In Slot Car Reviews

The Group C / GTP era in sports car racing started in 1982, when the FIA established the Group C category for international events and IMSA created the GTP class for its series in the US. The two classes lasted until 1993, when they were replaced by the open-cockpit WSC cars, the ancestors of today’s LeMans prototypes. With factory involvement from Porsche, Nissan, Toyota, Mercedes, Chevrolet, Peugeot, and Jaguar, among others, this form of racing produced powerful and exciting road racing cars that continue to perform today in vintage racing events. Our two test cars represent two significant players in that era, the March 83G and the Sauber C9.

Revell-Monogram March 83G

March, along with Lola, was among the first constructors to build cars for sale to private entrants under the new IMSA GTP rules. Lola was first to score, with Brian Redman winning the 1981 championship in a T600. March’s first GTP car, the 82G, showed promise with a second place at Charlotte in May, but failed to win a race that year. The March 83G, however, was a contender right from the beginning, with the Motorsports Marketing team of Randy Lanier, Marty Hinze, and Terry Wolters finishing second overall in the 1983 Daytona 24 Hours. Then, in the season’s second race, the Grand Prix of Miami, Al Holbert drove his 83G to victory, the first of 8 race wins for the Holbert Racing team in a championship-winning effort. Clearly, March’s GTP car was a runaway winner in its first season, but the two big prizes, the endurance races at Daytona and Sebring, had escaped it, both going to Porsches, a 935 at Daytona and a GTO-class 934 at Sebring.

It fell to the South African team of Sarel Van der Merwe, Graham Duxbury, and Tony Martin to get March a Daytona 24-hour win at the beginning of 1984. Their 83G, powered by a 3.2 liter Porsche turbo engine and sponsored by Kreepy Krauly, a device for cleaning swimming pools, covered 640 laps of the 3.81-mile Daytona road course to win by 9 laps. Van der Merwe also won later in the year at Lime Rock and the team had several other top-5 finishes, but the 1984 IMSA championship fell to Randy Lanier, another March driver. (Interesting historical note: shortly after the 1984 season Lanier and his co-driver, Bill Whittington, were busted for drug trafficking.)

Our review car is a model of the Kreepy Krauly car, stock #85-4868. RM has also produced Lanier’s Blue Thunder car, #85-4870, and the Red Lobster 83G, #85-4877, driven by Dave Cowart and Kenper Miller.

My first look at the RM model gave a strong impression that something just wasn’t right with its shape or proportions. It seemed to be too tall and the wheels and tires appeared to be too large, especially when placed side-by-side with the Slot It Sauber. A look through some photos of 1:1 scale March 83Gs confirmed my first impression. The body of the car is too deep while the “greenhouse” atop it is too shallow. There’s still no mistaking the car for anything but a March prototype, but devotees of scale accuracy will be disappointed.

A good look at the chassis reveals the reason for the out-of-proportion look. First of all, for whatever reason, the RM designers decided to make the model a sidewinder. Then they decided the traction magnet, with its somewhat bulky mounting, had to go just forward of the rear axle, right under the motor, which meant that the motor was going to sit really high in the chassis. Compounding the problem, the motor position required larger-diameter gears (the spur is.765″ in diameter vs. .740 on Scalextric sidewinders), which not only dictated excessively large-diameter rear tires but also meant that existing aftermarket gears would not fit the car. Worse, the pinion gear can’t be made any smaller and the spur gear can’t be made any larger, so without some very trick gears being made RM March owners are stuck with a gear ratio of about 2.7:1, not ideal for the majority of tracks on which the car is likely to be raced.

There are some slot cars that simply shouldn’t be designed as sidewinders, and most if not all Group C / GTP cars are prime examples. The body wraps tightly enough around the engine, gearbox, and rear tires that there is simply no room to fit a standard s-can motor as a sidewinder without committing major sins against the car’s body shape, tire sizes, and overall proportions. An inline layout, on the other hand, takes advantage of the car’s greenhouse to provide space for the motor while allowing the rest of the body to be as low and svelte as it should be. RM’s choice of motor layout and magnet position forced it to make the body deeper, and to keep the whole car from looking ridiculously high they flattened out the greenhouse.

It’s not too hard to come up with a possible reason why the RM designers might have chosen the sidewinder layout over an inline, despite the problems. It lies in the location of the March’s cockpit, dictated on the 1:1 scale car by IMSA’s requirement that the driver’s feet had to be aft of the center of the front wheels. An inline motor’s shaft, and possibly part of the endbell, would have intruded into the full-depth interior tub.

That possibly explains the motor position but not the magnet location. There is simply no reason to put the magnet right under the motor. Scalextric’s sidewinder cars drive and handle superbly with the magnet just forward of the motor and most also offer an alternative magnet position directly under the rear axle for those who need even more grip. The Scalextric design places the motor as low in the chassis as it can possibly be.

To this writer’s way of thinking it would have been better to design the car as an inline and compromise the appearance of the interior tub if necessary rather than distort the whole body and fudge the tire sizes to fit a sidewinder. The inline motor position would also have allowed the magnet to be located just in front of the rear axle without sticking the motor up into the stratosphere.

All of this is especially unfortunate because some elements of the March 83G’s somewhat unusual appearance have been modeled very well. The BBS wheels are excellent, and the ground effects tunnels have been neatly incorporated into the rear of the chassis. The entire greenhouse area, except for being too flat, kooks really good, with its distinctive air scoops, louvers, fuel fillers, and vent holes on the side windows, among other details. The driver looks period authentic with a uniform tampo-stamped to match almost perfectly the ones commonly worn by drivers of that era. The fit of the various body parts is good except for the radiator cover at the front of the body, which, on our test car, was loose and a bit crooked. RM’s designers have done an excellent job with the wing assembly and its attachment points so it should stand up well to the rigors of the race track. The rear-view mirrors, too, seem to have good prospects for survival. They look vulnerable but they made it through numerous crashes in testing with no breakage.

The paint has a few dust flecks in it but you really have to look hard to find them. Masking between paint colors is not perfect but is more than acceptable, and the tampo stamping draws no complaints from me. All but the most anal collectors will be satisfied.

Slot It Sauber C9

Race fans today know Peter Sauber as a Formula One constructor but in the 80s he was a top-drawer builder of Group C cars. At LeMans in 1987 the Sauber team entered two C9 cars sponsored by Kouros and Yves St.Laurent. Both cars failed to finish. In 1988 Sauber withdrew both of his C9s before the start of the race due to major safety concerns about the cars’ tires. Finally, however, things came right in 1989 and the team’s two C9 entries, now painted in the classic Mercedes “silver arrow” overall silver color, finished 1-2.

Slot It has modeled the Sauber C9 for slot car racing in three versions to date, each retailing for $49.99. The first two to be released, #s SICA06B and 06C, carried the 1989 silver livery. The most recent one, SICA06A, models chassis C9-001 as it appeared at LeMans in 1987. The 1987 version is our review car, and a striking model it is in its rich blue color with white and silver trim.

There are not many slot cars I simply have to have the moment I see a photo, but the Slot It Kouros Sauber is one of them. The silver color of the two other C9 models doesn’t do much for me, but the dark blue paint transforms the car into one to die for. And the model, once in hand, doesn’t disappoint in overall looks and character, fit and finish, or general impression of quality. I can honestly say I could not find even one appearance flaw in this car’s assembly, tampo-stamping, or overall finish. This is how all slot cars should look when they come out of the plastic case — not one dust fleck, not one bit of orange peel, no loose or improperly fitted parts, and a wealth of precisely executed detail right down to tiny rivets and lettering too small to read but perfectly clear under magnification. If I have ever seen a slot car one could digitally insert an image of into a racing photo and not have it recognized as a model this would be it.

Slot It has really gone the extra mile with the detailing. The twin turbochargers, located just in front of the rear wheels, are beautifully molded parts viewed through body openings. If the designers had simply incorporated the exhaust ends into recessed flat panels representing the openings nobody would have complained, but by doing it the way they did the detail adds to an impression of depth and complexity that really ups the realism quotient. The same can be said of the chassis structure visible through the body’s rear opening. There is richness and depth of detail present where a simple flat panel with a shallow representation of the structure molded in would have been enough to get by.

The driver figure is a model all by itself. The helmet design and sponsor logos are there in meticulous detail as are all the various stripes and patches on the driving uniform. The belts are the most realistic I have ever seen on a slot car driver. It’s actually a shame the interior tub is hot-melted into the body so you can’t take it out and admire all the details more easily

The slot It designers get a pat on the back for not wasting any of their effort putting detail in places where it’s completely hidden when the car is together. They’ve also done it all with great care not to detract from the car’s performance or ease of assembly and disassembly for maintenance. Nothing falls out when you take the body off the chassis. It’s also worth noting that the only part that became a casualty in any of the testing crashes was the smaller of the two radio antennas. I was sure the car would lose at least one mirror and perhaps the wing, but these parts came through unscathed.

Slot It delivers quality in its electrical and mechanical components, too. The motor is its excellent V12, used as a hopup motor in many other manufacturers’ cars. The gears, axle, and wheels are right out of its popular line of hopup parts. The rear wheels are aluminum ones that mount with set screws. The separate motor / rear axle pod allows some useful race tuning by tightening or loosening the screws that hold it into the chassis. Backing the screws off about 1 full turn makes a noticeable difference on my Scalextric track. Slot It also equips its cars with good lead wire, in contrast to the rather cheap wire used in RM’s cars. The RM wire is better than what Carrera uses but not much.

As always, I am not prepared to state that Slot It got every line, proportion, and dimension of its model exactly right. In fact, I think Slot It may have gone just a little in the opposite direction from the one taken by Revell-Monogram with their March. In comparing the Sauber model with photos it appears that the body is a bit too shallow and the greenhouse too high. From some views the whole car looks longer than scale, and it may very well be. However, to my eye at least, the discrepancies, whatever they may be, do not detract from the car’s attractiveness the way the March’s proportional challenges do. Again, the true purists may not be satisfied but I am.

To the test track

I started the track test, as always, by lubing both cars and checking for any obvious mechanical problems. Finding none on either car, I moved on to the break-in laps.

Right there I discovered serious drivability problems with both cars, mainly in the form of a major lack of grip. I checked the tires for trueness and found that they were touching the track across their entire width, and seemed to have no other problems. The track itself was clean and free of dust. I put over 100 laps on each of the cars with no improvement. The Sauber was a rocket in a straight line but cornered like it was running on ice. The March was better in the turns but not much, and it was considerably slower on the straights. The first timed runs yielded times of 5.167 for the March and 5.686 for the Sauber. Then the March quit running entirely. A check of the circuitry revealed a lead wire broken off right at the motor. A few seconds with a soldering iron fixed the problem.

Part of the Sauber’s problem turned out to be a small amount of flash in the magnet mount preventing the magnet from seating properly. With that fixed and the magnet a little closer to the track the C9 improved to 5.462 sec. The March seemed actually to lose grip as the tires broke in, slowing to 5.354 sec. Still, neither was much fun to drive.

So, I turned to the aftermarket for help. A set of Indy Grips IG1308 silicones immediately dropped the March’s lap times to 4.4 to 4.6 sec. range with a best of 4.484. A set of Slot It SIPT06 S1 compound 19 X 10 mm silicones had the same salutary effect on the Sauber. Its best lap time came down to 4.704. Meanwhile, the March dropped off somewhat from its initial performance on the Indy Grips, finally settling in at consistent times in the high 4.6s. At this point the two cars were close enough in performance that they could race well together.

The March had come about as far as it was going to without replacing its entire magnet installation and carving on the chassis to make way for something better. The Sauber, however, clearly had more in it without altering the chassis.

I replaced the standard magnet with Slot It’s SICN04 HRS race magnet, which fits right into the stock magnet mount. The times instantly dropped into the 3.9s. With the race magnet the car cornered like a cat, but actually felt too stuck down for maximum driving fun. So. I put the original rear tires back on it. With those tires and the race magnet the car lapped in the 4.1 to 4.2 sec. bracket and had a really fun feel to it. I could power hard out of the corners but could still spin it if I wasn’t careful. And it did spin, not tumble. As an added bonus the car once again had the standard tires’ excellent sidewall detail on all four corners. This is the way I’m going to leave the car and it will be the standard for setting up Group C / GTP and GTS cars for my track. The goal will be to have all of them lapping around 4.2 to 4.4 sec. My TransAm and GTO cars will be dialed in at 4.5 to 4.7 sec. and I’ll try to make other classes run in ways that compare to these classes the way the 1:1 scale cars do. Of course, if I go somewhere else and enter an “anything goes” race, I know what to do for that, too.

And the March? Well, there’s more to come for it, also, but it will take time and work to get it where I want it. That’s the subject of another article.

I do think neither Revell-Monogram nor Slot It is doing itself any favors by selling cars that perform so poorly in out-of-the-box form. Slot It can solve its problems easily by simply installing a stronger magnet or grippier tires or both on the production line. This should cost little or nothing and will make a huge difference in the first impression its cars make. RM has deeper problems that will take significant design changes to fix. They have proved they can do it right. Their front-motor Greenwood Corvette I tested both looks great and runs in my desired GTP / GTS lap time range in stock form, though it does leave a little to be desired in the fun-to-drive department. No doubt RM’s next attempt at a GTP car will be better. Slot It’s Sauber will make a great car to emulate. In looks, build quality, and value per dollar it’s as good as they come.

Review cars:
Revell-Monogram 85-4868 March 85G 1984 Daytona 24 Hours winner, MSRP $44.95
Slot It SICA06A Sauber C9-Mercedes, Kouros, LeMans 1987, MSRP $49.95

Other items used in this review:

Indy Grips IG1308 silicone tires for RM March 85G, MSRP $4.50/pr.
Slot It SIPT06 19 X 10 mm S1 silicone tires, MSRP $7.99/ set of 4
Slot It SICN04 HRS race magnet, MSRP $4.99

Arie Viewer
May 26, 2006

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