by Chuck Gajewski
HO scale slot car racing had taken off in the mid 1960s with the introduction of Aurora's pancake-motored Thunderjet chassis. Before this, slot cars were mainly thought of as accessories to HO (1/87) scale model train sets. With the advent of the T-jet chassis, the true racing and performance potential of slot cars had been realized. Offering a large variety of muscle cars, sports cars, and even a few personal luxury models as well as Mack and International trucks, it seemed that Aurora had any type of car you could want represented in their lineup.
Other manufacturers were soon to follow, mostly makers of electric trains, and eventually Tyco brought out its TycoPro series which was actually faster than the T-jets. Previously Tyco, Aurora, and the other slot car makers made all their bodies on a roughly 1/87th scale, but the Tyco Pros grew to 1/64th scale -- roughly the size of a Matchbox or Hot Wheels car. See a wider view of a simple slot car track layout (100K JPEG).
Not to be outdone by Tyco, Aurora soon did a makeover on its T-jet chassis that was significant enough to warrant a new name: "Aurora Factory Experimental" or AFX. The AFX too was about 1/64th scale and while it used the same pancake motor arrangement, it sat lower, had wider more realistically styled wheels and tires, and a whole crop of new body styles including more muscle, sports, and racing cars as well as a Baja VW, Datsun Pickup, and racing Bronco.
By the mid 70's most of the also-ran slot car makers had given up the market to AFX and Tyco who were fiercely duking it out with faster, more innovative chassis and of course the latest body styles. In 1977, the Ideal toy company entered their own electric racing system.
Ideal knew that they would be entering a heated battle without an established product, so they perfected a system attempted twice before by Aurora which didn't use slots at all. Named TCR for "Total Control Racing", these cars ran on slotless track that allowed the cars to swap lanes (70K JPEG) using a switch on the controllers for passing, blocking, and maneuvering around the "Jam Car," a drone car that ran at a constant speed off of the player-controlled cars' power rails.
As far as I know, Ideal built the first HO scale slot(less) Jeeps in 1978. They released the orange/black and white/red/black color schemes, available both individually and in an "Off Road Rally" set that included both Jeeps and a yellow Dodge pickup as the Jam Car. But their TCR system lasted only up to about 1981 in the US. In Europe, TCR lived on, and in the early 90's Majorette, better known for its diecast cars, brought the system to Canada, and the US for a short time. Majorette introduced its own chassis that ran on a slotted track (its guide pin must be modified or swapped to run on any other track), with some all-new bodies as well as a few slightly-retooled Ideal offerings, including a third variation of the CJ-7 in yellow with black details.
Ideal made several slotless chassis and even a short lived slotted one, and both Ideal and Majorette Jeeps are compatible with all snap-on style racing chassis as well as Ideal and Majorette's slotted chassis. They won't work on any of the Jam Car chassis, due to clearance issues. The Ideal CJ's are relatively common, whereas the Majorette is much harder to find. It had short-lived distribution in the U.S., and isn't much easier to find in Canada or Europe even though the TCR system was popular there until the early 90's.
The photo at right shows an Ideal body mounted on a slotted chassis with a grey guide pin (top) and a Majorette body on an Ideal TCR slotless chassis (bottom). Both chassis designs have rear wheels larger than the front wheels.
See also the Majorette Jeep along with models from AFX, Tyco and Marchon, with the bodies removed from the chassis (70K JPEG) to reveal the tiny motors.
Sometime in the late 70's or early 80's Tyco and AFX brought out their own CJ-7 bodies for their racing systems at about the same time. Dating the releases of many slot car body styles can be difficult since many were released randomly.
AFX had 3 color schemes on its version of the Jeep CJ-7, and had plans for a military-decorated version from the MASH television show. Aurora was known for making some of the most accurate, nicely detailed slot car replica bodies around, and the Jeeps were no exception. Aurora offered the red and the blue versions in an off-road themed set which had a flexible track, and there have been versions that replace one of the Jeeps with a Chevy Blazer. AFX Jeeps were also offered individually, as well as on different chassis. The yellow version has been seen on both the Magnatraction chassis (the workhorse of the AFX line at the time) as well as on its slotless chassis called the Speed Steer. The red and blue color schemes are fairly common on the Magnatraction chassis.
Although all AFX Jeeps have provisions for lights and many were offered on a chassis with wired-in headlights, the red one was available on a Cat's Eyes chassis which allowed the lights to be turned on and off while racing with the controller, which is a rare find. The yellow/orange Jeep is fairly rare in any form.
Tyco had introduced its own Jeep race set, the "CJ Snake Track Challenge" featuring the all-new body styles on its new HP-2 chassis. Like the AFX set, it too had a flexible track section and specially-designed slot guides which allowed travel on these and standard tracks. The snake track sections had segments that were glow-in-the-dark, as well as the guard rails. The Jeeps themselves had lighted chassis that lit up the headlights as well as the overhead off-road lights.
Maybe it was purely coincidence or maybe either Tyco or Jeep were looking over each shoulders, but Tyco's version of the Jeep CJ gave a glimpse of what was to come on the Wrangler with the low-cut half doors. The yellow/black and red/blue decorated Jeeps with this set were also available individually and are by far the most common and most easily obtained Jeeps made by Tyco or possibly any other make.
There are several known variations in these paint jobs also. Having the Jeep logo tampoed on the tailgate (50K JPEG) and the occasional set of overhead lights highlighted in black or silver, are the most common variations. Some have unpainted fender flares or the 'CJ-7' tampo missing on the doors also.
Tyco didn't stop there with its versions of the CJ. A silver/black version with the "Renegade" logo improperly placed down the sides was introduced, as well as an orange/brown version using the same design. Tyco had also designed its own slotless system called "Command Control" after seeing that Ideal was selling quite a few of their versions. The orange/brown CJ was offered individually on the Command Control racing chassis, as well as the HP-2, while the silver/black version has only been seen on the HP-2 in the package. Not nearly as common as the red/blue or yellow/black paint schemes, the Renegades are a bit more challenging to obtain.
Not all Tyco Jeeps are so common. In 1982, Tyco replaced the HP-2 chassis with two new designs: The Magnum 440, designed primarily for racing and using all-new narrower, lighter body styles; and the HP-7 which was cheaper to build than the HP-2 but still designed to carry the longer, wider bodies. A new white with black top and red accents color scheme for the CJ-7 was offered among the first HP-7's, and many consider it to be the best looking of all.
It's seen here in racing action with a Blazer, both gunning it toward the daredevil jump. Will they make it? The CJ lands with a little fishtail action, and Blazer... denied! (80K JPEG).
Around the same time, Tyco also introduced the US-1 trucking system, which functioned much like an electric train set but instead of trains it featured semi trucks and work vehicles. It used standard Tyco track molded in grey, but had turnoffs with workstations that the semis could dock with, and perform duties like dumping pipes, picking up loads, etc. The chassis were designed not for speed or handling, but for stability on the track and could go in reverse, using a steady, plodding worm-drive gearset and front and rear slot pins. In addition to some nicely done 18-wheelers, some other body styles were modified to fit the US-1 chassis.
They already had a military-themed set released with a GI-Joe theme, so a military Jeep made sense. To fit the US-1 chassis, the Jeep's front bumper had to be removed as well as some modification of the inside chassis mount tabs. From the looks of it, this was done by hand. Both the white/red/black CJ and the US-1 Army Jeep are considered very rare and if you do come by one, expect to pay around $50 on eBay for either.
Test shots are finished castings cast from a mold to test its integrity. Test shots are found undecorated, unpainted, and usually unassembled. Sometimes a test shot is just the body without bumpers, glass etc. No matter how incomplete the test shot, these bodies are usually fully serviceable if you have a donor car to supply the missing parts. Many Tyco slotcar bodies are fairly common on eBay and slot car sellers. Some, like the Jeeps, are more limited.
Depending on who you talk to, there are estimated to be only a couple of hundred Jeep test shots in existence. Luckily, these are almost always found with all three parts: body, windows, and headlight crystal. Seeing the unfinished body gives a good scope of the level of detail, fit, and accuracy of the replica.
Apparently Tyco licensed some of its slot cars to be issued in Mexico, usually with different designs than the U.S. releases. A pair of CJ's got the Lili Ledy treatment, winding up in some bright colors. Personally, my knowledge of these is fairly limited. These can be found on eBay, claiming they are from the late 70's. I highly doubt this, since they are found on lighted HP-7 chassis, which weren't released until 1982.
The chassis seem to have been purchased directly from Tyco, but the bodies were cast outside of Tyco's U.S. factories. The plastic feels to be of a slightly cheaper grade, and the stencils for the paint applications weren't quite as neat. Still, they make an interesting addition to any collection and whether you love or hate the paint jobs, they're hard to miss.
In the early 90's, Marchon toy company introduced its own slot racing system, based on its MR-1 chassis. Marchon seemed to be constantly developing its chassis design, since about 4 variations have been seen, until they were bought out by the UK slot car company Scalextric. Marchon kept the model designation as MR-1 even though these variations of the chassis are for the most part very different. Marchon offered a complete set featuring the red Jeep with "Doom Buggy" decorations and the yellow "Canyon Raider" Jeep, and offered them individually as well. They feature working lights, and very strong neodynum traction magnets that make them excellent racers for beginners as they are fast and easy to drive.
Looking at the design of the body style, it seems Marchon was a bit indecisive about which Jeep to model its slots after. They have square headlights and half doors like a YJ Wrangler, yet the triangular rollbar, rounded off hood, front fenders and round rear fender openings suggest CJ-7. After Scalextric bought out Marchon sometime in the mid to late 90's, they kept the Jeeps around a while longer in their red and yellow color schemes.
There doesn't seem to be much information about when the day-glo pink and yellow color schemes with their zebra-striped hoods were released. Versions of these colors without the hood stripes have been seen as well, and both striped and non-striped day-glo's have been spotted with the standard grey wheels instead of the painted wheels. Neither has been seen with matching wheels, instead of wheels in its partner's color.
While all the previous slot Jeeps are out of production, I have recently seen evidence that another is about to be released by Auto World slot cars, formerly sold by Johnny Lightning. Hobbytalk member Chriscobbs has submitted this photo of a prototype Jeep CJ-5 meant to fit Auto World's X-Traction (a re-issued copy of the AFX Magnatraction) chassis. If you know your diecast, then it's obvious that this mockup is a modified version of the Johnny Lightning diecast CJ-5. One online hobby store has a preorder hinting that this Jeep should be available in mid-late 2007, and the other cars in its release are more Dukes of Hazzard vehicles. The Dixie was originally a CJ-7, but with such a nice replica of the CJ-5, it's a minor oversight!
-- Chuck Gajewski
Thanks to Chuck for this definitive survey of another area of Jeep collecting, and for taking the photos. -- Derek Redmond
Continue to some of Chuck's Custom HO Slotcar Jeeps.
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