In Vintage Slot Car News

Rick Durkee Chaparral brought back to life

By Philippe de Lespinay

When Jim Russell created the world’s first professional slot car racing team in 1965, he trusted Mike Morrissey to find the “right stuff” within the So-Cal racers. Mike selected Len Vucci, Ron Quintana, and Rick Durkee as the original team members. Fred “Kenny” Larimer was later added as well as many others.
The aim was of course to showcase the Russkit products, and that, they did for a while. But the competition began using evolved home-built brass tubing and wire frames and rewound motors based on the… Russkit “23” motor!

So the team members began building some evolutions of the original Russkit “scratch-built” chassis kits, now using a new motor mount more suited to the needs of the day. Quickly, the Russkit boys set new standards and kept winning races. By early 1966, they were the team to beat anywhere they went.

Rick Durkee built this car in early 1966. Its racing history is unknown, but the traces of adhesive from the lane-color sticker tape on its nose proves that it was indeed raced. Further research may establish its exact pedigree. The car was subsequently sold to the great enthusiast, Bruce Paschal, and donated to the LASCM museum in 2002 along with a treasure trove of other surviving cars and parts.

The condition of the car was fair to poor, with serious corrosion beginning to creep into the brass and steel parts. The body had damaged decals, some cracks, and the driver insert was falling apart. The rear wheels were locked as well as the front axle, this common with old cars as the lubricant had simply returned into solid state. Help was needed!

The original Russkit motor was gone, replaced by a Bill Steube-built Team Checkpoint motor. The tires were rock-hard and several solder joints on the frame needed repair.

The frame was dirty and corroded, the lead wires had broken, and the axles showed rust. The next step was to take the whole car apart and assess the condition after a good clean-up.

Seen from the bottom, the design shows the then-fashionable curved rails made of 1/16″ brass tubing. The Russkit setscrew wheels have “Tiny’s” rear gray sponge tires while the fronts are shod with the usual cut-down K&B hard-rubber tires. A Cox “quick-change” guide is fitted.

A bath in cleaning solvent was the first thing to do. Everything including the body parts was treated, then washed in soap and water to remove all racing residue including the corrosive oil of wintergreen then used for added traction that ate the body paint and helped the corrosion to propagate onto the frame.

As usual with our sympathetic restorations, the motor was not repainted to retain its originality. The armature was cleaned, the rust removed from its stack, and the commutator and shaft polished. All the brush dirt was removed from the endbell.

The armature after polishing. This is typical of the early art of Bill Steube Sr. The single-28 wire is retained with epoxy that has lasted 40 years so far.
The commutator is a Tradeship. Blanks are Hemi.

All the parts have now been refinished: the wheels re-machined and polished, the tires slightly ground to remove the top layer of dirt, the axles machined, and the chassis cleaned (but not too much, leaving some patina). Even the original and well used Cox “Superflex” braided contacts are retained.

The car has now been reassembled. Even the original Russkit lead wires from the rewound “23” have been retained after a thorough cleaning. The motor is assembled with 3-40 machine screws and fasted to the car with 2-56 machine screws. The Cox 7-31 gears were in excellent condition and were re-used.

Here she is, ready to receive her repaired body.

The pictures found on the old period magazines are generally rather poor, often giving a false idea of what the cars truly looked like then. Thanks to the digital era and a few pioneers and guardians of these old treasures such as Bruce Paschal, we can see today what was only seen then by a few: the actual design and engineering of the pro-racing cars of the past. We are pleased to share this with all the true enthusiasts.

The body has now been repaired, and a few touches of judiciously-applied paint have helped repair the damaged decals and injected plastic details. The lost Chaparral inserts have now been added, using original NOS parts.

The cockpit has been carefully been reassembled. It was broken due to the inline motor installation that interfered with the Russkit Chaparral 2 interior. Some of it was missing and lost, we did not attempt to replace the missing bits.

Ready to run, the motor has been tested and runs beautifully. The body is now being readied to be fastened to the frame.

An “Al Hall” picture in the style of Rod & Custom or Car Model magazines, for old time sake… The right-side number decal had sustained much damage and was re-created using paint matching very exactly the faded color of the decal.

Even the old tape reinforcing the sides of the body has been saved, a very difficult task as it generally falls apart when a car is disassembled. Note the cut-outs at the back of the body. The many cracks were repaired with Pro-Weld.

Ready to pounce again, if ever called . . .

Doesn’t she look great? The driver is leaning left due to the presence of the Mabuchi FT16D motor intruding on the cockpit.

There is a little inspection/clearance hole for the Cox crown gear. Was this legal? Apparently!

The restored car alongside our next victim, another earlier Team Russkit Durkee car in dire need of restoration.

The two cars next to each other show the amount of corrosion and track dirt build-up present on the older car. This one has retained its team motor as well as an original Russkit guide. The chassis design was from only a few months earlier, showing the pace of development. We hope that you enjoyed this feature. More will be coming as the vast number of cars at the LASCM museum are prepared for permanent display.

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Showing 4 comments
  • John Anderson

    If, indeed, “form follows function”, then hand built vintage slot cars are artistic scuplture.
    Obvoiusly, someone might replicate this work of functional scuplture, just as one might replicate “David” by Michelangelo, but the replica would never be original art.
    The look in “David’s” eye, says “I’m gonna put down this giant clown”.
    I would suggest Rick Durkee’s “toy” car has that same look!
    How many of these have been lost because we “canabalized” the more recent to save a few cents for the new?

  • Rick Durkee

    I was just turned on to your website and find it fantastic! It is so wonderful to see that the early days of slot cars are treasured and not forgotten and that your web and magazine are so involved. Thank you.

    As an original Russkit team member I can tell you that the car pictured here is in fact not my car but ( I believe) belonged to Kenny Larimer. He was an incredible driver and had many wins with this car.
    The #8 car pictured later in the article is indeed mine and I look forward to reading about the the restoration in the future.
    Rick Durkee
    Phoenix Arizona

  • Michael

    Great to see a piece of slot racing history like this still surviving.

    A big thankyou to Bruce Paschal for hanging on to this car and another to your resto team for treating this gem so well.

  • Pete Linszky


    Took a while, but I just picked up on the numbers for the car !

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