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Pre-War Spindizzie’s Ready to Tear Up a Texas Parking Lot

Today’s featured images taken at Paschal High School located in Fort Worth, Texas on February 2, 1940, contain a group of spindizzie enthusiasts and their cars in a parking lot ready to have some fun and racing action. The caption with the photo identifies the car owners: “left to right is Bob Abey, A. B. Wharton Junior, Spurgeon Morrow, Jack Russell, and Bob McMahon. “Mrs. A. B. Wharton Junior” poses with the couple’s “Silver Streak” racing car in the last photo (below.)

We have covered spindizzy and tether cars earlier and wrote the following about them: “Like many automotive fads and trends, the miniature car racing movement began in Southern California in the late-1930s by individuals who constructed cars using small gasoline-powered two-stroke model airplane engines. 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 became popular, and running them on a specially constructed banked track proves to be the most interesting. These so-called “rail” cars are controlled by a narrow protruding guide on the surface of the track, just inside of the left-hand wheels which keeps each car in its lane.”

“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. The third type of control involves the cars being tethered to a center pivot and rotating around it.”

View our earlier post “Spindizzies and Tether Cars – Early Miniature Model Racers” to view more pictures and two videos covering the little cars.

Share with us what you find of interest in these Fort Worth Star-Telegram Collection photographs courtesy of the University of Texas  Arlington. 

19 responses to “Pre-War Spindizzie’s Ready to Tear Up a Texas Parking Lot

  1. I am not the expert on cars but did run prewar model airplanes with antique engines. One popular car engine of the time was the McCoy 60, although none of these engines appear to be one of them. The fuel was pump gas with heavy oil mixed 4 to 1. Note that they all have leads running to the miniature spark plugs. This was before alcohol and glow plugs. There was a miniature coil and battery on board and a set of points at the front of the engine. These little cars were damn fast, I believe hitting 100 mph.

  2. At first, I was a little confused about the reference to Pashal, TX and being a native Texan, I’d never heard of a town by that name. However, the photo is also found in the University of Texas at Arlington library where the caption says the photo was taken “around Paschal”. There’s not a Paschal, TX either.

    My best guess is the picture was taken around Fort Worth High School located at 1015 S Jennings Ave. Fort Worth High School was relocated in 1955 to Forest Park Boulevard and renamed R. L. Paschal High School. The original Fort Worth High School that was built in 1885 still exists though it’s been converted to an apartment complex. The building in the background in the photo of Mrs. Wharton may be Fort Worth High School.

    That’s probably more local Texas history than you ever wanted to know. The miniature cars are really interesting however.

  3. These were way before my time. We had “Slot Car Centers” that had the same thrills. 1/24, 1/32, and HO for home use. We had gas powered cars too, either on a tether or straight shot down the alley, most using the same gas airplane motors, the Cox 049. Kind of funny, a couple years ago I found a can of the COX “Thimble Drome” airplane fuel at a farm house I was staying at. I looked at the can, and was amazed at the warning, “Caution, poison, contains methanol and NITRO METHANE!!! No wonder those things ran so well,,,for a while.

  4. OK, so here is a story about how this relates to full size cars. I used to fly my modern model airplanes by transporting them to the field in the back of my 1929 Model A pickup. One day, on the way home, the Model A ran out of gas. I had a gallon of model airplane fuel, methanol and nitro methane, as Howard described. I poured the model airplane fuel in the Model A tank and drove the remaining 10 miles home. No problem, but I had to enrichen the carburetor setting about half a turn.


  5. Some early has powered line racers were built by a teenager, Stanley Hiller.
    He later, but still as a teen, designed and built a early coaxial helicopter.
    While that configuration didn’t pan out, later he designed the conventional (one rotor and tail rotor) Hiller 12 (or H-23 in Army use) ..which was a successful light helicopter in the 50s-60s. Some, converted to turbine power, are still in use.

    Anyway, I’ve never seen a Hiller racer.

    • The Udvar-Hazy annex of the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum has four Hiller aircraft, consisting of the coaxial helicopter (the XH-44 Hiller-Copter), one of the Rotorcycles, a flying platform (a 1031-A-1, which was the prototype for the VZ-1 Pawnee), and the ramjet-powered Hiller Hornet. The Hiller-Copter got Hiller a draft deferment in WW2 so that he could start the first helicopter factory on the west coast. Hiller Aircraft still makes UH-12 Raven helicopters for the civil market.

  6. “Spindizzies” was the title of an excellent book by Eric Zausner on these cars. It’s still available on Amazon, though a little expensive. Another expert on the cars is long-time enthusiast Kirk F. White.

  7. I remember these advertised in the back of Mechanix Illustrated magazines when I was a kid. They were way too much money for me.

    I see an inverted bicycle in the background. No doubt used for starting via the holding the car’s wheel against the spinning tire.

    Sad that I still can’t afford one.

  8. A. B. Wharton Junior, age 30 here, is the son of Electra Waggoner, heiress to the 510,000 acre Waggoner ranch. “Buster” was a playboy and polo player. The well-dressed Mrs Wharton was one of four wives.

  9. Thinking that most of those cars that are pictured are from the manufacturer, Dooling. In the early 50’s I worked at Rook’s Hobby shop in Walla Walla, Washington. I remember lusting over a Dooling kit that I would have loved to have
    had but with a pay of sixty-five cents/hour, it was way out of my league. Think the mention of Olson/Rice engines is correct but by that time the glow plug McCoys were the hot set up…..ranging from .19 to .35 cc’s. The bodies were cast aluminum. They looked sharp out of the box and you could polish them to a chrome like finish. Charles you can find them on ebay in the 2 to 3K range if you have the shelf space and a fat wallet.

  10. The name Spurgeon was associated with the Bob Ruffi 4 cyl Chevy lakes car. Such an unusual name, I wonder if there was any connection?

  11. Original tether/rail cars are very expensive. Search rail cars and tether cars on face book for more info. There is a guy who makes a reproduction kit that is reasonably priced.

  12. Back in the early 40’s, I had a similar model race car. It was powered by a gas model airplane motor. I would fire it up by inverting my bicycle, spin the bikes rear wheel the contacting the race car’s rubber tire to the bike’s. The problem was, when the model’s motor fires up the car’s rubber tire would expand and fly off – Wow! Lots of fun…

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