The success of pro-racing in the United States in 1967, culminating in the Rod & Custom magazine racing series, caused a revolution in the type and style of product selling over the counter in the thousands of already struggling commercial slot car raceways. Thousands of kids in the United States and abroad, slot car racing enthusiasts all, embraced the “pro” racers as their new heroes and tried to emulate them. This started an era where serious racing culminated in national championships, stable rules at last, and a streamlining of what efficient slot cars should be. At the same time, it simply eliminated the conventional large manufacturers from the picture. The last stalwart will be Pactra, as you can read on the threads consecrated to the history of this famous company.
Jim Russell and Team Russkit are in part responsible for this, a denial to the big companies of racing viability for their offerings, more than often cosmetically superior but track toads.
By 1967, most wise teenagers had noticed that purchasing a Monogram, Revell, Cox or AMT kit or factory-built RTR slot car only led to disappointment, and had begun making their own cars first from available components, then building their cars outright from raw materials.
The period magazines reflected the trend, offering how-to articles on building better cars, most featuring the available lightweight vacuum formed bodies proposed by about two dozens manufacturing outfits.
Thing is, most of these cars still could not compete with the “pro” machinery, as the young men members of the various racing teams nationwide simply kept their machinery evolving literally from day to day.
Most celebrated in 1966 was Mike Morrissey, the Captain of Team Russkit. As speed got up and after realizing that open-wheel models did not present the aerodynamic qualities of the wider sports cars, Mike had, along with the other team members, evolved the inline “jail-door” chassis, using mostly rewound, balanced versions of the Russkit “23” motor, based on the Mabuchi FT16D motor.
Tires were “Tiny’s” gray donuts glued and trued over the Russkit setscrew wheels, using straight axles. Bodies were mostly by Russkit, the Lotus 40 and McLaren MK2 being favorites.
Oscar Koveleski was a USRRC and Can-Am racer and had acquired an ex-works McLaren MK2, wrenched by Jack Deren, and had been doing reasonably well in regional and national events. Oscar was also the president and owner of Auto World, and as the conventional product lines began to falter, he proposed his own kits, using the “Team Russkit Style” moniker to peddle them. Russell did not see any harm to it and neither did the young Morrissey, because they profited of the publicity. Oscar had a fellow in Scranton, PA, to build the chassis, and the rest of the kits parts were standard available bits, some actually used by Morrissey, such as Russkit bodies, Cox crown gears and guide flags. But the similarity stopped there.
In fact, the chassis in these kits (available with either FT16 or FT26, commercially available rewound motors), were much simplified versions of the Morrissey design, and their performance was nowhere near the genuine article. But the advertising looked good on the 1967 catalog, and quite a few (hundreds according to Oscar) were sold. The author doubts this claim because if this would have been the case, more than a few would have surfaced by now, even if in bad condition. It has simply not been the case, so what could have happened? Is it a question of race cars being… raced, ans subsequently modified into something else or destroyed, or is is a question of lack of commercial success on the part of Auto World?
This is a page of the 1967 catalog, showing the available kits as well as a picture of the genuine Morrissey Lotus:
Note that no picture of the sports car chassis is shown, but further catalog inspection reveals its actual looks (see the AW-5 frame design):
And here comes the issue: in 25 years of collecting, we have only run into a grand total of 3 genuine open-wheel models (catalog number TAW-1 and TAW-3), but no sports car ever appeared on the open market, not even a bare chassis, that is until now.
An online auction at last showed the genuine article, and to boot, with complete original paperwork!
The LASCM will not hesitate to do whatever it takes to get a rare model, so not only did it win the auction, but the seller greatly reduced the price to a very fair level after hearing of the ultimate destination of his childhood memory.
The model was delivered in a plain shipping box, un-assembled. The body in this case was a clear Lancer Ford MK2. The customer had to paint it in his choice of colors, and a full interior and decals were supplied.
The front tires were K&B hard compound, a model that was favored by the pros and will be well after the advant of the angle-winder. The rear tires are Riggen on threaded 5-40 axles. The crown gear and guide are Cox items.
One would think that a “Team Russkit Style” kit would have included the very popular Russkit motor bracket, but this one is not and remains to be identified.
It appears that this chassis design is from an earlier Team Russkit example, as the LASCM has in its collection something similar in a genuine works example built by Morrissey.
The kit was supplied with an Auto World warranty on the rewound motor, of the 30-yard or 30-second type, in which the cost of sending it back to get a new one once it had blown was simply not worth the aggravation. In this case, luck was that the seller hardly used the car, as the wear on the tires and braided contacts shows. A case of a few laps and back in the box, only to return to the raceway to find it closed.
Oscar was into inundating the hobby world with advertising material, and this was included with the kit, from decals to new order forms, catalog pages, even a model contest entry form!
This rare survivor is now protected from further decay in the LASCM’s vaults. Where are the others? It is easy to grasp that few survived, because they were used hard by the customers and their basic construction and lack of bracing for body mounts and other tender areas rendered them vulnerable to serious crashes, so it has to be assumed that few survived track use.