Two engines thrum. A sleek black vehicle pinstriped in red shakes with anticipation, a stubby yellow car next to it doing the same. Suddenly they’re off! Immediately the black vehicle rolls off the track, landing softly on the carpet next to the dog bed. A terrible result for the Batmobile.
When it comes to nostalgia, toys are big business. Stores are full of dead-on recreations of old favourites like Transformers and He-Man, and of course Star Wars is still massive, with even the characters of the acclaimed series The Mandalorian being retrofitted into action figures in the style of the original toys in the 70s and 80s, the ones I had. But there was one gadget I never had as a child, and it was a big one.
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Scalextric was first unveiled in 1957 and was an instant hit. It’s come a long way from when it was invented by Fred Francis in Hampshire, beginning with tinplate cars and going on to upgrade every so often both functionally and aesthetically. While you can still use the traditional hand controllers, the latest “SparkPlug” system allows you to download a special app to drive your car from.
To further appeal to those lovers of “olden times,” the brand, which is currently owned by Hornby, has branched out to provide vehicles and sets from film and TV. The first, naturally, was a James Bond set from Goldfinger, and later came Batman, The Simpsons, and The Fast and the Furious, which presumably encouraged you to play with your family. The latest cars in the range come from the 1960s and ‘80s in the guise of the beloved 1966 Batman series and classic Britcom Only Fools and Horses, with at least the former appealing to me.
Scalextric has always been a bit of a sore spot for me; it’s not something we could afford when I was growing up, so to finally get hold of one as an adult – especially when I have my own family – was a temptation too strong to resist. These new sets are also attractive. The Batman set comes with that wonderful George Barris’ customised Batmobile that enchanted me as a child, when I at least had a die-cast Corgi version. And it’s driven by Adam West’s caped crusader, although sadly no Robin is included.
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The Only Fools and Horses set includes two vehicles: the infamous filthy yellow Reliant Regal van (no blow-up dolls present) and Del Boy’s posher set of wheels, the green Ford Capri MKII aka the Pratmobile. Both models are beautifully built and painted, with the van as grimy as you remember and the Capri featuring Del Boy’s initials on the door and the “Capri” window sticker on the rear. The only disappointment is that the drivers in both cars are fairly nondescript; they’re both brown-haired men so I suppose they’re supposed to be David Jason, but they look a bit more like Dan Aykroyd, which I suppose is good for when they do the inevitable Ecto-1 when Ghostbusters: Afterlife is released.
Truth be told, I had to buy a set to write this (the cars were sent to me by Hornby) which ended up being my Father’s Day present, and I was certainly feeling that nostalgia putting the track together, which incidentally was much bigger than I thought it would be – it took up most of the front room. And there was the thrill of seeing Batman race the Trotters, with my childhood self yelping as the Batmobile went screaming down the track, only to somersault off straight away; a terrible thing, but also as entertaining as Boris Johnson taking a lie detector test. It was frankly hilarious, and that inner child was now giggling like an idiot, something that would be inevitably shared with the actual children living in the house.
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My daughter quickly became obsessed, doing her best to at least get the Trotter van around the track, let alone doing a jump trick using the set’s ramp. It was certainly a sight, seeing that iconic heap of junk leaping into the air like a ski jumper, and even more thrilling to see her make the landing. But it was that infectious shrill giggle that came when the car leapt off the track that not only made my day but also let me know that this wasn’t going to be a one-time thing, and my son confirmed that. It may be heresy to find wiping out so entertaining, but at least it’s just one of the things we now love about Scalextric. The cars run really well, the app-controlled driving is smooth, and they even have working headlights. As Batman said to Alfred, cushty.
Next stop: perhaps learning how to race.
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