Scalextric Micro MR-1 was officially launched at the 1994 London Toy Fair, which opened at Olympia on the first day of February - exactly twenty-five years ago today. In 2014, Andrew Rose and Doug Passell helped me put together this article for the NSCC Journal...
Introducing a 1/64 scale side-line gave Scalextric a cheap entry-level system for younger slot racers. The company had done a deal with Marchon - an ailing manufacturer in the American HO slot car world - to utilise their MR1 system.
The appearance of Scalextric Micro came as a real surprise, with the British HO magazine HOSRA calling it "the best news in H:O
we've heard for a long time".
Doug Passell, founder of the longest-running HO club in the UK, was there at Olympia in 1994.
"It was exciting to see the MR1 line-up find a home at Scalextric, particularly as it was no tentative launch" said Doug. "It was a broadside aimed at the UK distributors of Tomy and Tyco, with twelve individual cars and four sets being shown."
The original Scalextric Micro MR1 releases included some rebranded Marchon cars, alongside a new range of Formula One cars to be manufactured by Scalextric.
Doug remembers that "the established players, Tomy and Tyco, were overshadowed. Tomy showed one new set with talk of another - but no new cars. Tyco refreshed three F1 sets and released one individual car, so you can guess where the attention was".
The March/April 1994 edition of the HOSRA magazine reported that "retailers grouped around the Micro MR1 display and then [walked] straight past the 1/32nd display".
For the small group of UK HO racers, branding the new range as 'Scalextric Micro MR1 1/64th' opened up exciting possibilities for the growth and recognition of their branch of the hobby.
Doug explains: "Scalextric was and still is the byword for slot car racing. Not many non-hobbyists know what 'slot car racing' is - but mention Scalextric and they've got it in one.
"1/64th scale sounds like half the size of regular Scalextric - that's an easy way to describe the smaller sized cars."
So what was Doug's principal memory of the 1994 Toy Fair? "One word sums it up - excitement. Could we be on the verge of a step-change in the status of HO slot car racing?"
The first Scalextric Micro sets started to appear in the shops during October 1994, just in time for Christmas. The basic figure-of-eight World Championship set (G012) retailed for £25 and included a pair of Formula One cars - a Benetton and a Ferrari.
The other Scalextric Micro MR1 sets to be released were the G010 Turbo Power set with Porsche 911 Demon Tweeks and TAG/Minolta cars; the Endurance 7000 set (G011) with two Sauber Mercedes cars in AEG and Shell liveries; and the USA Raceway (G013) featuring the Scalextric Formula One cars in Texaco and Duracell Indy Car liveries.
A fifth set - Rescue 911 (G014) - appeared on the back page of the 1994 Micro MR1 catalogue, but was never released in the UK under the Scalextric Micro name. A Police Patrol car (G026) and Fire Chief car (G027) were released individually.
The individual cars were slower into the shops. The delay was due to Power Rangers and import quotas. Those brightly-coloured action heroes were the big thing of 1994 and Marchon manufactured Power Rangers toys in their Chinese factory.
Back in 1994, there were strict limits to importing goods from China and the new Scalextric Micro cars stayed in the factory while Power Rangers products flooded the Christmas market.
This business decision adds weight to the theory that Hornby had invested in a significant proportion of Marchon's operations, rather than just buying the rights to the MR1 range. It might also explain why Scalextric were able to rapidly change the Micro design in a cost-cutting measure. However, that's getting ahead of ourselves.
The complete range of the original Scalextric Micro MR1 cars are a combination of re-badged Marchon cars and new Scalextric Micro models. Firstly the Marchons, which mostly had "Scalextric Micro" stickers covering the Marchon logos:
G020 - Jeep "Doom Buggy" (also Marchon MAR 22065)
G021 - Jeep "Canyon Raider" (MAR 22064)
G022 - Chevy Lumina "Kodak" #4 (MAR 22054)
G023 - Chevy Lumina "Goodwrench" #3 (MAR 22062)
G024 - Sauber Mercedes "Zerex" Silver/Blue #78 (MAR 22068)
G025 - Sauber Mercedes "Zerex" Red/Yellow/Black #12 (MAR 22069)
G026 - Police Patrol (MAR 22050)
G027 - Fire Chief (MAR 22051)
Four of the Micro MR1 Formula One cars were released individually:
G030 - Footwork "Toshiba" #9
G031 - Jordan "Sasol" #14
G032 - Minardi "Beta" #23
G033 - Ligier "Zenith" #25
While racers were waiting to add the individual cars to their new sets, Scalextric were planning a completely new range for 1995. There would be significant design changes to both the Micro chassis and the track system, which was re-branded "Micro Scalextric" and launched at the 1995 London Toy Fair.
The MR1 cars announced the year before remained an important part of the Micro range and could be found on the shelves of Beatties and other shops for years to come. The four F1 cars and the two jeeps still featured on an MR1 page in the 1996 Scalextric catalogue.
The twentieth anniversary of Scalextric Micro MR1 was celebrated in the HO Zone at the UK Slot Car Festival in May 2014 where Andrew Rose displayed his complete collection of 168 Micro cars and Scalextric's Adrian Norman cut the birthday cake.
My thanks go to Andrew Rose for sharing his Micro collection with us, including pictures and MR-1 box art - and to Doug Passell at Chesterfield HO Racing Club for background information, loan of the HOSRA magazines from 1994 and his reminiscences of the 1994 London Toy Fair.