Hopping It Up the Aurora Way Or...
Making it Go Faster Circa 1964
“The smell permeated the slotcars and Pit Kit just as Worchestershire Sauce permeates a good steak.”  Tony Brown - mgbbrown

A lot of folks now enjoy collecting...

Vintage slot cars, which in and of itself is a good thing. Motivations for collecting these are as varied as those who collect, and are ever changing from moment to moment to reflect that particular interest. As a first generation Aurora HO Thunderjet pilot who still has the cars from his childhood, I enjoy finding a particular Aurora Thunderjet that fits my interests and reflects how I enjoyed the hobby as a young boy growing up in Raleigh, North Carolina. I do not collect necessarily in the same way as others, who may just look for a desirable and difficult to find car or period accessory to make a collection of cars within their interests complete. Once found, I simply use it. That is what I would have done as a kid and that makes it OK for me. No jewelry on the shelf collecting dust. No sir. For instance, I am interested in vintage aftermarket speed or hop-up parts that were designed to enhance performance, as these were items I always wanted as a boy but did not have the chance to obtain. I like race cars and Aurora Hot Rods in particular, but I obtain only what was available when I was younger, and I mean much younger than now. I use them, and in some rare glitch use them up. There is no greater agony than to tear a vintage lexan race car body you have looked for- for eons. Nothing different from when I was a boy and for me that is what defines MY hobby. One of the discoveries when I found my stash of cars and Pit Kits was a whittled-up green with a black roof Aurora Dodge Charger. I remember I didn’t care for that particular car anyway, since it was pretty much acquired just before packing up in the expectations of a trip courtesy of Uncle to sunny Vietnam and not in Burmuda shorts either. The wheel wells were chunked up in a carving the turkey sort of way-I mean the apex of the non-factory enhancements were well into the trunk of the car. It was not pretty. Of course for those who managed to stay grounded in slot cars and again perhaps later in life, a fundamental force common to the ages was a need for speed, and speed meant ditching those skinny ribbed tires for something with some traction. All of our cars, no matter just how precious they have become on today’s market, were ran and ran with gusto. Proportionately came the additional requirement to control that car around the track in the same manner as one drives a real car- that is safely and without damage. For me there are essentially no changes in the fundamentals of enjoyment. My collector side only acquires what can be run on the track, period. And I have learned that maxim in restoring my MGB as well, except it now is for what I will bolt on the car. It’s a money thing now.

My first real car was a hop-up project too...

An Imron pearl white with flared fenders 1979 Honda CVCC Civic. You know, the very small first Civics to hit the market. Mine was QUICK. This is not to be confused with slap you to the seat thank you ma’m fast such as found in the early big block Corvette or similar large displacement V-8 muscle cars of my childhood FAST. I set it up to autocross with the Sports Car Club of America as that was the entry point to racing for most ANYMAN. But this ANYMAN enjoyed the quickness, and as God would have it, survived his pearly white’s encounter with an older lady being late for work and cresting the hill in a rally yump, with what I thought were all four wheels in the air. I survived the crash, purchased my MGB from a sympathetic friend, and the rest is British iron history. Two-for-two in the hopped-up car to be fast car sagas. Aurora satisfied the need for speed in two ways. Although relatively speaking their initial offering Vibrator was fast, it was a slug compared to what was to evolve, that is the pancake motor and the heart of the second series Thunderjet which appeared in 1963. Unlike their Vibrator predecessor, the Thunderjet chassis was easily tuned and went FAST both literally in a controllable sense and in a scale speed sense. In fact is was so fast and so easily tuned that Aurora linked up with Ford to sponser local to regional to national level races that could land the winner in a face to face encounter with Johnny Carson, his rival Ed Sullivan, or Dan-the Man Gurney or the likes of Sir Sterling Moss, except the Queen had not granted him knighthood. The winner also got a real Ford CAR.

Even in the Vibrator Dark Ages, Aurora offered a Hop-Up Kit...

Even before you opened the box, you knew it contained the keys to the kingdom, because EVERYBOY knew in his innocence that Corvettes were FAST. Aurora was also smart enough to offer all of the contents separately except the yellow screw driver and Hop-Up decals, some of which came with a Hot Rod anyway. So if you needed more parts you went to the hobby shop. If you needed more decals then you had to buy another kit. The first decals in the Hop-Up Kit seem somewhat silly and iconic, but they did indeed mirror the car scene in California in the late 1950’s to early 1960’s with flames, pinstripes, various red and black door and roof accents, and of course yellow numbers inside roundels and car names, such as BANDITO, ROCK N ROLL, Ol’ SLIPPERY, and my favorite THE PHANTOM, done in that squiggly script just like the Lee Falk cartoon. The screw driver was a small one that was easily inserted into a Pit Kit compartment in which your now to be hopped-up slot cars were toted to the track in. In Aurora’s wise attention to details, it fit nicely in a boy’s hand. It came in various guises, and I know of at least three styles of these screw drivers, but always with a yellow handle. I liked the smallest one available as it neatly fit into the square compartment in the back of the Pit Kit so you could ram as many as twelve cars inside. The screw driver was at first a USA made item but was later manufactured in Haiti.

Once the cachet of Red Racing oil went dry and...

The experiment with Gulf or Esso Handy Oil flopped, the friction points on your ride needed lubrication for EVERYBOY to continue on with his scale business. With the purchase of each car as well as inside the race car set was a small insert detailing how to lubricate the chassis. The instructions hinted the fact that indeed a bottle of Red Racing Oil was available, but item 1425 was not there. So- off to the store to purchase one. Instead you land on the Hop-Up Kit, just as Aurora thought you would. Aurora had not the inkling of an idea that this bottle of ruby red goo would be the stuff of legend, and the one-third fluid ounce bottle have in and of itself a particular mystique that has yet to be reformulated. That would be its SMELL of course. The closest thing I know to the smell is Marvel Mystery oil, which I used dutifully to top off my MGB’s SU carburetor dashpots. The SMELL permeated the cars and Pit Kit just as Worchestershire Sauce permeates a good steak. But most importantly, inside the cap was an applicator that allowed a drop of oil to be placed where it was needed to stop chassis growl. It was good and good for ya, keeping the fleet running if you will.

Also inside was a small cellophane bag of hop-up parts...

Arguably central to the lot were a set of Racer Axles, Hot Rod four dimple chromed plastic hubs, and Sponge Slicks. An instruction booklet I will also mention here detailed the notion that it was now OK to enlarge the wheel wells in the rear of a particular slot car body, and alluded to the fact that this was an easy job that EVERYBOY could tackle with gusto to make that car go faster. Under this false assumption I personally had a Mako Shark, the previously mentioned green Dodge Charger, and a Willys gasser fall prey to overly enthusiastic whittling. As I remember it their death happened in rapid succession and my pastor gave a funeral afterwards. It was a bald faced lie. Luckily Dad stepped in to the rescue, and the wheel wells were properly radius-ed with a dowel and fine sandpaper. If EVERYBOY read further and assuming he was old enough to understand the instructions, Aurora outlined how to remove high and low rubber spots from the rear slicks. This is called truing as we know it, and Aurora stated that this was a simple process by lifting the cars rear wheels under power and using a sheet of sandpaper, then sanding off any rubber irregularities to make the rear wheels both level and perfectly round. Another obvious Aurora falsehood, as my last parts check showed that the Creator only endowed me with two hands.

Our science classes in elementary school laid down the fact that...

Some metals were better conductors of electricity, and silver was fairly high on the pecking order. Therefore Aurora offered silver brushes and pick-up shoes for added performance. If I declared to you as Aurora did in the Hop-Up Hints booklet that this was true, then it was so. No additional schooling was needed in Ohm’s Law and the various facets of electricity as this was now gospel. Simply remove the copper brushes and pick-up shoes and the car became at least five scale miles faster.

Now here is where the going gets tough for EVERYBOY...

In the same way as whittling out those wheel wells was tough-Aurora now declared that in order to make that car go like the wind, you needed to change gears, in this case the original pinion gear and the crown gear attached to the rear axle. For the EVERYBOY that was faint of heart, a white crown gear was offered, guaranteed to be better by its color alone. I had mine on an olive Chaparral. The white gear was indeed made of a tougher plastic compound, and the teeth did not wear out as fast under extended racing conditions. Fact of the matter is that try as I may, I just could not wear out a standard issue crown gear, and the white crown gear became trading fodder with my twin brother. For those who possessed a sense of daring and adventure, then you just pried off the rear twenty-four toothed driven gear from the nine toothed pinion gear and press-fitted the 12 tooth hop-up gear into the driven gear shaft hole. This was a quantum leap for the uncoordinated and not so tool-savvy EVERYBOY, as the driven gear center hole was often wallowed out resulting in the go-faster gear just spinning effortlessly without the speed juice. Another trip to Jim Collier’s North Hills Hobby Shop. Still yet another pitfall was that the new hop-up pinion gear would not seat properly when attached, resulting in unnecessary gear pitch and a less-than-FAST result. Luckily there was Mom to ferry you to Jim’s place and buy those replacement gears for peace to return to the land.

The final declaration presented by Aurora...

In the now Hop-Up Hints Bible was chassis pan modification. Brush tension could be adjusted by bending the copper connectors onto which the electrical current for a lack of a better term transferred from the pick-up shoes to the brushes. Constant pressure meant constant current to the pancake motor armature, which obviously is a good thing. Aurora advocated drilling ventilation holes in the side of the chassis, again assuming that EVERYBOY could wield his dad’s hand drill with precision or use Dad’s lathe-just take your pick. A further problem uncovered when the deed was done was that the composition of the chassis was an unmentioned durable plastic designed to handle high temperatures and friction wear. This made drill swarf difficult to remove, so care had to be taken to not create additional friction points when cutting those swirled pieces from the pan side of the chassis. Aurora also hinted that a small insulated wire could be soldered from the pickup shoe to the chassis pick-up shoe attachment plate, also allowing for continuous current to the armature. All those who ruined their chassis doing this please raise your hand.

As we now know, whole slot car related businesses were spawned...

From the need for speed regardless of scale. Mura offered Tiger Tails and Tiger Milk, Champion offered silver aftermarket brushes and pick-up shoes, and almost everyone out there in Slot Car Land produced racing oil that was claimed to be far superior to the competition. The variety of speed offerings and ways to improve an Aurora pancake chassis and motor became endless, just as the list of aftermarket parts providers became endless. God bless American ingenuity and the “git ’er done” attitude that made our country great. We owe it all to Aurora, thank you. George Washington, Ben Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson roll over please..


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Article & Images Copyright 2008 MrConey.com | SlotCarDigest.com     October 03, 2008