Friday, March 5, 2010

More Motorific

Christmas 1964

Since I have Motorific on my mind, I'll explain some of the accessories I have.    One thing to keep in mind is that I am not a collector.  Rather, these are all my personal  childhood toys that I played with and still have, 45 years later. What you are seeing here are not toys with an anonymous history; bought and sold at auctions until their past has been completely erased, but toys with a story behind them. 
Steering Test: The early small sets came with two sections of these, and one sign.  The signs were very unstable and tipped easily, so I rarely used them.  The early cars did not have steerable wheels, so there was lots of tire scrubbing on these zig-zags.  The later cars finally received steerable wheels, a big improvement.

Shock Absorber Test: 
The starter sets came with 2 of these also, along with 2 switches.  That was my first set. These simple humps were among the most unreliable of accessories. The car's guide pin barely stayed in the groove and sometimes the car left the track. In that case, I guess you could say the car failed the test!
That set was probably a birthday present. For Christmas 1964, I received one of the larger sets, a Giant.Detroit.
It included the exciting Split Bridge: Not too exciting in reality, as the cars reliably made the jump. But it was fun, anyway.


Also included was the traumatic Spring Test: Cars traveling the other direction breathed a sigh of relief as they went around the horrendous precipice. It is interesting to look at the picture of the box today, so many years later.  Notice how the illustrations show the cars making flying leaps. In reality, they flopped instead, like in my photo. Modern day truth in advertising laws would not permit such exaggerations.
For some real 1960's era fun, you ran multiple cars and had them either crash into each other, or miss by a split second on accessories like this.  For me, a lot of the fun was in designing new layouts, and then running the cars to see what they would do.  Since the track switches flipped automatically (most of the time) each time a car passed, the results were unpredictable.


The Crash Test was OK.  Not great, but better than nothing. Car plowed through a "brick wall", which re-closed with the help of rubber bands.



The Cornering Test was a birthday present, as I recall
 I was given a few $$$ for accessories and my mom, brother and I went to the toy store.  My brother wanted me to get a set of trestles to make elevated sections of roadway. I should have listened to him.  Instead, I chose the cornering test and the rather useless


Horsepower Test.  This simply wasted time and batteries as it held the car until the "Dynamo-meter"  completed one revolution.

 Perhaps it was too little, too late, but things got more interesting in Motorific's autumn years.  I bought a couple Racerific sets off the discount rack. (The same place I bought the crown jewel of the collection, the Tractor Trailer)  These sets perhaps were inspired by the Addam's Family's train set, for there were lots of designed in accidents waiting to happen. Like the Breakaway Bridge:  As I recall, I often taped it together and used it as a normal bridge.

Then there was the wooden road with loose board. About every 6th trip over the board, it would release and a strong spring would fling the car a lot farther than this!
This worked in only one direction.





The "Speed Up" guy and Rally Flag: The Racerific sets came with a clever two speed car.  Two small gear change levers under the car were activated by the the Speed Up guy, who's function is self-explanatory. There was a "Stick Shift" connected to the Speed Up guy via a cable, allowing you select whether the car actually sped up.  The Speed Up Guy did not move, but the car ignored him. Must have been very frustrating for the poor little guy. The spring loaded Rally Flag popped up when a car passed in either direction. The speed up guy worked in both directions, too. Lower Right: The Shifter and cable pass through under the Rally Flag.  The only track section I'm aware of with such a feature.

 The car shifted into low gear when it was traumatized by the sight of the Smashed Jaguar and the ensuing Oil Slick.  That raised portion in the track which contacted the car's downshift lever might have had something to do with it, too. The car only slowed when traveling in this direction.
Then there was the Hairpin Turn.  A great battery tester.  As these cars had no differential, tight turns meant lots of tire scrubbing. Hard on the batteries. Back in the stone ages, before the Energizer Bunny (or B.E., as it is known) the primitive carbon zinc batteries lasted maybe an hour. Short battery life probably contributed to the extinction of the species Motorificus, which was supplanted by the rapidly evolving Hot Wheelsicus.
A great, if unofficial, accessory was the Pouncing Cat.  Sample shown on the left.  Styles and cat behavior will vary. Our cat would hide under the furniture in our living room and wait for the car to pass nearby.  Typically, we would see just a lightning fast cat's paw appear, and not the whole cat. After swatting the car, the cat's paw would retract and wait for the next victim.  The cat shown here is my pal Angel.  At 18, she is old for a cat, but too young to remember the glory days of Motorifics.

Finally, the Rally Timer with Lap Counter:
A simple, and noisy, mechanical clock.  Pressing lever released the car and started timer.
Next:  Action Highway accessories.
 The Remote Control Intersection:
Came with some truck sets, like my Action Highway 101, or as a separate accessory.  When purchased separately, it came with adapter tracks to connect it to regular car sets. Originally, these tracks had posts to prevent trucks from entering, because truck tires left the track on curves.  I cut the posts off so I could use some straight car track to stretch my truck layout.
Photo on left:  Car has green light (actually a green sticker on a mechanical stoplight).  Truck is held by a stop in the pin groove.

Change the light using the remote control and the truck crosses the intersection.  Note where black road paint is worn off by the spinning wheels of stopped vehicles.  As the remote control normally gave the lane the truck is in a red light, the paint is worn much more there. 
These made in Hong Kong sets were otherwise very American.  Note the statue of George Washington, and other American references - sets named Detroit and Dearborn, and predominately American cars. A few classic European sports cars were added in: British Triumphs and Jaguars, German Mercedes and Italian Ferraris. Japanese cars were unheard of back then, both in these sets, and on real roads.
The.Remote Control was standard with the intersection and was essential, for the intersection did not flip automatically like switch-tracks do.
Inside the remote was a little balloon which was expanded when the remote plunger was pushed down. It worked well and could be bought as an accessory to add to any switch-track.
The Mystery Warehouse came with the Action Hwy 101 set. The "mystery" part came from the fact that the car or truck (Tractor-Trailers not Permitted - see sign on warehouse) turned around inside in a seemingly impossibly small space.  Here is the mystery demystified:
A series of ridges in the track helped skid the rear wheels of the vehicle around the otherwise impossible turn. A raised post in the center also helped guide the vehicle. 
The roof and walls of the warehouse are in good condition, for 41 year old cardboard.
 
Road Under Construction: Another "101" accessory. Vehicle wheels moved magnet under flagman until he crossed the road.  Then car was released to continue.  Worked only in this direction.
Passing Lane:
A very useful accessory, again part of the"101" set. Cars went to the side, while truck's wheels dropped into channels, which lowered truck's guide pin to a deeper groove, keeping it in the truck lane.
The Evolution of the Switch:
Early Motorific switches on left, later Racerific, on right. The early ones had tighter radiuses (the tight turn in the Y switch was especially bad), and the movable center portion occasionally caused the cars to get stuck.  Improved versions on right. Larger radiusus and a more jam resistant design.

The End of the Line: In 1972, the last of the Motorific inventory was liquidated through Radio Shack and perhaps other stores. They were packed in simple cardboard boxes, unlike the more elaborate packaging from their golden age.
 
The Motorific era lasted a scant 8 years, the Ideal Toy Company, 75.

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