The Old Weird Herald

OWH Dials 911

And Gets To Play With Three Hot GT1 Cars

 

By Bob Ward

Photos courtesy of A Day at the Races & Scalextric-USA

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Scalextric Porsche GT1

Scalextric Porsche GT1 - Photo courtesy Scalextric-USA ©1998

Since its GT class victory in the 1996 24 Hours of LeMans the Porsche 911 GT1 has been one of the most popular and publicized cars in world endurance and GT racing. It has appeared in both Europe and the U.S., and its aggressive looks and rocket ship performance have captured the imagination of racing fans worldwide. Thus it is not surprising that Fly, Ninco, and Scalextric have all produced 911 GT1 slot cars. With the introduction of SCX's car, slated for U.S. release in March or April, this fast and colorful Porsche will become the first car to be modeled by all four of the major 1/32 scale home set car manufacturers.

OWH recently had the opportunity to drive all three of the currently available 911 GT1's, courtesy of Fantasy World Toy and Hobby in Tacoma, Washington. Fantasy World is the largest retailer of 1/32 scale home racing sets, cars, parts, track, and accessories west of the Mississippi and offers mail order service nationwide. If you don't have a local source for your 1/32 scale racing needs, give Fantasy World a call at (253) 473-6223 or fax them at (253) 770-4860.

Our three test Porsches clearly show how the state of the art in home set cars has advanced in the last few years. Competition improves the breed, not only on the track but in the marketplace, and the entry of Ninco and Fly into the arena has generated a wealth of choices and forced the pace of technical innovation and new product development.

Packaging and Presentation

The results of this healthy competition are there to see even in the cars' packaging. All three come in plastic cases, now the industry standard. Scalextric's case is larger than the other two, reflecting the packaging requirements of that company's more diverse product line, which includes everything from big-rig truck tractors to American stock cars. Scalextric was the last of the three to go to plastic cases, but its latest releases have leaped to the front in the packaging race with beautiful customized cardboard wrappers that match each car's color scheme. Ninco still uses a generic wrapper and Fly cars have just a paper insert inside the case.

The base of Scalextric's case is molded in an attractive blue with the company logo tampo-stamped in yellow on the end and the car's name in gold on the side. The base also has two sockets to hold the two spare guide flags with braid that come with most Scalextric cars. The car is fastened to the base with a brass screw. The screw's large head is both textured and slotted for easy turning with fingers or screwdriver. Fly's familiar base, molded in black and incorporating a plastic hold-down screw, has the car's name and "2nd LeMans 1996" stamped on the side. Ninco's base has the most convenient hold-down, a plastic key that turns 90 degrees to engage or disengage a slot in the car's chassis. Ninco packages with each car a full-color mini-catalog, a feature the others would do well to copy.

Ninco Porsche GT1

Ninco Porsche GT1 - Photo courtesy A Day at the Races ©1998

Colors and Markings

The Ninco and Fly cars are both models of the #25 car that finished second overall and first in GT at the 1996 LeMans race, driven by Thierry Boutsen, Hans Stuck, and Bob Wollek. The cars have the Porsche name across the top of the windshield. The Scalextric car carries the number 6 in red with Westminster in the number fields and the name Mannesmann on the windshield. Otherwise, the markings on the cars are all substantially the same, with the Mobil 1 logo in six places, the Porsche name on the wing, and elaborate multicolor splash graphics on the overall white body, a colorful and attractive paint scheme.

The cars' markings differ in detail and in the shades of the various colors used. The blue in the splash graphics is considerably lighter on the Ninco, which also has less red in the splash than the others. Both Ninco and Scalextric captured the metallic look of the gold splash on the roof and wing. Fly, however, rendered it in a tan / brown / yellow combination that looks as if the car, going 200 MPH at LeMans, passed under the flight path of a huge seagull.

The Scalextric and Ninco have the Porsche shield insignia inside the letter O in the word Mobil on the nose, while the Fly omits it. Only the Ninco has the drivers' names on the front fenders.The Scalextric and the Ninco have LeMans decals on the roof, which the Fly presumably should also have but doesn't. Since there was no #6 Porsche GT1 car entered at LeMans in either 1996 or 1997, the LeMans decals may not be accurate on the Scalextric car. The two #25 cars also differ in the arrangement of the component sponsor decals on the lower body sides, and the Ninco has one logo not found on the Fly.

Ninco suffers a bit from using stickers for its markings as opposed to the very sharp tampo-stamping on the other two. Though the stickers follow the body contours well and are accurately placed, the edges are annoyingly visible when the light strikes the body from certain angles, and the splash graphic had to be cut around the radiator air outlets instead of flowing over them as on the tampo-stamped cars. Also, the edges of the stickers do not line up perfectly with the various body edges. Since Ninco has positioned itself as a producer of upscale cars for the more discriminating enthusiast, a switch to tampo-stamping would seem to be in order, especially since SCX, which is trying to establish itself as the low-price leader, has announced that all its new releases will be tampo-stamped.

Fly Porsche GT1

Fly Porsche GT1 - Photo by Bob Ward ©1998

Body and Detailing

The overall fit of the parts and quality of assembly is impressively precise on both the Scalextric and Ninco cars. I did find two minor flaws on the Scalextric. There was some careless gluing by the assembly-line worker who installed the Scalextric car's chassis magnet. Also, the heads of Scalextric's Phillips screws do not grip the screwdriver nearly as well as the black-finish ones used by Fly and Ninco. Fly's car suffers from warping in the body which left the rear wheels badly out of proper position in the wheel cutouts. Every Fly Porsche I have seen has this problem to some extent. Fly needs to fix this flaw as soon as possible, as it seriously degrades the car's otherwise striking appearance, not a good thing in a car that retails for $55.00. That's $10.00 more than the Ninco, $14.00 more than the Scalextric, and $18.00 more than the announced price of the SCX.

All three companies have done a good job of capturing the general look of the car's body. After studying numerous photos of the full-size car taken from various angles I still can't really decide which has the most nearly accurate overall shape, though if I had to take a guess I would probably pick the Scalextric. This is a point on which enthusiasts who have seen the real cars in person could give a more informed opinion. Accuracy aside, the "baddest"-looking of the three, in my opinion, is the Fly.

There are significant differences in shape and detail. The Fly car's body is much more tapered in plan view at both the front and rear than the others, and the nose is more sharply sloped and pointed.. The shape reminds me of the 935's I used to see when I was an SCCA corner worker. The Ninco is the most "square" looking, with the Scalextric somewhere in between. The Ninco's greenhouse is noticeably lower than the other two. All three differ sharply in the shape of the air scoop above the windshield. Scalextric's is an oval shape and looks too small. Ninco's is a rectangle with the two upper corners rounded off. Fly's is a 3/4 oval shape that appears too large.

The Scalextric and Ninco cars have the engraved outlines of the extra driving lights for night racing located to either side of the air intake. Photos show that these lights were definitely installed at LeMans, so give Fly a demerit for omitting them. The parking lights / turn signals / running lights just below the headlights are separate clear parts on the Ninco and Fly (red and amber respectively) but only stamped in amber-colored paint on the Scalextric.

All three cars have actual openings molded into the body for the radiator outlet louvers, though all three close them off with a black plastic part underneath. These are the only openings on the Scalextric body, while Ninco and Fly also opened up the large vents at the back of the front and rear fenders as well as the small scoops just aft of the doors. One detail all three get full credit for is molding the rear-view mirrors in blue plastic that closely matches the shade of blue used in the car's graphics. Fly and Ninco provide windshield wipers, absent on the Scalextric.

Wheels and Tires

Perhaps the most striking difference in appearance among the three cars is in the wheels. Fly has blown away the industry standard with its stunning two-piece plated BBS wheels. These are the most beautiful wheels I have ever seen on a slot car. Not only did Fly, in their plating process, capture the polished aluminum look of the rims and the "gold" finish of the centers, they even picked out the centerlock nuts in red. In the real world, racing wheels almost never look quite that bright and shiny, certainly not after the first practice session of the weekend, but Fly's wheels are a work of art. Scalextric's one-piece wheels, with molded-in centerlock nut, also have gold centers and aluminum-colored rims, though they are painted, not plated, and may actually be closer to the way real racing wheels look after they have had some use. Ninco's wheels are all gold color and lack the centerlock nut detail.

Another area in which Fly shines is tires. Not only do Fly's slicks give outstanding performance but with wear bars molded into the running surface they also are the most authentic-looking tires available. In fact, Fly's Porsche is the only one that comes with slicks. Both Scalextric and Fly did a good job of stamping the Michelin sidewall lettering onto their tires. The Ninco has no sidewall lettering. If you buy a Ninco or Scalextric car, I would recommend backfitting it with the Fly wheels and tires when the wheels become available as replacement parts.

Cockpit and Driver

Ninco and Scalextric equip their Porsches with black interior trays that incorporate dashboard, seat back, and steering wheel detail. Ninco uses its standard driver figure with shoulders, arms, and hands molded in white. The head has a red full-face helmet with the visible part of the face painted in flesh color. Scalextric's driver is the familiar figure with a blue body and a white full-face helmet with the visor painted in black. This is one area where Scalextric needs some upgrading. The rather toy-like driver is just not up to the standard of the rest of the car. Here, as with wheels, Fly is the star of the show. Their sidewinder motor layout allowed them to include a full-depth cockpit in their design. The full driver figure, molded in white with belts and gloves picked out in red, sits in a red wraparound racing seat and wears an open-faced helmet with balaclava.

Mechanical and Electrical

All three of our test cars are powered by compact, lightweight, highly reliable can motors. The Ninco and Scalextric cars use an inline motor installation; the Fly is a sidewinder. All three use a plastic gear on the rear axle. Ninco and Fly have brass pinion gears; Scalextric's is plastic. The Ninco car is equipped with brass rear axle bushings, while the other two have plastic. The Fly Porsche has independently rotating front wheels riding on plastic stub axles. Scalextric and Ninco employ their standard solid front axle that floats in its mountings.

All three cars come with chassis magnets. Scalextric's is their standard bar magnet, mounted in the usual position just aft of the motor. Ninco's bar magnet is placed forward, just behind the front wheels. As you might expect, Fly's circular magnet, mounted just in front of the motor, is by far the smallest and most powerful of the lot. I was able to place the Fly Porsche on a piece of Scalextric straight track and tilt it to nearly vertical before the car began to roll.

Scalextric's chassis is one piece. Everything snaps directly into it. Ninco, as always, uses a separate motor mount that attaches to the chassis with two screws. Fly has taken the process one step farther by designing a rear pod that holds the motor, rear axle, and chassis magnet. The whole assembly attaches to the chassis with a tab just ahead of the magnet and a screw behind the rear axle.

The Fly motor pod offers exciting possibilities for scratch builders. The pod assembly solves in one neat package the problems of fabricating motor and rear axle mounts and getting everything in proper alignment to ensure a good gear mesh. Building a chassis to fit almost any 1/32 scale static model becomes a simple process of cutting out a platform from sheet styrene, making some simple attachment points for the front axle and guide, and either gluing in the pod or mounting it with screws. When the pod comes out as a replacement part, OWH will do an article on using it for scratch building.

The Scalextric is the only lighted car in our test. The centrally mounted bulb's light is routed to the headlight and taillight positions by a molded plastic assembly that functions as a fiber optic system. Power contacts for the bulb are neatly integrated into the metal contact strips for the familiar Scalextric no-wire snap-in guide flag. The bulb can be removed or installed, without taking the body off the chassis, by twisting its socket about 1/8 of a turn. It's interesting to note that the only lighted car was the least expensive of the three. Perhaps Ninco and Fly might consider offering lights at least as an option or an add-on accessory on models of endurance racing cars.

And On To The Race Track...

We tested the three cars on the Fantasy World 4-lane Scalextric layout. With a 16-foot straightaway, fast and slow turns, and a challenging series of esses, this course provides a good test of a car's straight line speed and handling.

Our standard track test procedure is to use brand new, unused cars and break them in as the first part of the test. We do not break them in for a set number of laps, as each car is different. We simply run them until we believe they are satisfactorily broken in and note for the reader if a car takes too many laps to break in smoothly or encounters problems in the process.

For this test we had to make one exception to this practice. The only Fly Porsche available at the time of the test was one that had seen considerable running in demonstrations, test drives, and general playing around by the store staff. We estimate that the extra running-in was worth one to two tenths per lap. We decided to use the car anyway, and as we'll see, those extra tenths proved largely irrelevant.

We encountered no break in problems with any of the cars; all three were running smoothly in just a short time with only a drop of oil in each axle and motor bushing. After plugging in the Dislot modular lap counter and checking it for proper operation we began timed runs.

The Scalextric car achieved a best time of 6.51 seconds. It was predictable and quite forgiving to drive. Being low and wide, it tended to slide rather than tilt when over-driven into a corner. Ninco's Porsche was exceptionally smooth and quiet. It, too, was predictable and forgiving. Its best time was 6.563 seconds. Both of these cars are fun to drive because they can be pitched into a corner and slid around at impossible angles. With some practice, you can get them all out of shape and still haul them back into line and keep going. Of course, the best lap times come when you keep the car as straight as possible all the time.

Both the Ninco and the Scalextric simply cried out for more grip, so we took a package of Ninco #70141 wide slicks off the wall and put a pair on the rear of each car. These are the same slicks that we saw used with a hotter motor and a stronger chassis magnet on a Ninco McLaren F1 GTR to achieve lap times fairly close to those of a Fly Viper. The slicks by themselves proved to be worth more than 2/10 of a second on our Porsches. The Scalextric's best time came down to 6.289 while the Ninco improved to 6.227. If we had taken out the Scalextric's light bulb for a tiny bit more straight-line speed, the lap times would probably have been virtually identical.

Then we put the Fly car on the track. Now, I'll acknowledge that Fly's products drive too much like HO cars, that they require power system upgrades, and that they raise the whole magnets vs. driving skill argument along with other issues that may not necessarily be good for the long-term health of Euroscale slot racing. But, at the end of the day, there is no getting around the fact that Fly's cars take home set car performance not just to a new level but into a new universe. On the Fantasy World track, The Fly Porsche was two whole seconds faster than than the other test cars, with a fastest time of 4.470.

Most of the advantage comes in the turns. If you've never driven a Fly car, you can't believe how deep you can drive their 911 into the turns and how quickly you can get on the power coming out. The biggest challenge is convincing yourself that the car really will go around corners that fast.

This is consistent with the performance of other Fly cars. In fact, on the day of our test a Fantasy World customer came in and offered to let me drive his well-broken -in Marcos. I happily accepted and very quickly got down to a 4.443. Clearly, as things now stand, the only way to catch a Fly car is with another Fly car.

Of course, for the price Fly charges, their car ought to be faster. Speed costs money - how fast do you want to go? The mistake too many serious racers make is equating raw performance numbers with quality and value without understanding that Scalextric, Ninco, and Fly all make model racing cars for different purposes, different target markets and different price points. Never doubt that Ninco and Scalextric could produce cars every bit as fast as Fly's if they decided to go after that end of the market. They haven't done it - yet - because that's not where most of their business is.

How, then, to make a valid comparison among the three? The only way is to understand your own needs and preferences and buy the car that suits them best. We could make a case for any of the three.

Scalextric gives the consumer working lights, excellent tampo-stamping, and the convenience of no-lead-wire guide flag and braid changes at the lowest price of the three - incredible value per dollar. Ninco's exemplary smoothness and precision make their car a joy to drive, and if you like to paint your cars, just peel the stickers off to get a bare white body without any sanding. Of course, in an open-competition situation the only choice is the Fly car, and the wheels are to die for, but you pay for all that performance not only in the purchase price but also in track power system upgrades. And don't forget, Fly cars are like Lay's potato chips; nobody can ever buy just one. As soon as you get yours home, every other racer in the family will have to have one, too. Better ask the boss for a raise.

If I could wave a magic wand and create the ideal Porsche 911 GT1 slot car, I would take Fly's performance, wheels, and full-depth cockpit, combine it with Scalextric's lights, tampo-stamping, packaging, and price, and stir in Ninco's precision, smoothness, and brass axle bushings. Now that would be a car to write an article about!

Bob Ward

Mailboxemail: bobward@oldweirdherald.com

For more info on all three, & to find a retailer near you, check out: A Day at the Races.

Also check out: Scalextric-USA & Ninco Web sites (no known official web site for Fly)

If you are looking for a source for your 1/32 scale racing needs, give Fantasy World Toy & Hobby a call at (253) 473-6223 or fax them at (253) 770-4860.

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