The forerunner to Scalextric was Scalex which Francis first produced through the company Minimodels Ltd which he founded in 1947.
The company was 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 with a clockwork motor which was activated by pulling out the steering wheel.
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. By 1956 the novelty of clockwork racing cars had worn off and sales began to fall. 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 alternatives. He was inspired by seeing model car racing tracks, but wanted to develop the player’s control of the car so as to increase the sense of competition.
He experimented by putting small electric motors into Scalex cars and running them on model railway track.
Next he introduced rubber slotted track and gave the cars a ‘gimbal’ wheel to pick up the electric current in the groove of the track.
Power was supplied by batteries hidden in a little cardboard hut, with players having their own on-off button to control their cars.
Scalex-electric became Scalextric.
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 Triang). The popularity of Scalextric continued. In 1960 plastic bodies replaced the original tinplate and in 1961 production moved to a new factory in the Leigh Park area of Havant. By 1964 Scalextric was being advertised as ‘the most complete model motor racing system in the world’.
Production of Scalextric was transferred to Rovex in 1968 (although the Minimodels factory remained open until the early 1970s). It is now owned by Hornby Hobbies of England