Many an adult will fondly remember spending Saturday afternoons hunched over a slot car track, watching miniature cars careen around a plastic road course.
Those slot car drivers of the 1960s and 1970s will also remember the name Aurora, whose AFX-model slot cars were one of the leaders in the market. It is a name, however, that hasn't been heard for the last few years as Aurora developed financial troubles, changed hands a couple of times and eventually withdrew from the market.
But Tomy Corp. of Carson, one of the nation's largest toy makers, has purchased the rights to the Aurora name and recently announced that it will resurrect the slot cars as part of a new push into hobby products.
Along with purchasing the name, Tomy also acquired the original equipment used to make the slot cars and tracks, said Dan Oakland, a Tomy vice president and general manager of the newly created Aurora division.
When the equipment proved unusable, however, Tomy returned to the drawing table. The result of a $700,000 retooling is "an entirely new line," Oakland said. "Of course, the track will be similar. But it's a much improved design that looks like the old AFX cars but is redesigned to be faster and handle better."
Slot cars were extremely popular a decade or two ago, with five or six major manufacturers competing for a share of the $130-million market, Oakland said. Since then, however, video games, hand-held electronic toys and home computers have derailed the market, which has "been steady the last four years" at about $50 million in annual sales, Oakland said. "Most of the competitors have dropped out," he added. "Our only meaningful competitor is Tyco."
In fact, Tyco's advertising agency for the last decade, Los Angeles-based Scott Lancaster Mills Atha, is jumping over to the competition and will launch Tomy's slot-car campaign early next year. The reintroduction of Aurora slot cars is scheduled for Christmas, 1986.
The new Aurora division will also be introducing other items in the hobby line, including radio-controlled car models, N-gauge railroad sets, and knitting and weaving machines, Oakland said.