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On the origin of Scalextric

December 1, 2018

Introduction

This article explains the derivation of the word “Scalextric” and how this world wide famous British brand came into being. The journey is followed from the beginning to where we are now at the end of 2018. We’ll look at the companies involved and the key milestones that have shaped Scalextric and other related brands.

The companies involved

The Scalextric brand has had a troubled history being owned / involved with several other companies and famous brands. To set the scene we need to briefly introduce the companies involved. We’ll start in the late 1940’s in a post 2nd World War Britain.
Minimodels
Minimodels was a tinplate toy manufacturer aiming at the boy market specialising in clever clockwork mechanisms. Minimodels was set up by and owned by Fred Francis.
Tri-ang
Tri-ang was a tinplate toy manufacturer aiming at the boy market producing the typical cars, planes, boats and trains. Tri-ang was owned and operated by three members of the Lines family and as three Lines make a triangle, hence the name Tri-ang.
Meccano
Meccano produced the famous and on-going Meccano brand as well as the Hornby Dublo model trains.
Rovex
Rovex was a general purpose plastic moulding company.

Scalex – Minimodels

In 1952 Fred Francis of Minimodels introduced two tinplate clockwork model toy ranges, one called Startex and one called Scalex. The Scalex range consisted of 7 different “accurate” models all based on a clever clockwork motor. This clockwork motor did not use the conventional key to wind the mechanism,instead a 5th wheel under the car was operated by pushing the car down and pulling it backwards. This would wind the clockwork motor which would then power the car.
The first Scalex model was the Jaguar XK120 with additional models following soon after. The Scalex and Startex cars were very popular toys of the period.
The Scalex range of cars were designed in a consistent scale of 1 to 32 for the saloon cars whereas the Grand Prix cars were nearer to 1 to 28 scale. The accuracy of the models and the consistency to scale gives the “Scale” part of the Scalex brand. The addition of the “x” on the end is less well understood but possibly relates to the method of winding the clockwork motor. “x” is the unknown or keyless nature of the motor. If you know the true reason for the addition of the “x” then please let us know so we can complete this history.

Scalextric – Minimodels

During the 1950’s hobbyists were fitting small electric motors to their tinplate models and racing them on railed electric tracks not too dissimilar to those used by model railways of the period. This was not missed by Fred Francis at Minimodels. Minimodels replace the clockwork motor in the scalex range of cars with a small electric motor and added a guide wheel under the car. A slot based track system was developed to guide the cars around the race track.
The new brand was named “Scalextric” with the additional “tric” coming from “electric”. So, the brand name Scalextric is defined as the Scalex range of cars fitted with an electric motor. The Scalextric range was introduced in 1957 and was an immediate success.
The tinplate scalextric cars produced are:

  • MM/C51 Maserati 250F
  • MM/C52 Ferrari 375
  • MM/C53 Austin Healey 100/6

Step forward Tri-ang

Tri-ang purchased Rovex in 1951 which enabled the development of a low cost model railway system in direct competition to the Hornby Dublo range. The success of the Scalextric brand caused significant manufacturing and financial problems for Minimodels and in 1958 Fred Francis sold Minimodels including Scalextric to the Lines brothers of Tri-ang. Tri-ang continued to produce the tinplate Scalextric range in 1958 and 1959 but used Rovex to develop a new range of cost effective Scalextric models.
In 1960 the new range of models was introduced, this new range used plastic bodies and a derivative of the popular Tri-ang X.03 motor used in the model trains. The first plastic bodied cars were:

  • C54 Lotus 16
  • C55 Vanwall
  • C56 Lister Jaguar
  • C57 Aston Martin DBR1
In 1964 Meccano were in financial difficulties partly due to the intense competition from Tri-ang over the model railway systems. Simply put Tri-ang railways was cheaper and better modeled than the Hornby Dublo range. Tri-ang purchases Meccano including the Hornby brand.
The costly diecast Hornby models are dropped and Tri-ang adopts the Hornby brand name. At this time Rovex are producing the Tri-ang Hornby railway model range as well as the Scalextric model range. Over the 1960’s Rovex expand and modernise the Scalextric range of cars and accessories.
In 1971 Tri-ang becomes bankrupt and is broken up and sold off. Scalextric is hived off with Hornby under Rovex and Meccano was sold to Airfix.

Go Rovex

As Tri-ang was broken up and sold off Rovex remained the manufacture of the Hornby and the Scalextric model systems. Rovex moved forward with the Hornby and Scalextric models introducing new models and updates. However Rovex runs into financial difficulties in 1980.

Hornby Hobbies

From the ashes of Rovex a new company was formed, Hornby Hobbies took over the old Rovex operations and started to rebuild the Hornby and Scalextric brands. This along with a change of location, a move of production to China and many, many product updates brings us to the here and now.
The Scalextric brand is owned by Hornby Hobbies, produced in China and sold Worldwide. All from accurate tinplate clockwork toy cars fitted with a clever keyless clockwork motor.

Summary and conclusion

Brand names are used by companies to differentiate one product range from another and can have various origins. The Scalextric brand probably has one of the more interesting histories having 3 distinct elements and built over 2 different product generations.

  • 1952: Scalex brand is created by Fred Francis of Minimodels
  • 1957: Scalextric brand is created by Fred Francis of Minimodels
  • 1958: Scalextric is bought by Tri-ang
  • 1971: Scalextric is hived off with Hornby under Rovex
  • 1980: Scalextric is reborn under Hornby hobbies
Scalextric; “Scale” from accurate scale modeling, “x” from the secret keyless clockwork winding mechanism and “tric” from the electric motor fitted later.

An article from Scalextric Car Restorations

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