60 years after it was first introduced, Scalextric remains a popular item on many children’s (and some adults’) Christmas lists. The boys and I have been trying out the Touring Car Battle set to see if the brand has stood the test of time.
I was provided with a copy of this set for review purposes.
Scalextric is fundamentally the same product it was when it was first introduced at the Harrogate Toy Fair in 1957. Electrically powered scale-model cars race around a slotted track, operated by a simple hand-controller.
Although the cars have changed and there have been some small tweaks to the way the sets are constructed, the fact that the basic concept remains largely unchanged is no bad thing. It’s the simplicity of Scalextric that is a big part of its enduring appeal. Assembling the track by sotting together the modular pieces is a simple five-minute job (as is the reverse procedure to put everything away). It can be a little fiddly if you have fat fingers like me but it’s easy enough. The combination of straight and curved track pieces provided allow for different track configurations, from a figure-of-eight (two crossover bridge supports are provided) to a more straightforward flat circuit.
To start racing is equally straightforward. The controllers comprise a simple trigger mechanism – squeeze harder to increase speed or release it to slow down. There’s no need to steer, simply to find the right balance between driving quickly enough to beat your opponent but not so fast that your car flies off the track. Simple in theory but trickier in practice, as our boys soon discovered.
Isaac and Toby loved how accessible Scalextric is. There are no complex instructions to follow. Racing requires a modicum of skill but is not complicated by the need to worry about steering as well as speed. And the built-in lap counters made it easy for them to set up races without having to keep track of who was winning.
The boys are both long-standing car lovers – our Sky box is full of episodes of Top Gear and their bedroom is stacked with old copies of What Car and other motoring magazines – so this set was like manna from heaven to them. They enjoyed the thrill (and frustration) of competing against each other and they also liked the fact that this set came with two real-world cars (BTCC touring car versions of the BMW 1 series and Honda Civic) that they’re familiar with.
For me this was a nostalgic reminder of my own childhood. I received my first Scalextric set for Christmas when I was about the same age Isaac is now. The boys’ excitement as they helped me put the set together and then start racing was infectious. It’s always lovely when you see your kids show the same enthusiasm for something as you once did. (It’s less pleasing to discover that they’re better than you straight out of the box but that’s a cross I have to bear.)
Better still, Kara was equally keen to get involved and she soon got the hang of playing too. It’s easy to think of Scalextric as a boys’ toy but it doesn’t have to be at all. Girls can enjoy cars just as much as boys!
Anyone who is familiar with Scalextric or Hornby train sets from their childhood will instantly recognise the appeal of a set such as this. They will also recognise the need for some occasional hands-on cleaning and maintenance to keep everything functioning properly. And the cars themselves need to be handled with a degree of care to prevent damage. However, having played with our set for a few days these problems seem to be easier to fix than I remembered from my own childhood and the most common issues are easily solved through experience or with the aid of a quick YouTube search.
Whether boy or girl or aged 7 or 47, Scalextric is a toy that anyone can have hours of fun with. It would make an ideal Christmas present – and one that can be customised with new track pieces and cars to sustain children’s interest throughout the long winter months.
You can buy the Scalextric Touring Car Battle set direct from the Scalextric website or from a variety of retailers and online sellers. RRP is £99.99.