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A key part of the Subbuteo companion games of the 1950s and early 1960s were the racing editions. There were four versions; Speedway, Motor Racing, Horse Racing, and Cycle Speedway, but all four were essentially the same game. The only differences being small rule amendments to give each set a feel of the sport it was representing.
The various versions of the companion games catalogue that I've located only feature the Speedway version of the game and this does seem to be the most common version. However, I've also been sent details of a fantastic deluxe Motor Racing set.
This page would not have been possible without the help of Chris Boucher :-)
"The replica of the Dirt Track" was available as early as 1953, appearing in the Subbuteo Companion Sports Games catalogue. It features flat celluloid bikers on bases that look similar to the 1970s rugby bases in the photos, but are in fact much bigger. Compare the biker with the Arsenal figure above to get an idea of the size. As usual, the bases have Subbuteo embossed around the outside edge. The sides of the base are steep, and the bottom is a smooth curve (oh err missus).
The advertising leaflet suggest that this game "introduces the most original and skilful form of propulsion ever", but then doesn't explain what this is. This perhaps is not surprising because how it worked was actually very simplistic. What you were given was a long plastic tube (green and red seem the favourite colours for these) and several sizes of ball bearing. You put the tube behind the rider and let your chosen ball roll down it so that it struck the rider thus propelling him around the track. The track was divided into sections 8 inches in length. The plastic tube stayed behind the start line of each section until the bike had completely left that part of the track. Once this happened the tube could be advanced to the start of the next area.
That's all there was to the basic idea, but to quote the advertising sheet again :- "The patented apparatus enables the reproduction of different gear ratios to be selected... Machine somersaults and overslides, Bumping, track records and lap dashes are all contained in the game... as in real Speedway - the rider who can follow the white line and gates successfully is generally the winner". Sounds like fun, and it is.... but certainly not as sophisticated as Peter Adolph's football game. One for the kids methinks.
There were two versions of this game available in the 1957 catalogue. As with the other Subbuteo sets of the 1950s, the smaller set contained a length of chalk to mark out your own board and keep the cost down.
|Standard Edition:||Cost 10/10 in 1957|
|Standard Edition complete with Track||Cost 48/- in 1957.|
The assembly instructions included with the standard edition mention the following track-substitute, which seems to be frequently missing from sets -
The 72" length of white plastic tubing should be laid out in an oval and fixed to the chosen surface with 1.5" strips of adhesive tape, which should be torn off from the transparent envelope supplied, and can easily be removed without damage to the table. This is the inside "white line" and as the track measures 6" across, a line should be chalked around the outside of the track following the shape of the inner one. Small books should then be placed around the outer line to form a safety fence.
The track is divided up into nine movement sections, each section measuring 8" around the inside white line. These should be chalked out from the start and finish lime as depicted in the photograph. Remember that the speedway riders start in an anti-clockwise direction."
The back of the set-up instructions has this great picture, where you can see the tape (happily interfering with the inside lane), and the "book" safety fence, which is the sort of thing I used to do to stop losing the Subbuteo football, but I can't believe a game ever recommended it. The book nearest the camera is the thrilling "French Composition Simplified". No Subbuteo collection is complete without it.
The assembly instructions also mention that Speedway can be played on any shiny surface of approximately 48" x 36" in area. "Linoleum or a polished table being ideal surfaces". I'm sure mothers up-and-down the country were delighted when Speedway chalk marks were drawn all over their lovely polished dining room tables....
Like the football game of the time there were two sets of rules. A basic sheet for each game, and an advanced booklet that was designed to cover all four games. In reality, this advanced book was mostly speedway, with some good details on horse racing, but only a paragraph on "Motor and Cycle racing".
The advanced rules of Speedway were as follows (and they are not completely clear!)
Machine discs will be placed on the starting area as in speedway. The method of machine disc propulsion is as follows:- Place chute at rear of machine disc, and at rear of starting area, release ball-bearing down the chute to strike rear of machine disc, thus propelling it forward.
Back-spin and excessive force being engaged to propel the ball-bearing down the chute is strictly disallowed, and any rider using such methods shall be immediately excluded. (see the picture above for the proper way to slide your ball-bearing down the fingers and into the tube)
There can be two, three or four riders (players) in a race, heat or match, although the number is mostly two. In the event of two players, each player operates two machines in each heat, one red and blue, and the other white and yellow and black (??), representing either a home or away team. In the event of the home team winning the toss, and choosing to go first, they would take places one and three at the gate, and the away team two and four, and the positions would be reversed in heat two and so-on until the last race (heat 14) when the away team would go first and take positions one and three at the gate. This is the same as speedway proper...
Riders will draw for positions at the gate, and then for first move.
Chute and turns will be taken from the rear of the starting area at the commencement of a race or heat.
Riders will take moves alternatively, no matter which machine is leading.
Chute and turns will be taken from the rear of starting area until your own machine disc has been propelled forward completely out if the first movement area, chute can then be moved by the rider to the border line of the first, second movement area, and so on until the heat or race is completed. Naturally some riders will still be in the first movement area when some are in the second.
The machine disc has to be completely in the next movement area, and not touching the dividing line before the rider can move the chute forward to the next dividing line.
The race or heat will consist of one lap only, and a match of 14 heats as in speedway. The machine disc that crosses the wining line first, whether out of turn or not, or having excessive turns to the others, shall be the winner of the race. Match points are the same as in speedway, 3 for a first, 2 for a second, and 1 for a third.
If a machine somersaults at the gate or any other place (as a result of ball-bearing striking it excessively hard), the rider shall continue to ride his machine upside down as a penalty until he is in the (next?) movement area, thus prejudicing his own chances of victory. This is considered the same as a fall or overslide would handicap a rider in speedway proper.
If a rider deliberately or unintentionally crosses the white line he shall be excluded.
If one machine or ball-bearing bumps, moves or touches another whilst in motion, progress or in any other way, there will be no penalty as the art of the game is to play so as not to leave yourself open to be bumped by another rider, notwithstanding whether it is a material advantage or not.
Track record and lap dashes will be calculated as the rider who crosses the finishing line in the least number of turns, and if he somersaults his machine at any time during the race he adds one-fifth on to his time.
The different size ball-bearings signify different gear ratios, and riders may select any one they wish at the beginning of a race or heat in order to propel their machine, but if unsuitable must continue to use same until the heat or race is completed.
If any difficulty is found interpreting the rules, A.C.U. Rules shall be adopted as in speedway.
If desired a Steward should be appointed before the match commences and he should be in sole charge of the meeting and his decisions should be final.
This is a game of skill, and the rider who uses the biggest ball-bearing and hits his machine disc hardest is not bound to win, as in speedway it is the most skilful who wins, and by practicing gating and white line riding you will make yourself a good rider.
With Track Editions.
With the early versions of these sets the playing pieces still came in the small box, but this usually had a "with track" sticker on it. You can see an example of this on the box on the left at the top of this page. As the sets were sold mail order, the track only came in a big plain card box. The one illustrated here is sealed with Subbuteo packing tape, which confirms that it is the original box.
The track was advertised in the advanced rule book and at least two versions were produced. Later copies of this booklet had a sticker over the old description, giving new details and stating that this "supersedes previously described... tracks and (is) available from 1/11/57".
The original track was described as being "manufactured in plastic and wood with calibrated Regulation lines, coloured green and white, hinged in the middle with extra shiny surface for the fast propulsion of the discs. You can just see the hinged section on the black and white illustration above. The cost of this early track was 37/11d (inc 6/11d p.tax)
The newer version was "special polystyrene plastic track calibrated with white regulation lines, sleeved in the middle to facilitate easy, quick assembly, with extra shiny surface for the fast propulsion of discs." Packed in attractive fitted box, this cost slightly less than the old track at 37/2d (inc 6/3 purchase tax) when introduced in 1957.
Table Motor Racing.
The above pictures show the small 1950s box, which matches the speedway one, and one motor racing "car". As you can see, this piece was the same cut out as the speedway bike and so there is only room for a small part of the car. In the motor racing set there were six cars, instead of the four bikes in speedway. Oddly though, the sets still only provide four chutes for the ball bearings, so someone will have to share.
With Track Edition.
This fantastic set is a late edition with the final version of the track and a great display of the playing pieces. "Reproduce your own Le Mans" the label tells us, and it really makes me want to go out and do it (although possibly not for the whole 24 hours...) The choice of light green for the label just shouts "Subbuteo" and seems to tie this set to the football versions of the 1960s.
Feb 2014: - I have included a photograph of the interior of a second set, because it (hopefully) shows the second edition shiny plastic track more clearly. Note that the paperwork includes basic rules, advanced rules, and a price list.
The rules were pretty similar to Speedway, with the main differences being:-
The game was played with a minimum of two, and a maximum of six players. So there could be six cars on the track rather than just the four bikes in speedway. The number of cars is divided by the number of drivers (players), so 2 players get 3 cars each, 3 players get 2 cars each, or you could have 4, 5, or 6 players with a car each
Drivers drew for positions on the start line. (although there is nothing to stop you from having qualifying laps)
A race could consist of one or more laps.
The different size ball-bearings still signified different gear ratios, but drivers could select any one they wished at their turn. You were not limited to the one you started with.
Once again Peter Adolph printed a different picture onto a speedway figure. This gave a rather odd look to the jockey who appears (in this photo at least) to be wearing a big hat and coat. And the poor horse is a bit short in the leg department.
Like motor racing, the game could be played by up to six players, and again there were some interesting changes to the rules:-
The race track may be regulation size, or possibly you may care to improvise its shape, but movement areas should not exceed 8" in length. This measurement should be taken on the inside of the track.
When the horse has reached the distance post (two movement areas before the Winning Post) no horse is allowed to cross directly in front of another horse. If a horse crosses another in this fashion and within this area and subsequently finishes first, second, or third, the jockey on the crossed horse may lodge an objection, which will be automatically sustained. The offending horse is then placed last and the other horses naturally move up to fill the vacant place.
Once round the track will be a Five Furlong Sprint race. Twice round is regarded as the Derby course, and three times, the St. Leger course.
Each race may be regarded as complete in itself, or may become part of a series of races known as a Meeting. The winner of a Meeting will be the owner of the horse, or horses securing the largest amount of prize money. Prize money is allotted as follows: Winner £100, Second £60, Third £40.
The advanced rule book went on to suggest an "interesting variant", which was Steeple chasing.
Instead of a single line across the track to mark the movement areas, a double line with a 0.5" space between is drawn. The area covered by the double line is regarded as a Regulation National Hunt plain fence. In one place on the track, a treble lime should also be drawn to represent a water jump. If a horse lands on the area covered by the double or treble line, he is regarded as having failed to negotiate the obstacle, and having "fallen" must return to the edge of the movement area immediately behind, so that he may attempt the jump again.
The advanced rule book does not have anything further to add about cycle speedway, save to refer back to the horse racing rules and "With a little imagination you can improvise on these for Cycle Racing, with your requirements, and it is quite possible to stage the famous French Tour de France" (as opposed to any other country's Tour de France then?)
Frankly, the mountain legs of the Tour de France are going to be a challenge.
February 2014:- Thanks to Ashley Hemmings for the colour photograph of the cyclist.
Like all Subbuteo games, Peter Adolph sold the components separately as an accessory range, allowing owners to replace parts, or add further figures. The list only had eight references, with the most notable being the production of celluloid speedway riders. The references were prefixed RC, which differentiated them from the cricket, which had no prefix, and the football list, which used letters.
|RC1||Special wooden and plastic track calibrated with regulation lines, coloured green and white, hinged in the middle with extra shiny surface for the fast propulsion of discs.||37/11d||Free postage!|
|RC1||*Special polystyrene plastic track calibrated with white regulation lines, sleeved in the middle to facilitate easy, quick assembly with extra shiny surface for the fast propulsion of discs. Packed in attractive fitted box.||37/2d||Note this is the second edition of the track. Sadly, the price list does not appear to be dated.|
|RC2||Four base discs coloured red, blue white and orange.||2/-||For speedway|
|RC3||Six base discs coloured red, blue, white, orange, green and black.||For the six figure sports. Guess which colours are rare!|
|RC4||2 press-out sheets depicting either -
||1/3d||All accessories were 3d postage except the track and the rules.|
|RC5||Advanced rule leaflet explaining how to play Horse, Motor and Cycling racing according to the number of persons playing||9d|
|RC6||Set of four large type ball bearings||1/3d|
|RC7||Two chutes||1/3d||These were produced in red and green.|
|RC8||Four celluloid speedway riders.||1/10d|
|RC9||Six celluloid motor racing riders||2/9d||This was added to later lists.|
So that's it for the racing games. They did not last beyond the early 1960s, and that must really be down to the wonders of slot car racing, Scalectrix and the like, which convey the speed and skill of motor sports in a way that rolling ball-bearings did not.
A final thought is that this page might inspire those who have bought the huge Zëugo racetrack for their Subbuteo stadium, and don't know what to do with it. I suggest rummaging around in the garage, until you find a couple of ball bearings and some tubing. Then grab a few Subbuteo players and have an athletics meet.....
The Team Colours Project (Ongoing illustrated team lists).
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