By on April 27, 2013

(Reader John Kit, an avid racer of both slot cars and F2000 cars, discusses an important figure it slot car racing – also named Jim Russell)

Most of you are familiar with the Jim Russell of racing school fame, but there was also another man of the same name. The Jim Russell of this tale was a business consultant in Los Angeles in the very early 1960′s. Needing to pass some time one weekend, a friend introduced him to a new hobby of racing scale cars, powered by electric motors, around a track. It was the then new activity to be known as model car racing.

Jim took to the idea of model car racing and built his own track in his den. The result of an accidental varnish spill over one of his scale car bodies resulted in the idea of producing a coating to protect these scale racers from scratches that resulted when intense racing was done. He called the product “Russ-Coat” and started marketing it in 1963.

The success of this product and his interest in the hobby lead to the creation and marketing of other products related to the now booming model car racing hobby. His timing was impeccable. By 1963 the Wall Street Journal reported that the model car racing market was worth $100 million dollars. By 1965 there were more commercial venues to go and race model cars than there were bowling alleys in the United States.

Jim managed his company like an auto manufacturer. He sold a range of products from individual parts to complete cars.  He had a race team comprised of four members: Mike Morrisey, who was the “Captain”, Rick Durkee, Ron Quintana and Len Vucci. Like a full scale race team, they would travel across the country and compete against other hobbyists as a means of promoting products made by RussKit. Jim’s membership in an exclusive club, MESAC (Miniature Electric Scale Automobile Club), that was located in a building in Inglewood California, gave him a proving ground as well as the perfect setting to take photos to market his cars.

The products RussKit offered spanned a wide spectrum. Along with the motors, bodies and chassis components were real scale wire wheels and an LP of sounds and interviews from Laguna Seca in 1966.

RussKit’s financial success gave Jim the ability to sponsor full scale racing cars. One of the first was an “unofficial” Porsche team comprised of two Carrera 6 racers driven by Ken Miles and “Scooter” Patrick, which won the CSPRRC and was shown on the cover of the Laguna Seca album. He also sponsored a Lola T-70 driven by Ronnie Bucknum (this car is now owned and raced by AC/DC rocker Brian Johnson restored in the RussKit colours and livery). But these cars, while special, would pale when compared to Jim’s next purchase.

While attending a race in California, Jim had a conversation with Carroll Shelby. The subject of obsolete racing cars was discussed and Mr. Shelby mentioned that he was putting his cars on the market for sale. Jim agreed to purchase one of these cars for $4,500. A Cobra Daytona Coupe, CSX2287, the first one built by Shelby and the only one built in the U.S.

Jim intended to use the car as a promotional tool for his company, which he did. He also made some minor modifications to allow him to use the car on the street, and even drove it to work. The car attracted a ton of attention from neighbors and pedestrians, largely drawn by the sound of the race-spec V8.

Then the demand for the products of RussKit and all manufacturers of slot cars and slot car products went into a steep decline. In 1967 Jim sold the Cobra Daytona to music producer Phil Spector. Mr. Spector reportedly paid $12,500 for the car. Jim thought that he did very well on the deal, which on a percentage basis, he did. For a time, the car seemed to have vanished and then went on to have a very interesting few years with it being “found” in 2001 and ultimately landing in the possession of Dr. Fred Simeone who currently has it in his museum on display.

With the demise of the model car racing hobby, Jim was forced to close RussKit in 1969. He was then hired by Aurora Plastics and worked for them for many years where he was responsible for the AFX line of HO scale model racing cars.

Jim passed away in 2010 but he did get to experience the recent renewed interest in model car racing and the well-deserved appreciation and recognition of the RussKit products he developed and marketed. He was an automotive enthusiast of full size cars and ones made to scale, a loving husband and father and by all accounts a true gentleman.

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20 Comments on “The Other Jim Russell...”


  • avatar
    mitchw

    Funny, the good doctor doesn’t talk much about Phil Spector.

  • avatar

    John, have you had a chance to see any of the Slot Mods tracks? I got a chance to visit David Beattie’s shop a while back.

    I still have my 4 lane 1/32 scale track made by Monogram that I got as a kid:

    carsindepth.com/?p=4125

    • 0 avatar
      John Kit

      I have not yet tried a Slot Mods Track, they look incredible. Mr. Beattie is a real enthusiast of slot cars, his “home” track is also a work of art.

      If you still have your Monogram track, hold on to it! Monogram (in my opinion) made the best track of the brands available in the 1960′s. The surface is just perfect and the track fits together like no other. But it was really expensive. You were a very fortunate kid to have had a Monogram set!

      I have one that is a cherished example of the thought, artistry and engineering that went into creating a “toy” from this era. This hobby brought so much fun and fond memories and is still very active and popular.

      John

  • avatar

    Some years back, my cousin told me that he read an article in the Wall Street Journal about a very valuable collector’s car whose ownership was being litigated. It turned out to be the Russell/Spector car. I asked him what it was, he said “Something like a Daytona Shelby .” I said, “A Shelby Daytona Coupe?”. “Yeah, that’s it.” So I explained that they only made six, that the provenance of all of six was well established and that the lawsuit was just about money, that there were no doubts about the history and chain of possession of the car.

  • avatar
    LeeK

    I spent hundreds of hours racing HO scale (1/87) Aurora slot cars in my friend’s garage during my teenage years. The larger 1/32 and 1/24 scale cars were mostly relegated to hobby shops because of the investment and space involved in those setups. Even with the ultra-realistic video games available, there exists an dedicated and even growing set of enthusiasts who keep the the sport alive even today.

    • 0 avatar
      John Kit

      LeeK, thanks for sharing the wonderful memories of your youth.

      If you want to re-kindle your interest in HO or take the leap to 1/32 scale, there are a wide range of cars and track manufacturers available and the race management software you can also get make the racing even more fun than it was when you were younger.

      A quick search on the net will show you how this hobby is doing very well and home racing is the dominant and fun way to do it.

      John

  • avatar
    Syke

    Russkit. That’s a name I haven’t heard in a long, long time. Brings back some very moldy memories of the two slot car venues in the shopping center about two miles from the family home. I still remember those places for slot cars on my annual trip to Johnstown, not the businesses that occupy them now.

    Yep, mid 60′s. Slot cars. So what if the girls wouldn’t talk to me, I had the first front drive racer on the local tracks in Johnstown, PA.

  • avatar

    I remember going to the commercial slot car tracks back when I was a kid in the 60s. My brother Jerry and I convinced a younger buddy to run his car on the big track. His car motor was designed to run on about half the juice of the big commercial track cars. His car jumped out to a huge lead until the little motor gave out and melted the car on the track. He was devastated by the events, but we assured him that it was a spectacular end to his car and very impressive because his little car had kicked some serious ass until it blew up. To tell you the truth, it was very impressive. I guess I owe that memory to this man Russell.

  • avatar
    Summicron

    Ah, the smell of overheated slot-car motors…that coppery tang. Takes me back to 1966 faster than any time machine.
    I remember seeing Ronnie’s Monogram set in Bramm’s Toy & Hobby. Lust happens before puberty. And 1/24 cars were so cool that it was worth dodging the hoods at the commercial track to play with them.

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    What a great, nostalgic read. I had no idea there were dedicated slot car track places in the 60′s

  • avatar
    lilpoindexter

    Does anyone have a website or forum where I can find out about the modern slot car scene?
    I grew up in the 70s and 80s, and of course slot cars were long since DONE by that time…but the books in the public and school libraries showed all kinds of cool slot car, mini bike and go kart activity in the 50s and 60s…DAMN…if I could have saved all those old car books in the school libraries, I would have…who knows…they are probably still in the library?

    • 0 avatar
      John Kit

      Yes!
      Do a quick search, the internet has been instrumental in the resurgence of this hobby. It truly is a global activity and there are dedicated forums with active members very willing and able to help anyone interested in pursuing the slot car hobby.

      Just be warned, much like real 1:1 racing, it is very addictive.

      If you require further assistance I would be pleased to help.

      John

    • 0 avatar
      Scaleracing

      Great article, Jim’s son Steve continues on the family involvement in Slot Cars, and produced a stunning Daytona Cobra in 1:64th scale with his AFX brand.
      I run an information Web Site about Slot cars in all scales http://www.slotcarillustrated.com

      Come and check it out, Membership is free to private Members.

      Also someone posted all the Tracks closed, well there are new Tracks opening up, mainly featuring Scaleracing not the speed type Slot Cars. But the Hobby is not dead, in fact it is slowly growing again :)

      Cheers

      Alan Smith

    • 0 avatar

      There sure is:

      Check out Slotblog.net!

    • 0 avatar

      Another great site with a great forum for home slot car racing…

      http://www.homeracingworld.com

  • avatar
    Fritz

    My Dad worked at Collins Radio back in the early 60s and built and raced these cars. I think it was a Collins guy that first put reverse into a slot car. Reverse wasn’t useful feature and would only work for a couple of feet for obvious reasons. The excuse for it was that you could quickly roll your car back to the line without touching it if you jumped the gun.

    Was it a quarter to race? Good fun but it didn’t last long. I don’t think I went to the tracks more than a few times before they all closed.

  • avatar

    Slot car racing is experiencing a minor resurgence, especially in the Retro racing genre, which harkens back to the ’60s when hardcore racers scratchbuilt their chassis by soldering them up from brass rod and strip.

    Check out the website Slotblog.net!

  • avatar
    Fordson

    Pretty cool. I raced on a Strombecker track at home – 1/32 scale. Really got more heavily into it with HO-scale Aurora AFX cars. We had a 5X9 foot table and tons of track – our favorite layout was just over 4,000 scale feet, with lots of curves, and we were running that in just over 11 seconds, with average lap speeds of around 250 mph. Lots of tuning, lots of tricks, lots of cars (50+) tons of fun for years and years.

    I have a couple of Scalextric 1/32 scale cars now and a controller and race on a local track a couple times a month.

    • 0 avatar
      John Kit

      Fordson, great to hear that you are still involved in slot car racing!

      It is a lot of fun and there is more in common with driving a full size race car than you realize until you try it.

      John

  • avatar

    John,

    I am attempting to locate information on Jim Russell’s ownership of the Cobra Daytona Coupe. Do you have any documentation, photographs, or records from the 1960s that demonstrate Russell’s ownership of the car or Russkit’s process for creating a slot car from the racer? Would you know of any contacts that might?

    Best regards,
    Casey Maxon


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