Philippe de Lespinay Posts

Designer Notes: Cox Can-Am Manta Slot Car

Lincoln Futura Philippe de LespinayPhilippe de Lespinay started with Heller, the French model kit company in the 1960s as a designer and project engineer. He also also worked for Cox, who are now known for their remote control and gas powered vehicles, but also created many kits over the years. More recently, he was the curator of the Los Angeles Slot Car Museum. And he’s on the hobbyDB Advisory Board, so yeah, he’s our kind of guy.

hobbyDB will be regularly sharing his insights on particular models he has worked on including production kits, never-produced projects, and his own custom builds. We hope you enjoy the journey through his career as well.

Read more about his history in the toy and model business here.


Cox Can-Am Manta Slot Car

Cox Can Am Manta slot car design sketch

In 1973, I was by Cox Toysthe famous Santa Ana based toy maker. They had read my little “exploits” on the period magazines, building neat pro-racing slot cars and winning big events with them, so they contacted me and I accepted their offer. They needed someone knowledgeable to sort out the mess they inherited from Leisure Dynamics Inc, the parent company that had dumped the old Eldon slot car program upon them.

This was one of the most enjoyable jobs I ever had, basically being in a toy shop designing the toys and generally having a ball. LeRoy Cox was no longer the company owner but he still owned the large building on Warner Ave., and he would visit time to time, and this is when I met him. A delightful man who gave me a Cox Chaparral 2E toy, that I still have, and had it signed by Phil Hill 2 years before his untimely death.

First, I revised the Eldon track, designed new smaller cars featuring the first traction magnets ever placed on a slot car to enhance down force. Eight models were produced, all using the same basic chassis.

Cox Can Am Manta slot car

The new chassis was patterned after the professional slot cars I had built and raced in 1971-1972, using a two-piece chassis design with a floating, zinc plated steel pan. There were no flexible lead wires, I used instead some brass ribbons that applied contact to the motor when this was snapped into place.

Two of the new bodies cars were of my own design, Can-Am models inspired by the vacuum formed bodies I devised for pro racing. The original graphic design is seen at left. The traction magnet was fitted in a pocket under the rear axle. The body was mounted on the chassis using side clips, allowing prompt removal for  mechanical maintenance.

Designer Notes: Heller Alpine-Renault A210 Le Mans

Lincoln Futura Philippe de LespinayPhilippe de Lespinay started with Heller, the French model kit company in the 1960s as a designer and project engineer. He also also worked for Cox, who are now known for their remote control and gas powered vehicles, but also created many kits over the years. More recently, he was the curator of the Los Angeles Slot Car Museum. And he’s on the hobbyDB Advisory Board, so yeah, he’s our kind of guy.

hobbyDB will be regularly sharing his insights on particular models he has worked on including production kits, never-produced projects, and his own custom builds. We hope you enjoy the journey through his career as well.

Read more about his history in the toy and model business here.


Heller Alpine-Renault A210 Le Mans

Renault Alpine a210 kit Heller

The first kit I designed was that of an Alpine-Renault A210 Le Mans car.  I traveled to Dieppe to the Alpine factory and was able to take all the measurements, pictures and information as a personal guest of Alpine’s founder  and president, Jean Redele. He also loaned me an Alpine A110 Berlinette 1300S, and I had great fun with it for several weeks. It actually pushed me to purchase one, that I raced until I smashed it comprehensively while trying to avoid an errant car.

Heller Alpine-Renault A210 Le Mans Instructions

I tried to do a good job on the new model and introduced some new features that were not present in any available kit, such as separate rim sections for the racing wheels, real rubber safety belts and suspension springs made of steel wire that one could form over a nail, a trick I learned from a great model maker long passed away. I even tried to get a windshield rubber seal to work but it did not, and I had to revert to the standard method of gluing the windshield in place. The kit was well received in the period magazines and sold extremely well to a public welcoming a French racing car model, something that simply did not exist then.

Not much has survived of the Alpine A210, except for the assembly notice of which I drew the images, and assembled the old-fashioned way, by gluing the text blocks in place. Those were the days!

There were plenty of “firsts” in this kit, including that one had to make his own suspension springs wound over… a nail! The wire and nail were supplied in the kit. This system worked very well and was reconducted for most of the kits I designed for this company.

Philippe de Lespinay Renault Alpine

Soon after I had a Alpine-Renault 1300S, here in 1968 in Paris (before the turmoil that hit the country and caused a near revolution). This car was unfortunately destroyed when I hit a snowbank while the car was fitted with Dunlop racing tires for dry pavement.  A year and a half later, was on my way to Los Angeles, California.

AMT negotiated with Heller for the distribution of some car kits, and issued 4 different “double” kits in 1971. The injections were packed in clear plastic bags and sent to the American company that repackaged them in large boxes with their own illustrations, that unfortunately paled compared to those of Paul Lengelle. The Alpine was packaged with a version of the Heller Renault R8 Gardini as one of the sets in this series.

Meet Philippe de Lespinay, Model Car Designer, Historian

Lincoln Futura Philippe de Lespinay

Just about everyone involved with hobbyDB collects or plays with or at least has a keen interest in toys and collectibles. But every now and then, we run across someone who also has work experience in the toy and game industry. We’ve met designers, marketers, even company founders, and it never fails to amaze us how much knowledge they have to share.

Philippe de Lespinay is one of those amazing folks… he started with Heller, the French model kit company in the 1960s as a designer and project engineer and also worked for Cox, who are now known for their remote control and gas powered vehicles, but also created many kits over the years. More recently, he wrote a book titled Vintage Slot Cars and was the curator of the Los Angeles Slot Car Museum. He’s also on the hobbyDB Advisory Board, so yeah, he’s our kind of guy.

Heller Matra Brabham Cosworth Formula 2 car kits

Experience counts a lot in the toy business. “I had owned and assembled some of their complex early kits, some of them featuring mechanical action that was to never be seen again,” he said. “Their Mirage III and Etendard IV aircraft models had working retractable landing gear that was controlled by nylon fishing line over coils. Pulling a lever would raise the gear that was then locked in place, and a spring action released it open again. It required high precision during the assembly and was simply too much for my young fingers… but it was so neat!”

Philippe de Lespinay Heller model

After he was hired, de Lespinay worked on several 1:72 scale aircraft models (French prototypes, naturally) but soon moved to other departments. “My heart was with cars and bikes, so I pushed Leo Jahiel, the company president, to begin a series of 1/24 scale car kits representing models that were not being produced and that would prove popular. The only model of a car Heller had done until then was that of a 1/20 scale Renault R16, a very complex kit that sold rather poorly, so I had to do a lot of convincing. After lots of commitments on my part, I was given the green light.”

His handiwork can be seen on instruction sheets and product blueprints. As impressive as these are, remember, this was well before the days of CAD/CAM and 3D printing. All those precise drawings and model bucks had to be created by hand.

Every Friday, we’ll be highlighting some of the many models he worked on over the years, along with his precious insights. His archives include anecdotes about production kits, never-produced projects, and his own custom builds when he felt like adding a little extra detail or function to what were already incredible models. We hope you enjoy the journey through his career as well!

Here a list of all the posts:

  1. Heller Alpine Renault A210
  2. Cox Can-Am Manta Slot Car
  3. Heller Porsche 907
  4. French Slot Car Racing in the 1960s
  5. Heller/AMT Renault r8 Gordini
  6. Heller Brabham Cosworth BT15 F3 Formule III
  7. Heller Ferarri 330P4
  8. Heller Matra MS5 Formula 2
  9. Heller Porsche 917
  10. Cox Gas Powered Airplanes
  11. Heller McLaren M7A
  12. Cox Magblaster and Interceptor
  13. Heller Olivier et Liore et Olivier 45 Bomber
  14. Unreleased Heller Matra kits
  15. Heller Brabham Ford BT26
  16. Heller Lotus 49B
  17. Heller Morane-Sauliner 406
  18. Heller Ferrari 512M
  19. Balsa Wood Cox Alfa Romeo 33 Slot Car
  20. Unreleased Heller Porsche 911R