In Vintage Slot Car News

Restoring the 1972 Western States winner

By Philippe de Lespinay

I have had that chassis for a while. I built it in the
spring of 1972 and used it in a couple of USRA warm-up races in the very
competitive Southern California pro-racing scene, then apparently gave it to
Team Mura’s Earl Campbell. I had already built him a sister car for the race set
at “Speed & Sport” in Lynwood, California. He set fastest qualifying time and
finished in second place in that race, the largest one that year in the United
States. He used a very good motor built for him by Mura’s Bob Green, as well as
one of the new M.A.C. Ferrari 612 bodies. With a nearly identical sister car
fitted with a Team Checkpoint 24-1/2 single, I won that race and all the marbles
by a mere lap. This is how I restored this grand old lady of a car, with the
help of Mike Steube, Bryan Warmack and Jairus Watson.

The restored car above, with a surviving period color picture of the car:

About a year ago, Dennis Hill was kind enough to donate
most of Earl’s old surviving chassis for the museum we are building in Los
Angeles. Bless him, and he will soon have the reward for his generosity. In the
lot was this chassis, which I recognized from my old files. Sure enough, it was
one of six chassis built for that race, of which I gave Earl, two, Chris Burlew
one, and I retained the others. This appears to be the sole survivor of that
production. So I decided that it was time to restore the old girl that had
apparently gone through a bit of hellish time on the track. So after a thorough
cleaning and re-soldering of several broken joints, it was ready to re-assemble.

This style of chassis was the ultimate evolution of the
1968-1972 pro-racing chassis as devised by Bob Emott, Mike Steube and Lee
Gilbert. My personal contributions were the adoption of a drop-arm stop that
acted as a pivot allowing the main rails to flex below the drop-arm line, as
well as stiff springs to eliminate any possibility for the drop-arm to… drop.
Other period details were serious front end crash bumpers designed to break off
in a serious impact, absorbing much of the energy and saving the frame from
major damage.

My friend Mike Steube did the final cleaning in his tumbler. Now I had to address the motor question. I had a small lot of period Steube parts and reconstituted a motor suitable for the car. Long-time Checkpoint racer Joe Cormier supplied the armature, still in excellent condition and renewed. Bill Steube’s signature is still visible on the armature stack.
Bill was first to use red dye to protect the stacks from rusting.

I had a near-mint can with Bill Steube-ground and fitted magnets and a used end bell with pre-Mura stampings hand-made buss bars.

The end bell was very dirty and the fixings very corroded, so I scrubbed the whole mess and ended with this kit:

I had to machine the head off the two screws that hold the Mura brass cups that formed the brush spring posts, so as to reverse the cup and have the screw head fit inside it:

The brush holders required lots of polishing, the one on the right showing the amount of corrosion:

Time for re-assembly, and fortunately, being an all-time pack-rat, I kept the tools that were lovingly handcrafted for me by Bill Steube 36 years ago to align the brush holders and armature with the end bell:

So I re-assembled the end bell keeping the screws a bit loose, and fitted the 3-piece alignment tool:

I used my old Unimat mill table and vise to hold the armature shaft to line up everything until it felt like it ran on ball bearings:

Once all aligned, I used a small square file to clean up any edges so that the old Mabuchi FT36D brushes (the best ever made) slide into the brush holders if like on ice:

Here is the finished product, retaining its originality and those lovely hand-made buss bars:

The motor is then assembled in the conventional way with the utmost care. The brushes are shunted and the terminals soldered to the buss bars. This ensures that most of the heat will travel to the lead wires that will act as heat sinks. Note that only two motor screws have been fitted.

Now we need a “glue shield”. In 1972, I devised this cute little device to replace the usual brass piece soldered to the chassis. M.A.C. made a mold and I used it extensively, but few others did until years later, I don’t understand why as this little gadget was really protecting the negative motor brush from goop and dirt. They were later copied and sold by the Outisight Company founded by my ex-teammate, Chris Burlew. First, the useof a 1/4 drill to make the center hole insures a clean and precise job:

The shield is then drilled and trimmed to fit onto the motor using the two missing screws and another above the bearing:

The original Faas steel pinion has been cleaned and is soldered to the armature shaft after a fiber armature washer has been fitted to avoid any acid traveling to the motor bearing:

Last, the Thorp commutator cooler is pressed onto the shaft:

So now, we have our motor and have gathered all the parts: a pair of NOS Steube tires (yes, we still have a few sets!), a replica M.A.C. Ferrari body artistically replicated from period photos by artist Jairus Watson, one of the actual original drivers painted for that race which incredibly survived all these years, axles, original Faas gears and period lead wires (with period vinyl insulation, none of this modern silicone that looks so out of place on a vintage car!)

Now the motor is installed in the frame:

A self-tapping screw is used on top of the motor bracket. This is the last of my frames to use a motor bracket. A few months later, I soldered the base of the can directly to the frame rails, a move that made Bill Steube going ballistic as there was one more spot needing cleaning during rebuilds.

It is important to make sure to clean up the acid around the solder joint on the motor brace for conservation. It must be washed with solvent to remove any trace of the corrosive substance.

Soldering the lead wires onto the brass guide clips with non-corrosive soldering paste.

The lead wires have now been fitted. Next, wheels and tires.

The original NOS Team Checkpoint tires are very rare, but where else to use them? The front wheels are Neat Things, marketed by Yours Truly in 1972 through 1974.

These cars were the first pro-racing cars to use a hex nut to precisely lock the guide in place. A K&B brass nut from their “Tru-Lok” collet axle mount was used, simply because I had a large supply of it.

The hand-cut pans are affixed with two hinges on each side. They literally “shave’ the rear tires so as to place the maximum amount of weight as far back as possible.

The body has now been mounted and the air control side dams and rear spoiler have been fitted as well as the original driver from that very car.

The finished car is now ready to race, if it ever does again…

Is she not a good looking girl?

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Showing 2 comments
  • Richard Culbertson

    I had one of those chassis, I received it broken and needed some TLC in about 1973. I loved that old car, not much could touch it. Alas life caught up to my and I joined the Navy… My pop figuring my collection would be obsolete and being grown I really wouldn’t want to be fooling with such things gave away my entire collection. That was about 30 cars and I had some back then that were rather “vintage”.

    Needless to say I felt sick… While overseas I took up R/C flight now I manufacture R/C plane kits. I still miss my old slot cars. Now there not many places to run them, but I missed out on a few good years.

  • Robert Rensch

    Wow… Slot cars went a lot farther in tech after I stopped racing in about 1968. I do remember the first of the “thingies” showing up and being unchallengeable… at least for me with my rewound and modified MPC Dyn-O-Can Mako Shark. Great article!

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