (who was thereby able to take-out Patents in his own name, while Ken, being in the Services, could not) failed to take-out said Patents whilst supposedly marketing Ken's system.

Does anyone know of any earlier versions, or can we state with some degree of confidence that Ken was the father of slot-car racing?

Edited by cpbell, 04 September 2012 - 21:39.


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#2 Odseybod

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Posted 05 September 2012 - 10:47

Following-on from my regrettable derailing of the above thread, I thought I might place the information I have found relating to the role of Wing Cmdr. Ken Wallis in the development of slot car design. Quoting from "The Lives of Ken Wallis" by Ian Hancock (2007 Edition, published by the author):



The author refers to the motors being hand-made with 5/16th inch armatures, and the first track being constructed on a black-out board from one of the windows in Ken's Bomber Command billet. He describes the technicalities of the cars and track over the next 2-3 pages, including how Ken's developments ended-up being used in the "Scalextric" system after his civilian business partner (who was thereby able to take-out Patents in his own name, while Ken, being in the Services, could not) failed to take-out said Patents whilst supposedly marketing Ken's system.

Does anyone know of any earlier versions, or can we state with some degree of confidence that Ken was the father of slot-car racing?


Now vaguely wondering which of the Ken Wallis developments were adopted by Scalextric. I had one of their first sets (c 1958) and its tinplate cars had rigid, non-steering front axles, so maybe it was the pick-up gimbal running in the slot thay copied? Or maybe it was the slot itself with power-rails either side?

Sorry, not taking us any closer to answering the original question.


#3 cpbell

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Posted 05 September 2012 - 11:52

Now vaguely wondering which of the Ken Wallis developments were adopted by Scalextric. I had one of their first sets (c 1958) and its tinplate cars had rigid, non-steering front axles, so maybe it was the pick-up gimbal running in the slot thay copied? Or maybe it was the slot itself with power-rails either side?

Sorry, not taking us any closer to answering the original question.



Interesting point. I shall re-read the entire section tonight and get back to you.

#4 Sharman

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Posted 05 September 2012 - 15:52

A little recollection prompted by this thread, in the 50s there was a Crafts and Hobbies Exhibition in Manchester opened by Mike Hawthorn. There was an early manifestation of slot cars on one of the stands. Mike siezed on it saying "I'm having the Ferrari" and, as I was standing next to him thrust the other control into my hand (naturally a Maserati) and said "I'll race you". Neither of us had ever tried our hands at this and there were hoots of laughter as Ferrari and Maserati shot off at tangents at the first corner.
Maybe this should have gone into the Little Things thread but I thought I share it with you here.

#5 Bloggsworth

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Posted 05 September 2012 - 18:20

I had an early Scalextric set with the two tinplate cars and the smooth polythene track and hard plastic "Tyres", the combination of track and tyre were more slippery than an eel in olive oil, the rear of the cars would just slide down the banking, my 12 year old brain said "Elastic bands!" - They did the trick.

Edited by Bloggsworth, 05 September 2012 - 18:21.


#6 paulhooft

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Posted 05 September 2012 - 18:53

I like this item!!
There was another book on Rail Racing I do not have.
Paul

I had an early Scalextric set with the two tinplate cars and the smooth polythene track and hard plastic "Tyres", the combination of track and tyre were more slippery than an eel in olive oil, the rear of the cars would just slide down the banking, my 12 year old brain said "Elastic bands!" - They did the trick.



#7 cpbell

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Posted 05 September 2012 - 19:59

I'm currently re-reading the relevant pages of the biography, and the author goes into such detail that, if I were to outline it all in one post, it would take too long to type and would be dreadfully unwieldy. I think I shall "serialise" it in several smaller posts if that's OK.

It seems that the original system was developed by Ken during 1942 whilst stationed at Moreton-in-the-Marsh. A clockmakers' lathe, driven from an electric fan motor via belts and pulleys, was used to produce motor parts. These consisted of 5/16th armatures, the commutators being made from brazing rods bored through, split into three lengths and mounted with insulators on the armature shaft. His concept also included the idea that the driver of each car could operate a potentiometer-controlled throttle which was sprung to return to "off", the potentiometer coming from surplus bomber light dim switches.

As regards pick-up, he experimented with copper "tyres" mounted on Perspex wheels collecting current from foil strips mounted the the track. For steering purposes, he used a copper wire soldered to brass pins embedded in the track, which guided a pivoting bar in the centre of the front axle by means of a forked section which rested over the copper wire. Thus, as the wire moved the forked end of the pivoting bar, the wheels would be steered, the cross-link front axle being designed to ensure that the front wheels maintained correct alignment no matter what angle of steering was required.

Experiments demonstrated flaws in the system however, caused by heavy oversteer in aggressive cornering bending the copper guide wire as the cross-link hit the maximum angle of pivot. This restriction in the degree of movement rendered it almost impossible to lose control due to excessive speed into the corners, prompting Ken to replace his wire and forked pivot bar design with the now-familiar guidance slot, the steering being controlled by a pin connected to the cross-link, but extending forward of the of the front nearside wheel's steering axis. This meant that the car could spin through 180 degrees without leaving the track as there was no longer a copper wire sitting proud of the track surface to guide the car around the corners should oversteer bring the edge of the rear tyres into contact with the wire. At the same time, he replaced the rear-wheel electrical pick-up system with spring-loaded contacts either side of the steering pin collecting current from a pair of copper wires carefully embedded in the track so that they were completely flush with the surface.

Next time, post-war developments using German technology acquired by a Miss Shilling...

Edited by cpbell, 05 September 2012 - 20:04.


#8 Odseybod

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Posted 05 September 2012 - 23:25

I'm currently re-reading the relevant pages of the biography, and the author goes into such detail that, if I were to outline it all in one post, it would take too long to type and would be dreadfully unwieldy. I think I shall "serialise" it in several smaller posts if that's OK.

It seems that the original system was developed by Ken during 1942 whilst stationed at Moreton-in-the-Marsh. A clockmakers' lathe, driven from an electric fan motor via belts and pulleys, was used to produce motor parts. These consisted of 5/16th armatures, the commutators being made from brazing rods bored through, split into three lengths and mounted with insulators on the armature shaft. His concept also included the idea that the driver of each car could operate a potentiometer-controlled throttle which was sprung to return to "off", the potentiometer coming from surplus bomber light dim switches.

As regards pick-up, he experimented with copper "tyres" mounted on Perspex wheels collecting current from foil strips mounted the the track. For steering purposes, he used a copper wire soldered to brass pins embedded in the track, which guided a pivoting bar in the centre of the front axle by means of a forked section which rested over the copper wire. Thus, as the wire moved the forked end of the pivoting bar, the wheels would be steered, the cross-link front axle being designed to ensure that the front wheels maintained correct alignment no matter what angle of steering was required.

Experiments demonstrated flaws in the system however, caused by heavy oversteer in aggressive cornering bending the copper guide wire as the cross-link hit the maximum angle of pivot. This restriction in the degree of movement rendered it almost impossible to lose control due to excessive speed into the corners, prompting Ken to replace his wire and forked pivot bar design with the now-familiar guidance slot, the steering being controlled by a pin connected to the cross-link, but extending forward of the of the front nearside wheel's steering axis. This meant that the car could spin through 180 degrees without leaving the track as there was no longer a copper wire sitting proud of the track surface to guide the car around the corners should oversteer bring the edge of the rear tyres into contact with the wire. At the same time, he replaced the rear-wheel electrical pick-up system with spring-loaded contacts either side of the steering pin collecting current from a pair of copper wires carefully embedded in the track so that they were completely flush with the surface.

Next time, post-war developments using German technology acquired by a Miss Shilling...


Fascinating - thanks for posting this.

As my fellow Scalextric pioneer Bloggsworth will no doubt confirm, the first sets has no variable throttle, just an on-off button for each lane. In conjunction with (I think) the three hard plastic and one rubber tyre on each car, it made car control quite interesting. The fact that Scalextric also included a little bottle of 'Skid Oil' for applying to the shiny rubber track to make it even less grippy was generous but probably unnecessary (how long before Bernie W. rediscovers the idea for his full-size circus?).

#9 T54

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Posted 06 September 2012 - 01:43

This unusual wartime hobby for creating miniatures also embraced model racing cars and, again in 1942, he [Wallis] designed and constructed the first electric slot-car racing circuit. The model cars were 3 inches in length with self-steering front wheels that followed a slot in the track; an idea developed later by others and commercially produced for considerable profit.

The author refers to the motors being hand-made with 5/16th inch armatures, and the first track being constructed on a black-out board from one of the windows in Ken's Bomber Command billet. He describes the technicalities of the cars and track over the next 2-3 pages, including how Ken's developments ended-up being used in the "Scalextric" system after his civilian business partner (who was thereby able to take-out Patents in his own name, while Ken, being in the Services, could not) failed to take-out said Patents whilst supposedly marketing Ken's system.


With all due respect, this is erroneous information, and as a person currently writing an extensive history of the hobby, I must intervene.
No doubt that Ken Wallis was one of the pioneers in the hobby and is deserving of historical attention, but several persons well before him had already not only devised but patented a slot car racing system.
There were many who dabbled with the idea, incredibly enough the oldest found being a patent for such in... 1899!!!
Below are excerpts from the new book I am now completing:

The first known example of a true slot car system was patented in the United States; it was awarded to Albert E Cullen, who was born and raised in England. After effectively inventing what is believed to be the first true "slot" racing car, he applied for a patent on March 27, 1936 and this was granted in March 1938. The patent showed that the concept was already well thought out. He received an offer for his invention by the Gilbert and Marx toy companies, but the offer was apparently not something he would accept, so the invention simply died.


This patent (all pages) can actually be easily found on the Internet.

But there are others, even before Cullen, as some of you will read in that new book when it is issued (others will love the pictures!). Another inventor, Charles Woodland, had it all figured out as early as 1935 and had his running models shown in Model Maker in 1949.

In 1935, British engineer Charles Woodland, after dabbling with various raised-rail track designs, had a similar idea as that of Cullen, of replacing the rail with a slot, thus allowing the car to drift or even spin clear across the track, something difficult to achieve with a raised rail, regardless of the claims by Patrick Kennedy... It took another 14 years for him to make it practical, but by 1949, Woodland had built a successful slot car, using a slim line model-train motor and various off-the-shelf (mostly toy train) components.


Patrick Kennedy had been manufacturing a racing set in which 4 to 6 cars could race on a raised rail. This had been embraced by none other than "Tim" Birkin:

Patrick Kennedy was the brother in law of Bertie Kensington-Moir, the Bentley racing team manager. In 1932 Sir Henry "Tim" Birkin, one of the famous "Bentley Boys", along with Captain Wolf Barnato who financed and developed the famous supercharged Bentley racing automobiles, visited Kennedy at his home, driving the little cars. This was the subject of a story in The Autocar, one of the top British automotive magazines.


In fact, by the time Victory Industries Products, then Minimodels (producers of the Scalex windups) introduced their VIP and Scalextric sets in 1957, the Cullen and all other patents regarding slot cars had expired. A new patent was no longer to be anything than a design patent and not that of an "invention".

The biggest news happened in April (1957) when two British companies, Minimodels on one side and Victory Industry Products (V.I.P.) on the other, started the ball rolling on a grand scale at nearly the same time. Minimodels introduced electrically motorized versions of their Scalex friction-powered Maserati tinplate cars, two of them racing side by side on a rubber-like plastic track with sunken steel rails on each side of the slot. The set was battery powered and controlled by push buttons. The cars were painted in two different colors and were racing against each other in realistic fashion.
An earlier Minimodels design had a raised-rail track similar to that invented by Baigent, but its fragile nature was discarded in favor of a slot. Engineer Fred Francis is credited with this design evolution of the spring powered Scalex models. In this book, you will find a rebuttal of this long-accepted theory, and research shows that all that has been published and popularized may not have been the full story. This author simply exposes both claims and will let the learned reader to draw his own conclusions.
In any case, Minimodels unveiled their commercially available slot car home-racing system at the Harrogate toy fair, under the trade name "Scalextric".
V.I. P. beat Minimodels by a month or so with their first slot car racing set. Their design used a built-up tinplate track with a plastic slot. The steel roadway provided the means of getting current to the braided contacts. The set featured models of an MGA and an Austin-Healy with much more advanced features than that of the rather crude Scalextric system.


I did not of course, forget Mr. Wallis who deserves some credit, but not the one of the actual invention:

In 1942, Ken Wallis, a British serviceman (not to be mixed with Ken Wallis, designer of the 1967 STP-Paxton Indy car), experimented with small electric powered models running on a track featuring at first, a raised rail, then a slot. The tiny cars, hardly larger than HO scale, had fully hand-built motors, chassis and bodies and used watch gears for power transmission. The first type picked its power from a guiding rail and foil ribbon glued on a Masonite track, the later had an offset pin guide and power was by a copper ring around each rear wheel, definitely not the best for traction! Wallis is the engineer who created, among other interesting devices, the small autogiro helicopter "Little Nellie" used in a James Bond movie epic set in Japan.


Fact is, Mr. Wallis cars were rail-racing cars that he later modified to "slot", but not in the conventional way as the cars were racing NEXT to a slot. This change took place likely in late 1944. Some of his models have survived. In any case, Mr. Wallis would not have been able to patent his ideas as a "primary design" patent then, because there were other patents already granted for the slot car racing system.

T54

Edited by T54, 06 September 2012 - 03:04.


#10 Leigh Trevail

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Posted 06 September 2012 - 05:32


Interesting stuff T54, would you know whether or not Wing Commander Ken Wallis's slot car track the oldest working example in existence?

#11 T54

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Posted 06 September 2012 - 14:06

It is possible that it is the oldest surviving example since all appears to have survived from the Charles Woodland estate is the beautiful 1/28 scale 1938 Maserati currently in the private collection of Roger Greenslade.
A gentleman collector in the USA has some of the cars, while another in the UK has some more.
My point is, Wallis' work deserves recognition but he was only one person in a slowly forming chain of inventors. His earlier rail cars are no more sophisticated than those of Patrick Kennedy, or those produced in 1908 by the French company Brianne, a model railroad outfit that had the cars and special track on their catalog that year, well before anyone else. While an actual sample has yet to surface, it can be considered as the oldest actual racing set manufactured.

There were plenty of experiments in the 1900s and 1930s, and several production racing sets well before Ken Wallis dabbled with his little cars: Lionel, Marklin, TippCo, Marx... most were RAIL-racing sets (using a raised rail instead of a slot) but this is how Wallis began too.

Ken was a brilliant engineer, but simply one of many out there. Just wait until you read about Henri Baigent in the new book... :)

#12 kayemod

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Posted 06 September 2012 - 15:17

Just wait until you read about Henri Baigent in the new book... :)


Really looking forward to that Philippe, everything I know of the Adams/Baigent feud came from Alban Adam's son Barry, so although it all made perfect sense to me at the time, possibly slightly one-sided. Hope you won't have too much trouble sorting out the truth in order to provide an accurate and balanced view of the events that took place all those years ago, I know that the hurt runs pretty deep on the Baigent side.


#13 Sterzo

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Posted 06 September 2012 - 15:56

Fascinating thread, so thank you, cpbell, and to T54 for revealing so much.

It would be interesting to know which predecessors inspired the VIP and Scalextric slot systems. Electric rail racing was well established before their first sets went on sale, but had they started development before rail racing was publicised in Model Maker? Were they aware of the other pioneers? Possibly Charles Woodland's slot system showed them the way to go.

Incidentally, Woodland used to write incomprehensible letters to Model Cars for years afterwards. They always published them, presumably out of deference to a pioneer.

Those who remember the first Scalextric cars being controlled by on/off push buttons are correct. Two were mounted in a tin box a few inches long, making it impossible for two people to race without being deeply in love. And yes, the cars did have only have one rubber tyre. The whole design was quirky in the extreme, and the awful "passenger" front wheels dangling on the track, taking no weight, persisted for decades. The motor was plastic bodied while the cars were metal bodied... endearingly nutty.


#14 T54

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Posted 06 September 2012 - 17:24

VIP and Minimodels were inspired partly by Alban Adams and his MRRC company, that already marketed parts for rail racing, from chassis to gears to wheels, tires and bodies.
The idea of a return to a slot after what Woodland had shown as far as VIP is concerned, is unknown. The idea for the slot in the Minimodels (Scalextric) system is being debated and as you will read in my new book, its inspiration may have come from a very different source than the genius of Mr. Francis, credited for the idea. Expect waves of protests when the book comes out, but I got the statements in the book directly from the persons making them, and these persons had (have) great credibility.

What is truly amazing is that the British hobbyists completely ignored Woodland's invention as clearly described and illustrated in model Maker in 1949, to instead follow the road of Baigent and Adams and chose the raised rail instead.
A possible theory on that is a question of... period mechanical traction: some such as D.J. Laidlaw-Dickson who was quite influential in his day, considered the "sunken guide" with total contempt, heresy on the level of religious proportions.
In fact, rail racing was at first vastly more efficient than the slot system to keep the car going: when the model car began sliding on its period Godawful tires (either the rubbery mess of the Scalextric tinplate cars, or the ridiculous molded Vinyl things on the VIP cars), the center rail acted as a stop for the tire and rail-racing cars with their period anemic motors acted just like Henri Baigent's Diesel powered 1/12 scale models of a slightly earlier era. The rail meant that a spin was impossible, the worst that would happen was the car going on its roof if pushed too hard! So with a bit of practice with your push button, you could take a corner flat out with a rail-racing car, while one would have to tip-toe on a slot car track.

Fortunately, tire compounds got better, or slot car racing would never have survived that long! :)

Edited by T54, 06 September 2012 - 17:26.


#15 cpbell

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Posted 06 September 2012 - 17:51

Apologies to Philippe; I feel I ought to withdraw froom this subject forthwith as I seem to unwittingly stir-up trouble. Given the obviously erroneous claims made by Ken's biographer, I'm going to abandon any further summarising of this section.

#16 Leigh Trevail

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Posted 06 September 2012 - 18:11


In Post 11 T54 states... “My point is, Wallis' work deserves recognition but he was only one person in a slowly forming chain of inventors”

I understand that now, you have obviously researched this quite thoroughly. I don't think that Ken ever set out to invent a toy for the mass market, he was just an extremely clever chap trying to stave off boredom whilst stationed miles from anywhere during the war. I am sure had he any prior knowledge of any other slot car system prior to his he would have been the first to admit it. Similarly he has spent the last fifty years denying that the Autogyros that he is most famous for was his invention, without re-reading his book I am sure that he said he purchased his first autogyro from America.

Also it should be noted that he is still a clever engineer, despite being over ninety years old.



#17 cpbell

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Posted 06 September 2012 - 18:15

In Post 11 T54 states... “My point is, Wallis' work deserves recognition but he was only one person in a slowly forming chain of inventors”

I understand that now, you have obviously researched this quite thoroughly. I don't think that Ken ever set out to invent a toy for the mass market, he was just an extremely clever chap trying to stave off boredom whilst stationed miles from anywhere during the war. I am sure had he any prior knowledge of any other slot car system prior to his he would have been the first to admit it. Similarly he has spent the last fifty years denying that the Autogyros that he is most famous for was his invention, without re-reading his book I am sure that he said he purchased his first autogyro from America.

Also it should be noted that he is still a clever engineer, despite being over ninety years old.



Sorry Leigh, was that addressed to me or Phillippe? My reason for suspending further summarising of the relevant section was that the inaccuracy contained in the claim the author makes on Ken's behalf makes me doubt the accuracy of his reporting when it comes to other details of Ken's work.

#18 Tim Murray

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Posted 06 September 2012 - 18:23

I feel I ought to withdraw froom this subject forthwith as I seem to unwittingly stir-up trouble.

You're not 'stirring up trouble', Chris. If you hadn't started this very interesting thread we might not have had Philippe's contribution. It's not your fault that some of the things in the Wallis biography are turning out to be incorrect when set against the enormous amount of research that Philippe has obviously done. To be fair, the slot car stuff was a fairly small part of Wallis's amazing life and it might be a little harsh to criticise his biographer for not getting things quite right. We are now, in true TNF style, sorting the facts from the fiction and your contribution has helped a lot. :)

Edited by Tim Murray, 06 September 2012 - 18:25.


#19 cpbell

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Posted 06 September 2012 - 18:32

You're not 'stirring up trouble', Chris. If you hadn't started this very interesting thread we might not have had Philippe's contribution. It's not your fault that some of the things in the Wallis biography are turning out to be incorrect when set against the enormous amount of research that Philippe has obviously done. To be fair, the slot car stuff was a fairly small part of Wallis's amazing life and it might be a little harsh to criticise his biographer for not getting things quite right. We are now, in true TNF style, sorting the facts from the fiction and your contribution has helped a lot. :)


Shall I continue with the developments Ken made to his own system, with the understanding that none of them were necessarily new inventions?

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#20 Leigh Trevail

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Posted 06 September 2012 - 18:38

Apologies to Philippe; I feel I ought to withdraw froom this subject forthwith as I seem to unwittingly stir-up trouble. Given the obviously erroneous claims made by Ken's biographer, I'm going to abandon any further summarising of this section.


Again if I may defend Ken. After the war he stayed in the R.A.F being involved with various development projects. During 1956 he joined the U.S.A.F Strategic Air Command flying 10 engined Convair B-36s as close to Russian airspace as was allowed. In his spare time he built a Rolls Royce Phantom special, started flying and building the Autogyros and took up hydroplane racing. I very much doubt if he had a lot of time to worry about a toy he built to pass the time during the war. Until recently the racingcar set has been nothing more than a novelty in his shed. In the book he would have just stated what happened from his perspective, I am sure that neither he or his biographer has tried to deceive anyone along the way.

The Convair B36 bomber might have been known as the 'Peace Maker' in its home country. However if its cargo had been dropped none of us would now be in the fortunate position to discuss the origins of slot car racing.



#21 Leigh Trevail

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Posted 06 September 2012 - 18:52

Cpbell in Post17 states..."Sorry Leigh, was that addressed to me or Phillippe? My reason for suspending further summarising of the relevant section was that the inaccuracy contained in the claim the author makes on Ken's behalf makes me doubt the accuracy of his reporting when it comes to other details of Ken's work."

That was in reply to T54, he does not give his first name. What he says is interesting and I am not doubting any of it. Ken is a genuine chap and I would not like him to be thought of as a liar, hence the reply.

Yes! Please carry on with the saga of Ken's work, everything he says he made is true, it all still exists. The only thing that is wrong is that he believed he was the first with slot car racing which clearly (with hindsight) he was not!

Edited by Leigh Trevail, 06 September 2012 - 18:54.


#22 cpbell

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Posted 06 September 2012 - 21:02

OK, to continue Ken's experiments and why a Miss Shilling was an important part of the story.

It would appear that Ken was friendly with (perhaps in more ways than one) Miss Beatrice (Tilly) Shilling. According to Ken's biographer, she was a research engineer at the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough, having been awarded a Brooklands Gold Star for her 100 mph lap aboard a 500cc Norton just before the war. She was, apparently, best-known for her "Orifice" (yes, really :lol:), which was a holed disc placed in the fuel pipe feeding the carbs on Merlin engines, preventing fuel surge in the dive, thereby eliminating the necessity for Spitfire and Hurricane pilots to invert before entering a high-speed dive, the device being named after the hole, with more than a touch of seaside postcard humour.

Anyway, immediately after the cessation of hostilities, Miss Shilling made parts of the Kurzkoppler electro-mechanical bomb-aiming/navigation device as fitted to the Arado Ar 234 twin-jet bomber available to Ken. He identified that the motors, bevel-gear drive systems and ball-races would be ideal for a scaled-up version of his original, 3" cars. In addition, Ken decided that the Perspex bodies of his original cars were less durable than he had aimed-for, so raided the junk room adjacent to his office at the Ministry of Aircraft Production, finding therein brass cylinders which, it transpired, were amplifier systems to be fitted to 250 lb "G.P." bombs, which were being used as part of a trial on photo-electric bomb initiation. This thin sheet brass proved ideal as the basis for two cars with unusual ball-bearing wheels; one white, supposedly a generic pre-war Mercedes-Benz (a W125, perhaps?), while the second was painted green to represent an E.R.A.

For the new track, plywood from old packing cases was commandeered to form four, hinged sections which, when joined, created a 9' x 4' track at his home in Hove. It was also taken with him on postings to exotic locations such as Scampton and Binbrook, where it apparently provoked much interest and whiled away spare hours.

Next time, Ellerston Trevor appears on the scene, and things go awry...

#23 Tim Murray

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Posted 06 September 2012 - 21:51

Fascinating stuff. We had quite a discussion here on Miss Shilling and her modifications to the Merlin carburettor a few years ago, but (as I can't find it) I think it was in the now-deleted Blood Pressure thread. Here's an interesting article on her, originally posted here by Roger Lund (Bradbury West):

http://www.elva.com/...jottings02.html

#24 cpbell

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Posted 07 September 2012 - 09:55

Fascinating stuff. We had quite a discussion here on Miss Shilling and her modifications to the Merlin carburettor a few years ago, but (as I can't find it) I think it was in the now-deleted Blood Pressure thread. Here's an interesting article on her, originally posted here by Roger Lund (Bradbury West):

http://www.elva.com/...jottings02.html



Thanks for posting the link, Tim.

#25 cpbell

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Posted 07 September 2012 - 18:53

Shortly after Ken revamped his slot-car track and cars, he met (while living in Hove) a man by the name of Ellerston Trevor, who was fascinated by the game and was a regular visitor to Ken's home, both at Hove and when Ken and his wife Peggy moved to Southwick. Ken had long mused on the subject of applying for Patents, but had rejected the idea as, being a serving Officer, any Patents would have to be the property of the Crown. However, in 1956, as Ken was preparing to spend two years in the US as part of his posting to Strategic Air Command, he agreed with Ellerston Trevor a deal which would see Trevor take-over the game and cars in order to produce them in small volumes, thus enabling him to turn the system into a business, any proceeds to be divided 50:50 between himself and Ken. Sadly, it seemed that Trevor was more interested in self-promotion than production, appearing in newspapers and generally failing to carry-through his part of the arrangement. Indeed, on a brief visit back home, Ken contacted the Patent Office, who informed him that some Provisional Applications had been made, but not continued with.

Having seen Ellerston Trevor fail to make progress, Ken decided in 1957 to submit a Provisional Specification (presumably this did not entail the Crown taking ownership) for a steering system involving a magnet on the cars' steering system following a buried wire under the track, but development of this non-slot system stalled due to lack of time to devlop it the the required standard and the fact that, later that same year, the Scalextric slot system appeared, containing features similar to those which he had trusted Ellerston Trevor to file as Patents while he was otherwise engaged. Ken considered that the non-steerable front wheels of the Scalextric system was a deliberate move to distance it from his designs, and he suspects (though is unable to prove) that Trevor, perhaps in pursuit of greater profits, had sold some of Ken's design features to the makers of the new game, though I'm sure that T54 will confirm that these remaining features were invented previously anyway. Whether Ellerston Trevor did any such thing is obviously lost in the mists of time; however, I would suggest that, had Trevor filed Patents for those features of Ken's designs for which such Patents did not yet exist, both could have benefitted from either beating Scalextric to the marketplace, or from selling the rights to Ken's designs to them.

#26 Leigh Trevail

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Posted 07 September 2012 - 19:14

What should be remembered is that Ken sourced the parts for his slot cars from scrap high tech R.A.F equipment, which is why they are still running all these years later. Any commercial venture would have by necessity used inferior equipment, somehow I cannot see the Wing Commander agreeing to that.

Also the Scalextric cars might not have had steering but the Airfix slot car set of the sixties did!


#27 cpbell

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Posted 07 September 2012 - 19:20

What should be remembered is that Ken sourced the parts for his slot cars from scrap high tech R.A.F equipment, which is why they are still running all these years later. Any commercial venture would have by necessity used inferior equipment, somehow I cannot see the Wing Commander agreeing to that.

Also the Scalextric cars might not have had steering but the Airfix slot car set of the sixties did!


Indeed - the author is rather vague as to Ken's intentions as to what would result from the partnership with Ellerston Trevor, suggesting that the plan was pretty general anyway.

#28 Tim Murray

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Posted 07 September 2012 - 19:48

Shortly after Ken revamped his slot-car track and cars, he met (while living in Hove) a man by the name of Ellerston Trevor, who was fascinated by the game and was a regular visitor to Ken's home, both at Hove and when Ken and his wife Peggy moved to Southwick.

I think this was the well-known author Elleston Trevor. See this post on a slot car forum, which also features photos of some of the Wallis cars:

http://www.slotforum...?...st&p=199375

and here's a biography of Elleston Trevor (no mention of slot cars, sadly):

http://www.theweeweb...file.php?id=865

#29 Sterzo

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Posted 07 September 2012 - 20:47

Yes, it was the author Elleston Trevor, who was pictured with his own circuit in Model Maker.

It's unlikely Scalextric produced a non-steering front axle to avoid patent infringement, given there was no patent registered by Trevor. Their basic design feature was a "gimbal" (a metal faced cylinder with a projecting ridge which ran in the slot) which acted as guide and support for the front end. You couldn't connect it to the front wheels to steer them, and the front wheels didn't do anything anyway; they were there for cosmetic purposes.

Incidentally, VIP were on the market within about a year of Scalextric, with a flag type guide, steering, and a chassis layout much closer to the norm of later slot cars.



#30 cpbell

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Posted 07 September 2012 - 21:32

Thanks for the information - it would appear that Ken's biographer made another mistake with Mr Trevor's name. I take the point about the steerable vs. non-steerable front wheels; however bear in mind that Ken had tried to make a preliminary application for a steerable system based on a magnet tracking system rather than a slot.

#31 T54

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Posted 08 September 2012 - 01:33

Incidentally, VIP were on the market within about a year of Scalextric, with a flag type guide, steering, and a chassis layout much closer to the norm of later slot cars.


Actually, just about one month. :)
Another quotation from the new book:

The biggest news happened in April when two British companies, Minimodels on one side and Victory Industry Products (V.I.P.) on the other, started the ball rolling on a grand scale at nearly the same time. Minimodels introduced electrically motorized versions of their Scalex friction-powered Maserati tinplate cars, two of them racing side by side on a rubber-like plastic track with sunken steel rails on each side of the slot. The set was battery powered and controlled by push buttons. The cars were painted in two different colors and were racing against each other in realistic fashion.
Minimodels unveiled their commercially available slot car home-racing system at the Harrogate toy fair, under the trade name "Scalextric".
V.I. P. beat Minimodels by a month or so with their first slot car racing set. Their design used a built-up tinplate track with a plastic slot. The steel roadway provided the means of getting current to the braided contacts. The set featured models of an MGA and an Austin-Healy with much more advanced features than that of the rather crude Scalextric system.


And please understand that my intervention in this matter does not in any way mean that I do not have the greatest respect for Ken Wallis and his many great contributions to automotive and aircraft engineering. I merely corrected simple established facts. And as pointed above, not THAT important once one settles into a simple reality check about what is important in life! :smoking:


#32 cpbell

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Posted 08 September 2012 - 11:21

Thanks for the information, Phillippe; I'm happier knowing Ken Wallis' true place in the scheme of things. :smoking:

#33 mgtd

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Posted 08 September 2012 - 20:58

At the risk of even more "thread highjacking" I wondered if people would like to see these snaps I took on a private visit to Reymerston Hall in 2009 whenI lived fairly locally?

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As an aside,I was lucky enough to navigate in a 1920 R-R Ghost on this year's VSCC Norfolk Tour with the redoubtable Ken Wallis in the passenger seat and being driven by an 82 year old. Combined age of passenger, driver and car being c.270 years!

Stephen



#34 T54

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Posted 08 September 2012 - 23:59

July 1957 advertizing for the world's first mass-produced slot car racing set:

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Posted Image

Picture courtesy ??? (apologies to the unknown photographer)

Ken had long mused on the subject of applying for Patents, but had rejected the idea as, being a serving Officer, any Patents would have to be the property of the Crown. However, in 1956, as Ken was preparing to spend two years in the US as part of his posting to Strategic Air Command, he agreed with Ellerston Trevor a deal which would see Trevor take-over the game and cars in order to produce them in small volumes, thus enabling him to turn the system into a business, any proceeds to be divided 50:50 between himself and Ken. Sadly, it seemed that Trevor was more interested in self-promotion than production, appearing in newspapers and generally failing to carry-through his part of the arrangement. Indeed, on a brief visit back home, Ken contacted the Patent Office, who informed him that some Provisional Applications had been made, but not continued with.


It was too late: the 1936 Cullen patent would have voided any other. The best he could have done is to "register" the specific design. VIP and Minimodels were able to patent their inventions as "design patents". Minimodels, created in 1947, applied for design patents for their Scalex range as early as 1952. But those were clockwork powered tin cars, not electric, and not under any control!
In 1963, Scalextric, under Tri-ang (Lines bros) ownership since 1958, applied for a patent for their "Plexytrack" replacing the defective rubber mess from the original sets. But there were already plenty of plastic slot track out there by then...
Also an application for a basic patent for the actual system would have been vigorously fought by MRRC, Minimodels and... VIP!
So it is highly possible that people unfamiliar with patent applications may have taken Trevor's dealing for negligence when in fact the patent office may have placed insurmountable barriers to the application due to... plenty of "previous art". Plain speculation on my part of course, just a possibility.
Again, nothing negative about Ken Wallis, just facts as have surfaced over years of research by many enthusiasts.

Edited by T54, 09 September 2012 - 00:53.


#35 Kilted Wanderer

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Posted 09 September 2012 - 09:44

At the risk of offering a brief diversion from the original thread subject, here are some circa 1955 rail racing photos I have finally managed to scan and upload.

#36 Leigh Trevail

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Posted 09 September 2012 - 10:14

At the risk of offering a brief diversion from the original thread subject, here are some circa 1955 rail racing photos I have finally managed to scan and upload.


Excellent photos! Thank you for taking the trouble to scan them. Who ever owned that in 1955 must have the envy of the neighbourhood!


#37 cpbell

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Posted 09 September 2012 - 12:51

As an aside,I was lucky enough to navigate in a 1920 R-R Ghost on this year's VSCC Norfolk Tour with the redoubtable Ken Wallis in the passenger seat and being driven by an 82 year old. Combined age of passenger, driver and car being c.270 years!

Stephen



My father was there as passenger in a 1937 Rover 16 driven by a gentleman from near Attleborough who you may know (he helps him with some of the cars he restores, including a Wolsley Hornet owned by the son of the gentleman who owns the Ghost). That gentleman has had recent building work on his premises, and the builder, who is also a photographer, took several images, many of which he saved to a CD-ROM to give to my father. One of these photos is of yourself, the Ghost's owner, Ken, and the owners' wife preparing to leave Reymerston Hall - would you like me to PM you the shot?

Just to confirm that I am thinking of the correct person, were you sitting directly behind Ken, wearing a cream/beige jacket and a white and pale blue checked shirt?

Edited by cpbell, 09 September 2012 - 12:54.


#38 mgtd

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Posted 09 September 2012 - 16:43

My father was there as passenger in a 1937 Rover 16 driven by a gentleman from near Attleborough who you may know (he helps him with some of the cars he restores, including a Wolsley Hornet owned by the son of the gentleman who owns the Ghost). That gentleman has had recent building work on his premises, and the builder, who is also a photographer, took several images, many of which he saved to a CD-ROM to give to my father. One of these photos is of yourself, the Ghost's owner, Ken, and the owners' wife preparing to leave Reymerston Hall - would you like me to PM you the shot?

Just to confirm that I am thinking of the correct person, were you sitting directly behind Ken, wearing a cream/beige jacket and a white and pale blue checked shirt?



Bingo!

Well spotted that man.
"You have mail"

Stephen

#39 cpbell

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Posted 09 September 2012 - 19:42

Bingo!

Well spotted that man.
"You have mail"

Stephen


Replied. :smoking: