Japan is like the US in having its own unique motorsports history and traditions. As a result its race series, like America’s, tend to be not quite like anything else in the world. The Japanese GT Championship, for instance, produces some of the most extreme GT cars to be seen on a race track anywhere. Honda, Nissan, and Toyota all field heavily financed teams in an environment where the “win on Sunday, sell on Monday” principle applies as strongly as it ever has with NASCAR in the US. In America the JGTC is gaining a following among the tuner car crowd, who look to the series, along with drifting events, for the “look” that defines their branch of the custom car and performance hobby.
Japan is also home to an array of toy and hobby companies producing often bizarre but typically well-engineered, high-quality products. One of these is a company called Takara. Takara recently reached an agreement with Hornby Hobbies to use Hornby’s Scalextric Sport Digital technology in slot cars to be produced for the Japanese market. Not surprisingly, JGTC cars were high on Takara’s list of slot car model subjects. As it happened, Scalextric was planning to produce the same cars. After hearing about Takara’s project the Scalextric product planners decided there was no point in duplicating efforts and made a deal to market the Takara cars under the Scalextric name.
The five new JGTC cars are:
C2718 Toyota Supra
C2719 Honda NSX, Takata
C2720 Honda NSX, Raybrig
C2721 Nissan 350Z, Xanavi
C2722 Nissan 350Z, Calsonic
These cars retail in the US for $44.95 each. Takara sells the same cars in Japan for somewhat more but with a scale figure of a scantily clad “pit girl” included. That’s what the empty round socket in the plastic case is for. Scalextric, having a “family-friendly” orientation, has opted to market the cars without the figures.
The JGTC cars are designed by Takara in Japan and produced in China. The result is a series of cars with fit, finish, and performance that certainly will do the Scalextric name no harm.
Our 350Z review car (C2721) abounds in detail. What’s more, the most vulnerable details, the outside mirrors, towing rings, and radio antenna, have been molded in a flexible material that makes them much more survivable in the inevitable on-track beating and banging. This is something I wish all slot car manufacturers would do on all their cars. It may add a little expense, but the results are worth it. The review car made it through all our testing without losing any parts to crashes.
The model’s lines and proportions match well with photos of the 1:1 scale car; the designers and toolmakers have done their job well. Panel lines are sharp and well defined, and there are no obtrusive mold part lines anywhere on the body. Window-to-body and body-to chassis fit is tight and accurate except for a slight gap between body and chassis at the very front. .
The intricate tampo-stamped markings are sharp and on register. The car’s overall finish is dust-free and looks good except that the silver color has no gloss to it. This may be prototypical, but speaking strictly from an aesthetic point of view I would have liked the finish better if it had included an overall glossy clear coat after the silver was applied.
I really like the driver’s life-like appearance except for one thing. His head is tilted forward as if he is either nodding off in the cockpit or making an extended study of the gauges on the dash, neither of which is likely to end well at speeds approaching 200 mph. Then again, he may have figured out he isn’t really driving the car, so why stay awake? Given the stout and well-modeled roll cage that surrounds him in the full-depth tub along with a wealth of other cockpit details, he probably isn’t in much danger anyway.
The chassis shows some original thinking that both racers and collectors will appreciate. For starters, there’s a compartment between the front axle and the cockpit for the installation, I’m told, of a snap-in digital module. Access to the compartment is through the bottom of the car via a plate that fits securely with only one self-tapping screw. This should make converting from normal operation to digital mode an extremely user-friendly affair. This is another feature that should be built into every new car at the design stage, especially if digital slot track technology is going to gain widespread acceptance with the general, non-hardcore enthusiast public.
The all snap-in mechanicals are conventional, with a straight sidewinder motor arrangement and Scalextric’s standard guide with the braid in its circular snap-in quick-change plate. There are two locations for the neodymium traction magnet, one just forward of the motor and the other right under the rear axle. Access to the magnet, motor, and rear axle requires removing two screws and lifting the interior tub off the chassis. One slightly tacky note was the factory’s use of crudely torn-off lengths of ordinary masking tape to secure the motor lead wires to the sides of the interior tub. It’s not apparent why this was done, as the wires and the interior didn’t interfere with each other after I removed the tape. I also discovered multiple layers of masking tape on the top of the magnet to make it fit snugly into its mounting. No big deal, but the car would make a better impression of quality if they used a better-looking kind of tape and cut it neatly.
One new and welcome feature is the addition of highly realistic-looking disc brake detail front and rear. Rotors and calipers are easy to see through the spokes of the wheels. The rotors don’t turn with the wheels, but no one can see that when the car is on the track and it looks just fine at rest. It’s certainly better than Carrera’s attempt at disc brake detail on its Porsche Carrera GT in which both the rotors and the calipers rotated with the wheels. Takara has devised a clever structure that allows the brakes to fit in their proper locations without interfering with the rotation of the wheels and axles.
The wheels themselves are excellent, with fine detail including tiny logos on 3 of the 6 spokes. The “Bridgestone Potenza” sidewall lettering on the tires is a sharp as any I’ve ever seen, and so far has proved exceptionally durable.
The 350Z ran smoothly from the beginning on the Electric Dream Team’s Scalextric Sport test track, though not quite as quietly as some cars we have tested. Still, there were no problems with anything rubbing or binding even with the close fir between the tires and the body.
The car’s best lap time with the magnet in its forward position was 4.846 seconds. I found I could drive it consistently at about 5.0 to 5.1 seconds. It seemed a bit shy on grip, tending to spin rather more easily than I would have expected. With the magnet in its aft position I quickly got down to 4.690 sec. and lapped happily at around 4.8. I completed a 3-minute run without a spin with 37 laps on the counter for an average of 4.865 sec. With the magnet aft the car responded much better to power while still in the turns yet seemed able to get sideways without spinning completely or flipping over.
By comparison, other recent lap times on the track are:
Fly Porsche 906: 4.826 .
Fly 906 with wheels and tires from Scalextric TransAm car: 4.204
Scalextric Camaro TransAm car: 4.545
Scalextric Porsche Boxster: 4.768
Scalextric L88 Corvette: 4.605
Revell-Monogram Greenwood Corvette: 4.594
One problem with the aft magnet position is that it’s offset to the right. This makes the car noticeably more competent in right turns than left-hand ones. Since the EDT test track is a counterclockwise layout with more left turns than right the 350Z was at something of a disadvantage.
Overall, the quality of Takara / Scalextric’s 350Z JGTC car compares favorably with recent releases from Fly, Ninco, and Carrera. It is versatile enough to satisfy a fairly wide range of driving preferences with no more in the way of modification than, perhaps, a pair of aftermarket rear tires. Certainly, the value-per-dollar quotient is well up there. The looks of JGTC cars in general are just alien enough to American hobbyists and race fans that not everyone will be drawn to them, but for the growing ranks of American JGTC fans and sport compact car enthusiasts these cars have a lot to offer.
Review car: Scalextric C2721 Nissan 350Z Nismo / Xanavi, Japanese GT Championship 2004. MSRP: $44.95
May 18, 2006