Slot Cars Posts

Designer Notes: The First Magnet Traction Slot Cars

Lincoln Futura Philippe de Lespinay

Philippe 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 1973 1/43 SuperScale Cars

cox magnet traction slot car

The diminutive car had an injected plastic Lancer McLaren chassis and guide similar to that of a TycoPro car, and a rubber magnet had been glued to the back of the chassis so as to allow for drifting. The body was mounted on a hinged mount and much lead weight was used to keep the nose down.

The Cox SuperScale cars were the the world’s First Magnet Traction Slot Cars available to purchase. About 300000 of them were produced and marketed mostly in racing sets from 1973 to 1977, and there were a total of 8 different bodies. The bodies were ultra-light styrene moldings, factory painted in correct colors. The original patterns were crafted by ex-Lancer and M.A.C. mold wizard Lloyd Asbury. The chassis was molded in glass-filled nylon and had a snap-in separated front end suspension, flat brass contact rails replacing conventional lead wires and an inline diode allowing either car to run on either lane of a two-lane track. A snap-in motor with automatic gear mesh, aluminum wheels with soft vinyl tires and a fixed pin-style guide blade were the other notable and unusual features. The guide retainer also locked the zinc plated floating steel pan in place. This pan was not used on the two Eagle and McLaren Indy cars.

Besides the Indy cars, there were a Bob Sharp Racing Datsun 240Z, a Brumos Porsche 911RSR and NASCAR K&K Insurance Chevelle and Penske Racing AMC Matador, plus a pair of Can-Am “fantasy” cars, a “Manta” and a “Torero” designed somewhat after the M.A.C. Porsche “917-30” favored by pro racers in 1973.

Cox Magnet Traction slot car

The Manta and its sister car, the Torero, used a novel chassis design with an added magnet set behind the rear axle, creating down force, the first production slot car in the world such equipped. Other features were a snap-in motor contacting stamped sheet brass lead wires and fixed gear mesh and a pin guide. The chassis material allowed the use of itself as bearing material for the rear axle while a floating front end was fitted with push-on independently rotating wheels.

The story began in May 1970 when Philippe de Lespinay, a young Spanish-born immigrant raised in France and other European countries landed a job at Innova Inc. a consulting company based in Playa del Rey, California. There, he was put in charge of a new program for the then-ailing Matchbox Company, to design a new HO scale racing set to compete with Aurora and Tyco. Beset by poor traction from the available rubber compound and inspired by the suction caused by motorized fans in the Chaparral 2J Can-Am car, he devised the idea of using a magnet to create down force over the tiny cars. While magnet traction had been used in model trains before (and full-size trains as early as the 1890’s), it was through direct contact of motorized steel wheels, not through ground effect, making this concept quite different in its function and purpose.

It worked splendidly and the program was sold to Matchbox, which promptly filed for bankruptcy and re-organization. Prototypes of this idler-gear, sidewinder car survived to this day.

After the demise of Matchbox, Philippe attempted to sell this new concept to several companies. First to Al Riggen for whom Philippe designed the well-known Riggen inline HO car, then to Hiram Johnson of Dynamic for which he penned an angle-winder HO car. Both these gentlemen refused to accept the idea, outraged by what they considered would “kill the hobby”.

In 1971, a picture of one of the prototypes was shown in Miniature Auto Racing, and in 1972, an article in Car Model showed a new application of magnet traction invented by Tom Bowman and fitted on a Bachmann HO car. This used “refrigerator” magnets. Tom and Philippe were apparently unaware of each other’s work, and Tom succeeded in selling his idea to Auto World, which marketed the concept and product as an add-on item beginning in 1973.

Meanwhile, Philippe had spent two years into establishing himself as a respected professional slot car racer, and had helped advancing the technology of both slot cars and controllers to the point where many controllers sold to this day still sport a frame he designed for Parma in 1972.

Cox Magnet Traction slot car

A spread from the 1974 Cox slot car catalog showing the full range of Magnet Traction cars

 In early 1973, Philippe was hired by the Cox Hobbies Company to salvage the Eldon slot car program inherited from the Leisure Dynamics holding company. He did not waste much time in convincing Bruce Paton, then manager of the R&D department, to adopt the magnetic traction system for the updated vehicles. Thus, Cox introduced the world’s first production slot car with a separate traction magnet.

Aurora followed suit in 1975 with their “Magna-Traction” cars using the pancake motor’s own magnets, then issued the Super-G in 1976 with metal plates increasing the potency of the magnets to create greater down force. Today, most competitive HO-scale cars follow this principle.

cox magnet traction slot cars

Interestingly, more recent TSR cars also designed by de Lespinay take a lot of their inspiration from these 38-year old cars, while adding improvements especially in the impact strength department, and reverting to a scale more acceptable to the average hobbyist. As in the TSR, the SuperScale uses a fixed gear mesh, taking the equation out of the hands of the occasionally clumsy hobbyist. This mesh was and still is today, the smoothest ever seen on any production slot car of any scale.

These cars were marketed in the USA and Canada but were issued at a time when the whole hobby was at an all-time low, and after about 150000 sets were produced over 4 years, Leisure Dynamics, then owners of the COX company, pulled the plug on the program as sales were no longer sufficient to justify continuing production.

It took much longer for the Euro designed 1/32 scale home-racing cars to adopt magnet traction. the earliest examples dating from the late 1970’s. Their design first followed that of the Cox Superscale bar magnet, but later, the Spanish designers discovered neodymium computer magnets and fitted the available small circular units in their models. However, this was quite inadequate and caused erratic handling as the magnets were too narrow and failed to offer the promised benefit as soon as the cars were pushed harder into corners. Over the last 10 years, most 1/32 and 1/24 production slot cars evolved and are now using magnet design and location closer and closer to the basic design of the bar magnet introduced by the Cox SuperScale car in 1973, and lately, several have also adopted the front magnet devised by Philippe for a car built for his wife and entered in a proxy race in October 2000.

Cox Magnet Traction slot car

The M.A.C. Porsche 917-30 body is still used in retro racing today. At right, the Cox SuperScale bodies were the thinnest and lightest injected slot car bodies ever produced, lighter in fact than most HO shells! A “lay-down” driver was pushed in place on two small tabs molded into the body. A separate wing and engine dynamic scoop were fitted. In fact, the patterns for both were created by the same pattern maker, Lloyd Asbury, from designs by Philippe de Lespinay.

Designer Notes: Balsa Wood Cox Alfa Romeo 33 Slot Car

 Philippe 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.

Balsa Wood Alfa Romeo 33: A Major Mistake (but what fun it was!)

balsa wood alfa romeo 33 slot car

In search of the ultimate lightweight, I built this crazy car in 1968 using a Dynamic Alfa Romeo “33” body over a balsa-wood cum light-gauge piano wire chassis, that for unknown reasons, survived for the last 41 years and counting.

balsa wood alfa romeo 33 slot car

The original body was French blue, I will have to paint this replacement some day, or maybe not because it clearly shows the intricacies of my engineering heresy! 

The original was powered by a Champion “Bob Cozine Signature” motor, and that thing was fast, but the noise was incredible as the chassis resonated like a violin!

balsa wood alfa romeo 33 slot car

Shelby American Collection Showcases Much More Than Cars

Shelby American Collection museum

Just a few of the GT-40, Mustang, and Cobra cars at the Shelby American Collection in Boulder

If you were to list all the automotive meccas in the United States, you wouldn’t immediately think of Boulder, Colorado. But it’s the home of the Shelby American Collection, a museum of anything and everything related to Shelby cars and the man behind them. The actual cars on display can vary from month to month, so frequent visits are worthwhile. Several cars are on loan from their owners, and the museum buys and occasionally sells items from their collection to keep things fresh.

The museum has been working with hobbyDB to create an online archive of these items (there are literally thousands of pieces, so it’s a long-term project). We’re also their partner via their official online store, selling limited edition posters, books, and other collectibles.

Besides the cars, there is a treasure trove of other pieces of great interest. There are models of various Shelby-related race cars… miniature GT-40s, Mustangs, and Cobras abound. But many other bits of memorabilia are on display as well.

Shelby America Collection AMT slot car Cobra

This 1/25 scale Cobra slot car kit is based on the non-motorized AMT model.

The marketing for street versions of the GT-40 was very much open to the public in those days. If you walked into a Ford dealer in the mid-60s, you might find a salesman wearing this button. They might have even let you take home a brochure with all the specs. As indicated by the sales literature, however, you weren’t likely to find the actual car for sale on the lot, but instead had to be measured for it (and probably put down a hefty deposit.)

We’re not sure what Carrol Shelby’s Pit Stop Deodorant smells like, but gasoline and burning rubber are probable ingredients. Either way, it was marketed as “A real man’s deodorant,” and who could argue with that?

Shelby American Collection pin hood badge doedorant

Shelby’s own brand of deodorant, a dealer button, and a badge from the first year Cobras.

Another fun piece in the collection is an LP record of the sounds of Le Mans. This recording featured the sounds of the crowd and the cars, as well as commentary from legendary participants including Bruce McLaren, Graham Hill and Mr. Shelby himself. For extra bonus points, this copy is signed by Dan Gurney.

There are some very rare parts on display including several complete engines, spare body panels, nameplates and badges.

Shelby American Collection press release record brochure

Press release announcing the Cobra racing team, the sounds of 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans race (in case you weren’t there in person), showroom brochure, and California Manufacturer plate.

The museum also includes pieces that most of the general public never would have seen, such as press release materials and company documents. There are also many volumes of racing programs, tickets and pit passes from events where these cars competed.

Shelby American Collection slot car AC Cobra

Here’s an Aurora AC slot car…

Shelby American Collection Tycopro slot car

… and a Tycopro Cobra slot car.

See that license plate above? Sure, California black plates are special, but this one is really exotic. It’s a special plate for automobile manufacturers, with “013” designating the Shelby garage. The museum reported shelled out around $30,000 for it. And you thought tags were expensive in your state!

If you’ve never had a chance to see the Shelby American Collection, it’s as good an excuse as any to plan a trip to Boulder. The collection is usually only open to the public on Saturdays, so plan accordingly! In the meantime, you can visit the ever-growing archives on hobbyDB.

Designer Notes: The 1960s French Slot Car Racing Scene

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.


We recently looked at one of the large scale slot cars that Philippe de Lespinay designed for Cox in the 1970s. As he was beginning his career as a professional model designer, he was also a member of a growing community of slot car racers in France who actually raced for money in the 1960s. Here are some recollections and his cars and the French racing scene…


In the 1960s, slot car racing hit France in a big way. I was caught in the fad and spent much of my time on this new hobby that I loved. I’ve never stopped since, save for an interruption of 21 years between 1973 and 1994.

I began as a simple amateur in Paris, first using Revell cars since, working for the Heller plastic kit manufacturer, I had access to some samples they were thinking about importing. Quickly I found that they were not up to the job and began making my own. 

vintage mirage slot car 1960s philip de lespinay

There were two main raceways in the city, one by the Opera, one in Neuilly, a chic suburb near the Etoile plaza. That one was my “home raceway” and was located on Erlanger Street, and was simply called by the fans, “Erlanger.” The raceway had four huge Revell tracks, the largest having over-and-under passes that made the car invisible to the driver for what seemed like an eternity. The raceway was extremely clean, well appointed and run by Raymond Ami, a person who later became Honda France’s racing manager. Every evening, the Erlanger center had “money races” where the racers would pay a 10-Franc (like 2 bucks) entry fee and the winner collected actual cash in the amount of 30 to 45 Francs ($6.00 to $9.00) depending on the number of entrants.

Those races, run on the “smaller” tracks, were my favorite hunting ground… many evenings for a period of a little over two years, I would show up with a contraption built from Dynamic bits and a Russkit Lotus 40 body, later a highly-chopped Lancer Ferrari 350 Can-Am body. The early cars had an inline motor, generally built from a Mabuchi or Hemi can, an armature rewound by Yours Truly with Mura silver wire, epoxied and tied with very strong fiberglass thread, and a Tradeship commutator. Later cars had sidewinder-mounted Mabuchi FT26 motors de-wound by Hot Slot.


This well-used Ferrari was one of those evening prowlers that kept me cash-rich to purchase the parts needed to build more of them as well as a good dinner at the raceway’s cafe and the gas to go home in my Peugeot 404 wagon.

vintage ferarri slot car 1960s philip de lespinay

The chassis was standard Dynamic fare with hinged brass tongue, my own body mount, and my own version of a Hemi can, fitted with one of my arms (generally a double 27 wind) and Mura Magnum 88 magnets. The endbell was from a Cox TTX150 motor. The pretty front mag wheels were from a Dynamic Super Bandit, while the rears were Cox aluminum screw-on with Classic gray sponge tires (now fossilized!)

vintage ferarri slot car 1960s philip de lespinay


vintage hand made slot car motors

My later cars used hand-built wire frames with brass-plate drop arms and Dynamic guides. This Ferrari 350 has Riggen wheels, a rewound FT26 motor using a Champion 601 can and endbell and one of my rewound arms. The chassis uses pillow blocks with large ball bearings, and is not soldered but… brazed with bronze welding rod. With a Mirage body, it finished in third place at the 1000KM of Paris in 1967, and was pictured in the French magazine “Champion” reporting the race.

My motors were assembled as best as I could with the limited means and technology available to us then, but these have survived quite well. One has a Champion “507R” endbell, I must have been a millionaire that day!  Right: Some of the surviving armatures. All are double or triple wound on Hemi blanks, epoxied, tied, and statically balanced (there were no dynamic balancers available in France)

pdl-1967-armatures


This car, another 350, has quite an interesting story: it won the 1000KM race in Bad Godesberg, Germany, in 1967. A team of six French drivers and this machine defeated nine other teams from Germany, Switzerland, Italy, the UK and Sweden on a 10-lane speed-bowl in that city.

vintage hand made 350 slot car motors

The track was a huge 10-lane elongated figure 8, not the least challenging, and it was a true speed bowl. Most of the foreign teams quickly gave up on their own cars and did like the locals, purchasing new Fleicshmann Lotus 40 kits as they ruled the track. Well, we (the French team) stuck to our guns, and while slower, we gained on reliability and inflicted a huge defeat to the other teams.

vintage hand made 350 slot car motors

The car had a built-up wire frame, (See photo at the top of this article) a Swiss-built Buhler can with a genuine Mura silver-wire #26 arm (we used two to win the race, that lasted 53 hours!), and multiple sets of homemade rear tires on home-machined extra-wide hubs. The rubber used was by Classic and was doubled to get enough width.


As time passed, brass became the material of choice and brass rod and tubing became more available, so I built this Lancer-bodied Chaparral that was quite an effective car.

vintage hand made lancer slot car motors

The fenders on the Lancer body were flared using the American pro-racing technique taught to us in the few slot car racing magazines we were getting from the USA by our idols, Morrissey, Steube, and cohorts. We used to devour those publications as soon as they arrived, then we would rush home and copy the latest chassis design, or rewind our motors following the latest specs… We were totally addicted. Those were the days!

vintage hand made lancer slot car motors


vintage hand made russkit slot car motors

This one, I remember well and it was inspired by the early Team Russkit cars. The main difference with the American cars is that I used a can-side drive for the motor to get more weight onto the rear wheels and could not understand why the Americans were using the endbell-side drive system… all that was to change in early 1968 when we heard of the angle-winders.

vintage hand made russkit slot car motors


 Somehow, some of my old cars survived all these years and were acquired a few ago by Scott Bader for his museum in Los Angeles.

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.