Ninco Formula 1 Race Set
or "This ain't your daddy's Strombecker"

 

While this web site is dedicated primarily to HO slot car racing, I’m adding a few pages featuring 1:32 scale slot car racing.

I've been racing and collecting HO slot cars for over thirty years and plan to continue. Recently though, whenever I visit my local hobby shop or commercial slot car track I've been seeing some really sharp 1:32 scale slot cars. The 1:32 scale slot car market is really heating up here in the States. While it has always been very popular in Europe, it is only in the past few years that it seems to have caught on here in a very big way.

In conversations with my hobby shop owner he told me that they were selling everything that they can get their hands on. He had never seen anything like it. He attributes the recent popularity to several factors including; the improvement in chassis technology, the excellent quality of the bodies available, a robust economy and the disposable incomes available to many baby boomers.

I had my eye on a Ninco Ferrari 310B for some time. This was a really well executed 1:32 scale model of Michael Schumacher’s Formula 1 mount. I had been trying to justify its purchase for some time, but without a 1:32 scale raceway it seemed foolish to purchase a car I couldn't drive. But then I remembered "anything Ferrari is collectable". At least that’s what I tell my girlfriend when I buy another Ferrari HO slot car. So, taking my own good advice, I purchased it.

I brought it home, unopened in its original case, and displayed it prominently on my computer desk. "Just how fast is it?" I wondered, "Does it handle as well as a G-Plus?", "I'll bet those front wheels look pretty sharp turning into a corner." I was smitten.

The slotcar news group does a brisk business in 1:32 scale racing threads. It couldn't hurt to just look. Ninco’s Latest F1 Cars. Well, I ought to at least take a quick look at what others who had raced these cars were saying about them. Hum… "faster than a Scalextric". "As nice as a Fly". Well, I guess I picked a winner, savvy shopper, I.

The next few hours are a blur, The last thing I remember, I had started a new discussion thread, introducing myself as a long time HO racer with just a question or two regarding 1:32 scale racing layouts. Was there a track brand better than most others?, were a variety of turn radius sizes available?, what kind of power?, would my Parma controllers work?

The response was unanimous, Ninco track. Hum… I already had a Ninco car, it must be an omen! Who was I to argue with the Slot Car Gods, me, a mere mortal. Several knowledgeable sounding racers recommended the Ninco Formula 1 set. A good selection of track, turn borders, three-wire controllers with brake circuits and two F1 cars, a Ferrari and a Jordan. Well that settled it. I had to have one.

My web searches yielded up several likely web sites selling Ninco products. The best prices I found were at North Coast Performance Hobbies in Oak Harbor, Ohio. They also offered free shipping for orders totaling over $50.00. Their selection of competing brands was also the best I could find. Along with the full Ninco line of cars, track and replacement parts they also sold just about every line of 1:32 scale slot car I had ever seen or heard of including the Fly, Scalextric and SCX brands.

Along with the Ninco Formula 1 Set, I also ordered several additional straight track sections, some extra turn aprons and a half-dozen 1:32 Scale Cars. NCP Hobbies' RTR car prices were substantially lower then my local slot car track. In the future I'll continue to support my local slot car track and hobby shop, but to get my collection started I opted for the lower prices available through NCP.

Now, to wait. I haven't anticipated a slot car purchase this much since my youth. Finally, it arrived. Everything, just as I had ordered it less than a week earlier. This Internet thing, it might just catch on.

 

The Track

The set came attractively packaged in a single large box. After a cursory scan of the instruction sheet I went right to the track assembly phase. I opted for the featured layout as it appears on the box cover. The track went together without a hitch. The layout was larger than I had expected though.

Ninco Formula 1 Race Set (20106)

The track sections are made of a soft and very flexible vinyl compound. Ninco's track is also slightly wider than the other brands of 1:32 scale track. I was aware of this from my discussions on the slotcar newsgroup, but I was still surprised as to just how wide it actually was. The track surface had a textured appearance similar to actual tarmac, very realistic.

Ninco Formula 1 Track Layout

Most brands of 1:32 scale track currently being sold, Ninco included, have optional curbing available. These curbs, or borders, snap onto the inside and outside of the track. This makes for a very handsome appearance and allows for both lanes in a 2-lane layout to be driven without "leaning" on a guard rail. When attached, these curbs are flush with the racing surface.

I would like to see this type of track apron made available by the major HO track manufacturers as well. The only curbs currently available to HO racers are those included in the Tomy AFX 6" Hairpin and Chicane sections, and even these have to be discarded when building anything wider than a 2-lane circuit. I would gladly purchase such curbing for my HO layouts and abandon the cork model railroading roadbed I currently use. FIA curbing would definitely add a professional appearance to most HO racing circuits.

I have also included the track layout plans here from the Ninco Formula 1 Set. This set includes three of the four turn radius sizes available from Ninco. The first plan is the featured layout as seen on the box cover.

F1 Track Plan

The second set of plans shown below offer alternate racing layouts possible using the track included in this set. These layout plans require considerably more room to setup, but offer longer, faster straights.

F1 Alternate Plans

As can be seen above, not all turns supplied in the Ninco set included outside turn aprons. I purchased additional aprons in my initial order to cover all of the turns. Ninco's guardrail sections can be attached directly to the edge of the track or to the outside of the turn apron.

 

The Cars

My original Ninco Ferrari 310B remains unopened in its display case, so it wasn't until the set arrived that I had a chance to study the cars closely. The bodies are injection molded using colored plastic matching the cars livery. Sponsors' names and logos are printed on the body using a silkscreen process.

The chassis are made of a rigid plastic similar to the type used for Tomy AFX and Tyco chassis. The motor is a can type that snaps into the chassis like an AFX Turbo of Tyco HP-7. The rear axle assembly also snaps onto the chassis in much the same manner as an AFX or Tyco axle would.

Ninco's F1 chassis employ front wheels that turn left and right following the guide flag angle. Small tie rods are connected to either side of the guide flag assembly and run out to wheel spindles hung from suspension A arms just as on a real race car. This clever piece of design engineering is made possible by modern day plastic compounds and molding techniques.

The wheels and tires are miniature replicas of the BBS and Goodyear items they duplicate. Detail is incredible, right down to the individual honeycomb ribs on the wheels.

A single traction magnet is mounted in front of the motor to improve the chassis handling when turning in. This magnet keeps the chassis firmly attracted to the lanes power rails, just as the magnets employed on the G-Plus and 440x2 chassis.

 

Ferrari 310B - Michael Schumacher

The set includes two Formula 1 cars. Both driven by a Schumacher. The first picture illustrates the Ferrari 310B driven by Michael. The picture does not do this car justice. It looks much better in real life. Note the turning front wheels. OK, I know, Tyco did this over 30 years ago, but it was pretty darn hard to see when the cars were actually moving.

Ferrari 310B - Michael Schumacher (50162)

 

Jordan Peugeot 197 - Ralf Schumacher

The second car included in the set is the Jordan Peugeot 197 driven by Michael's younger brother Ralf. It enjoys the same attention to detail as brother Michael's Ferrari, including the turning front wheel assembly.

Jordan Peugeot 197 - Ralf Schumacher (50172)

Ninco is also selling a model of Michael's Ferrari teammate, Eddy Irvine as well as Ralf's teammate at Jordan, Giancarlo Fisichella. Along with the Ferrari and Jordan cars, Ninco has also introduced a pair of Stewart Fords and Sauber Petronases, making a total of eight Formula One cars in all from the 1999 starting grid.

Ninco, unlike Tomy and Tyco, produces individual body moldings for each Formula 1 car that they model. These are not just the same body style painted in the various racing team's colors, but rather entirely different body castings.

Rumor has it that Mattel is close to signing a licensing deal with Ferrari for future racing seasons. If this is true, the smaller players such as Ninco and Fly may no longer be able to offer these great cars. From a collectors point of view it looks like the Fly and Ninco offerings may become quite valuable in the years to come.

The cars included in the Ninco Formula 1 Race Set use the older NC-1 motor, while cars purchased separately now include the higher revving NC-2. The chassis can be upgraded to the NC-2 motor though by purchasing the NC-2 motor and NC-2 motor carrier.

 

Driving and Handling

The Ninco set includes two 70 Ohm controllers with integral brake circuits. These controllers are similar in size and feel to the Parma controllers used by most HO racers. Unlike the cheap set controllers that come with most HO race sets, these controllers are very well made and would appear to be sturdy enough to stand up to many years of hard racing.

Ninco 70 Ohm Controller

The controllers have a heavy duty coiled cord terminated in a three conductor miniature phone plug that connects directly to the power terminal track. The power terminal track has two power jacks. The Formula 1 set comes with a single 17.2VDC 800ma power supply, but an optional second power supply can be connected, providing twice the power to the lanes. The terminal track also has a small slide switch for changing the direction the cars race in. All in all Ninco has done a great job when it comes to the controllers, power pack and terminal track design.

The cars themselves are great fun to drive. They handle more like a real car would under racing conditions than HO cars. The traction magnets are not as strong as HO cars, so they require more finesse to drive quickly.

Straight line speed and acceleration are good, but not nearly as fast as an HO car. This is due in large part to their larger size and weight. In comparison to HO cars they have a much lower power to weight ratio, and a higher roll center. This is not a detriment though. These cars handle more like a real race car would, and require a slightly different driving style. I find them to be more realistic in their handling style.

Much like a real race car, the Ninco cars require a similar driving technique. Braking is best done in a straight line, prior to turn in, and the power needs to be applied progressively from the apex of a turn on exit. Late, or trail braking is possible on slower turns but requires a very steady touch.

Exiting a corner with too much power invariably causes the car to swap ends. This kind of slot car racing is often referred to as scale racing. This is a very fitting term, as these cars handle in much the same way as real race cars would. Stronger traction magnets and higher revving motors could be employed to turn these cars into large-scale versions of an HO slot car, but I prefer the realistic handling and acceleration these cars provide in their stock trim.

In scale speed terms these cars are capable of speeds of 190 - 210 MPH. This is more in keeping with the real Formula 1 cars that they replicate. Please don't misunderstand me, these cars are challenging and fun to drive. While not as fast as HO slot cars they provide for a very interesting and exciting racing experience, more in keeping with real racing cars.

 

Epilog

I was pleasantly surprised with the Ninco Formula 1 Race Set, both in quality of construction and overall racing excitement. My only caveat would be this, a realistic racing layout will require more room than most HO racers may be accustomed to. A 5 x 12 foot or larger table would be ideal, while a 4 x 8 foot layout is probably the smallest size that would still provide for a realistic racing circuit.

The current explosion in 1:32 scale slot cars is no accident. This form of racing has come of age. The cars are highly detailed, and the selection and availability of track makes it possible to build a realistic racing circuit in a corner of the basement or attic. It's no wonder this form of racing has always been so popular in Europe.

If you have the room, by all means try 1:32 scale slot car racing. The 1:32 scale slot car has evolved. Just as the original Aurora Model Motoring race sets have evolved into the Tomy AFX race sets available today, 1:32 scale slot car sets are light-years ahead of the original Strombecker and Eldon sets from the 1960s.

 

Update

The Ninco Formula 1 Race Set review you've just read was written and first published in 1999. Ninco no longer offers this set. Instead they now offer a complete track kit which includes track, power and hand controls to create a layout that fits on a single 4x8 foot sheet of plywood. These sets include everything required to build a raceway except the cars. Ninco now leaves that choice up to the buyer.

Ninco Master Track Layout Kit

The Ninco Master Track kit sells for $399.99 and provides a complete turn-key system. Just add cars of your own choosing and you'll be ready to race.

 

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