John Cukras Winning Machine…

July 10th, 2008 · 2 Comments

Or the story of some serious detective work about a
1967 multi-race winner.

John Cukras is one of the all-time great drivers-builders in the history of the hobby, and certainly one of the best-known heroes of slot racing’s “Classic Era”. Few of his cars are known to have survived, and this is the story of one that did.

1966 is the year John really made his mark, winning the first East-West confrontation in Memphis, TN, with the help of another
ace-driver, Mike Steube. John built the chassis and told Mike to “stay away from it”, while Bill Steube Sr. of the famous Checkpoint raceway built the motor for the Pactra bodied Ferrari 3-liter V12 F1 car. They effectively defeated all what the East, Midwest and South could throw at them after Howie Ursaner ran into trouble with his own car.

In 1967, things became much more serious with the production by Champion of the 517 motors, offering the pro racers a much better base on which to build serious power plants to win races. Indeed the Mabuchi FT16D had some considerable drawbacks, the worst being its low-temp end bell that hardly sustained a serious armature wind.

Cukras signed up as a Team Champion member and in quick succession finished second in the last Car Model championship race in Los Angeles, then flew to Atlanta and with the same car, won the ARCO Nationals in the open-wheel class.

A few years ago, I found this used car that was somewhat familiar. After studying the published pictures in the old magazines, I came to the conclusion that this old car was indeed the very one with which Cukras starred in both races, and decided to restore it to its former glory.

Below are the published records from the April 1968 issue of Car model magazine, showing that very car in BOTH races:

The last race of the SoCal Car Model series allowed Terry Schmid to win the championship for the second year in a row. This was helped in a great way by the fact that mike Steube could not compete after his car 9and not only his motor) was stolen before qualifications. The car was retrieved, but the motor was gone, and a loaner motor was just not fast enough to allow him to get into the race. Cukras had no such problem and battled all the way, finishing second feet from winner Doug Henline.

John’s car is shown in the top picture after qualifying for the race. The dark green Honda body was one of the few Russkit bodies in that race, as most favored the Dynamic Ferrari 3-liter or Eagle-Weslake V12. As usual, most of the bodies in that race were painted by “Bob” Kovacs in his Von Dutch style.

In this Car Model race, Cukras had the team Champion Honda bearing some added “Champion of Chamblee” stickers on its flanks. Note the lead-wire retaining steel wire soldered behind the front axle, as well as the 3/32″ brass tubing forming the floating body mounting system, just ahead of the motor. The Cox guide and Weldun 32T crown gear are listed as “Champion” in the tech sheet, and it is correct since Champion indeed marketed both! Another surprise is that the Champion “517” motor built by Pete Zimmerman sports a standard Mabuchi end bell, just like the motor that came from this car. The main reason was that the Champion end bell used a larger bearing, and it required a modification of the Russkit chassis bracket that few builders were willing to do…

Note that this car ran in the same race as a car we recently restored, that one built and driven by Mike Steube.

John’s car is illustrated on top of this page, shown upside down. Note the soldering details on the chassis as well as the gearbox molded with the body, both surviving on the model below. Indeed the car was never raced again and sat neglected but complete for 35 years until I found it. The motor is still the same but its position was reversed between the two races which were run a short month apart.

The surviving chassis and body after dis-assembly. Close observation decidedly shows that this car is indeed, the one pictured above. The body is the worse for wear and its nose was broken off and taped, the result of a serious collision while racing in Atlanta.

Compare this view to the picture of the car above. The “Champion” sticker has been replaced or was covering the small “STP” decal on its flank, while the larger ones on each side of the nose have been replaced by a simple “pro” decal from a Russkit sheet. Close observation shows that all the painted details are indeed identical to the body shown above. The driver is also the same, but its (Cox) head has been pushed down by some apparently harsh racing.

The nose was carefully re-glued together and the adhesive tape removed. The body has also been cleaned from track debris. Detail of the well-worn driver shows the usual mustache painted by John Cukras on many of its subjects. Russkit plated injection molded intake stacks are glued on the sides of the engine cam covers. The exhaust system has been detailed with white and black paint.

The bare chassis, still sporting the lead-wire retaining wire. The ball bearings have been removed for cleaning as well as axles, guide, motor and gears. The lead weight on the drop arm will not be removed during the restoration process.

This Champion 517 motor is not the original one, but was installed here for the picture. Note the Mabuchi end bell used for the same reasons as originally: the Russkit bracket hole is too small to fit the Champion end bell.

The front end shows some brass corrosion that will be polished off. Note the 38-year old solder joints, still holding and strong as ever.

The motor cage shows the reinforced Russkit mount. Steel wire is used instead of brass, making the rear end quite strong. Note that the steel wires across the brass rails are NOT used as body mounts! The 1/8′ ball bearings have been removed for restoration.

The restoration process will now proceed so as to keep the car as original as possible. See it soon in this pages!

Tags: Vintage Slot Cars

2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 steve smith // Oct 22, 2010 at 1:12 pm

    I raced slot cars in the 60’s and beat a man I was told was John Cukras. Car was built by Ralph Aldridge, motor was Champion 517 rewound with 17 turns of double 29, it has been many years ago, but I am almost certain the car I beat was the one pictured. Mr Aldrige I think has passed but He was a true little known slot car genius.

  • 2 marcos pedroso // Oct 21, 2012 at 10:22 am

    My name is Marcos Pedroso
    How is possible buy one model AUTORAMA
    OLD Ferrari name CHARUTO.
    I live in Brazil.
    Or only address to buy in USA
    marcos pedroso

    address diogo mugiatti , 2741 house 45
    ZIP CODE 81750-440
    Curitiba – PR

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