Sunday, 27 December 2015

How best to resurrect your old Scalextric set

Abstract

Frequently the older Scalextric sets are rescued from long term storage. This article shows that in six simple steps a typical Scalextric set can be brought back to life and enjoyed once more.

Introduction

Scalextric sets produced from 1960 through to around 1990 can be temperamental at times. This is particularly noticeable when the Scalextric set has been in long term storage. Numerous fault can occur even when the set is not in use as well as faults induced by the storage conditions. Damp and high humidity can cause corrosion and mould growth, dust can coat everything and materials can age, for example the shrinkage of plastics over time.
This article lists six simple steps that when followed will ensure an old Scalextric set can be brought back to life and offer great enjoinment more. The six steps are:
  • Completeness of the set
  • Inspecting for damaged parts
  • Resurrecting the track
  • Checking the power supply and controllers
  • Resurrecting the cars
  • Upgrading the cars

Part 1 – Completeness of the set

Any Scalextric set or layout needs to have all the necessary parts in order to operate properly. In this first section we’ll consider the completeness of your old set and generate a list of items you’ll need to source to get your set up and running again.
If you have an original boxed set then the contents will be listed in the relevant Scalextric catalogue or in the instruction sheet that came with the set. If your Scalextric set is one with many added accessories, cars and other parts then it’s a case of checking against the generic list given below.
  • Power supply
  • Hand controllers – at least 2 off
  • Track – a good range of straights and corners
  • Barriers
  • Track support pieces for bridges and banked corners
  • Cars – at least 2 off
If any of the above are missing then sourcing suitable parts will be necessary. Make a list at this stage as other parts may be needed later, just because something is present doesn’t necessarily mean it will work.
With the track you should ensure that paired or matching track pieces are present in the correct quantities, for example if you have a long chicane then you’ll need both an “in piece” and an “out piece”. Also if you have a cross over you’ll need to ensure you have two of these, that is if you want to race 2 cars. Match these track pieces and keep them together for now.
Every item should be checked briefly for any obvious damage or missing parts, for example hand controllers with no attached wires. Items found to be unusable should be put to one side and added to the list of parts required.
At the end of this section of resurrecting your old Scalextric set you’ll have two piles of parts, one where the parts look OK to be used and one where the parts cannot be used. You’ll also have a list of missing parts and damaged pieces that you need to source.
You can, of course, start sourcing the missing and damaged pieces of your set immediately or wait until after part 2 where we’ll inspect all the parts for damage and draw up a complete list of what’s needed.

Part 2 – Inspecting for damaged parts

Part 2 of this guide on resurrecting an old Scalextric set takes a closer look at the quality of the items you have in your set. In part 1 you may have discarded some components as clearly damaged and in this part we’ll examine the remaining pieces in a little more detail to identify any parts that are also damaged.
Let’s start with the power supply and controllers. Check the power supply for any visual defects, missing or incorrect mains plug top, exposed mains wires, damaged mains wire insulation. If there are any doubts about the mains side of the power supply then consult a qualified electrician. On the low voltage side of the power supply (transformer) check that the connection studs and thumbscrews are present and undamaged. If all looks good then the power supply can be testing by connecting a 21W car bulb to the output of the power supply. The bulb should illuminate brightly and consistently.
For the hand controllers, visually inspect each controller housing and ensure the operating lever moves through its full displacement smoothly and returns to the fully off position. Inspect the wires for damaged insulation and confirm the connection plugs and eyelets are present and undamaged. Connect the hand throttles to the known good power supply and the output of the controllers to a 5W car bulb. The bulb should not illuminate with the hand controller in the off position. Slowly operate the hand controller and the bulb should illuminate ever more brightly until full throttle is achieved.
With the power supply and controllers working correctly it’s time to inspect the track pieces. Firstly check that the plastic connection lugs are all present and correct, then check for visible corrosion on the steel track rails (orange / brown rust marks). Light corrosion can be removed with a track polishing pad but deep pitting will be difficult to remove and a replacement tack piece will be needed. Check that the conductor rails wrap around the plastic end lugs such that each track piece electrically connects to the next, then check the flatness of the track. Many older track pieces tend to bow in the middle giving very a uneven running surface.
Some of the specialised track pieces, e.g. crossovers, have small wires underneath to electrically connect the track rails together. Visually check these are present and are making good connections.
Finally, your Scalextric cars. Inspect the cars for any obvious missing or damaged parts Obvious faults to look for are:
If the car looks complete then the first test is to turn the driven wheels by hand. The wheels should turn the axle and the motor armature. Feel for freedom of movement and for binding of the drive system. Any binding, however slight, should be investigated.
The easiest way to check the functionally of a car is to connect together the power supply, one hand controller and one piece of track. Place the car on the track and with one hand lift the driven wheels off the track surface slightly. Then apply a very small amount of power with the hand controller. The motor should hum slightly and the driven wheels should turn slowly. With some of the older cars the motor will hum but the wheels may not turn, this is normal.
Then apply around one third throttle and the motor pitch should increase and the wheels turn faster. If the wheels do not turn then stop this test as there is a fault which will need to be investigated. Listen for a repeating clicking sound from the car. If this is heard then stop the test as there may be a fault with the drive gears. Further investigation will be required.
With the driven wheels turning freely on one third throttle the next step is confirm the condition of the electrical connections. Still at one third throttle, pivot the car around the guide pivot slowly in one direction until the end stop is reached, now back in the other direction until the other end stop is reached. If the motor hesitates during the test then the wiring and connections will need further investigation.
These checks and tests will give you a good indication of what parts of your Scalextric set are damaged and need to be replaced or repaired.

Part 3 Resurrecting your track

Now that all the damaged parts of your old Scalextric set are identified it’s time to start to get things into working condition. In part 3 of this guide we’ll look at your track and get it into full working order. There are a couple of common problems with old Scalextric track:
  • Dull and rough metal track rails
  • Bow in the track surface along the track piece length
  • Narrowing of the slot between the track rails
  • Dirty and dusty track surface
Let’s start with the dirty and dusty track surface. Just like a real race track, the surface of your Scalextric track is vital for grip and the performance of your cars. Track that has been stored well may need nothing more than a wipe over with a damp cloth. However, very dusty track may need a good scrub with an old nail brush in warm soapy water. We recommend adding washing-up liquid as this will also remove any oil and grease deposits. Dry the track quickly to prevent any further corrosion of the track rails.
With the track clean the next step is to flatten out any bowing or kinks in the running surface. This is accomplished by gently bending the track back to a flat level surface. While doing this you may find that the track rails buckle into the slot, blocking the slot. This is normal and should not be considered a problem at this stage. The important point is to get the track as flat and level as you can.
Now that the track pieces are all clean and flat we can take a look at the slot between the track rails. Some track pieces may have a narrowing of the slot especially towards the ends of the track piece. This is usually caused by the steel rails not being crimped well to the plastic track moulding. Tightening of the crimping will resolve this. Then, you may find that the slot narrows at the very end of the track piece where the next track piece will electrically connect. This is resolved by pushing the track back into shape with a flat blade screwdriver. The same technique is used for any localised bucking along the slot length, simply push the buckle out of the way to open up the slot.
Finally the running surface of the track rails need to be polished back to bright, shiny metal. This will give better electrical connection to the car giving higher speeds and better acceleration. Also, there will be less rolling resistance to the car and far less ware on your pick-up braids. The track polishing pad is ideal for this task bringing your track rails back to shiny metal easily. Even light corrosion can be removed but deep pitting will be difficult to remove.
By now your track will be ready for use with a good, clean track surface and bright shiny, smooth track rails. Time to design your layout …

Part 4 Checking the power supply and controllers

Part 4 of this guide on resurrecting your old Scalextric set takes a closer look at the power supply and controllers you have in your set. In part 2 you may have discarded some of the power supply and controller components as clearly damaged and in this part we’ll examine the remaining pieces in a little more detail to identify any parts that are also damaged or not functioning correctly.
Let’s start with the power supply. Check the power supply for any visual defects, missing or incorrect mains plug top, exposed mains wires, damaged mains wire insulation. If there are any doubts about the mains side of the power supply then consult a qualified electrician. On the low voltage side of the power supply (transformer) check that the connection studs and thumbscrews are present and undamaged. If all looks good then the power supply can be testing by connecting a 21W car bulb to the output of the power supply. The bulb should illuminate brightly and consistently.
The power supply should emit a quiet humming sound and if this sound is louder than expected then the transformer itself inside the power supply is at fault. If the humming sound is excessive then the whole power supply may need to be replaced. Repairing or replacing the transformer can be carried out by a fully qualified electrician.
Some of the earlier power supplies are also fitted with a manual reset button which switches off the output of the power supply if there is a short circuit in the output or if too much current is drawn. This can be checked by deliberately connecting together the output terminals for a short duration. The output protection device should then disable the output of the power supply. The reset button can then be pressed to re-energise the output of the power supply. Later power supplies also have this protection device which automatically resets itself after a few seconds.
Various replacement powers supplies are available if needed.
For the hand controllers, visually inspect each controller housing and ensure the operating lever moves through its full displacement smoothly and returns to the fully off position. To do this operate the trigger slowly to the full power position and then release it very slowly until at the fully off position.
Inspect the wires for damaged insulation and confirm the connection plugs and eyelets are present and undamaged. Connect the hand throttles to the known good power supply and the output of the controllers to a 5W car bulb. The bulb should not illuminate with the hand controller in the off position. Slowly operate the hand controller and the bulb should illuminate ever more brightly until full throttle is achieved.
Replacement hand controllers are available if needed.

Part 5 Resurrecting the cars

Part 5 of this guide on resurrecting your old Scalextric set takes a closer look at resurrecting your old Scalextric cars. In part 2 you should have inspected your cars for any obvious missing or damaged parts. The obvious faults to look for are:
If you haven’t carried the inspection of your cars as covered in part 2 of this guide then you should do so now before preceding with the process below.
  1. Carefully take your car apart to the major components. Some Scalextric cars are held together with screws, some with sliding clips and some where the chassis clips into the body.
    Note: Some cars are difficult to unclip the body from the chassis, if in doubt then contact us for further information.
  2. All the plastic parts (body, window moulding, chassis, driver plate, wheels etc.) can then be cleaned in warm soapy water. Use a nail brush or similar to remove all the dust and dirt. This will most likely also remove any water slide decals that have been added to the car. The plastic mouldings may have become brittle with age so support them while applying pressure with the nailbrush. Once the plastic parts are clean rinse them off with fresh water and dry thoroughly. Some of the cars from the 1960s tend to have a white powdery mould growing on them. This can be removed through repeating this cleaning process until all the mould has gone.
  3. Once clean and dry inspect the plastic parts for for any damage. Parts not suitable should be discarded and replacements sourced.
  4. The motor should have a small drop of lubricating oil on each bearing and then be tested at full speed for a short period of time and at race temperature to test the bearings, the armature windings and the motor brushes. If the motor fails any of these tests then replace it as it would be of little use under race conditions. The open frame RX and Formula Junior motors can sometimes be repaired, see our article “How to service the RX motor in your Scalextric car” to find out more.
  5. The wiring to the motor should be checked and repaired as necessary. If you are in any doubt about the condition of the wiring then replace it as a damaged conductor can be hard to find and can ruin a good car.
  6. The white plastic motor pinion gear fitted to cars from the late 1970 through to the late 1990s can crack and become loose on the motor shaft. Check for this and replace the motor pinion gear if you are unsure.
  7. Check the condition of any other electrical items fitted to your car, usually lights. On some cars the lighting circuits are polarity sensitive as they are fitted with LEDs which are polarity sensitive. Replace blown or damaged bulbs.
  8. Reassemble the bearings, spacers and wheels onto the axles. If the wheels are loose on the axles then a small drop of super glue will keep them in place.
  9. Refit the axles to the chassis. They should be a secure fit and rotate freely.
    Note: For the rear axle the large flat disc of the contrate gear should be on the RIGHT of CENTRE as viewed from the UNDERSIDE of the car. If the rear axle is fitted the wrong way round the car will go backwards.
  10. Refit the motor and all the other electrical items to the chassis / body of the car. Use new pick-up braids and new pick-up pins (if pins are used on your car). The old pins, especially if crimped to the wires can be a common cause of open circuit wires. There are 2 sizes of pick-up pins are available, 1.75mm and 1.95 mm, if you are not sure which you need then contact us.
  11. Fit new tyres to the rear (driven) wheels unless your original tyres are in very good and grippy condition. Front (non-driven) wheels can take visually good used tyres. Give all the bearings and gears a drop of oil to enhance performance and prolong their life. Check the gears for smooth and free operation. If you feel any resistance then contact us for further information.
  12. If all is well then put the chassis on the track and ensure the car is OK electrically and goes in the right direction. If the car goes in the wrong direction then swap over the wires at either the guide OR the motor.
  13. Refit all the parts back into the body, windows, driver plate etc.
  14. The assembled upper body can now be re-fitted to the completed chassis. Carry out the tests from part 2 of this guide once more to confirm the car is functioning as well as can be expected. Run the car on the track confirm the tyre grip.
  15. Finally, the ancillary or decorative parts can be fitted, e.g. bumpers, wing mirrors , spoilers etc. and decals.
With the cars, track, power supply and controllers all working correctly it’s time to race and have some fun.

Part 6 Upgrading the cars

Part 6 of this guide on resurrecting your old Scalextric set takes a closer look at upgrading your old Scalextric cars. In part 5 you should have restored the cars so that they run like they did when they were new. Unfortunately that means they are no match for the modern range of Scalextric cars and suffer all their original handling and performance problems.
Upgrades to a Scalextric car essentially fall into one of two categories, those that are totally reversible and those that are not totally reversible. The upgrades that are totally reversible are the best to start with as you can undo the upgrades and get your original car back. These upgrades are:
  1. Just as with a full size car, a Scalextric car relies on its tyres (rear tyres) for traction, braking and cornering. Simply put, the better the grip of the tyre the better the performance of the Scalextric car. For many Scalextric cars there are higher performance tyres available. The very best results are obtained with our max grip series of tyres.
  2. The next step is to increase the power of the motor. If your car has an RX open frame motor then use an adaptor kit and fit a Johnson motor. If your car has a Johnson motor then again use an adaptor kit and fit a Mabuchi motor. If you already have a Mabuchi motor fitted then consider one of the latest and more powerful versions of the Mabuchi motor. If you are not sure which motor you have then use our free Library of motors to identify your motor.
  3. Adding weight to your Scalextric car can make it more stable in the corners and accelerate more quickly. Weight over the rear driving wheels will reduce wheel spin by increasing the friction between the tyres and the track. For the Engineers this is simply a case of F=┬ÁN. Adding weight increases N and therefore proportionally increases F, the friction. Use Bluetac and steel ball bearings to put the weight where you need it.
  4. The Scalextric cars from the 1970s and 1980 had a tendency to tip over in corners due to a floating front axles. This effect can be reduced by replacing the current axles with wider ones which increases the stability of the car in corners allowing corners to be taken at higher speeds.
The upgrades above can be carried out to most older Scalextric cars and can be adjusted and removed as necessary. The upgrades that are NOT reversible are the next to try. Which, if any, of these you try will result in permanent alterations to your car which may affect its value. If you are unsure DO NOT proceed with these upgrades:
  1. Adding a magnet to your Scalextric car will give an instant performance increase if fitted in the right location. Remember that the magnet will also give the car an increase in rolling resistance and so can be overdone. Use magnets only with Mabuchi motors for best effect. The best place to fit a magnet is just in front of the rear axle between the rear axle and the motor. This will give the best grip for the rear tyres.
  2. By lowering the guide the centre of gravity of the car is lowered too. This will give your car more stability in the corners. Note that it is not possible to lower the guide on all Scalextric cars.
  3. With most of the older Scalextric cars the front axle is allowed to move up and down. This allows the car to traverse the banked corners and obstacles in the track. If your track is mostly flat then the front axle can be fixed in location giving a great increase in cornering stability. The front wheels should be placed so that they just touch the track with the weight of the front of the car still on the guide blade.
There are, of course, many other upgrades you can make to your Scalextric car to improve its track performance. The points listed here are the more common ones and the ones that can make a big difference to the car with the least amount of effort. For other ideas and some test results have a look at what happened as we upgraded an old Scalextric C52 Ford Escort RS1600.
This concludes our series on how best to resurrect your old Scalextric set. We hope you’ve enjoyed this series of articles and found them helpful. If you have any feedback please let us know.

About the author

Gary Harding has been working with Scalextric cars for over 30 years and now operates Scalextric Car Restorations in the UK. Scalextric Car Restorations is a Worldwide internet based business that offers for sale high quality Scalextric cars and Scalextric spares and parts from the 1960s to the present day. All the restoration work is carried out to the highest standards with the highest quality parts available. Only the best cars are selected and the final result is a car that is genuinely like new.
Further help and advice relating to this article or Scalextric cars in general can be found at:
http://www.scalextric-car.co.uk

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