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AMF and slot car racing


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#1 TSR

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Posted 26 August 2007 - 12:14 PM

Over the years, the controversy over AMF's (American Machine & Foundry) involvement in slot car racing has raged between historians. Some claiming that AMF purchased track manufacturer and franchised raceway orchestrator American Model Racing Congress simply to torpedo the hobby because it was threatening... bowling.
Pure fantasy in my book, AMF never purchased AMRRC, it simply... created it.
To quote a qualified person who was there, here is an excerpt from Champion's Ray Gardner's brief history of the hobby:

In 1962, former engineers and employees of AMF (American Machine and Foundry - makers of bowling alley pin-setting equipment) formed a company in California named "American Model Raceways and Racing Congress."

AMF first produced arcade games as commercial slot racing was not quite on the map yet. Here is an example of their two known efforts:

Posted Image
(Picture courtesy of pinrepair.com)

With their years of skill and experience, they designed and manufactured 8-lane commercial tracks that were sold to raceways all over the globe. The tracks were quite unique, well ahead of their time, yet quite expensive.

But they went far beyond just building slot tracks. They formulated a complete business plan and produced thick manuals on all phases of the operation. The track layouts were named using English "royalty" and distinctive in that the thick, Formica-covered side walls were all in different colors - Red, Yellow, Green, Black, Orange, Purple, and finally Blue. The color and the name became synonymous and anyone who raced regularly knew what the track was by naming either. For example, the "Orange" was called the "Monarch" and had 8 lanes of 100 each. The Red was the "Imperial" and was 150 per lane. The "Sovereign" was Americans "biggie" - a 220 dream which ultimately became known as the "Purple Mile."

AMF went further and actually developed what they claimed to be as many others, the "Fastest, Best-Handling, Indestructable" slot car, to be used on their tracks. Indeed, all genuine AMF/AMRRC tracks had a T-shaped slot so as to allow the specially-designed guide to hook at the bottom of the slot, in such a way that when the tracks were new and before the slot was worn to a much larger width, those cars had to be inserted in a special place at the beginning of the front straight.

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So AMF commissioned MPC, a relatively new company in Mount Clemens, MI, to manufacture a specific car for use on their new tracks, and there was born the heftiest commercial-raceway slot car ever produced this side of the Adams & Sons pile of parts. Sold in a clear plastic box, the thing weighed over 10 ounces, with massive 3/16" axles, heavy-duty wheels and a vacuum-formed Mako Shark body that was made of "Lexan" polycarbonate, the first use of such material on a racing car of any kind, large or small, that is until GM's Don Gates fitted sliding skirts of the same stuff on the 1969 Chaparral 2J.

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The huge front guide had no less than three sets of brushes, guaranteeing good contact for a long period of time, or so goes the story anyway. A rear guide was also fitted on some cars so as to elimine spins caused by the poor traction of the supplied silicone tires once the track surface had gotten dusty. The tilt factor was held under control by the T-guide and general heft, let alone the lack of speed as the large MPC motor could hardly cope with the weight of that brick.

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The cars were dubbed "International" but only this single American model was ever produced, in many different shades of colors.

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The car was supplied with a conventional guide for "other" tracks, to be customer-fitted.

These cars were controlled through a steering wheel and a "gas" pedal, the operator being seated in a comfortable palstic chair made of polyester resin and glass fibers, mounted on a chromed steel tubular structure. The steering was simply an electrical switch interrupting the current to flow if not turned at the proper degree in each curve. The loud pedal actually fed the juice. It simply did not work very well and most people were confused by a system that was simply a lie in its actual functions.

I believe that the only such remaining operating track is the AMRRC "Black" at Buzzarama in Brooklyn, NY.

Posted Image

This system was quickly discarded by track owners, to be replaced by a simple hand-held speed controller.
The lifespan of AMRRC and its AMF involvement was racer-brief, by 1967, they were gone. The legend in which "all AMF tracks were shipped to Europe" was largely disproved, most AMF tracks simply fell victims of their own deficient design and were either rebuilt without humps and hills, or simply became firewood. To disprove the story, Buzzarama has no less than six original, near-mint AMF tracks in their store.

All pictures copyright Electric Dreams 2006-2007
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#2 KF4OZJ

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Posted 27 August 2007 - 03:59 PM

One of the first big slot car tracks I can remember in my area (South Carolina) was inside a AMF Bowling Alley, 1963 maybe '65. It was billed back then as "good family fun".
Soon there was a track at just about every empty corner building. I can recall maybe ten tracks in Greenville alone, with several others in surrounding towns...
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#3 Prof. Fate

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Posted 28 August 2007 - 12:13 PM

Hi,

In '65, one of the slot tracks in Salt Lake was one of the T-slot "Orange" tracks. When I saw it in '65, the stools were still there, but they closed the track in the late summer for a week to pull the foot pedals and steering wheels, although they were still using the rentals with the T-slot guides and would add the rear pin for new drivers.

I think, I am not completely sure, the track that survives in Natrona Heights, PA, was originally a T-slot. This was an American orange with a extension in the main straight and coming out of the donut, and painted yellow. I think when I last saw it in '01, you could still see the T-slot entry point. I may be misremembering. I expect Rick may know more.

Fate
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#4 tonyp

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Posted 28 August 2007 - 02:30 PM

The Hillclimb we used to race on at BIR was a T-slot track. When Bob Emott set it up he had to replace the surface in the section at the end of the back straight because of damage so there was no T-slot there.

We had a big group 27 race. Steve Bogut thought he would outsmart everyone with his home made T-slot guide. Problem is he did not want anyone to see it so he put it on his car after practice and just teched it in.

Have you ever seen a slot car go from full speed to dead stopped in zero inches?... LOL...

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#5 MarcusPHagen

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Posted 29 August 2007 - 02:53 AM

THAT story belongs in the History section! What a great come-uppance.

Thanks for sharing it, TonyP.
Marcus P. Hagen -- see below, my five favorite quotes: applicable to slot cars & life in general.
[ "Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.". . Daniel Patrick Moynihan ]
[ "Time is the best teacher. Unfortunately, it kills all its students.". . . . . . . . Hector Berlioz ]
[ "There is a very fine line between 'hobby' and 'mental illness." . . . . . . . . . . . Dave Barry ]
[ "Build what you like to build, they are all doomed." . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Prof. Fate ]
[ "The less rules the more fun. Run what you brung." . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Larry LS ]

#6 Cheater

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Posted 29 August 2007 - 07:53 AM

Tony, I don't think you've seen this old thread from SlotForum:

Confessional, confess your sins

The post you want to read is Post #6, although there are a few other good stories in that thread.

Gregory Wells

Never forget that first place goes to the racer with the MOST laps, not the racer with the FASTEST lap


#7 tonyp

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Posted 29 August 2007 - 02:13 PM

Pretty cool thread. I could fill it with a lot of stuff....

"And if my thought-dreams could be seen they'd probably put my head in a guillotine. But it's alright, Ma, it's life, and life only." - Dylan

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#8 Cheater

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Posted 29 August 2007 - 02:38 PM

Tony, you'd better not be posting the good stories over at SlotForum: they need to be posted here at Slotblog!

Why don't you start a thread in the history forum here?

Gregory Wells

Never forget that first place goes to the racer with the MOST laps, not the racer with the FASTEST lap


#9 Mark Wampler

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Posted 29 August 2007 - 02:41 PM

I have to believe that the the track in Pismo Beach (R.I.P. 1988) was a full-on AMF commercial raceway such as was mentioned. It had the American Raceways clock and four tracks: red, orange, yellow, and black. The black track being the shortest, about 70 ft max. The red track was of the same layout as the black track pictured in New York. The color coding is a bit confusing.

There were comfortable stools to sit on and phono jack inputs to plug in your controller, but no steering wheels. The rental cars were a sidewinder direct motor shaft to rear tire setup, but they were not Mabuchis as I remember. The power supplies and track power board all had American Raceways lettering and logo. The track surface was regrettable compared to today's smooth epoxy finish. I have no idea what sort of textured grainy finish was used in those days.

What I really liked about the orange track was the stools set up close to the wall behind. Just kick back, lean against the wall and be cool. Easy visibility sitting down. B)

Steve Foster has the original "Monarch" orange 100' from Pismo in storage. There has been some hinting around about getting it back out on the floor, but he needs more sq ft.
You can quote me.

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#10 Ron Hershman

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Posted 29 August 2007 - 03:13 PM

The American red track was 150' in lap length. The orange 100' (although we had a raceway that had a factory-made 135' orange). The yellow was 80' and the black (depending if flat or banked turns) would be 90' with flat turns and 95' if the turns were banked. The flat 90' black was run in the direction where you would go "down" the donut and the 95' banked black you ran in the same direction as a blue King track, up the donut.

The black track in the pic is a 95' "Royal" track. Or as some call it... a "mini King".

#11 Mark Wampler

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Posted 29 August 2007 - 05:53 PM

What I remember is the orange track was the most popular including the "esses". The red should have been more popular except for the humps down the straight. :angry: For some reason the black track looked smaller than the yellow, maybe it was the way it was laid out. That was only 40 years ago.
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#12 Prof. Fate

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Posted 30 August 2007 - 10:37 AM

Hi,

Over the years, and mostly in the more rural areas, I saw a lot of black tracks, usually the flat one and run in either direction. Often the middle turn would get an added 8' section out and back, adding a "finger" for only a couple feet in floor space. A very popular mod which turned the 90' into a 106'!

The orange was very common as well. Both tracks were the ones you saw mostly during the "dark ages". Blue Kings just took too much space.

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#13 sportblazer350

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Posted 02 September 2007 - 12:50 PM

I remember racing on one of these tracks at a place in New Brunswick, NJ when i was a kid back in the late '60s. Sorry, but i forget the name of that place......will ask around and try to come up with a name for you guys. I do remember: the plastic seats, steering wheels, gas pedals. there were also either thae same or similar tracks at the jersey shore back then, probably Asbury Park and Seaside Heights in the arcade centers. I remember racing on those as well.

Glenn Orban
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#14 Ron Hershman

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Posted 02 September 2007 - 02:12 PM

There used to be on the old Boardwalk in Daytona Beach, Fl a booth with a AMF/American Figure 8 16 lane rental/amusement track. It had the AMF cars, T-slots, steering wheels, foot pedals, race director/lap counter. I last seen it in 1983 and ran on it. The guy who owned it only used the 8 middle lanes and the cars on the unused lanes just sat on the start/finish line. It was funny because on the lanes the cars ran on were clean and shiny, the unused lanes looked to have a inch of duct and dirt on them. If I remember correctly, the cars had huge hard silicone tires on them. I don't remember the lanes being color coded as the cars did not come out of the slots. The guy has the power so low on the thing, if you didn't have the steering wheel in the correct position, the car would just stop. There wasn't enough power to get the cars sideways or to spin out.

There is a slot car book that was published in 67 or so that has a AMF promotional pic of this type of track in it.
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#15 team burrito

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Posted 03 September 2007 - 12:39 PM

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:

"In 1969, American Machinery and Foundry (AMF) bought Harley-Davidson, streamlined production, and slashed the workforce. This tactic resulted in a labor strike and a lower quality of bikes. The bikes were expensive and inferior in performance, handling, and quality to Japanese motorcycles. Sales declined, quality plummeted, and the company almost went bankrupt. The venerable name of "Harley-Davidson" was mocked as "Hardly Ableson", and the nickname "Hog" became pejorative.

In 1981, AMF sold the company to a group of thirteen investors led by Vaughn Beals and Willie G. Davidson for $80 million.[16] Inventory was strictly controlled using the Just In Time system."

I guess bowling and bikes don't mix. :lol:
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#16 TSR

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Posted 03 September 2007 - 01:11 PM

Russ,
The Wikipedia story is also very inaccurate. Why would Harley-Davidson, a public company since 1965 would be "sold" to AMF? It simply did not happen. What happened is very different: just as for the obsolete British motorcycles, hampered by pre-war thinking, lack of modern features and full of unreliable parts and poor machining, Harley bikes had become obsolete junk compared to the vastly and technically superior Japanese machinery featuring very reliable and very usable machines with superior performance and at a much lower price as the American machinery. Indian had already fallen from obsolescence, Harley was following this path with narrow-minded Milwaukee thinking.
By 1968, the stock had plunged to its lowest since the company went public. AMF saw a possible opportunity of diversification and began acquiring the stock at a very low price until they had controlling interest of the company. But they never changed management and thinking, so the company simply plunged deeper and deeper in spite of the injected capital.
By 1981, the stock was at its lowest and a group of investor thought that all it would take is a bit of revamping and good marketing to boost Harley into a new "niche" segment, besides the now established Japanese onslaught and capture of 80% of the market.
So they outdid AMF and began buying shares, until they got very close to majority ownership. Then and only then did they approach AMF and convinced them to let go of the controlling interest. AMF was only too please to dump that loser.

But the company ONLY survived through protectionism: in 1982, President Reagan signed a bill that taxed the Japanese imports a 20% fee on wholesale, this for a period of 10 years. This allowed HD to get the needed oxygen to eventually re-capture some of the more conservative US market.

The new owners did indeed create an all-new image for the bikes and progressively made them more reliable and usable. By the 1990's, their marketing approach and the help of a few celebrities such as Malcolm Forbes made the bikes more popular, then the organization of owners meets such as Sturgis blew the market wide open. Tattoos became The thing as well as the whole fashion fad for both men and uh, large women in search of "freedom".
It took another 25 years for HD to issue, at last an all-new and more usable motorcycle almost comparable to that of the Japanese.
But the Japanese failed to match the superb marketing of the new guys in town. Now, the HD bikes are the ONLY machinery on American roads not meeting the maximum sound level imposed on ALL other vehicles. Not a law to speak of, but a tacit acceptance of the noise as part of the image. Is this fair? Nope, but this is how far the new masters have been able to exert their influence in the Powers that Be of the NHTSA...

AMF has only been successful in ONE segment of their ventures, and it is bowling.

Returning to the AMF slot cars, further research has now revealed more interesting evidence, and I will soon post it.

#17 Mark Wampler

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Posted 03 September 2007 - 01:39 PM

There is nothing like the sound of a tuned exhaust system on a Harley. Often imitated, but never duplicated. The HD sound is reverenced by most Americans as the sound of the only American made motorcycle in the world. More like rock star status. There are aftermarket shops that do build HD style engines from solid aluminum blocks, but the sound says HD.

Its not fair that the rice burners have to muzzle their racket, making them sound like pesty mosquitoes. A Harley sounds best idling and fully wound out. Arnold the Governator gave HD's a pretty good boost. I don't think you will get the Highway Patrol to stop the HD's for noise anytime soon. The HD sound is here to stay. I've found that most HD riders are very respectful in residential and other sensitive areas to keep the RPM's low. Its a sign of respect for others and that generates more respect for the HD and the rider.
You can quote me.

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#18 TSR

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Posted 03 September 2007 - 01:55 PM

Respect or not, it is an illegal racket.
Also it is not too respectful for the dozen or so of other American motorcycle manufacturers. Do they have the same "right" to wake up everyone in the middle of the night while being "respectful"?
Even Ducatis are quieter, and in the ear of a purist, sound a lot more like the business.
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#19 Mark Wampler

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Posted 03 September 2007 - 02:08 PM

I guess you can call it a cult following or American as Apple Pie. Just one of those things. Ducati's only wished they could sound like an HD.
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#20 TSR

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Posted 03 September 2007 - 03:18 PM

Ducati's only wished they could sound like an HD.

Ducati does not have to wish anything. While they are a much smaller company than HD, their product is years ahead in actual handling and performance, let alone reliability. The customer basis is obviously very different with a level of education well above the HD customer average.

Even in the USA, Ducati sales are quite good for such exotic motorcycles:

2006 was another record setting year for sales of Ducati Motorcycles in North America. At year end, over 8100 motorcycles had been retail registered...


Harley sales in the US fell slightly in 2006 but are still quite high worldwide at approximately 350000 units for 2006.

Reuters story on HD

Ducati also competes on the world scene and are currently winning the MotoGP title. Harley can only compete on dirt ovals, the last remains of traditional racing in the world. They stand absolutely NO chance in ANY racing class on pavement at this time.
Just a very different animal and not my particular favorite, but obviously a great success on the market place, however what gives them the right to be exempt from sound standards?

Back to AMF and slot cars in the next post.

#21 TSR

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Posted 03 September 2007 - 04:03 PM

The relationship between American Model Car Racing Congress and AMF is quite obvious when one considers the following packaging for the basic Mako Shark car built for AMCRC and later AMF:

The traditional packaging and believed to be the last issued is this one:

Posted Image

However it looks like the very original box for these cars was this one. Please note that the museum is looking for a better example. Cash waiting.

Posted Image

Please note the name of the car: "Americana" and "The world's finest model racing cars", certainly one of the most exagerated statements in the history of slot car racing. Now check this out:

Posted Image

This apparently rare box (I have never seen another so far) bears the very same definition. But there is another important clue and link to the AMF car on its end:

Posted Image

Of course and until further evidence, the AMF car is the only production slot car known to have had a dual guide system. Hence the link between the cardboard AMCRC box to the clear plastic box simply vaunting the "Americana" car name (no manufacturer mentioned) to the final AMF box.

The correct story of the controversy about AMF and their "purchase" of AMCRC so as to "destroy" the hobby is probably as follows, through the recollections and statements of Jim Russell and Hank Rose of the Russkit company, as well as those of Ray Gardner, formerly of Champion of Chamblee, GA:

The question at hand at this time is, why would AMF former execs CREATE AMRRC, only to destroy it? It makes absolutely no sense at all.
The evidence is clear and there for anyone to see: AMF had offices in London and sold a grand total of 25 tracks over Europe. Those 25 tracks are still there, inside clubs and private homes. The business lasted but 6 months for them as they came late and the hobby was already falling off the cliff. Why would ANYONE in his right mind want to send thousands of tracks to Europe???
If as some claim, AMF "closed their centers" (which they did NOT own, ALL were franchises anyway) and "sent the tracks to Europe", for what purpose and where are they today? Slot car racing collapsed in Europe basically at the same time as in the US. Transporting THOUSANDS of tracks to Europe to do what? have them burned as firewood? The cost would have been ENORMOUS, and AMCRC were having serious cash problems then already.
The truth is a lot more simple:
1/ virtually ALL AMCRC tracks in the USA NEVER had AMF labels on them. In fact, the ONLY one I have EVER seen with an AMF label is in Bordeaux, France, and was purchased new for the AMF center in Paris in 1967, from AMF in London. Even the mint-condition tracks at Buzzarama, the most original in existence, do not have AMF labels. They do have AMRRC tags. In fact, there are VERY FEW references of AMCRC and AMF together in the USA.
2/ I recall racing on AMCRC tracks all over the country from 1970 through 1973. I have seen literally DOZENS. Why would not THESE tracks been shipped to Europe too?
3/ There are still PLENTY of AMCRC tracks around the USA, Buena Park's Kingleman is made from AMCRC original track elements... if "all" the tracks had been "shipped", why not those too? The King track seen in NorCal at Rohnert Park raceway appears to be an old refurbished AMCRC track.
4/ Don't you think that the retirees who purchased franchises from AMF/AMCRC would have objected to some to AMF execs showing up and telling them that they had to close their stores right now and then, and pack up the tracks as they are being sent to Europe? I personally knew original AMCRC franchisees, Tom Tucker of "Circle T" in Burbank being one of them. He still had his raceway and all his tracks in 1973. Why did "AMF" not shut him down too?
5/ The Wilshire Blvd offices were deserted by mid-1968 as the AMCRC people disbanded and could not pay the rent. Jim Russell told me that and said that "these guys disappeared with lots of unpaid bills", including to him.
The simple truth is that the bottom fell out of the hobby and AMCRC went simply... bankrupt.
Others assertions are pure speculation because slot car racing NEVER threatened bowling, simply because bowling addresses a completely different kind of people. Slot car racing was HOPED to increase AMF's revenues, or so was it represented by the ex-AMF employees who created AMCRC. It is POSSIBLE that AMF gave them some kind of financial capitalization for a while, but I seriously doubt that it went that far after the accountants at AMF put the figures on paper. It did for a short while, but the writing was on the wall quickly when the accountants figured revenues VS. floor space and the waning of the novelty. Hank Rose, the former partner of Jim Rusell at Russkit, was one of the AMCRC execs for a while at the Wilshire Blvd offices. He told me that he got out of "that nest of snakes" very quickly as these people were "fast-buck artists". Do you think that by that time (early 1968), AMF would want to kill slot car racing? It was already dying on its own!
Slot car racing was simply doomed because of its very nature of competitive, planned-obsolescence machinery. The customers simply could not keep up, they began making their own machinery and the revenues to the stores simply stopped. The excuse about mail-order taking their business away is only one part of the story. Bowling never evolved, the balls and shirts are always the same, save for their color.


Comments? Evidence? New information?

#22 ravajack

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Posted 07 July 2012 - 06:33 AM

Comments? Evidence? New information?


OK, here goes:

I recently acquired these beauties, very similar but yet quite different.

Both cars appears to be original and in pristine mint condition, but unfortunately no box or other packaging was included in the deals.

The cars are VERY sturdy and features most irregular mechanics: Axles front and rear are not the usual 1/8 threads, but 3/16(!). The same goes for bearings, wheels, gears and nuts. Not very easy to find regular spares in these dimensions...

Front steering/pick-up guide is also quite different from the regular stuff, spring-loaded and VERY long, it appears to consist of three regular guide blades w. brushes mounted in line. Also the extra steering guide in the back is quite remarkable. Apparently this extra blade also came in different shapes and colours.

As you can see in the pics below, this AMF car also came in two flavours:

The blue car with a quite ordinary looking MPC mill w. yellow end bell, the green car with a quite different open motor w. integrated gears. No markings to reveal its origin, though.

Now I'll let the pics do the rest of the talking. Enjoy!

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Bertil Berggren
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Posted 07 July 2012 - 09:28 AM

Bertil,
From what I have been able to gather over time, the first model, issued in 1966, used the Pittman DC706 sidewinder motor and was mostly used in the USA, sold in the cardboard, and called "Americana".

The second model with the MPC motor was marketed from the AMF headquarters in the UK and distributed wherever it needed to be in Europe. It was sold in the clear plastic box embossed with the AMF logo. The American version was sold in the clear-plastic box with gold embossing, still under the "Americana" name.
Both were manufactured by MPC in Mount Clement, MI. within a short period in 1966. By 1967, those cars were so obsolete that thousands were left unsold and eventually dumped when the British part of AMF collapsed.

Since I wrote the story, we found a much better example of the original "Americana" box:

amcrc_5.JPG

amcrc_6.JPG

These do not come up very often, as almost all of them were trashed as soon as the rental cars would come out of them.

#24 ravajack

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Posted 07 July 2012 - 03:20 PM

Thanks for info, Philippe.Top notch, as usual.

Upon closer look on the open motored car (US version w. Pittman 706) it appears it actually has got an ordinary 1/8 threaded axle in the rear (but still the 3/16 axle up front). I now also see the slight difference in the rear wheels, though both appears to be silicones.

Strangely, I've never seen a Pittman-AMF before, until this one showed up on my doorstep. Only Dyn-O-Can varieties, even in US sites. Even the LASCM site shows only the supposedly UK-only made MPC-motored AMF. As for endbell colours, i've only seen white and yellow in AMF cars, never a blue one.

Finally:

Since I wrote the story, we found a much better example of the original "Americana" box:


Can I have it? :good:
Bertil Berggren
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Posted 07 July 2012 - 08:54 PM

Bertil,
The LASCM has just about every color in which this model was made, in AMF boxes. While the earlier Pittman powered car is harder to find, they are out there. They do have larger rear wheels and tires, while the British-assembled version has MPC wheels shod with silicone tires similar to those on their series 2 stockers marketed in double kits or as individual RTRs.
You will love reading the whole story in the book when issued. We are getting closer to publishing every day.
here is a pic I took a couple years ago of some of the AMCRC/AMF cars at the LASCM:

amf-category.jpg





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