In Slot Car Reviews

1966 was a banner year for Porsche. Not only did its new road car, the 911, debut to great acclaim, another new Porsche, the radically functional 906, swept all before it in 2-liter endurance racing and even scored a number of overall victories against much larger-displacement machinery. The 906, or “Carrera 6”, as it is commonly known, built and expanded upon the previous three years’ success with its predecessor, the very capable 904.

The 906’s record in its first year included class victories in the Daytona 24 Hours, the Sebring 12 Hours, Monza 1000 kms, and LeMans, to name just a few of the most prominent. Perhaps its most stellar performance was an overall victory in the Targa Florio that year by a 906 variant. The light, agile car also won in American events, taking an overall victory at Watkins Glen and a 2-liter class win at Elkhart Lake, among many others.

After its debut year the 906 went on to a long and successful career that continues to this day. It became a mainstay of 2-liter professional and club racing in both Europe and America, with many private owners campaigning their 906s and continuing to win races for years. Today, a number of the cars, meticulously restored and maintained, still perform in vintage racing events around the world.

In modeling the 906 for the slot car track Fly seems to have followed some of the thinking of the Porsche racing department, emphasizing simplicity and economy of design. Fly has all too often been guilty of producing slot cars that were so much of a collectors’ model that they suffered in performance and maintainability to such an extent that they simply weren’t good race cars without considerable modification. Fly’s 917-10 CanAm car comes to mind here. This is not the case with the 906. Fly’s designers have done an outstanding job of creating a car that has just what it needs to be an attractive and effective racing model and no more. Clearly, this car is meant to be raced, not to sit on a shelf.

In the opinion of this reviewer Fly has done a great job of capturing the overall look, character, and proportions of the car. To me the model looks very accurate, though I won’t say that every line, detail, and dimension is correct to the last millimeter. One thing I’ve learned never to do in a review is to render a verdict on a car’s absolute scale accuracy. There are two main reasons for this. One is that there are often conflicting sets of specifications in circulation, and there seems always to be a purist out there ready to take issue with my figures and, therefore, my verdict. The other is that absolute scale accuracy is irrelevant to the vast majority of the model’s potential purchasers who are quite happy if the car looks right to them when it’s sitting on the track and doesn’t seem out of scale with their other cars. The only exceptions to this policy occur when I find that practical considerations, such as the dimensions of the underlying mechanical components, force noticeable compromises in the model’s shape or dimensions or when an obvious egregious error has been committed. In any case, I’ve seen a lot of 1:1 scale Porsche Carrera 6s in my decades of involvement with racing, and Fly’s effort looks good to me.

In welcome contrast to some of their previous efforts, this time Fly’s designers have disciplined themselves to put all the detail where you can see it without having to take the car apart. My bias in the matter, to which I freely admit, is that if you can’t see it when the car is together and on the track it belongs on a diecast model, not on a slot car. All the details match with my reference photos and are well executed. Worthy of special note is the model’s tinted window assembly with the 906’s signature louvers in the expansive rear window. The full-depth interior is well turned out with really nice roll bar detail and a very good job of fitting the driver’s hands to the steering wheel.

This is a relatively crashworthy car, with the only really vulnerable details being the twin fender mirrors and the very thin but surprisingly sturdy canards below the headlights. The review car lost one mirror in testing and one of the canards fell out of its mounting but was easily replaced and secured with a small drop of CA glue, leaving the mirror as the only permanent casualty. In general, the small parts were tightly mounted with no loose or rattling parts other than the canard observed during testing.

The body’s finish is several steps up from what I’ve come to expect from Fly lately, coming very close to what one might reasonably expect from a car priced as today’s Fly cars are. It has always bugged me that Scalextric, whose cars typically sell for $20 to $40 less, can turn out flawlessly glossy paint work more or less consistently, while Fly cars too often look like they were painted in the back room of a sawmill. Things may be headed back in the right direction, however, as the review car’s paint was uniformly glossy and dust free, a radical improvement over what I’m used to seeing from Fly.

The chassis, molded in dark gray instead of the usual black, uses space efficiently, particularly in the motor / rear axle area where the placement of components allows maximum room for wheels and tires. There is room to fit wider-than-stock ones both front and rear if desired. The motor and rear axle are mounted solidly, allowing a smooth and precise gear mesh and a dependable pinion to spur gear interface under racing conditions. The front axle mounting allows the axle considerable up and down travel and also makes it easy to fit front tires of a differing diameter if desired. There is no chassis underside detail except a pair of the trademark Porsche exhaust outlets at the rear. The chassis to body fit is quite precise and solid, with four self-tapping Phillips screws holding everything together. Thankfully, there are no loose parts that have to be captured between chassis and body.

We tested the Carrera 6 on my 46-foot 4-lane Scalextric Sport layout. This track will serve, at least for the time being, as the Electric Dreams test layout and will be used in testing all 1:32 scale cars. The track is equipped with a standard Scalextric power supply for each lane, along with aftermarket controllers and a DS timing and scoring system.

As soon as I put the car on the track a problem appeared. It was clear that the front tires were rubbing on the inside of the body at least part of the time. The wheels and tires may or may not be the correct scale size, but the fronts, at least, are too big for the space available inside the body. Not being in possession of the correct tire size figures for the car, my best estimate is that the body is right and the tires are oversize. This squares somewhat with the 1:1 scale car photos I have. The tires in these photos do not appear to be quite as large in the wheel openings as on the model. Regardless, Fly should have made sure everything cleared before sending the design to production. After all the good things evident in the model’s appearance, this was a real disappointment.

The 906’s handling, not surprisingly, was nervous and less than confidence-inspiring. The car did not like being powered out of a turn at all; I had to make sure it was pointed completely straight before applying the amps. A serious lack of rear tire grip made the handling even worse. I finally worked it down to a best time of 4.826 seconds. That was a real banzai lap, in between a lot of spinouts. It was impossible to drive the car with any consistency at lap times below 5.1 or 5.2 seconds.

For comparison purposes I ran some timed laps with two box-stock Scalextric cars, a TransAm Camaro and a $25 Porsche Boxster. Both cars had similar power and about the same amount of rubber on the road. The Camaro, a considerably bulkier car, quickly recorded a fast time of 4.545 seconds and would lap effortlessly in the 4.7-second range. The Boxster ran a 4.768. Both Scalextrics were much easier and more pleasant to drive.

I believe this situation illustrates a fundamental difference in design and management philosophies between Fly and Scalextric. I can’t escape the suspicion that Fly’s entire organization operates on the assumption that most of its cars are going into collections and are never put on a race track. I think Fly also assumes that those of its cars that do make it onto the track are largely in the hands of serious enthusiasts who are willing and able to make whatever modifications are necessary to make them run right, up to and including a total rebuild of the car. As a result, I think Fly believes it can rush cars into production with insufficient attention to the details that add up to true quality and performance and with inadequate testing and refinement to make sure everything functions as it should.

Scalextric, on the other hand, makes no secret of the fact that its most important market is the toy business, which demands that cars work properly right out of the box. They must be easy for beginners and casual users, including children, to operate successfully enough to have a satisfying experience with the product. As a result, Scalextric pays a lot more attention to what makes a car work reliably. Ten years ago, when Fly was just getting started, Scalextric’s cars were nothing more than toys, but they ran reliably. Competition from Fly and others has forced Scalextric to transform their product line from toys to attractive and accurate scale models, but the Scalextric designers have never lost sight of the fact that their cars are meant to be raced by people who are not hardcore hobbyists. The difference in box-stock performance and general user-friendliness is striking, and it benefits the enthusiasts as well as the children and beginners.

But I digress…

After running all three cars for a while I got to thinking. How would the Carrera 6
Perform if I installed a set of wheels and tires from a Scalextric TransAm car? As it happened, I had several sets on hand, so I made the switch, which only took a few minutes.

Wow! What a difference!

Immediately the lap times dropped into the 4.2-second range, ending up with a best time of 4.204, more than 6/10 second faster than before. And that was with stock Scalextric tires and no changes to Fly’s gearing or magnet setup. Even better, the car was now a blast to drive, lapping easily and securely at 4.3 to 4.4 seconds. I could apply the power in the corners with confidence. The transformation in the car’s behavior was total.

The smaller diameter of the Scalextric tires (slight at the rear, more noticeable at the front) yielded two benefits. First, it got the Porsche’s magnet a bit closer to the track rails. Second, it totally eliminated the front tire rubbing. The tires still fill the wheel openings nicely and, to me, actually look more scale than the originals.

This modification, by the way, is a perfectly period-authentic one for this car. The Carrera 6 appeared at a time when wheel and tire technology was advancing rapidly. Over the years, many owners have run their cars with a wide variety of aftermarket wheels and lower-profile tires. And the Scalextric Minilites do look really cool on the car. One thing I would suggest that I didn’t do on the review car is to paint the chrome wheels in a metallic silver-gray to achieve the proper look of magnesium wheels. You may also want to take the time to space the wheels out to the full width of the body, which will improve the handling even more. You will need some axle spacers and longer axles. I did this after the end of testing, and you can see the result in the photo above.

The Carrera 6 shows evidence that Fly is making real progress in the appearance of its products. Perhaps the company will follow it up with an effort to get the functional issues right. When that happens its cars will begin to justify the prices being asked. Then, all it would take is moving production from Spain to China and Fly cars might become real bargains.

Review car: Fly A1601 (88187) Porsche 906 works team car driven by Jochen Rindt and Nino Vaccarella at the 1966 Nurburgring 1000 km. MSRP: $64.95

Arie Viewer
May 2, 2006

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