Minimodels Ltd was founded in 1947 by Fred (B. F) Francis based in London and made tinplate toys and models. Early products included the Startex toy car range and the very popular Scalex, which was introduced in 1952. Scalex was a range of toy racing cars propelled by a clockwork motor which was activated by pulling a string attached to the steering wheel, which in turn wound the clockwork motor.
In 1952 Minimodels moved to a larger factory in New Lane, Havant to meet the growing demand for the toy cars. At the peak of its popularity, over 7000 Scalex models were being produced weekly. Unfortunately, by 1956 the novelty of clockwork racing cars had worn off. Eventually the future of the company and its 100 employees was threatened.
In an attempt to revive his company’s flagging fortunes, Fred Francis began to look at alternative new products that could be added to the range of toys produced. He was inspired by seeing model car racing tracks at a toy fair, but wanted to develop the idea to include the player’s control of the car. He initially experimented by putting small electric motors into his Scalex cars and running them on model railway track. He then introduced a rubber slotted track, electrical current was provided to the motor by means of a ‘gimbal’ wheel which sat in the groove of the track and picked up the electrical current. Power was supplied by batteries hidden in a little cardboard hut, with players having their own on-off button to control their cars.
Scalextric was unveiled at the Harrogate Toy Fair in 1957 to immediate acclaim. It appealed to both adults and children, combining speed, competition and the glamour of Formula One motor racing. Demand for the toy was immense and the Minimodels factory struggled to keep up with the orders.
In 1958 Fred Francis sold the Minimodels company to Lines Brothers (who operated as Tri-ang). The popularity of Scalextric continued and in 1960 plastic bodies replaced the original tinplate cars and in 1961 production moved to a new factory in the Leigh Park area of Havant. Also in 1961 new factories were opened in both France and Spain.
From 1962 to 1966 the Spanish factory run by EXIN in Barcelona, gradually introduced it's own tooling for the range of UK cars. Then in 1966 EXIN started to design and produce their own range of cars, from 1966 to 1973 many more cars were introduced into the EXIN range and which were then subsequently imported back into the UK. In 1971 Triang was purchased by Danbee-Combex-Marx Group and all overseas factories ceased to be owned by the UK parent company. However from 1973 till 1992, EXIN continued to export car shells to Scalextric UK until 1992 when all ties with EXIN were cut and EXIN started to export their cars to the rest of the world under the banner of SCX.
In 1994 Scalextric re-entered the Spanish market under the new banner of SuperSlot and as a side note also traded at the same time in the US market under the banner of SuperScale for a short while until being re-marketed as Scalextric USA.
In 2007 Tecnitoys brought legal action to Scalextric (Hornby) for the unauthorised use of the Scalextric brand when Scalextric (Hornby) included reference to the fact that their slot car system was compatible with those of Tecnitoys on the SuperSlot packaging. Unfortunately Tecnitoys were not so keen on the association between the two products, which then gave rise to an odd situation where the manufacturer of Scalextric were sued for the use of its own brand name on its export products. The European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled that the references actually used by Hornby on its packaging broke European Union rules on industrial property and fair competition. It can't be confirmed if Hornby appealed the decision.
Scalextric as of when this article was written in 2019, still export to Spain under the SuperSlot banner.