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(Influenced by periodically mentioned wishes that Scalextric adopted the GW retail model of shops on every high street.)

So there I was, on a Saturday afternoon, walking down the UK High Street and saw the shop nestled between Boots and The Early Learning Centre. Full glass frontage, and a huge red and yellow on black sign - SCALEXTRIC WORKSHOP

Crikey thinks I, this sort of high street, high visibility, market positioning the hobby needs.

I'm in no rush to go anywhere so I wander over and look in the window displays. A huge poster of an airbrushing of some shaven-headed bruiser in a jet black race suit glares back at me his scarred face hinting at some intimate meeting with the windscreen. Other lurid posters depict huge apocalyptic death crashes with futuristic vehicles driving out of explosions, over each other and occasionally through each other. Cryptic slogans like SPEEDWAY ARMAGEDDON, BATTLEFIELD BRANDS HATCH shout out at bemused Saturday shoppers.

Crikey thinks I, this isn't much like two cheap single seaters and a tiny two lane oval under the tree on Christmas morning.

Through the door and enter a shop the walls of which are lined with blister packed goods. A gaggle of thirteen year old lads are crowded around a table in the centre of the shop and the sales assistants look busy marshalling on a beautiful, if small, textured track. I appear to be the oldest in there.

Leaving the screaming and shouting of what I guess is a multiple-magnet race behind I glance into a glass-fronted display cabinet and find myself looking at a collection of beautifully hand-painted cars, pit crew and driver vignettes. The painting is stunning, I pride myself on being able to wield a paintbrush skillfully enough to avoid poking myself in the eye with it and the Coop approach to car painting is basically Wash It - Prime It - Spray It - Crash It but this is on another level. And you are expected to race this? I wince inwardly.

The thing is though I don't recognize any of these cars from the pages of Autosport. A collection of cars that look inspired by the beautiful Bugatti Atlantic and finished in pale pastel colours are decalled with Celtic looking spirals and glyphs. Next to them are a series of what look like 60s Yanktanks where the panel welding has been complemented by runs of huge rivets reminiscent of Victorian railway bridges. On the shelf above are a series of what I suppose might be described as vehicles as designed by H.R. Giger on a bad day but in all honesty the last time I saw something like that it was quivering and glistening in a kidney-shaped stainless steel dish. Nice.

And what's with this trackside scenery? Pit buildings designed by Piranesi? A Dunlop bridge apparently lifted from the battlefield of Stalingrad? Corner marshalls waving yellows from the depths of a de Vauban star-fort complete with dry moat and firing steps? I had some flagpoles with sticky label flags in the barriers on my old figure-of-eight...

"That's the Bio-Atrocity faction."

"I beg your pardon?"

A beaming employee has just appeared at my shoulder. The last time I met someone this friendly and eager to please uppers were involved.

"The Bio-Atrocity faction. New this month. They have special club rules. Bit of an Alien rip-off but very nice figures none the less. Easy to paint with ink washes. Get an extra two d6 in drafting and the Thyroid single seaters only cost 45 points. The Archohierogland costs 250 points and you can only have one in your manufacturers team but it has a 2+ save against bad marshalling. Only the '72 Chevrolet Violater gets more dice in bus-stops and thats in the Fascist Theocracy faction anyway."

I think we both experience a second where I am immobile and trying to take it all in the world sort of pauses for just that second. It's English, but.... well I'm reminded of the parallel universe American English of my Toyota owners handbook.

"Sorry, allow me to introduce myself, I'm the Store Manager".

I shake his hand expecting the bizarre secret language I just heard to be followed by a Masonic handshake or similar but it isn't, just a friendly welcome to the shop. A lot of retail businesses could learn from this thinks I. I spent £12,000 once in Reg Vardys on a new car and they weren't this pleased to see me.

"You interested in all this? Looking to get started?"

"Yeah", says I, "these cars look sweet. Are they all fictional? Do you do any, well what I suppose we could call historical?"

I suppose I am harbouring a little dream that he might say "Yes, we also sell the Gran Turismo triumverite of the Nissan Skyline (Pennzoil), Toms Supra GT (Castrol) and MRS-GT (Autobacs) along with that Ford Racing Puma you want and we will shortly be releasing a Trans-Am Jag XK8 along with a Cro-sal Cheetah built to modern standards and maybe a Vertigo Gillet but once again I am disappointed.

"It's all what we call Science Fiction. The kids like it and we can hold the intellectual properties so only we can produce these designs. Marks out our own niche in the marketplace so to speak. Besides do you really want to see yet another Subaru WRX or yet another BMW Mini with yet another national flag on the roof?"

I concur although I was hoping to see a Romanian-flagged Mini since I'm sure having a circular hole in the roof would be helpful for oiling mid-race.

He leads me over to a store display to show me a starter set. It's two unpainted and unassembled cars in a luridly painted cardboard box.

"Obviously you have to assemble and paint it yourself but that's all part of the Scalextric Workshop hobby. There's a book full of photos here for inspiration, shows you how to paint step-by-step. You can invent your own colour scheme or, if you've no imagination of your own, you can buy this book full of 'offical' colour schemes."

I flick through the offered book. Fantastic photography and modelling. Lots of double spreads showing the team colours of teams such as the Pushrod Mutilators and Detriot-Iron Dervishes, all gunmetal, black/yellow hazard striping and Momento Mori imagery. A bit far removed from the understated metallic blue of Ecurie Ecosse or the white-nosed red factory Alfas but I imagine this fictional stuff saves a lot of disagreements about the exact shade of blue on the nose of Maranello Concessionaries cars or some nonsense about there being one Pantone-certified colour of BRG and none other.

Then I look at the price.

Suddenly I'm being helped off the floor with a jar of turps under my nose. I feel a bit silly, I've never fainted before in my life not even when I witnessed that fatal motorway crash in France at the age of ten.

Anyway it isn't long before righteous indignation at the price has brought me back to my sense.

"It's all a bit expensive isn't it?" say I. "I think Ninco cars are just under thirty nicker and this stuff is all around double that and you have to paint it and assemble it first. How does this sit with the fact that I appear to be double the age of your oldest customer? When I was that old I only had a couple of quid to spend each week!"

The managers voice drops. The inference is clear - this is a bit secret so I let him lead me to the back of the store away from the racing boys who are hanging on every word of his Saturday assistants.

"This is the business model, right. Older kids race Workshop slots so the younger kids want to imitate them. Parents are happy because they think little Johnny must be a bright child since he is into the same things as the older boys so they are happy to fund whatever keeps him quiet and off street corners."

"So the older kids look at the younger kids and think 'all this is for kids' and drop out..."

"Ah yes" says I, "it's the same as that famous American market research into the rise and fall of the hula hoop in the 1950s". I may have only got a E for A-level economics and had to read an Idiots Guide to What A Mortgage Is when buying a house but daft things from school always stay with you.

"Indeed. So in a couple of years these kids will think they have grown out of it and the faces that come through the door will be different."

"Every couple of years we have to reinvent the racing. So you have all the cars needed to represent the entire of, say, the LMP-900 class. Why buy any more? So we redraft the rules and oh look, that car is no longer legal but this new car that you don't have, well we big it up and give the impression that it is so good that you need this or you can't win."

"Now you could just say, hang the Workshop I'll carry on with all my old stuff that still works. Nobody is going to come around to your house and confiscate the no-longer-legal kit. But because the turnover of customers is so quick there will be loads of kids coming into the hobby and they've never heard of this no-longer-legal stuff and they can't get it. And the club rules are all a bit different, they can't get the old rulebook that you are using. And because they have no clue what the sticker prices were two or three years ago we can ramp the cost up and they won't know any better."

"So you're in the Workshop hobby and the single best thing about that is that so many people race in it so you're never sort of competition and you can practise here in the shop, but if you've deliberately stepped outside of the approved scheme or let yourself fall behind then where is that single best thing now?"

"Nowhere" says I, starting to cotton on the diabolical cleverness of it all.

"Exactly. You're about to ask me where all the long-term customers go aren't you?"

Weird. I have no idea how he knew that so I just nod dumbly and he carries on.

"We don't have them. We don't need them. What's the point of trying to compete for a 17 year old's spare cash when there's girls, car and alcopops to beat you to it."

"Forget him. Let him go, we have newer kids to replace his cash. If he ever comes back in the future, fair enough. It's a bonus to us but he isn't our major revenue stream."

"Look", says the manager, "it's like this. Look at you. A twenty-something grown man, articulate, can hold a conversation with the opposite sex, gets to touch ladybumps occasionally, clean hair, needs to shave every day, stays out on a night as look as you damn well please, got your own car so you're mobile."

He sniffs - "No apparent body odour either."

"Frankly that's downright intimidating to some of the kids we have in here."

"Now, I'm like you really. I don't really think this stuff is the best way to go slotracing but I do Workshop slots because I can get all this at cost. Like you I started with the old Scalextric Walter Wolf and red Brabham and the Mini 1275GT that wouldn't stay on the banked track, the two 911 in silver and gold..."

I'm grinning and nodding as I remember back to the days of sitting cross-legged at the figure-of-eight but I think he realizes that and carries on with his spiel quickly before our afternoon turns into an 'I Love 1985' programme with Kate Thornton on Channel 4.

"Now you love slotracing and yes, you have more to spend than these kids. But you won't. You'd just come in the shop and moan about how things were much better way back then when everything was cheaper, Wagon Wheels were bigger and you hadn't yet had the guilty discovery that Debbie Harry was older than your Mom."

"You won't buy much because you already have more than enough cars and dissembled bits to last you a lifetime. So you'd just pop in when bored, buy the odd set of braids and make all the younger lads feel a bit crap when you beat them. We aren't aiming at you. You know about Ninco and SCX and HO cars and Wing Cars and all that. I'm sorry but that's all there is to it."

He's right of course. I can't disagree with anything he said. He mentions that should I require any parts that the shop doesn't stock I can ring their 24 mail order hotline and order individual components even down to the atomic level of "Bushes from this car, front body half from another, driver head from a third car, one rear wheel from car four". They'll deliever for free to the shop if I don't want to pay postage. Now that is impressive and my scratchbuilding gland starts to throb. It must look like that Bio-Atrocity faction car transporter.

Shop duty calls him and I let him return to his real customers, the ones that will keep the shop viable and him in a job. On my way out I look around and do a quick headcount. I see twenty kids so if only a mere 5% return to slot racing in the future, then a local club will be getting an extra member merely from the kids present this afternoon. Extrapolate that out nationally and the future of slotracing could be very rosy indeed.

And their cars will probably be immaculated painted and super-detailed and show us all up.

I might return and buy that painting book.
 

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Excellent, Coop! So that's what those Games Workshops are all about.

Wagon wheels WERE bigger, weren't they? And I think I'm old enough to be Debbie Harry's dad. But don't tell anyone.
 

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I hope racing for the new kiddies bares some resemblance to classical racing of vehicles/reality. It would be great if there were a spot that allowed for young and old to enjoy it.

Yeah. The future is scary. Dungan Racers? I don't mean to be unkind, but it appears to be a little mindless, kind of like watching TV sometimes. I can't see how long that will last.
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
I've got some of those Dangun racers, they had Hong Kong pirates copies in Poundworld (or is it Poundland?) a while back. I also recently saw more pirate copies of the Tamiya 4x4 chassised cars that run in the 'rat run' tracks, I picked up two of the Supra GT with an eye to slot conversion but they turned out to be a weird scale (a b******d scale as we say in newspaper production). Both of these have been around for years, I remember seeing the Dangun in a Tamiya catalogue back in the days before I realised that even for my old man, the lovely Ms. Harry was an older woman thang. By God, that was a strange day when I discovered that....

Something I forget to add to the post is that I think you really need to know about GW and/or historical wargaming for all that to make sense, so apologies if anyone is terminally confused!

Coop
 

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God do I know about Games Workshop, Coop! Various young males in the family showing an unhealthy interest. I guess I wouldn't mind, but the local branch is on the exact site of my childhood haunt, Richmond Raceway. 'Twas once upon a time a nice little commercial racetrack wedged into a decent model shop. Race meets every Friday night. The swish of sponge rubber on sandtex long gone, though...
I could weep every time I see the place these days- full of ghastly little sci-fi sumo wrestlers. And that's just the staff....
 

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QUOTE (taxi @ 5 May 2004, 23:41)I just hope nobody from Hornby reads it and gets ideas.........
Yeah! They'll start producing fantasy cars with made-up names like Javelin, Electra, Panther, Europa Vee, Scalletti Arrow, Dart or Cougar!

Hey! Wait a minute...........

Mr.M
 

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very good, i play about with some warhamme 40,000 but went back to this. my little brother is on about spending £30 on a model. though i think the paints might come in handy if i want to paint my own car
 

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I bought 4 of those pirated dagun racers in a poundland a good couple of years ago now!! A couple were for mates as silly Christmas pressies, I got one and my little boy got the other.

I chose the red one in the picture -the stickers are very similar but not quite


Thanks for clearing up the mystery of what these bloody things were


Mark.
 
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