Craig Thomas is a motoring journalist with more than 20 years experience in the industry.
A visit to the London Toy Fair has given us a handy preview of exactly what toys will be coming your way over the next year.
If you’re an old skool petrolhead, and don’t get these new-fangled Forza Turismo videogame thingies, what you want is some decent Scalextric action. And Toy Fair had just the thing.
Hot off the track presses is the latest set, the Arc Pro Platinum GT. Scalextric claims that this is the first digital slot car race system that allows users to create and manage races via a smartphone or tablet, so there’s some concession to modern trends in racing games. This is a fully-loaded 500-quid set, but for that you get the new tech, the track and four cars (Ford Mustang GT4, Bentley Continental GT3, Mercedes-AMG GT3 and Aston Martin Vantage GT3).
If you can think of a car, it's probably been reproduced by Scalextric
There are also a number of new cars for Scalextric fan including pairs of the famous Tyrrell P34 six-wheeler F1 car from 1976 and BMW E30 M3 Jägermeister, a couple of No Time to Die Aston Martin tie-ins (DB5 and V8), a Holden A9X Torana for Aussie touring car aficionados and, er, Del Boy’s Capri Ghia and Reliant Regal van from Only Fools and Horses. The Regal handles better on a track than the real thing, a company spokesman assured us.
The enduring appeal of radio-controlled cars is often passed down through the generations, with parents and kids often RCing about and racing them together, so they are a car toy staple.
There are plenty of entry-level models for younger kids, with Sharper Image particularly strong in this area (many are under £20). The company is also launching a 1:16 Italia Racer that has a controller in the form of a steering wheel, with a claimed 30-metre range.
Revell's Jeep Wrangler Rubicon has the same crushing ability as the standard car
Revell is a long-established brand in models and RCs, so its new products are always worth a gander. Among its 2020 controllables is a 1:18 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon that crawls over rocks like the real thing, as well as a pair of Mercs, a 1:18 G-Class and a 1:10 X-Class pickup. If you shop around online, they’re all now available for less that £40.
Build your own engine
If you’re a budding James May and like building stuff to see how they work, there are some rather splendid new products on the market that will not only test your engineering skills, but help you show them off, too.
Fancy building a 1:4 replica of a Mustang’s V8, or a 911’s Flat Six? Because now you can, thanks to some pretty cool new models for those who have the mechanical chops that the rest of us (OK, me) envy.
Need a new engine for your 996? This isn't it
There are two main ranges. The first is Haynes Machine Works, which already produces a 4-Cylinder Engine and V8 Engine (which also uses augmented reality tech, so you can see an exploded view of the completed construction). This is being joined by a revised version of the Porsche Flat Six found in the 911, which is an exact replica of the real thing, made from more than 280 components. The transparent casing means that, after construction, you can see the moving parts working when it's switched on.
More expensive are the model engines from German manufacturer Franzis (around £120, compared to Haynes’ £35-50). New this year are a Porsche 547 engine, a 1:3 replica of the ‘Fuhrmann’ engine that powered the 550 Spyder that won the 1953 24 Hours of Le Mans, as well as the 356 A. The kit is made from over 300 parts, so building it should be challenging, but worth the time (and the occasional expletive when things get really fiddly). Or, if muscle cars are more your thing, another interesting new kit is the K-code V8 fitted to the 1965 Mustang.
Ah yes, sir, the McLaren is a bit of you.
If you’re looking to get your little ’uns hooked on cars from an early age, you could do worse than getting them a cool ride-on – and there were plenty of those at the Toy Fair.
Ricco is a Chinese-based company with plenty of licences from carmakers, so with a Mercedes-AMG GT, Bentley GTC and La Ferrari among its 100+ range, your kid will start off in a manner that they’re probably not going to become accustomed to. Prices start at around £120, rising to an eye-watering £650.
Spanish manufacturer Injusa also has some pretty cool products, including a 911 (if you want to start ’em off in style) that parents can control, via a smartphone app.
You can have a ride-on Porsche for the same price as red seatbelts in a real one
Ride-ons can go on sale within months of a new cars being launched, so the very latest models are available. Put it like this: distributor Wilton Bradley had a Toyrific Mercedes-Benz GLA on its stand (alongside a McLaren P1 and new Range Rover Evoque), the real version of which only had a digital reveal in December.
A useful indication of something’s popularity is the existence of a toy version. Licensing is at the very core of toymaking (which a visit to a Toy Fair will attest to), so seeing the first official Formula E toys suggests that the electric racing series is making some headway in the consciousness of car fans.
The Formula E range distributed by Siso Toys in the UK includes some pull-back racers for younger kids, individual/packs of cars with light-up chassis, mini RC cars and a 36cm RC car with light-up body and controller.
Scalextric expands past the race cars you might expect – you can now tear around a race track in Del's Reliant Robin
The toys bode well for the future of the race series because if kids think it’s exciting enough to recreate in their bedrooms, it obviously has some appeal.
You want to know what the next big Lego Technic car kit is going to be? Well you're going to have to wait, because even if we’d been able to get into the heavily guarded inner sanctum of the company's stand – and it was more tightly controlled than a team garage at a Grand Prix – and had seen what it was, if we told you before the lifting of the embargo (yes, seriously) we’d have to track you all down by your IP addresses and kill you. Which is a level of corporate paranoia that just demonstrates just how popular these kits are now.
Suffice to say, after the Bugatti Chiron, 911 RSR and Land Rover Defender, it's going to be something that car fans will covet.
If you're going to get Scalextrics then you might as well do it proper with this McLaren F1 Legends set which you can guarantee will be, eh – a legendary amount of fun. Better than this pun, anyway.