How to Choose the Right Scale for Slot Cars

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How to Choose the Right Scale for Slot Cars

Lionel made the first rail-guided, electric-powered cars in 1912. It wasn't until the mid-1950s, however, when UK-based Minimodels converted its clockwork racers to electric, that the modern slot car was born. The Scalextric were an instant success, and by the 1960s, slot cars were so popular that there were televised racing events hosted by the likes of Johnny Carson and Steve Allen. Those original slot cars were 1/30 scale but the industry soon replaced it with 1/32 and then added 1/24 and HO scale.

Slot Car Scale Factor

Commercial slot cars are available in four primary scales: HO scale,, 1/43 scale, 1/32 scale, and 1/24 scale. As a general rule, scales are not interchangeable, so it is crucial to choose a scale factor before investing in any equipment. The most common scale among hobbyists is 1/32, but HO scale is more prevalent overall because it is the scale used by brands like Tyco for its toy-grade slot car kits.

HO

HO or H0 is the smallest hobby scale and the most popular model railroading scale.

1:43

1:43 scale is new for slot cars and seeks to strike a balance between 1:32 and HO scale.

1:32

1:32 is the most prevalent slot car scale and the de facto standard for organized competition.

1:24

1:24 is the largest slot car scale and the same scale used for most automotive model kits.

HO Scale Factor

HO scale is the most common scale factor used in the production of model trains and diecast model cars.. When the modern slot car first appeared in the 1950s, HO was a natural scale choice because of how prevalent it was in other hobby segments. Traditionally, HO scale is 1/87.1 but is often as large as 1/64. Even at its largest, HO is small for slot cars, and most hobbyists prefer a larger scale. HO is, however, the de facto standard for toy kits because the scale allows for intricate tracks within a relatively small space.

1/43 Scale Factor

For decades, HO, 1/32, and 1/24 were the only scales used for commercial slot cars. Recently, the industry has introduced 1/43 scale.. Although larger than HO scale, many hobby brands market their 1/43s as "compacts" since HO is more common for toys than as a hobby scale. The design goal of the 1/43s is to strike a balance between the convenient size of HO and the level of detail provided by 1/32. The main problem with 1/43 is that the community hasn't embraced it yet, so cars and accessories can be hard to find.

1/32 Scale Factor

Although 1/24 vied for supremacy in the early days of the hobby, the 1/32 scale won out because the smaller cars were more convenient and more affordable. The advantage that 1/32 scale has over HO is that the 1/32 size allows for fine details and is large enough to allow hobbyists to maintain and customize the mechanical and electric components of the car. A modern advantage of 1/32 is that it has become the de facto standard for organized competition, and this happened because the scale was large enough to race competitively but also small enough to race in a bedroom, basement, or garage.

1/24 Scale Factor

The main allure of 1/24 scale is that 1/24 is the primary scale used for automotive model kits.. In fact, most 1/24s come as kits that require assembly, and it is even possible to convert a 1/24-scale model into a slot car. The advantage of this size is that there is a lot of room for details and customization, and the bigger cars require more skill since they are harder to handle than the 1/32s and 1/43s. The disadvantage of 1/24 is that the cars and tracks are quite large, so the space requirements are often an obstacle.

1/24 vs. 1/25 Scale Factor

One of the more confusing aspects of the hobby for the beginner is the prevalence of 1/25 scale models and slot cars. The good news is that while 1/25 is smaller than the 1/24 scale,, it is not a significant difference. In other words, 1/24 and 1/25 scale slot cars and accessories are interchangeable. Among slot car brands, AMT is the notable one that uses the 1/25 scale, while most of the other major brands use 1/24.

Choosing the Right Scale for Slot Cars

Choosing the right scale for slot cars is a matter of determining how the child or hobbyist plans to use them. For those who plan to race casually in their home, choose the scale based on appeal and available space. For those who plan to race competitively, it is best to choose based on the competitive options that are available locally.

Challenge Level

Perhaps the most important factor in choosing a scale is the desired challenge. The HO scale is by far the most accessible, which makes it perfect for young children. Generally, difficulty increases as the scale does, and 1/24s are the most challenging because they require assembly, have more parts, experience more wear and tear, and are more susceptible to significant damage.

Hobby Grade vs. Toy Grade

Quality and versatility are also important considerations. Slot car kits manufactured by brands like Tyco and AFX are toy grade. Generally, toy grade products use HO scale, are relatively inexpensive, and are not easy to expand, upgrade, repair, or customize. Hobby-grade brands include Carrera, Fly, and Scalextric, and the products are long lasting and versatile. Hobby grade does require a greater initial investment, but those slot cars and accessories can last a lifetime if well maintained.

Space Requirements

HO slot cars are 2-3.5" long, and two-lane HO tracks are usually 3" wide. The 1/24-scale cars, on the other hand, are 7-8" long, and two-lane 1/24 tracks range from 6.125-7.125". In addition, HO track pieces are typically sold in 3" sections while 1/24 sections can be twice or thrice that length. The HO scale is most convenient when the track must be disassembled after use. The 1/24 scale demands permanency, and the tracks are best laid out on a plywood table designed for the purpose.

Collecting and Casual Racers

Collectors do not have to settle on a particular scale and can purchase a slot car at whatever scale is most interesting or will have the most long-term value. The casual racer should let the scale factor choose them. If buying a slot car starter kit as a gift, then choose HO scale for children under 12 and 1/32 scale for older children and adults.

Organized Competition

The 1/32 scale factor is by far the most common for organized slot car racing, and 1/24 is the second most common. Competitive racing at the HO scale is uncommon, and the 1/43 scale is still rare. Most hobby shops and race organizers will use track sections that have 3.5-4" slot separation and 0.125" grooves, which will accommodate all 1/24s and 1/32s and should accommodate most 1/43s.

Local Tracks

If competitive racing will dictate scale, then the hobbyist should determine what tracks, leagues, and events are available in the immediate area. A hobbyist may prefer 1/43, but he or she will have a lot more fun with 1/32 if that is the dominant scale in the area.

Financial Considerations

The smaller the scale the less the initial investment will be. It is much cheaper to start racing HO cars than it is 1/32s. Once the hobbyist is established, however, no scale is going to be dramatically more expensive than another for the average collector. That won't hold true for the collector, however. A consideration with 1/24s is that they require more maintenance and incur more damage than the smaller scales. On the other hand, 1/24s are far more repairable, whereas it is often more cost-effective to replace the smaller cars.

Accessories

Controllers and tracks, of all sizes, are available in analog and digital formats. Analog and digital are not interchangeable, so most hobbyists will have to choose one over the other. Digital is relatively new in the world of slot cars, but it is quickly becoming the standard because it allows for advanced racing features, such as passing, blocking, and multiple cars per lane. Controllers are not scale-specific, but most other slot car accessories are and must be purchased accordingly.

1/32 and 1/24 Compatibility

An exception to the rule that scales are not interchangeable is that 1/32 slot cars will run on 1/24-scale tracks. This compatibility allows hardcore race fans to focus on the two most common scale factors without doubling up on track pieces and other equipment. The 1/24 tracks are rather large, however, so this approach is not nearly as convenient as simply specializing in 1/32s.

Finding Slot Cars on eBay

eBay has a large, diverse selection of slot cars, including all of the major brands and scale factors. eBay also offers low prices, special discounts, free shipping, and buyer protection. To view eBay's selection, start at the Toys & Hobbies category and navigate to the Slot Cars subcategory. Within Slot Cars, the shopper will find sections for Accessories, HO Scale, 1/24 Scale, 1/32 Scale, 1/43 Scale, and Other..

Conclusion

Commercial slot cars are made in four scale factors: HO, 1/43, 1/32, and 1/24. HO is the smallest scale, ranging from 1/87.1 to 1/64, and it is a popular size for toy-grade slot cars as well as diecast cars and model trains. The 1/32 scale is the most popular slot car scale among hobbyists and for organized competition, and 1/24 is the largest scale and popular among hardcore race enthusiasts. The 1/43 scale is relatively new and seeks to strike a balance between the HO and 1/32 scales.

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