Saturday, March 24, 2012

Nintendo My Car Race (マイカーレース, ca 1965)

There is no shortage of racing games in Nintendo's history. And I am not talking about Mario Kart, or other virtual speedsters, but of real racing experiences, be it on toy scale.

Nintendo My Car Race (1965)
Nintendo My Car Race (ca 1965)

The two oldest in Nintendo's catalogue are Drive Game and the set shown here: My Car Race (マイカーレース).

The year of release of My Car Race is not shown on the box or manual, but it is believed to date from around 1965, possibly slightly earlier. Retail price was ¥2,500.

The sports car on the front of the box (which I believe is a Mazda) promises an exciting, fast paced game. It also somewhat over-promises the level of detail of the model cars included, as we will see shortly.

My Car Race comes in a sizeable box, measuring about 43 by 52 centimeters wide and 9 centimeters high.

The box contains four track pieces, an electric lift and a smaller box with additional parts.

In the smaller box we find the stands for the track, a bag with mounting parts, a package with cars and a battery.

The set requires some assembly, as indicated on the front of the box ('組立式').

The four tracks are connected using six pairs of nuts and bolts, screwed together with a small screwdriver, provided with the set.

The electric lift runs on a single 1.5 volt D cell (called UM-1 in Japan). The construction of the lift is very basic, with an exposed electric motor and gear wheels. It is quite easy (though not advisable) to get your fingers caught-up in-between the gears. Safety regulations were a bit different (read: non existent) back then.

Inserting the battery requires some fiddling with the battery compartment, which has to be detached from the lift in order get access.

The cap on the the switch even has to come off during this operation. Not very well designed. Surprising even, given Nintendo design standards we have long been accustomed to.

The battery provided is produced by Hitachi Maxell.

Most batteries from this era often started leaking corrosive material after some time, but this model apparently was so well constructed it came with a guarantee. To its testament, this one looks like it rolled of the factory line yesterday, even though it is close to fifty years old!

Looking at the manual, support for an external AC power supply was intended at some point during design, but decided against at a later stage in production, as it was blacked out in the manual after it was printed.

Sorry, no adapter. Better stock up on batteries.

A pack with five small cars is included. The cars measure a little over 3 centimeters. According to the manual, addition packs with cars could be ordered for ¥200 each.

In case you're wondering, the metal piece is the screwdriver, used to assemble the tracks.

The cars are very simple affairs. They have a single body color each, as well as a single wheel! This metal wheel is quite heavy, for such a small vehicle, proving speed for the race.

After the track has been bolted together, and the stands placed underneath it, one end of the track is attached to the top of the lift, and the other end to the bottom.

Instructions showing how to attach the track to the top of the lift

A start gate is placed at the top of the track.

My Car Race is now ready to use.

Well. It would. If something wasn't missing.

Unfortunately, the rubber belts that are an essential part of the lift did not stand the test of time, at all. The rubber has hardened, and completely crumbled. This is a universal problem for this game, and I believe it would be a small miracle to find one that did not suffer a similar fate.

Some of the sad remains of the lift belts. Time wasn't on their side.

Without the belts (which would sit around the wheels you can seen on the top and bottom of the lift), the game is seriously handicapped. But let's pretend it is still fine, and go for a race.

Four cars can participate at the same time. Here they are, lined up at the start gate.

When the gate is lifted, the cars zip down the slopping track.

Because of the weight of the wheel in the cars, they gain a surprising speed.

A race would normally involve a number of laps around the track. When arriving at the bottom of the lift, the belts would take the cars up again for the next lap. After a predetermined number of laps, the first car passing the start/finish gate would be named the winner.

The image below gives a good impression of the lift with functioning belts. The little spikes on the belts pull the cars up. Because these spikes are not spaced evenly on the belts, there is an element of luck involved. Cars may lose or gain time here, depending on how quickly a spike pulls them up when they arrive at the bottom of the lift.

In its full working glory, My Car Race would clearly have provided ample hours of fun. I am sure kids could watch these cars cruising around the tracks for hours. And in its time, battery powered games - in whatever form - were still pretty advanced, anyway.

The game is limited though, as it only offers something to look at; it is not possible for the spectators to participate and influence the outcome of a race. In that sense, it is more like Nintendo's tumbling bean games like Rabbit Coaster Game.

My Car Race is not as exciting as, for instance, slot car racing games (like Carrera or Scalextric) or RC cars (like Nintendo's own Lefty RX). But a great piece of Nintendo history nonetheless.


  1. Certainly not entirely in the same level as Hot Wheels or Tyco's race tracks to come.

    1. Agree, Chris. The car sets you mention that would appear at the end of 60s would be much more spectacular and engaging. Hot Wheels stands out particularly as a real innovator; appearing only a couple of years after the Nintendo set shown here, they were miles ahead in design.

      The My Car Race set is most interesting for its place in Nintendo's history,. It shows a company making their first steps on the toys market, still lacking the brilliance that would soon emerge.

  2. I had no idea these even existed! As a budding collector here in Japan, it's great to get such informative info. about early Nintendo gear.

    Keep those posts coming!!