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Spindizzies and Tether Cars – Early Miniature Model Racers

Like many automotive fads and trends, the miniature car racing movement apparently started in California in the late-1930s by individuals who constructed cars using small gasoline-powered two-stroke model airplane engines. After learning more about the little racing cars recently, and viewing some of the interesting pre and post-war newsreel films covering “spindizzies” and “tether” racing cars the sport proves to be quite interesting.

After the pursuit soon became popular, both kits and factory-built miniature cars were placed on the market. Three different ways of racing the little cars soon became popular, and running them on a specially constructed banked track proves to be the most interesting; “rail” cars and owners are visible in the lead photo at the start of a race. The rail is a narrow protruding guide on the surface of the track, just outside of the left-hand wheels that keeps each car in its lane.

  • A tether car is shown here, note how the cable and clamp attaches to the frame.

Two other types of car control are also used; in one version the operator stands in the center of a track and guides the car with a cable it is tethered to. In a video below-featuring car builder Gordon A.  Babb, he operates a single vehicle and then a second individual joins into a race. The third type of control involves the cars being tethered to a center pivot and rotating around it.

The newsreel video “Popular Science” above shows Babb, a car builder working in his shop located in Pasadena, California. It appears he built his cars by assembling kits, and many of the details of the various components and parts show the make-up of his racing cars. View Babb’s tire manufacturing operation in action using tire molds containing rubber on a vulcanizer used to cure them.

  • A small trophy for a miniature car at a meet in Altoona, Pennsylvania.

And finally in “Hot Rod Speedsters Part I” below you will learn more about the clubs and tracks that racing enthusiasts constructed in the post-war years. Racing action on the 1/12-mile rail-guided Hornet Hobby Race Track in Fresno, California, is included along with information about the type of fuel used, starting procedures, speeds, timing, and how the cars are shut down at the end of a race.

The photos are courtesy of, Tether Car, there you can view more images and learn about the pint-sized racing cars.

29 responses to “Spindizzies and Tether Cars – Early Miniature Model Racers

  1. Fantastic! Love these little things, tho their prices now approach the real cars… Thanx for the link to the videos too – had not seen them

  2. Back in the early 50s I had a tether car called, as I recall, ‘Scat-Cat-O-Car’. Power was .074ci glow plug engine, mounted transversely, with direct drive — one rear wheel mounted directly to the engine crankshaft!

    • The Scat-Cat-O-Car was produced by Pac-A-Lite Mfg. Co. of Mount Morris, Michigan. The owner of Pac-A-Lite, Bob Snodgrass, was a tether car racing enthusiast who also designed and produced the Mini-Mount conversion kit for powering Thimble Drome “pushers” and the .19- and .29-size Scat Cat cars which dominated their classes in tether car racing shortly after WW-II.

  3. Roy Richter used to build these little cars , then went on to build midgets and sprinters in the 30’s then bought Bell Auto Parts from George Wight . H e sold speed equipment under the Cragar name and made wheels in the 60’s, quite a unique individual !

  4. If you would look at the website of Authentic Models you’ll find replicas of some of the spindizzies; both a BB Korn and a Bantam Midget.

  5. In the seventies, I remember having what may have been the last gasp of this kind of racing — a Cox Ford GT tether line car. You ran a string in a straight-line course, then clipped the string to a tether beneath the car. The idea was that the car would follow the string. It wasn’t long after that that radio control got small enough and cheap enough to replace tether lines.

    Always had more fun with my Cox PT-19 pilot trainer, though.

  6. As a soon to be retired machinist I’d start the hobby tonight if I had a place to run near by, I’m just south of Tampa Bay. Anything with wheels, anything miniaturized, and I’m all in! Thanks for this fascinating post.

  7. Oh, that sound takes me back. On any given Saturday afternoon, the sound of somebody flying an airplane, would fill the air. Can you imagine the safety advocates on something like this today? Never heard of this activity, but had friends with gas cars that either went in a straight line, direction unknown, or in a big circle. I recently found an old can of “Cox” fuel, and to my surprise, it can contain up to 30% Nitromethane! No wonder those little buggers flew.

  8. In a similar vein, I still have my father’s 1967 Strombecker 1/32 slot car set in it’s original box in the basement at home. Once I dedicate some space and build a table for it, I intend to get it up and running again. Good things the cars are still available on ebay as I destroyed the originals as a child.

    • Hi Falco, at a local thrift store, they had an Aurora HO road race set, in the box , some wear, but couple extra cars, I bet $50 bucks would take it. ( the old sets are getting scarce) When I was a kid, me and my buddies combined our sets and had one big setup. I thought of buying that set to rekindle old memories. Then I wondered if it would be as much fun as I remember. I do remember them always flying off the track.

      • Howard, we did a similar thing with our Aurora sets. Three of us combined them and set up in a greenhouse/patio of one of us. Loved racing them, never any good, but I also loved modifying them. My stingray was modified to look like a Gran Sport, fender flairs and all. We tinkered with the motors as well, not very scientific but fun. Great article on the grand daddies of our HO sets!

        • I have a Indy gas powered car from about 1963. I still have my HO scale Ford J car, from around 1967. Also have 100 FT of running 4 lane HO scale to this day, in my Wisconsin home, better for winter, summer is for the real collector cars.
          Nice to have help remembering all the old stuff.

      • My buddy and I wired two power packs in series so we were running 38 volts. Those Aurora cars FLEW. The ones that lasted, anyway. What great memories.

        Thank you for this site

      • After the second vid finishes, the Part 2 vid should be visible. Mainly SoCal racing scene at the LA Coliseum and later at Muroc Dry Lake. Worth the watch if it does come up!

  9. It seemed like my brother (6 years older) had all the really cool stuff like Cox airplanes, mini-bike and BB gun. But they were deemed too dangerous by the time I was that age. He and the neighbors flew the Cox planes. After crashing the planes too many times to rebuild them, the engines (with propellers) would make their way onto Tonka trucks and other wheeled toys for unguided tips down the street. Usually the trips were short with the truck having bad steering or hitting a bump causing it to veer into the ditch. These guided cars could have been a blast.

    • Seems to be a common thread here: most guys started with wheeled toys and still love them, I know I do! My love affair with all things with motors and wheels started with an A.C. Gilbert Autorama set, the one with 1/32 scale Corvettes, ’40 Fords, and Indy Roadsters. Many, many winter days in the basement with the radio on and watching those cars circle around inside my Lionel train set. I bought a few sets online and used the best parts to assembly my childhood set.

      • John; I have the same A C Gilbert set with two very high mileage 62 Corvettes also in the original box. I never thought to look on line for replacements. I also have a 63 Buick Riviera tether racer.

  10. A demonstration of these little race cars took place at the town auditorium in our town in about 1950. The tether only type were powered by the operator lying on his back in the middle of the basketball floor, swinging hi arm around his body. As a kid I recreated that in our basement using home made cars patterned roughly as track roadsters of the day. Great fun.

  11. To see where this hobby of racing tether cars has gone with modern engineering,Google Vector electric tether car and watch this little bigger fly while the speed is displayed on a digital speedometer in the background and the number of MPH passes the 200 mark!

  12. Never having seen one racing, when I was about 12 years old in the mid 1950’s, I put a 2.5cc aero engine in a home built car with direct drive onto the inside rear wheel. The car was about a foot long with a steel sheet base turned up the side for rigidity. I used two Meccano wheels wired on together on the drive. I set it off tethered but the Meccano tyres enlarged to about 9 inches before flying off never to be found. I concluded that a reduction rear axle was essential and I went back to model aeroplanes.

  13. I was not among those whose daddies could afford these very expensive toys. I liked them, watched them run, smelled the Castor oil /Alcohol fuel mix , and the closest I got, was as a Racing Mechanic for Motorcycle Flat Track Racing, as a hobby, for me, on weekends. In later years. I was Training Porsche Mechanics. IT was the castor oil & alcohol that got me hooked! (That’s just the tip of the iceberg! ) Not enough room to describe it! Fun ! Now , I drive our ’30 Ford AA Truck in parades, to make noise!!! and we also Love our W.V. Country Roads for a summer picnic cruise, in our old truck ! We also love our sidecar rig! Edwin W.

  14. If anyone is interested in learning the state of tether car racing today, search on “American Miniature Racing Car Association.” Seems there are just three tracks for these cars still active in the US.

    Current world record speed for the fastest class is 214.348 MPH, set by an Italian racer at an event in Sydney, Australia, in 2009.

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