BY ANDREW FRANCIS,

DIRECTOR, THE SIGNATURE STORE

GETTING IN A SPIN

You know all those facts Scalextric fans tell you about how their cars would be travelling well above 200mph if they were scaled up to life size? Well, imagine if your model racer was actually doing 200mph+ around your garden. Get a picture of that and you’ll start to understand ‘tether’ racing.

 

Basically, hobby model-makers are given the freedom to create small-scale racing cars, which are then powered by either glow-plug petrol of gas-fuelled single-cylinder engines. And they’re amazing creations to see. Usually about 30-40cm long and handmade from steel or aluminium (or both!) with these tiny engines that can’t be more than 2cm square, some are wheel driven, others free-wheel with air or gas propolsion. You can get dragster-style, scaled models of real cars, ones with wings, and even some with ground-effect aerodynamics.

 

The cars are then tethered (hence, ‘tether’ racing) with string to either a post in the middle of a circular track, or a rail around a circuit (rail track racing), and are then set off to zoom around under their own power and the fastest recorded lap wins. Not only is it incredible to watch – the cars quickly become nothing but a blur… they’re that fast – it’s also a sport that generates some truly interesting collectibles.

 

Despite having a big following in America, South America and mainland Europe, the sport never really took off in the UK. It enjoyed a reasonable following between the mid-1950s and 1970s, tether racing was overtaken by electronics on the form of Radio Control cars outdoors, and to an extent Scalextric indoors.

 

Sometimes called ‘Spindizzies’, tether cars are works of art. They’re built strong, and some are literally crafted as miniature racing cars, using fine materials, impressive welds and rivets and intricate styling and engines.

 

Many are home-built specials, but there are a few brands that used to sell either a fully running model or a kit of parts. A great example is Movosprint, which was an Italian brand that made tether racers during the 1950s. One of its models, the 52, is based on the Ferrari 500 Formula 2 car that Alberto Ascari raced.

 

The story goes that when Ascari first saw the miniature of his car, he laughed and loved it. However, Enzo Ferrari was less than impressed that somebody was building unlicensed replicas of his cars and swiftly told the maker to stop. However, after Ascari won the 1953 world title, Movosprint gifted one to Enzo, and it completely changed his mind! There’s even one on display in the Ferrari museum in Maranello.

 

It's a niche collectors’ market in the UK, but the upside is the cars are rare, so they command good money, but the real appeal is they are often just so beautifully engineered.

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Movosprint, Ferrari 500 tether racer, sold by The Signature Store 2020

BY ANDREW FRANCIS,

DIRECTOR, THE SIGNATURE STORE

ARTICLE FIRST PUBLISHED, FEBRUARY 2021, MOTORSPORT MAGAZINE