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Updated: 2023-03-24 04:38

Atlas Slot Cars

Atlas HO slot cars were first produced in 1962 and continued to 1968. The first models they released were the '1200 series' cars with "painted" one-piece bumpers. Shortly after, Atlas moved to the '1300 series' cars with chrome plated bumpers. Atlas released several slot car body styles that Aurora plastics company (makers of the T-jet and Vibrator chassis under the "Model Motoring brand") never produced. Atlas cars were produced in lower numbers than Aurora's, and thus are harder to locate and collect.Despite their scarcity the Atlas cars are worth adding to your slot car collection.

Atlas Slot Car History

The Atlas Tool Company was founded in 1924 by Stephan Schaffan Sr. It was originally established in as a Tool Shop which was situated in a small garage in Newark, NJ.

In 1933 his son, Stephan Schaffan Jr., came to work for his father's shop at the age of sixteen after graduating top in the class in a vocational school.

Steve Jr. was also a builder of model airplanes as a hobby and frequented a local hobby shop. Being an enterprising young man, he would often ask the owner if there was anything he could do to earn some extra spending money. Tired of listening to his requests, the hobby-store owner threw some model railroad track parts his way and said, "Here, see if you can improve on this".

Improving the Hobby

In those days, railroad modelers had to assemble and build everything from scratch. Steve Jr. created a "switch kit" which sold so well, that the entire family worked on them in the basement at night, while doing business as usual in the machine shop during the day.

Subsequently, Steve Jr. engineered the stapling of rail to fiber track, along with inventing the first practical rail joiner and pre-assembled turnouts and flexible track. All of these products, and more, helped to popularize model railroading and assisted in the creation of a mass-market hobby. The budding entrepreneur quickly outgrew the limitations of a basement and small garage operation. Realizing they could actually make a living selling track and related products, Steve and his father had the first factory built in Hillside, New Jersey at 413 Florence Avenue in 1947. On September 30th, 1949, Atlas Tool Company Inc. was officially incorporated as a New Jersey company.

The Atlas Slot Cars Designer

The designer of the majority of Atlas slot cars was a gentleman names Jose' Rodriguez Jr. (who passed away in 1998). In his honor, a memorial race, the Marconi Proxy Race, was held in 2000 and 2001 in his honor.

The popularity of the Marconi race was such that some members soon morphed the Marconi event into what is known as the World Proxy Race, which in turn was popularized as the Global Proxy Race.

Jose' was also the co-founder of Car Model Magazine and his articles are easily found in many back issues of Model Car and Track.

About Atlas' Illustrations

According to Tom Haedrich, Atlas Chairman of the Board...
"Mr. (Lou) Eidson did all Atlas major product box art work, i.e. structures and train and slot car sets back in the 1960s and 1970s, he used tempera style poster inks and the newly framed originals, as can be seen throughout our headquarters building are quite impressive."

Atlas HO Slot Car Track Side Buildings

Atlas produced a great variety of HO scale train track side model buildings. with the introduction of their HO slot car products it was a natural fit for them to produce Slot Car Racing track side buildings as well.

Atlas Slot Car Buildings produced:
* TV and Radio Tower
* Grandstand
* First Aid Station
* Refreshment Stand
* Official Stand
* Pit Stop & Accessories
* Rest Room
* Entrance Building
* Bleacher Stand
* (24) Figures
* Fence & Gate
* (4) Hedges and (12) Bails of Hay

Scales Produced: HO Scale, 1:32 and 1:24 Scale

Note: Sources for this was web research and part of the write-up came from the long gone Slot Car Monsters - slotmonsters.com website. Our goal is to do the best we can to bring back as much information from this great site!


Gilbert Slot Cars
The Auto-Rama slot cars and sets were produced by A.C. Gilbert in the 1960's for use with various types of Auto-Rama racing sets.
A.C Gilbert produced 1:32 scale slot cars, track and respective service parts for their slot car and horse racing sets. Interest in A.C. Gilbert Slot Car Racing parts and accessories seem is gaining popularity with collectors as sets and parts become rarer with each passing year.

Auto Rama Slot Cars & A.C. Gilbert Accessories

Gilbert Auto-Rama Slot Cars
A. C. Gilbert offered three types of racing sets:
* The "AUTO-RAMA" race and town highway systems, made from 1961 to 1965.
* The Slotless American Flyer Stock Car Set, produced in 1960.
* The James Bond 007 Panel Set, released in 1966.

A.C. Gilbert also produced a horse racing set, based on the Auto-Rama chassis and slot car track. From 1961-1965, Gilbert produced a wide selection of (approximately) 1:32 scale AUTO-RAMA racing sets. Gilbert broke from the tradional 2 rail slot car track offerings that were appearing from other manufacturers at that time, and opted for a 3 rail power system which provided lane change (slotless) operation when wired for it.

Offered were both traditional 2 and Auto-Rama specific 3 rail chassis'. The Auto-Rama 3 rail slot car chassis has a pick-up spring that travels the center slot where the guide pin goes, allowing for two cars could be independently operate in one lane. Three rail operation allowed for lane changing stunt, jump and daredevil tracks as well as a variety of intersections.

A.C. Gilbert Company History

In 1938, W.O. Coleman sold American (Chicago) Flyer to Alfred Carlton Gilbert. W.O. Coleman was a former Olympic pole vaulter who first made a name for himself in the toy industry earlier in the century when he created and manufactured Mysto Magic sets for youthful magicians. A few years later, his A. C. Gilbert Company also became the makers of Erector Set construction toys. The two toy magnates were just finishing shooting on Gilbert's game reserve in New Haven when Gilbert casually mentioned he was thinking about manufacturing toy trains. Instead, Coleman said he'd give his struggling American Flyer Co. to Gilbert in return for a share of the profits. Gilbert quickly agreed.

Gilbert soon moved the company from Chicago to New Haven, Connecticut, and re-designed the product line.
He pioneered the 3/16" to one foot (S-scale) variant of O gauge in 1939, in which the locomotive and car bodies are scaled to 1:64 scale, making them approximately 25% smaller than the standard 1:48 for O gauge while still running on the same type of three-rail track. While this allowed the S-scale trains to navigate tighter curves that would cause a conventional O gauge train to derail or jump the track, Gilbert actually introduced a wider radius (20") track for added realism. This still resulted in curves that were much tighter than those that appear in the real world, but appeared much more realistic than the 13.5" radius (O27) gauge train cars that appeared "stubby" in length. The new 40" diameter circles allowed more track in the same space as a layout constructed with O72 (36" radius) curves.

By 1941, Gilbert had discontinued the earlier designs and advertised his new American Flyer products.
The new tagline? 'Every train 3/16" scale from front end to rear end.' Some boxes were labeled "3/16 scale" and others labeled "Tru-Model" As most prior trains from American Flyer and other manufacturers paid little attention to scale (proportional size mirroring the prototype), this new wrinkle made Gilbert American Flyer distinctive, as his cars at 1:64 were much closer in scale dimension to the prototypes on real railroads than the comparatively stubby 1:48 scale rolling stock that ran on O27 track.

At the same time, Gilbert also released a line of HO scale trains.

A.C. Gilbert after the War

In 1946, after World War II, Gilbert discontinued manufacturing three-rail O gauge trains entirely in favor of the slightly (25%) smaller and more realistic S gauge and in the process eliminated the most unrealistic aspect of toy trains - the center rail. His 3/16" American Flyer used two-rail track sized closer to 1:64 scale, or about seven-eighths inches between rails. The minimum radius for Gilbert's curves was 19 inches, which added to the look of "realism" missing with larger O gauge trains running on curves with a smaller 13.5-inch radius.

In order to further differentiate his product line from Lionel, Gilbert employed a bullet-shaped (link) coupler, but within a few years (1952), a newer, more realistic knuckle coupler design appeared. Flyer played up its improved realism and attention to details, with two-rail track and prototypical couplers, with Gilbert himself saying the design was inspired by his son's dissatisfaction with other toy trains available on the market. "Kids want realism," he said. His trains, which were closely proportioned to their prototypes, also had more detail elements than most O gauge competitors.

Although popular, American Flyer was always the No.2 brand to Lionel in terms of market share at the high end of the market. With Marx and a handful of other brands relegated to the low end of the market, Lionel and American Flyer shared premium status. A rivalry emerged between both companies' fans that continues today.

Like Hobby Train making competitor Lionel, Gilbert was caught off guard by the popularity of HO scale trains that offered better realism at a lower price than its American Flyer S gauge products. But the true reason for the demise of the toy train industry was the changing interests of American youth. A new technology called television was taking the place of many traditional hobbies, and the toy market was subject to the success of unpredictable overnight fads like the Hula-Hoop and yo-yo. Kids were also eschewing their Lionel and American Flyer trains in favor of remote-control slot car racing sets.

Finally, the national phenomena of the discount store craze was ravaging toy train companies' traditional distribution network - mom-and-pop hobby shops - and sending them into financial oblivion. The discount stores demanded train sets at a low wholesale price and refused to offer the personal attention and repair services of the hobby shop. In order to get product on the shelves of discounters, toy train manufacturers cheapened their lines to get the price point down on sets -- which exacerbated the downward economic spiral. Longtime train collectors and hobbyists were offended at this newer production, dismissing the new products as "cheap junk," an accurate description.

These problems were compounded by the death of its founder, A.C. Gilbert in 1961. With the popularity of toy trains and construction toys declining, and without another successful product line to buoy the company's finances, Gilbert found itself in serious financial trouble. Finally, a majority of the company was sold by the family to a holding company, the Wrather Group, in 1962 with A.C. Gilbert, Jr., acting as CEO. Within a few months, though, A.C. Jr., died. The company continued to manufacture trains of limited appeal, thanks to the questionable quality.1:32 Gilbert Slot Cars

Company History: New Ownership Struggles

Under the new ownership, the A.C. Gilbert Co. continued to struggle, although the new owners took a more aggressive approach to advertising and marketing than when the firm was headed by the more conservative A.C. Gilbert. It manufactured a wide variety of poorly-designed and poorly-conceived toys (dolls, racing sets, games) that sold slowly, if at all, and was nearly overwhelmed by store returns of defective merchandise. Gilbert took an especially-hard hit when a majority of a poorly-designed and manufacture red James Bond 007 slot car racing set flooded back as returns after component failures. (Because of the number of returns, these sets are rare and extremely collectible, now selling for an average of $1000 on ebay). In addition, the company delivered many of its toy line products to discounters with a "100% sale guarantee." When the merchandise didn't sell through, it ended up back in Gilbert's warehouses. The company discontinued the American Flyer train line in 1966 and finally declared bankruptcy in 1967.

Scales & Brands Produced: 1:32 scale Auto-Rama brand slot cars and race sets

Note: Sources for this was web research and part of the write-up came from the long gone Slot Car Monsters - slotmonsters.com website. Out goal is to do the best we can to bring back as much information from this great site!

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