TycoPro History Lessons, it really all starts with Gene Patrick Dennis
Pat Dennis is without question the man responsible for the design and production of the TycoPro HO scale race car....
I had; and fortunately still have, an opportunity to discuss the development and timeline of TycoPro with Pat by email and by phone, the commentary and pictures have been provided by him for you here...Pat and I remain friends and is a trusted source for me for all things mechancial especially cars small and big, and more.
Pat and I are currently collaborating on the RiggenHO Tyco Pro MKII, more details about that here
As you will soon realize by the level of detail provided and the "intimacy" the author has for the subject matter, this must be as close as we will ever get to watching slot car history come to life truly the way it was back in the day...
Pat, thank you so much for taking the time to share this
Note from the Author:
"The purpose of this is to document the factual story
of the TycoPro. We were not a part of a huge organization with a multitude of
marketeers, draftsmen, engineers, etc., we were just two young guys (initially
just myself), with a real passion for developing revolutionary HO race cars
Without the (initial) full cooperation of Tyco's small management team and the talents of a group of Chinese Engineers, Tool makers and Model makers these products would never have come into being."
Pat has asked us to pass along any questions, feedback or comments...please contact riggenho.com. We also have a "collector question and answer " section at then end of the article so we can try to keep the dialogue open and provide as much detail as possible about this era...
After reading the story, take some time to see pictures and read annecdotes about some of the items mentioned in this story.
Many items reside now in The RiggenHO.com TycoPro "Museum".
My background in slot racing dates back to 1957, when I was introduced to 1/32 scale with sets from both VIP (Victory Industry Products) and Scalextrix by a neighbor who was a serious "sports car" person. The VIP set soon gave way to the Scalextrix, which had slightly better cars and more easily available track sections to expand the courses. These early sets had controllers that were simply "on/off" buttons. One of my first "improvements" was to set up rheostat style controllers. These had a center shaft that was rotated to control the current to the tracks. We mounted these on ping-pong paddles to allow finer control.
As we were interested in making replicas of the cars that were raced in the Midwest, where I lived, my efforts were split between performance and scale appearance.
After serving time in the Navy, I returned, with a vengeance in 1963 - having devoured every issue of the British hobby magazines on the subject - Model Maker, etc. and doing some racing during that time. I developed a group of like-minded friends from the local SCCA and we built several tracks - three hobby shops and two basement jobs - so we could have tracks to run on. By now, I was designing scratch-built brass chassis, winding my own motors, making wheels & tires on my Unimat. I was the only guy in town with my own magnetizer. I ultimately had a four person team - my brother, his girlfriend, and a close friend. We ran three nights each week, different classes - sports, F1 and endurance (LeMans) styles. I was building cars, bodies and motors like they were going out of style, as each track had different power, configurations, etc. We did well, had a lot of fun, but as we became more involved with full sized racing and the sport moved to 1/24th scale with little or no resemblance to real cars, the rewards ceased being equal to the cost and efforts, so we just lost interest.
Two examples of Pat's large scale efforts....
The beginning of HO involvement - Car Model
I still subscribed and read Car Model and Model Car racing each month and, in 1966, I saw where Car Model was organizing their third annual "All Scale" drag meet. As I am always up for a challenge, I read through the rules for each class. Realizing the large scales were dominated by the West Coast guys, I saw an opportunity in the HO Dragster class. I had always considered HO to be a toy that "real slot racers" little brothers' played with, but the previous entrants were pretty crude and I thought I could miniaturize the principles that I developed in 1/32. I built up an entrant and sent it in virtually untested and waited..... I finally got a call from an old 1/32 competitor, asking what the "special engineering award" was all about? I finally received a call from Oscar Koveleski of Car Model, explaining a bit and that Jose Rodriguez Jr., one of their feature editors would be contacting me for details. The story was featured in the Nov 1967 issue.
-----by the way, where is that dragster now????
-----The Dragster was also featured in Auto Worlds "HO RACING SPEED SECRETS" published in 1970....page 33 and page 34
At this point (mid 1966) I became very interested in the challenges presented by the small size of HO. I began developing several modifications on existing cars - Aurora & Atlas as the other cars on the market were pretty hopeless. As these proved out, I began more extensive projects ultimately creating several entire cars. By late 1967 I was approached by Car Model for any HO project articles that they could publish. I had spent considerable time working on and testing both the “pancake” and in-line motors and determined that the “flywheel effect” of the pancake style was quite a disadvantage (unless a separate free-running flywheel could act as a gyroscope and be built-in to resist the “quick-flip” on turn-in, but the additional weight - probably on top of the chassis - precluded any further thoughts on this) Today, maybe it could be mounted on the bottom --- maybe I should give this a further look for the non-magnetic class?
In January 1968, Car Model Magazine published this
article I wrote instructing how to make brush tubes for the T jet....
(click for full size)
I even designed and built a HO track to have something better to test ideas and designs on. I drew up a folded figure 8, taking up all of the available area on a 4’ X 8” sheet. I incorporated various corners - increasing and decreasing radii and even an “S” bend with all lanes having the same radius. I used plywood for the base, laminated 1/32” PC board to the surface. The conductors were formed by etching the PC board, leaving the copper only in the conductor areas. A nice feature with this was the sidewalls of the slots were absolutely vertical, as opposed to the molded set track, which had a draft angle - meaning that the sides of the slots sloped outward, making little “ramps” to de-slot you. Aurora was the worst, having 5 degrees, Tyco & Atlas better at approximately 1 degree.
More track photos here.....
After submitting a list & photos of what I had been working on, several subjects were selected and a series of articles appeared, culminating in the ‘Project Wide’ 3 part series.
(click images for larger versions)
(click for larger)
Project "Wide" a three part article.....amazing work....
(see large scans of all three articles here...)
The Introduction of the New Mabuchi ST -02 Motor - a New Direction in HO Racing
By now I had been introduced to several HO parts suppliers, most notably Maurice Winn of Twinn-K and started doing design consulting. In November (I think) I received a call for Oscar Kovelski of Autoworld and Car Model fame. Oscar talks a “mile a minute” and the conversation ended with “I have sent you three great new motors - design a chassis around them----” and hung up. I couldn’t have been an hour before I got a call for Maurice of Twinn-K, he too, was sending me three “new motors and could I design a chassis for it?”. The story turns out that Mabuchi had sent six samples of their newest miniature motor to their agent in USA, Nat Polk of Polk’s Hobby in NYC. He had divided these into two groups and sent them to the people who he thought would do the most with them. In a matter of weeks, all six of these were at my home - I had all of the new motors in the USA!. I called Oscar and explained that Maurice offered to pay for a car/chassis design, to which Oscar agreed that Twinn-K could probably get something to market sooner than he, and, as he used Twinn-K as a supplier at Autoworld, all would be good for him. He simply told me to hang onto the samples.
Another side story - the original ST-02 was a 07-300 wind (meaning .07mm, 300 turns) and not as hot as it could reliably be. I rewound and tested several of the samples finding that an 08-250 was much better and lived OK using the normal set power packs. When at Tyco, I specified this wind to Mabuchi, they went ballistic. They implied that they were the motor experts and this wind would not work - so I handed them one to test. They reluctantly said that it might work, but they couldn’t warranty it. We said that we would sign off on it. This was to be a Tyco exclusive wind, but next year it was in Mabuchi’s catalog as standard. I didn’t dare tell them about the sample with the radially oriented magnets.
The beginning of the TycoPro Prototype
As this was to be something to be mass produced, and I had what was probably the greatest motor for HO, I agonized over every detail - weight and balance, forces of torque, chassis dynamics and on and on. I used everything that I had learned about slot racing and began to plan just how the molds could be designed, recognizing that the majority of the chassis would be molded in a plastic. I used epoxy glass PC board for the molded parts, as this was something I had used before and was available (I should note that, at Magnavox, I had materials and equipment unavailable to most people - a great advantage in my 1/32nd racing days, but that is another story).
One key design point was the crown gear. To make it work without complicated and inefficient worm gears or idlers, I had to machine up one slightly hypoid to allow the axle to be below the motorshaft centerline. I machined this up on my Unimat - I cannot tell you how long I labored to make it up. I mated this with a 6 tooth (I think) pinion on the motor shaft that was cut down from a friction drive toy (the long final drive item that the flywheel is pressed onto).
The delivery of the Prototype was to be at the International Hobby Show, in Chicago in January 1969.
I was burning a lot of“midnight oil” by now - finishing up the SCCA racing season with my Mini Cooper S, writing up the remaining articles for Car Model, fabricating and machining all of the parts for the prototype, making up a replica of Oscar’s Cobra that he raced at Daytona that year (I had to make a good impression on Oscar), working a full time job at Magnavox - my new wife was beginning to have doubts about my “playing with toy cars”. To put further pressure on, I received another call from Oscar, Tyco had brought in a new Operations VP and he wanted to meet with people who could “inject new life” in their HO racing line, as it was not generating much business and they were eying Aurora’s success in the hobby market. Oscar suggested myself and this meeting was to be - you guessed it, at the January Hobby Show! Somehow I got it all together and started off to the show on Saturday, the opening day.
(click image for full scan)
Oscar was a no-show and Maurice was feeling bad, so I met with Richard Cheng, the new VP at Tyco. They were very kind, but I could not express much enthusiasm for their racing line. For some reason that I cannot explain, I pulled the prototype sample out and ran a few laps on their display track.
"The white material is epoxy-glass PC board (a favorite material of mine). The crown gear is one that I machined up on my Unimat - slightly hypoid to allow the rear axle line to be below the motorshaft centerline. This concept was carried over to the Tycopro production cars. The pinion was cut down from a friction toy (the long final drive item that the flywheel is pressed onto)- only way to get the 6 tooth (I think that's the correct count) that I needed. "
"The tires are RTV coated sponge. I machined up the hubs, cut the tires and, as I had been using a dispersed Silicone for several years, I coated them. Very effective. You have to remember that I was working in a lab supplying the Military, so I had access to many materials and techniques not known to the general public.
The colored magnets was how Mabuchi decorated those early samples (that's
one of the infamous 6 ST 02's).
The guide flag pivots on the vertical axis in a bushing on the drop arm - just as the production Tycopro's do.
I presume that you noted the attachment screw holes along the centerline of the chassis. This was intended to be for the then universal body mounts. We designed the "loose" snap-fit while I was in HK."
The reaction was predictable and I explained that this was a sample produced for Twinn-K, but we discussed what I may be able to do for Tyco. They insisted on first right of refusal if Twinn-K backed out.
As Tyco - Richard Cheng in particular, appeared anxious and capable of doing something truly new, I decided to discuss the situation with Maurice. He recognized the opportunity that Tyco presented - and that he would be in a position to supply a larger quantity of tires and accessories to something sold in greater quantities than he could produce and sell, so agreed to release the design to Tyco.
The start of working for Tyco
By mid-January 1969, Tyco had sent tickets for me to fly out to meet with them, and deliver that prototype.
Tyco could not have been more gracious. Richard & I spent an entire day touring the plant and listening to my “dissertation” on the features and principals that I had used in designing the prototype.
As I was being driven back to the airport (in Philadelphia, PA, the closest one to the Tyco operations in South New Jersey), I commented on the hospitality and how impressed I was, adding “you have done everything except offer me a job” . He responded, “are you interested in one with us?” To which I responded “I am always interested in a challenge”. One week later I was officially hired - two weeks later, I was on a plane heading to Tyco Hong Kong, to oversee the development of the new car.
Here is a PDF file of the TycoPro patent.... filed Oct 29th 1969.....granted March 28th, 1972
At that time Tyco HK was fairly small, occupying only a few floors of ‘Tin’s Third House’. (I later discovered that “Tin” was the owner of Artin, now known for his low-cost slot racing line.) The cast of characters at Tyco HK was comprised of: Colin Woodcock, Managing Director - a young ex-pat Brit, K. Chan, an old school type engineer as Asst Managing Dir., Ying Lai Cheng, tool designer (very good engineer!), KY Chan, tool engineer, and the model/pattern makers Mr. & Miss Chiu- a brother and sister team. Among the others, there was one fellow, sort of the corporate “go for”, but the kind of person that a company cannot operate without, KK Chan.
Ying Lai & I spent many, many hours at the drawing board addressing the details of the design. We decided that the chassis material should be acetyl (Delrin) due to it’s inherit lubricity and impact resistance, I compromised on the pan material, going with epoxy coated steel (we experimented with Teflon coating too) instead of my brass - Ying Lai calculated the weight difference to be minimal.
We decided to change my lead wire contact to the motor from my original that contacted the ends of the brush barrels to a short BeCu (Beryllium Copper) strip that would be pinned into the chassis and make contact with the sides of the barrels in a bending motion. The thinking was that pressure from chassis “ears” on the ends of the barrels would diminish with the heating of the barrels. A funny story about this design process, four of us (Woodcock, KY Chan, Ying Lai & I) always went to the same Chinese restaurant for lunch. We would continue the discussion of the part as we ate - deciding that we could use the same member that pinned the contacts to retain the front of the motor. As the discussion progressed, we started making sketches on a napkin, which ultimately became covered with drawings. Of course, we had to take the napkin with us back to the office. After about three days, when the head waiter showed us to our seats, he ceremoniously placed small note pads at each place - the restaurant was annoyed by our need to take their linen napkins!
Another important design change was get away from the mounting of the body on posts. I took this opportunity to incorporate a “loose” body fit to cancel vibration amplification, but added a vertical rib and corresponding slot in the chassis to limit fore and aft movement - meaning that we could fit the wheels & tires into more scale wells without allowing for interference as the body moved (you may note that the Prototype has body screw holes on the centerline).
All this time I was working with the model makers on the shapes and details of the bodies. I should note that Tyco’s Sales rep organization was a California group, and reflecting their choices they had already chosen the Iso Grifo and Lamborghini Miura for the line before I was hired, as my choices were all race cars. These model makers worked in plaster of paris, which I had never worked with before. I continually had to alter the shapes and curves, they just couldn’t get it - until I realized that these people have never seen a car like this in their entire lives, more used to the squarish taxis and a few British cars. So, from that point on, I had copies of all Road & Track, Car & Driver, Motor Trend, etc sent to them. Additionally, I sent large scale kits for reference.
Cultural communication gaps...just what is a "Funny
Several major decisions were made at this point, all shut lines (doors, bonnets, etc) were to be as close to scale as practical, but the depth of these was to be at least two times the width. Additionally, we experimented with a polished mold shooting the car in color and comparing it to spray painting. We discovered that the opacity of paint plus the texture change inside the shut lines was much more realistic than molding in color. Therefore all Tyco bodies were to be spray painted.
SIDE STORY......The A/P Cobra body:
"The pattern for this body was taken from the "Project Wide" article, so the proportions were correct. But, after I left Tyco HK from my original trip, KC Chan, the "old school engineer" & Asst Managing Dir, decided, (without approval or even telling me) that the guide flag should not protrude from beneath the body when the flag was at full R/H or L/H stop, so he had the body shifted forward - resulting in the wheel - body positioning looking strange."
After six weeks, I had first "shots" of all of the chassis moldings, metal stampings, etc. I also received the tire samples (I tested many durometer samples before settling on the Shore A 45). I had slipped in the “Goodyear” logos on the sidewalls, so I was pleased with the final samples.
The TycoPro Introduction
(ads from 1970's Car Model Magazine)
After returning to the US, I became quite busy, designing the package, writing the copy and hand making the pattern for the blister which had to hold all of the body styles.
I did a “Dog & Pony” demonstration with the few samples that I had brought back for Tyco Management and the head of the sales rep group. The market timing was off season - too late for Christmas --even though it was only July 1969. So it was decided to go for the open market car sales, targeting the first quarter of 1970, and this meant that cars had to be shipped in the last part of 1969.
To introduce the salesmen to the new line, now officially named TycoPro, we set a special sales meeting at a hotel in the S. Jersey area for the first week of August. I decided a simple running demonstration would be most effective, so I built 25 “kits” containing about 10 feet of straight track (salesmen can’t drive slot cars) with a prewired terminal track, power pack and an on/off button from a train accessory. I bought 25 samples of every HO car on the market - Aurora, Atlas, Eldon - and others that I cannot remember. I hand-tuned everyone of these for maximum performance - I didn’t want a potential customer to have someone “go get an Aurora, or whatever” from stock and have it be faster than my salesmen’s samples. These were packed in a small carton that the salesman could tuck under his arm.
For the demo, I simply placed two of the competitor’s cars on the start line, pushed the button. The winner car ran against the next competitor, until the fastest of them ran against the TycoPro. Interestingly, the Atlas always ended up as the car running against the TycoPro (their 3:1 double-headed worm drive was quicker than the best T-Jet).
The plan was to have each salesman set up the “demo-strip” on the customer’s conference table, run the cars in the order that I prescribed and, after the TycoPro blew everyone away, take the order. We sold 400,000 individual open stock cars, at the new $4.00 price this way (previously, Tyco could barely give away 20,000 of their old cars at $2.50).
This is the very first TycoPro car packed out - in it's original box:
The TycoPro Body Selection & Prototyping
In the period that Tyco was a privately held Company, to select the bodies (and even engineering advances) all I had to do was determine what would be good candidates, make up a list and present photos & samples to Norman Tyler (President) and Richard Cheng (VP Operations). Then I would get on a plane to HK and start the model makers... I would review every line and curve of the master as it was sculpted. After my approval, it would go to the tool shop for molds. I then reviewed 1st shots and started the paint & masking samples for production & QC standards.
By now, Tyco HK had moved into a new building in Kwai Chung - further out into the New Territory area. We had the entire five story building for our operations - probably twenty times the area of the original Tin’s place.
In 1970 Tyco was "acquired" by Consolidated Foods (later Sara Lee), this was the period that the food companies were buying up the toy/hobby companies (Nabisco buying Aurora, General Foods buying MPC and Strombecker) Shortly after the acquisition, Norman Tyler bowed out, the new management came in, but these people could not envision a product in this manner. It became necessary to have my proposed new bodies rendered, as opposed to a list with clippings & photos, I turned to my long time slot racing friend and professional designer, Jose` Rodriguez. Then I drew up a list, went to Jose` and discussed all the detail points that I wanted on each. He rendered them up and I presented these for approval. In nearly every case, the renderings were approved without change. The next step was for me personally to sculpt up two identical, fully decorated samples of each. One was for the sales catalog photography and presentations, the other went with me back to HK to start the sculpting & tool work.
All of these cars were done as rendered, the only exceptions were the two versions of the van, which became simplified to a custom van with no real features, and the V12 Drag van.
A point of interest for collectors:
The McLaren M8B that we did: It seem that Bernie Ecclestone’s son decided that he could make a fortune by approaching each team and obtain the exclusive rights to the cars for model purposes. We were too far along on the McLaren to do much, so we titled it a Group & and painted it white. I called Jim Hall (of Chaparral) and obtained permission to make all his cars accurate.
See additional examples of body shots in various stage of decoration as used for prototyping....
After I left Tyco in the fall of 1976, they began to "recycle" many of the existing bodies for example:
* Pinto & Gremlin - converted to dirt-track cars
Generally we kept redecorating all the cars - many became rather garish (my opinion) and moved away from the scale prototypes that I had created originally. They also were not too consistent in each decor, creating a nightmare for collectors today. In short, they became toys, as opposed to model race cars. Compounding the collector problem was the fact that I sold nearly 1.5 Cu Ft of first shot samples (some still on the runner) and many paint scheme samples - where Tyco HK painted up whatever was on hand with a proposed scheme and sent it over to me, items that were never intended for sale. I have seen several of these listed as “very rare” by collectors.
Regarding producing items for the collector market, other than the special promotion of the “Phantom Cobra", which came with an oiler, we did not make any collector specials.
This is the Cobra "Trade Up" ad...and the hobby shop display card for the "Used Car Lot" where the cars taken in trade on the Cobra promotion were displayed for sale!
What I did do was to commission a survey through the Hobby Industry Association to determine the buying habits of HO racing customers. No surprise that additional track sections led the way; as I remember it, the numbers were that the average customer had purchased 8.2 sections, and the average for cars was 7.5. This meant that we could increase sales by making the cars available at the same place as the track sets, in addition to the hobby shops.
Another funny story, after I left Tyco, I joined Matchbox, did their roadrace line - and consulted to the other product managers. When I suggested a '57 Chevy with a tilt-front for the Matchbox car line, we used the same prototype as the TycoPro one. It was neat seeing it rendered in diecast..
Personal PR Efforts
Back to the early 1970's....As soon as production got underway at Tyco HK, but before deliveries began, I started calling the Hobby magazines - Car Model (editor, Bob McLeod) and Model Car & Track (Ray Hoy). - but as they were a factor to my joining Tyco, they knew something was up. I fed them a few photos and discussed items, such as upcoming body styles and also arranged for Tyco’s Sales/Advertising group to buy ads in coming issues.
February 1970 Car Model Magazine with the cover
story: "Introducing TycoPro...We call it Pat Dennis on a production line..."
March 1970, Dale Flanagan review....
Page 1, Page 2, Page 3
April 1970 Flanagan column
right from the start, the "Parts Companies" took notice....
and of course the "too wild" TycoPro now needs to be tamed....
Carl Dreher article CM Magazine 1970, page 2, page 3
I also toured the hobby shops in the south New Jersey and Philadelphia areas, discovering the in-shop HO racing was pretty well limited to dragstrips, with a “big Drag night” once a week. As I no longer needed the Prototype, I modified it to participate in their meets - making sure they recognized that it was a Tyco product. I also “suggested” that they put in a real road course for the anticipated surge in HO racing interest.
Side Story....Mini Raceways Grand Opening, September
1970 with pics and CM magazine article...
Nuremberg Toy Fair, 1971...(click for pic)
Side Story.....How things worked at the Toy Fairs......
Picture of a Tyco TV shoot...(click for pic)
(later Tyco "dragsters")
These "tours" ultimately led to a personal relationship with many of the magazine article writers and hobby shop owners. These became invaluable as the TycoPro hit the market and feedback from these sources resulted in chassis changes and body style selections.
Introducing the Trick Chassis:
Q: Anyone have a green Superbird?
A: By the way, the reason that no one has ever seen a green Superbird is because Tyco never made one. The Superbird was the first body that was modeled totally from photos, etc. As first shots weren't available in time for the photography session, an artist's rendition was used - he chose that rather horrid green color.
February 1971 Car Model Magazine story....
August 1971: Rodriguez scratchbuilds! Page 1, Page 2, Page 3
Side Story: White Boots!
"When it became apparent that the TycoPro needed better tires to compete with the industry, we started testing alternatives. My first choice was RTV covered foam - the same as the prototype, but this proved to be very labor intensive and prohibitively expensive. So we started testing solid silicone items. The best, and ultimately what was used in production was a material supplied by Bayer Chemicals from Germany. Unfortunately, this material was room temperature vulcanizing, they did not have an equivalent in a molded type. So, the production department had a very large quantity of multi-cavity discs (approx. 12" in diameter, with probably 50 tire cavities in each) made up. These were filled, excess scraped off like cake icing, and placed in an air conditioned office to cure. It required about 24 hours to completely cure out - that office was filled with, what the staff referred to as "flying discs". Then they used a low pressure air hose to extract the finished tires. We never did find another material that performed as well."
(click for larger)
The Discovery of Having Made One Compromise Too Many
When the first real shipments of the cars started arriving in New Jersey, I was charged with setting up a test facility to pretest every one before they were blistered and boxed (they were shipped in bulk from HK). I made up a series of test tracks and tried to “calibrate” them to ensure they met my standards. I finally arrived at a configuration and power level that sorted out any with problems (most problems were either the rear axle snapped out on one side due to shipping, or the shape and set of the wipers). I personally trained 2 girls to do any “touchup” that the wipers needed.
An interesting experience:
The entire packing line, which the car test tracks were a part of was run by a gal named Angie. She was quite the “boss” and kept the line moving , meeting the production goals- or else... I discovered she had a soft side when she organized a pot luck dinner on Thanksgiving (actually setting it up right on the conveyors) and insisted that I join in. Remember that, at this time I was both new to the company and much younger than the others from the “front office”. I was the only member of management invited - I think I gained a lot of respect and cooperation from that day forward.
Now that I had enough cars to do some abusive testing - such as actually racing them on various tracks, I discovered that the initial cornering ability had degraded - seriously! I finally determined that the drop arm was twisting, allowing the guide flag to “lean” in the worst direction on turn-in. The problem stemmed from my Tool Designer (Ying Lai) “guaranteeing” me that the Acetyl material would be as stiff as the prototype - which was brass. He had added as large a rib around the perimeter as possible. It was fairly stiff, but we underestimated the dynamic “spike” force when the car hit the first radius. I called HK, they changed the material grade and tightened the tolerance at the chassis retainer. This helped, but I still wasn’t satisfied.
They then cut a tool to make a die cast arm with an integral weight. I don’t know how many cars were actually shipped with this part.
The real solution was to make a major revision to the car - introducing the TycoPro II, with a full page ad in the Hobby magazines. Click for larger view....
To make this change, I had to get approval from sales that we would not offer those crazy race sets with “jumps, railroad crossings, etc. now, or in the future". This is why the original needed such articulation of the arm.
We also did a serious examination of the contact system - determining that a specifically shaped button, with the centerline of the heads slightly off-center, to promote rotation and distribute wear, inside a brass tube with a light spring assist would be within 95% of the speed and efficiency of a properly setup wiper - but more importantly, could not get “out of adjustment” with user abuse and had considerably longer life. We made the prototype from brass rivets and brass eyelets that we broached for parallel sides.
As most are aware the TP II had a hinged “drop” pan (real Brass this time), plus a number of additional minor changes such as tightening the real axle saddles, adding a larger rib on the back of the front stub-axles, and reworking the fit of the front wheels & axles (the original type wobbled too much). We also took this opportunity to introduce a “stretched” wheelbase version (increased from 1.5” to 1.7” ). This allowed better proportions for many of the American body styles (Camaro, Mustang, etc).
In keeping with “factory advantage” I had a few pans stamped from Aluminum to run at those hobby shops that still had dragstrips.
Contrary to the beliefs of some, Tyco never “locked” this drop pan in the up position - there were, however some instances that the staking tools "cocked" the limiting tabs, causing the pan to jamb either full up, or full down. Full down was obvious and was corrected on the assembly line In Tyco HK, full up probably just passed through the system. I was a “frequent flyer” to HK and while there, I toured each portion of production, from molding, through painting to final assembly and QC testing. Any trend failures would not have gone undetected and uncorrected for very long.
Side Story: Bachmann mimics the TycoPro chassis....
I finally Get Some Help
Tyco was an unusual company, being vertically integrated, meaning we performed every aspect of the business - the only exception was that we did not have an in-house sales group, we used a rep group, Milt Grey, Inc. that had a long history both with Tyco and the hobby industry, Revell had been one of their clients. We manufactured all tools & molds, all product, even making & winding our own motors for the train line. Tyco was essentially a company with a long history in HO trains and the newer racing line provided another sales and manufacturing “leg”. Usually, when one line was hot, the other was not, so in late 1970, I was “given” the train line, in addition to the HO racing line to try to balance things out.
By early 1971, I convinced management that I needed help because that at this point in time, I was running R&D, QA/QC, Customer Service, Return Analysis, Major Sales presentations and training (new products). Additionally I was still spending nearly ½ of every year in HK (or wherever else in the world they needed me)- usually 4 weeks at a time. The first hire was someone to build the electrical test fixtures that I had designed for the lines. He would also do incoming QC /QA testing. The second hire was a QC assistant manager.
Then I started looking for the “right guy” to work with me in R&D.
On a recommendation from one of those Hobby Shops that I schmoozed with during
the TycoPro launch, I found exactly the right guy - Bob
Kircher. Bob I worked quite well together, ultimately being able to travel
to HK on my behalf. I really cannot praise his abilities enough, as most Tyco
products (Racing & trains) from that time forward probably had one or more
of his fingerprints on it.
I realize that the readers of this are not really interested in HO trains, but we did some really neat things in this field....
By now, I had “new office space" - actually the end of a storage area upstairs. This space had sufficient room for 4 desks, three 4’ X 8’ tables for sets, etc.and my “home made” 3 lane track. We set these up so we could cover whatever tracks we were using with piece of ½” plywood and have room to set up whatever new sets (racing and trains) we needed for testing. We also has a 8” wide channel mounted below the windows for a 25” straight race and train track (in case we wanted to have a drag strip). My test equipment had expanded considerably from the original VOM test meter. We now had a strobe tach, Gauss meter, audiometer and various strain gauges and timing devices. Now we could actually set baselines and measure improvements.
The TycoPro Line moves from a Hobby to a Business
Back to the business part - during 1973, Tyco made a great move by buying Milt Grey, Inc, our sales rep organization. Now they became part of the company and could put their full efforts into selling and marketing Tyco products. Shortly after this was done, Richard Grey (Milt’s son) became president. The person that he replaced just was not a good fit for the Toy/Hobby business that we were in.
Tyco was now using TV ads to augment the Hobby Magazine print ads (we paid for all of these - but the comments by the columnists only cost a few phone calls, several evening visits and lots of parts - some special ones!).
The race set configurations became more toy-like - we added lighted cars - it should be noted that to provide more continuous lighting, we used a zenier diode, putting the 1st 1.5 volts through the lamp, the remainder going to the motor. The sales group insisted on a “Two-in-One” race track/dragstrip set. When I pointed out that there wasn’t near enough track for much of a dragstrip, they “invented the banked Curve Dragstrip” - much to my disapproval. This was the period that we looked to an outside source of color schemes for the cars (I presume most of the readers can detect just where this line of deco begins). We also enlisted a California design group to develop some ideas. The results included the “Motor Roar” sound idea, plus one other that became an important part of the Tyco line after I left - “US 1 Trucking”. At the time we thought it was interesting, but the costs were too high to meet the retail price points that were accepted by the retailers at that time.
Although Bob & I were immersed in trying to find items, products and gimmicks to expand the business, we still found time at the end of the day to have some serious all-out races with each other. We decided that we should also test on the actual set configurations that we were selling. To eliminate the usual variables of bad track joints and conductor issues, we went down (remember we were now on the second floor, all by ourselves) to the molding department, picked up the track sections required for a particular set right out of the molding machines, before any rails were staked in, dropped by the assembly department and pulled uncut wire from the coils. We joined the bare tracks together per the set layout, turned the assembly upside down and solvent welded all sections together. Turning it right side up we sanded the joints and scraped slots at these joints. Then we inserted continuous rail into the track. Back upside down, we hand staked it in place, added a few jumpers and had the finest “set track” ever. We got so good racing on these that we were driving by ear - you just couldn’t follow them by eye. This is where we developed the banked track with 18” transitions - now the sets were even quicker.
Another side story:
One night Bob & I were “playing” on my “homebuilt” track and after about an hour of perspiration grade racing, we took a couple of old T-Jets, put AJ’s silicone “washer style” tires on and reduced the track voltage to approximately 9 VDC. Suddenly the T-Jets were raceable, great power slides, but were more forgiving, etc. To win required a lot more concentration - you had to enter as deep as possible, keep the momentum up and get on the throttle absolutely as soon as possible. Great racing, a lot of fun - you should try this sometime, as it levels the playing field between the pros and the beginners.
Bob Kircher was experimenting with the concept of magnetic attraction in 1973. The results looked promising - as it overcame one of the three major customer complaints - returns from customers and retailers had risen to approximately 10%....
We started attacking the problems that were determined from the return slips and customer notes included with returned sets (I had instructed the returns department to pull every note from a return and send them to me for analysis).
The problems simply stated were:
1) Cars do not stay on the track (Pickup wiper mis-adjustment).
2) Cars stop at some point on the track, then proceed after moving them forward (Lack of continuity between track sections).
3) Track locking tabs broken (the Tyco track section design poor, was a test of material strength and molding conditions).
Magnetic attraction greatly aided the ability for the car to stay on the track - if a car couldn’t complete multiple laps, it was not fun! We developed the “flux plates” to be able to use the motor magnets, instead of separate items - a major cost savings. We had Mabuchi HK (I was told that Tyco’s heavy use prompted Mabuchi to set up a HK operation) punch out some brass housings, which we hand cut the “windows” for the flux plates. We used our gauss meter and a transparent track shot with iron filings to measure the magnetic effects and the propagation. You may note that the first style had rather sharp points on the flux plates as this concentrated the lines of force where we wanted them.
We did a serious examination of the contact system - determining that a specifically shaped button, inside a brass tube with a light spring assist would be within 95% of the speed and efficiency of a properly setup wiper - but more importantly, could not get “out of adjustment” with user abuse and had considerably longer life. We made the prototype from brass rivets and brass eyelets that we broached for parallel sides.
I designed two new track joining systems - using 25% less plastic (this was during the period that the oil crunch has caused plastic molding powders to increase by 200%), eliminated the rail end cuts & bends for contact (this design utilized straight line “wiping” action as the sections were joined). It also decreased the cost of materials and assembly by 25%.
All in all, I estimated that these changes would reduce returns for all reasons to less than 2.5% - a significant improvement.
I did the necessary calculations for tooling costs, product cost impact, etc. and set up a meeting with management. You would think that the product improvements and return reductions would have delighted them. To the contrary, any change in the track would cause “entry mass” problems (“the new design is great, I will buy it, where do I send all of the old style inventory”). Worst yet, I was asked if the new magnetic attraction car was cheaper than the original - it was actually a bit more expensive.
The result - no we are not interested. When I asked what we should do with all of this work, I was told to put it away and make something more useful!!!!
Another side note:
I did receive a patent for these new track designs - after I left, they somehow managed to overcome their “entry mass” fears and produced both types - one for slotted and the other for slotless.
Magnetic Attraction Finally Goes into Production
At this point in time, JC Penney decided to make an aggressive run at their arch-rival Sears in the catalog sales business. It was a good sales point to be able to state to the smaller distributors and retailers that our sets were in the Sears or Penney’s catalog. Things became polarized - Aurora was featured exclusively in Sears and Tyco in JC Penny. We went after the competition furiously - always trying to “one up” the other. This was working to both companies' advantage for the first few years, until Aurora introduced their Magnatraction car in 1975.
Richard (Dick) Grey made his usual pre-fair presentations to Penney, their response was “do you have a comparable item”? As we didn’t - remember that our prototypes had been turned down and were still on the shelf in R&D. Penney stated that they would probably have to go with Aurora for the next year. Dick was ready to walk away from their business, but on the flight home he “woke up”. I was called into his office “do you still have that magnetic attraction car”? Explaining that we had three versions with several different pickup variations - I was told to “grab which ever was closest to finalized, get on the next plane to HK!” I had a lot of preparation to do on that flight to make any detail changes that were needed and write out a full description of each part and the principle on which it worked. I put in another 4 weeks of very long days with the tooling and design people there. It didn’t come out too bad, considering the panic that we were all in.
Products that never made it into production - and why...
Probably the car that have generated the most questions was the TycoPro Mk II, the angle winder. I built this in 1970 after I obtained samples of the German Buehler motors at the International Toy Fair in Nuremberg. See the Car Model Magazine article on this link... ed. note: RiggenHO.com TycoPro MKII Limited Edition details here....
These were smaller that the Mabuchi:
Armature OD: 0.320” for the Buehler vs. 0.373 for the Mabuchi
Housing width: 0.509” for the Buehler vs. 0.710 for the Mabuchi
Although the Buehler had a longer housing, this was due to the very generous proportions of the end-cap. And the spacing between the laminates and the commutator - problems easily changed for production. I started out with a hand built end-cap, sort of a miniature Mabuchi, but added a brass brush holder with hairpin springs. A decent rewind and I had a screamer. The small dimension between the shaft and the sides of the housing allowed a very slight angle to make an angle winder design. I used piano wire, large Hypo needles and brass sheet for the chassis. The first sample tested well and the second, with a smaller angle was better. Then I did a full sidewinder - the rear axle actually passing through the housing, nearly touching the magnets. I sold the idea to Richard Cheng and we contacted Buehler - they wouldn’t bend one bit from their present design, despite the projected quantities. So we started work in Tyco HK. We made a drawing die for the housing, started conversations with the magnet manufacturers, etc. We even made up a spot weld rig to weld the piano wire and hypo needles. The major problems were the laminate dies. Progressive blank & form dies are expensive!!!! Next, the magnet people couldn’t guarantee that the magnets this thin would not come out of the compression molds with any dimensional accuracy - they made comments like “maybe looking like a potato chip”. Not encouraging. Even with all of this we remained confident that we could build it. Our projected retail was $8.00 - management (remember that these were ex-sales people), said that the market would not accept an $8.00 HO car. That killed it.
As far as performance goes, Bob Kircher and I put a lot of race laps on the prototypes - he can attest to how they went. Bob, and of course Jose` Rodriguez, are the only other people to have ever driven one of these - regardless what anyone may wish to tell you.
The next item was actually a set concept - a functional drag strip. We built a gravity operated Christmas tree - with a dpdt switch on the green indicator. Now everyone knows that a slot car cannot back straight up without a rear pin, so the power was always on - in reverse. When you got the green it switched. You had to be pretty good to get a hole-shot on your opponent. We then built a win indicator (a bi-stable device with a flag indicating the winning lane) and a trap speed indicator (an impact device that the cars hit at the finish - the faster the car, the higher the reading). Then, in a moment of euphoria, we tried something different - a 4 speed stick shift. We put a polarity reversal circuit at the distance that we thought a shift would be necessary - moving the stick shift simply reversed the polarity to match the next section. With a bit of practice, you could get pretty smooth and have a real thrash against your opponent. We set this up as another “dog & pony show” along with some substantial train concepts to review with senior management. If I were to tell you that the only item that was accepted was the stick shift, you could probably sense the major disappointment that ran throughout R&D.
At this point I decided that the direction that Tyco was going was not where I wanted to be - nearly all of us left the company by the end of 1976.
Where to after that? - well that is another story for another time.....
---Matchbox had never considered going into slot racing until they were
approached by Dick Cheng (ex VP Operations of Tyco) and myself in mid 1976 with
a design proposal - track system, controllers, cars, etc. Matchbox accepted
the proposal and I was hired as the Product Manager in Oct 1976. The system
was named SpeedTrack (in the US) and PowerTrack (rest of world). We could not
get the name PowerTrack for the US due to copyrights held by a non- slot racing
Collector/History buff questions....
(your questions and answers here...)
Question: ---Did Tyco ever look at the idea of their own commercial raceways? Contests like the Aurora Grand Nationals? Why did Tyco stay HO only during the time when many slot/toy companies were doing 2 or 3 scales?
Answer: Although we examined the idea of offering a commercial raceway, we had determined that the problems of conductors that would accept standard pickup would be quite expensive. I had worked with Bob Rule (ex Champion Products, in Chamblee, GA) on his concept on "mini raceways". Bob had partnered with Bob Hayes of REH to have tracks built to the design that Car Model pioneered (I even attended the Grand Opening along with Jim Russell and a few other slot car notables - which was mentioned in Car Model). These tracks just would not work reliably with a standard pickup.
As far as contests participation, we felt that this would not be cost effective. You have to remember that, at the time that Aurora was running the contest on the Ed Sullivan show, their President (who, it was reported, was independently wealthy and enjoyed rubbing shoulders with big name sports stars) was spending money like water on major TV promotions - like Super bowl ads, etc. This caught up with Aurora a bit later.
Regarding the entry into other scales of racing, Tyco did offer a higher performance version of their train motors for 1/32 & 1/24th cars prior to my joining them. I actually machined up a precision aluminum housing which I used in my Ferrari 250LM. Overall, we just felt that we should stay with what the majority of the market was - as the larger scales were dying by the early 1970s.
---Ed note...this article inspired a reader to send us pictures of this very unusual Curvehugger IN STORE promotional set. More pictures here...and Pat's response...
Question:---The '32 Fords are a "One Off" with the 2-in-1 design and marketing....tell us more about them....
Answer: Another unknown fact was that when these 1932 Fords were proposed, they were to be a real 2-in-1, with the lower sections (fenders & running boards) to be able to be snapped on & off. This would allow either a stock appearing '32 or a racing version. Dick Grey vetoed the idea, preferring two separate bodies. In retrospect, there were fewer design compromises by having two separate bodies, but I thought it would be neat to be able to simply snap of the fender sections and "get down to racing".
Question: one area of personal interest is learning about the packaging decisions....I really liked the first boxes (have noted there are two styles) and also really like the domes....but why the switch? Also, from a "too intense" curiosity, why did the font style switch on the dome packaging---and then from the first color scheme to the green??? Simply a marketing thing?
TycoPro EARLY display
and side view
Answer: "Changes in the original boxes were probably due to either requests from Milt Grey, Inc - who, after I did the originals, took over a lot of the graphics selections. They "fiddled" with font & colors to react to the various customer's input and also wanted to differentiate the newer releases from the old, which made the salesmen's re-stocking easier. There was also the changes due to the acquisition by Consolidated Foods. The new Tyco President (after Norman Tyler moved on) fancied himself as a merchandiser and hired two people in marketing & advertising. There were many logo & font proposals - and many "running changes" to packaging - the train line received the most as road racing became the dominant product line, the trains suffered and they were attempting to balance things out. I cannot describe the manufacturing and inventory problems that occurred when there was a major shift like this.
The change to the dome style package was a "new approach" to the product ...the dome type was referred to as a "spotlight" styling, with the car in a white circle on a black square, and the dome emphasizing the effect. The change to the dome-style also created a nightmare for packing. The cars were no longer cradled with the blister and now had to be mounted with double-sided foam tape. Packout in the non-airconditioned packing line area caused the tape not to adhere consistently. We had to use more and more aggressive tape adhesives - which caused the cars to become damaged when the consumer tried to get them off!
We also incorporated the new merchandiser - sort of a vertical showcase with a facing of each car and storage for the remaining stock in the back. This was a special deal 144 cars and the counter display charged at some exorbitant price, which was then discounted from the total order value. Actually we made money on this "sleight of hand" maneuver.
I think the color changes were due to the prevailing "hot" colors
of that period. "
Question: "...I was wondering if Pat may remember some details on the Ford Bronco. Any information on how and why the Bronco was chosen. I'm assuming it was based on Big Oly. ..."
Answer: "When I proposed the TycoPro Bronco, it was
my attempt to produce new, exciting competition cars that I thought would appeal
to a wider range of customers, not just circuit racers. This particular racer
was sculpted by the Chui's after I brought as many photos from the various magazines.
The Bronco was not a complicated project - simple lines, square corners - all
we had to do was make sure the outstanding details were faithfully included.
You would think that the Chui's would not understand the spare wheel/tire mounted
on the hood, but there were quite a few early Land Rovers there with this feature.
Unfortunately, all photos, clippings, etc were left in Tyco HK when the project was finished - probably covered with blobs of plaster of paris!"
Question: Here's a question concerning the design of the Tyco
HO Scale Chaparral 2D Coupe:
Why was the car conceived with that tall rear wing? I may be wrong but I don't believe I've seen a photo of the real car sporting that fixture.
I've looked everywhere but never found a pic of the 2D with a high rear wing. Whose idea was that?
Answer: "When I did this version of the car, I got
the same question - this is a replica of the wind-tunnel car that GM used to
test the high wing concept.
I found a "secret" photo of this car years ago. ...