1998 is turning into a banner year for those of us
who appreciate really beautiful scale model 1/32 slot cars. We've
seen the introduction of some outstanding cars this year. The Ninco
Jaguar XK120, the Scalextric Jordan F-1, and the Fly Joest Porsche
come immediately to mind. Clearly, the market is responding to the
enthusiast's desire for slot cars that are authentic-looking scale
models, and every new release seems to take the euroscale slot car
industry another step away from the toy-car mentality that prevailed
for so many years and toward a serious commitment to true model car
Performance standards are rising, too, not just in terms of raw speed and lap times, but also in drivability and the elusive but vital overall fun quotient. Manufacturers are making serious efforts to develop cars that combine ever higher levels of visual appeal with ever increasing performance.
The two newest entries into the arena, Fly's neo-vintage Ferrari 512S and Ninco's Ferrari F310B Formula One car, are examples of this trend. And, though they are very dissimilar cars, they have some surprising and fascinating things in common.
Both offer exceptional value per dollar (or pound, lire, peseta, mark, franc, yen, or beaver pelt (can't forget you fellows waaay up in the Great White North, eh?)) At U.S. (MSRP) retail prices of around 40 bucks for the Ninco and about $45 for the Fly, customers are getting cars that would have cost $100 only a year or two ago. Both take their respective categories within the euroscale genre in new directions, and to new levels.
And, most intriguingly, both take interesting approaches to an attempt at combining strong-magnet cornering performance with realistic driving characteristics. Testing the cars, provided as always by Fantasy World Toy and Hobby of Tacoma, Washington, on the Fantasy World 4-lane Scalextric layout provided a surprisingly revealing comparison. One car pulls it off astoundingly well, the other less so. More about that later.
These two cars have also caused us to review our testing procedure, particularly in the area of controllers. We had always tested with stock Scalextric set controllers, even though we are well aware that they are less than ideal for many cars, especially Fly's. We stuck with the Scalextrics for several reasons. First, they provide uniformity. There is not a euroscale car on the market that can't be driven reasonably well with a Scalextric controller, so we can use them with every car we test. Testing with only one controller simplifies the procedure and helps us meet deadlines. Second, the Scalextrics are as basic as controllers get; so whatever a car will do with a Scalextric, it will do at least as well with a Parma, a Ruddock, or what have you. Third, the majority of newcomers to the euroscale hobby are arriving by means of purchasing a Scalextric set. Scalextric's controllers are what they drive their cars with, at least at first. We believe the Scalextric controllers have served us well.
Now, however, we are considering a change. Soon, Scalextric sets will be joined in the market by new sets and controllers from Ninco, SCX, and Carrera. Scalextric will also be introducing a new controller. The choices are expanding rapidly. Thus, we are looking at the idea of testing some cars with more than one controller, perhaps with its manufacturer's standard unit and one or more after-market types. The goal is to give the reader an idea of which brand and / or ohm rating each car responds best to.
We tried it in a small way in our tests of Fly's and Ninco's new Ferraris. It actually wasn't planned, but came about simply because an alternate controller was on hand and we got curious. The results proved interesting to us. If you find them interesting, too, let us know. We'd like your thoughts on the matter.
And now, on to the fun stuff...
Fly's newest release comes packaged in the
standard clear case with black plastic base. The very dark blue,
almost black glossy paper insert that forms a backdrop for the car
says "Fly Classic" in gold. The car's name and the notation "2nd
Monza 70" are stamped in gold on the front side of the base. The car
is fastened down with the usual screw-in plastic retainer. Fly's
packaging has become almost Spartan by the latest industry standards,
but its clean simplicity serves well to showcase the car. And this is
a car that draws the eye without any help from the package.
When we tested Fly's Joest Porsche, we commended Fly on its progress in resolving the flaws in fit and finish that had dogged its earlier efforts. The 512S takes that very welcome progress even further. The overall finish and general appearance of the car are the best we've seen yet. There are still some imperfections, but they are even smaller ones than those on the Joest.
Our test car, stock number 98-C1, comes in a rich shade of red with tampo stamped markings. These include the number 3 in a white roundel on the nose, doors, and left rear fender, Ferrari prancing horse insignia on the front fenders and nose, and Firestone, Shell, Carello, Magneti Marelli, and Koni decals in various locations. The lower body sides are painted to simulate aluminum. The overall finish of the body is beautifully smooth and glossy, and stamping and painting are excellent except for one quite noticeable goof. Where the number roundels cross the door lines, the white paint seeped partway into the lines. We would cover the problem by simply flowing black acrylic paint or ink into all the panel lines, but serious collectors who bet future fortunes on the out-of-the-box perfection of their cars will want to check this carefully before buying.
The Ferrari 512S offers a wealth of opportunities for fine detail and Fly makes the most of them. The chrome-plated headlight lenses rest in black pockets under clear covers. One flaw that continues uncorrected from the Joest is the loose fit of the headlight covers. The fit and clarity of the windshield / side window part, however, are excellent. Two chrome fuel filler caps flank the windshield, which carries a delicate black wiper assembly and a chrome rear-view mirror. The mirror, at the very top of the car, feels quite sturdy and stayed firmly attached through several testing crashes including a flip onto the floor, but may be vulnerable over the long haul. Perhaps Fly and other manufacturers might consider molding small, exposed detail parts in something resilient like vinyl.
A complete driver figure with open-face helmet and full safety harness sits in the full-depth cockpit tub. He grips a full steering wheel and views a set of black-on-white gauges stamped onto the dash. Curiously, there is a gauge, probably a tachometer, mounted prominently above the dash without a stamped face. Could some humorist at Fly be suggesting that Italian race drivers of that era never looked at the tach?
Behind the open cockpit, the 512S's signature airbox, molded in white, rides on an extension of the cockpit tub, giving a satisfying impression of depth to the engine area. Extensions of the black-molded cockpit assembly provide radiator detail inside the rear fender openings. As is customary with Fly, every body opening on the full-size car is open on the model and filled with the appropriate details.
Fly has done a good job of capturing the 512S's complex rear spoiler and body openings. This provides a frame for what is probably the car's most arresting visual feature, an incredibly intricate molding that incorporates exhaust, gearbox, oil cooler, body strut, and rear chassis detail. Finished in a steel-like metallic gray, this part gives a life-like look of depth and realism. With some detail painting, including a wash of black paint, it would be even more of a visual feast. Two taillights with clear red lenses complete the rear of the car.
Chassis and Mechanicals
The chassis is simplicity itself, consisting of Fly's versatile rear pod assembly, first seen in the Porsche GT1, mated to a black-molded flat plate with just a few molded-in stiffening ribs, body mounting lugs, and locations for the guide and the usual front stub axles and independently rotating wheels. Two tiny tabs at he extreme rear provide location for that beautiful rear detail part. The well-known Fly annoyance of excessive slop in the front stub axles is still there but even with the front wheels pushed up into the fenders as far as they would go there was no tire rubbing. Nothing remarkable in the design, just simple efficiency.
What is remarkable is that Fly, knowingly or not, has produced a universal chassis for many of the CanAm and sports-prototype bodies of the late 60's and 70's. A trip to our stash of bodies revealed that this chassis, with minimal trimming, is a perfect or near-perfect fit for an astounding array of McLarens, Porsches, Lolas, and other big-time race cars. What's more, it is easily shortened or lengthened to fit many more with just a razor saw, sheet styrene, and plastic cement .
Also, the attractive gold-painted Campagnolo "star" pattern wheels, a Ferrari trademark, are ideal upgrades for any 1/32 scale Ferrari P3, P4, 312P or PB, 512BB or Daytona and many Formula One cars. The treaded tires, with flawless Firestone logos and white rings stamped on the sidewalls, not only look great on the 512S but are also just right for many other cars of the period. They give good grip, too, and could easily be sanded down into slicks. One thing to watch out for with these tires is the ease with which the sidewall stamping is damaged by routine wear and tear. Just a few trips sideways into the wall left gaps in those pretty white rings. If you want to preserve your 512S's collector value and enjoy driving it, too, buy an extra set of tires and stash them away to be installed just before you sell the car.
The chassis, pod assembly, wheels and tires all are or soon will be available as spare parts. Fly's parts bin, along with Ninco's, is becoming a treasure chest for the build-your-own crowd, and all we can say is, more, more!
On the track
We took Fly's 512S to the Fantasy World track not knowing quite what to expect. The car breaks new ground for Fly as well as for neo-vintage euroscale cars in general. Would it be another stuck-down rocket ship in different clothing or would Fly aim for a different set of driving characteristics more in keeping with vintage car convention? We've now driven the car extensively and, to tell the truth, we're still not sure what they had in mind.
Our first indication that this car was going to be quite different from the Fly norm came when we noticed that the car has considerably more ground clearance than past Fly cars and that the magnet, though powerful as ever, rides farther from the track surface. The OWH magnet test confirmed that magnetism plays a much smaller than usual part in the 512S's handling package. The car began rolling down our Scalextric track section at 75 degrees of incline. This is quite respectable, but the Ferrari is the first Fly car we have tested this way that has not made it all the way over and hung upside down.
We actually drove two 512S's. Partway through our customary break-in procedure the rear mounting point for the pod assembly broke, allowing the rear of the chassis to drop down to the track. We had not crashed the car at that point and can't say what may have caused the failure. We did notice that the thinness of the chassis did not give the mounting screw as much plastic to bite into as we would like to see. In the few days since our test session we have already heard of this happening to another car. If this happens to your 512S the cure is simple. Just drill the mounting hole all the way through the chassis and use a 2-56 cap screw and nut to secure the pod.
The good people of Fantasy World very graciously gave us another car and we started over. This time, break-in was uneventful and the car ran smoothly and quietly after only a short time. We moved right into our timed runs.
It was clear even during break-in that this car did not drive like other Fly cars. As we expected, it did not have anywhere near the grip we're used to. Worse still, the car had the classic magnet-car vice of sudden breakaway at the limit, made worse by the reduced magnetic attraction. All this showed in the lap times, our best being 6.833 seconds. This is still faster than any non-Fly box-stock car we had tested up to that time, but it was almost a full second off the best Fly lap time we have seen, a 5.925 set by a GT1 Porsche.
Now, this is more than fast enough for a neo-vintage car, but the real problem was that the car was hard to drive consistently, especially through the twisty back side of the course. The 512S seemed unable to corner fast enough to keep the magnet from bogging it down without going too fast to stay in the slot. The best times we could do consistently were around 7.1 to 7.2 seconds. After five runs like this we decided to deviate from our normal test procedure. We had a 45-ohm Parma controller along, so we hooked it up in place of our normal stock Scalextric controller, which is rated at about 70 ohms. This did make a difference, giving the car a more comfortable feel and letting us keep it on the track more easily. Though it didn't improve the fastest lap times at all it did allow us to turn 6.9 second laps more or less consistently. The car still felt like it wanted fewer ohms, perhaps 30 to 35, but time pressures prevented us from trying it.
The 512S comes across as a car that can't decide whether it wants to be a stuck-down magnet car or a milder vintage car. Fly may have been trying to achieve a handling compromise to satisfy both magnet car devotees and those who like to hang the tail out. The result, however, is a car with the usual magnet car virtues greatly reduced and all the magnet car vices still there in full measure. Purchasers of the car may be happier if they either remove the magnet or modify the chassis to get the magnet down closer to the track rails.
All that said, Fly still deserves a lot of credit for this car. It is beautiful to look at and its chassis, wheels, and tires are much-needed products with great potential for scratch builders and kit-bashers. Fly's fit and finish get better with each new release, and we have no doubt that every 512S they make will be snapped up. While this car falls short of the mark in some respects it sets new standards in others.
Perhaps the truly exciting thing about this car is the mouth-watering possibilities it suggests. Both a long-tail version of the car and a 512M would be easy and logical follow-ons, as would a 612 CanAm. We could eventually see Fly and others produce all the cars we lusted after and never got because the great slot racing boom of the 60's collapsed at just the wrong time. Stay with us, friends, we suspect the best is yet to come. There will be two more versions of the 512S, a NART version, another with two decal sheets, and who knows what after that?
Most racing fans I know either love the looks of
today's Formula One cars or hate them. There are few in between. I
tend toward the latter camp. It seems to me that F-1s stopped looking
like race cars around 1990 or so. The currently fashionable high
noses haven't helped. To me, they make the cars look like they are
constantly on the brink of flight. Give me a Champ Car, with the
point of the nose down next to the pavement where it belongs. The F-1
cars, for all their performance, simply look funny.
Not only that, I've never thought formula cars of any kind made very good slot cars. There just isn't enough body to put a proper chassis under and they don't handle like sports cars. Furthermore, until recently, few of the euroscale F-1 cars had risen above the toy level in appearance.
The new Ninco Ferrari F310B changes all that. I may decide F-1 slot cars aren't so bad after all if all the euroscale manufacturers start turning out cars like this. And if Ninco produces more cars like this they will have to.
Now, don't get me wrong, I still think F-1 cars are weird looking, but Ninco has done a wonderful job of capturing every bit of that weirdness in model form. The new car, which comes as Michael Schumacher's Number 5 or Eddie Irvine's Number 6, is, quite simply, the first mass-produced contemporary euroscale F-1 car that really looks like a properly detailed scale model instead of a toy.
That by itself would be enough to satisfy legions of hobbyists, but Ninco didn't stop there. They gave their new car performance that puts it into territory previously occupied only by Fly cars...well into it.
Packaging and presentation.
After those raves we have to air one
gripe. Whose idea was it to package the new F-1 car in a
plastic case taking up almost twice the volume of the old
cases? To be sure, the case catches the eye with its tilted
base that sets the car at a rakish angle and its prominently
displayed Ninco logos. But... somebody at Ninco should
remember that distributors and dealers have to store and
display their products in expensive and limited commercial
space and costly display cases. The slot car department at
Fantasy World Toy and Hobby, which provides the cars and test track for all
our OWH product reviews, is crammed to capacity with cars,
sets, parts, track, and accessories from seven manufacturers
as it is. If all of them double the size of their packages,
FW and other dealers will have a real problem, not to
mention importers who pay international shipping rates based
as much on volume as on weight. This phenomenon we call box
inflation may be hard for the average slot car racer to take
seriously, but it really does put an expensive burden on
distributors and dealers and ultimately it will raise the
prices we pay for our slot cars. So far, packaging in the
euroscale slot car business has been commendably compact. We
hope it stays that way.