09/16/2014

It might seem odd to welcome back a brand that never left, but that is what it feels like to me. If you are brand new to the hobby, NINCO has been around for a long time but the last few years have been tough for them in the USA market to say the least.

The main reason was the unreasonable price tags the models carried. Not just on new models but on simple repaints of old tooling that left us all scratching our heads and a lot of us, including myself, simply stopped buying them on that reason alone. To make things even worse, NINCO had a habit of changing motors. It seemed almost every release was anyone's guess what motor the car would come with.

Meanwhile other brands were producing great cars at prices well below NINCO offerings and doing it without constant motor incompatibility. So it seemed NINCO had 3 strikes against them and on this side of the pond that normally is a very bad thing. And it was. Hardly anyone was talking about them unless you counted the disgruntled lot of enthusiasts who gave their annual complaints of the pricing/motor issues. Of course a few us held on for awhile and we would snag a new model once it went on sale. But the truth was I wondered if we would ever talk about NINCO again, at least in a positive light.

But things might be turning around. Professor Motor is a longtime brand name in our hobby and is now the new distributor for NINCO products. This new agreement would have likely been nothing to talk about if the pricing stayed the same, but it didn't. At least on this first delivery of models. A much lower price point has been reached that puts some of my favorite models right back on that "must have" list.

And make no mistake, these models are some of my all time favorite slot cars from NINCO. You might hear other enthusiasts tell you the same thing.

So today was exciting as I unboxed some of my favorite models that have been all but forgotten. Are they new? In a way, yes. The molds for them certainly are not, but most of the inside has been changed. Thus far, you might be thinking this was going to be a very glowing review. Sadly things start to decline.

The McLaren goes back to 1996 but it wasn't until around 97 and 98 that they started become popular. Of course a lot of that popularity had to do with our wonderful Internet blossoming as well as the installment of the venerable NC-2 motor and attractive race liveries.

1997/98 was when the first Gulf version arrived and we welcomed it gladly. At that time the decals and paint were about as good as you could find. This model is likely one of the most popular models NINCO had back then as it was easily tuned to be one tough customer on the track. Looking at this new release tells you how far we have come in the overall finish since then.

Based on the 1995 LeMans car, NINCO did very good work reproducing the artwork.

The F1 models NINCO produced were not as warmly welcomed. The first offerings arrived at my door around 1999 and what little talk there was about them was usually negative. The steering system was the major complaint along with the weaker magnet NINCO utilized.

But some of us really enjoyed them and as usual I was one of them. I never cared for the extreme speeds and equally extreme crashes that heavy magnet racing produces. The secret to these models was the balance they have and perhaps one of the best set of tires NINCO ever molded. The rubber NINCO used, along with the size, soon became very popular with tuners and scratch-builders. Remember, back then we did not have much of anything to work with like we do today.

The model is simply a generic paint scheme and it will either be good enough or not. For a simple & fun night of racing they would work just fine. The original models were no scale award winners either but that did not stop us then and I won't let this fantasy livery stop me today. I sort of like this black & gold combo anyway.

It was the action the models provided in non-magnet form that they really shined. The grip of the tires, the width of the car, and balanced power of that famous NC-2 delivered one heck of a slot car. Is the steering a weak point? Of course. But enthusiasts soon discovered it was a weak point for the other brands running a solid axle as well. The designs of these cars simply left that front axle a weak spot and when your heavy magnet missile of a car broke free, well, even a front axle design was not going to hold up every time.

Meanwhile in our "scale speed society" our models were holding well enough. In fact, all my original models have countless laps on them and none of them have broken steering. Now there are a few mirrors missing because I neglected to remove them before racing, but other than that they have held up just fine. Not exactly pretty of course, but still here and they still see action from time to time.

Ok, I know I am being a bit nostalgic about these models but I cannot help it. As you hear older veterans speak about the great times of the 60's, for enthusiasts like myself it was the late 90's that bring out the stories. And yes, we did have to walk uphill, both ways, in the snow, to get to the track :)

Closer Look - McLaren F1 GTR

If you had not noticed already, the rear tires on the McLaren seem small. They are clearly the wrong size tire and it really stands out for me. The wheels have always been too small for scale enthusiasts but I left them alone. With the slightly taller tire they handled well and looked good enough, especially at speed.

Looking back on one of the earlier releases you can clearly see the difference.  These smaller tires are on the front as well, although not as noticeable Even though the NINCO website states the model has 19x10 MM tires up front and 20 x 10 MM on the rear, such is not the case. These tires, both front and back measure 17.80 MM in diameter. Checking the NINCO Spares Page it is clear they used the 18 x 10 tire on this model.

Not that the low profile tire is out of place for this car, but when you combine them with an already small wheel it just looks poorly to my eyes. Even a pure collector might not appreciate this view.

Looking underneath I was surprised to find the older NC-5 Speeder motor. As much as NINCO changes motors you would think I wouldn't be, but I thought this motor was all but replaced by the NC-14 Speeder+ NINCO felt we needed.

Test Run #1- McLaren F1 GTR

A quick test run was not favorable. The model had very noticeable wheel hop and it just seemed a little under powered. I removed the 4 screws that held the body in place to give it a quick look inside to see what was holding it back.

My eyes were immediately focused on the rear axle. Sometimes these pop out during shipment which many a veteran NINCO buyer can attest. It was secured in the mounts and as I turned the axle to feel for binding I saw it: The rear crown gear appeared smaller than normal. That is because they installed a 24 TOOTH CROWN in this car instead of the standard 27 tooth. Again, the data sheet from NINCO states a 27 and that is what the models before it had.

Why they did this is anyone's guess. I have never figured out why NINCO constantly changes things, especially when they usually decrease the appeal of the car. But this change is even beyond the normal motor madness.

The wheel hop is nothing new to a NINCO model, in fact they are quite famous for it. But to be fair other brands have it too, just not as pronounced. The usual culprit of most of this wheel hop is that the tires are not setting true on the wheel. Closer inspection revealed that to be the case.

And the reason why the tire is not true on the wheel is due to another well known trait: Excess flash molding. And sure enough I removed the tire and quickly spotted it. Not a real issue to me because it is easily removed. Most other brands have some of this from time to time and it is just something we accept when dealing with factory plastic wheels. The good news is that the wheels seemed round and true enough. A session on the old Tire Razor will have them ready for action soon enough.

Closer Look - "Formula Black"

Turning this model over I found the NC-14 Speeder+ we mentioned earlier. Again I have no answer as to what motors are assigned to what models. In this case it does not bother me in the least. The last F1 model I have is from a long time ago that has the original black wrapped NC-2. These new models are all released at the same time and have the same motor. That is good enough for me. At least if I wanted to, I could collect a couple more and not have to swap motors.

The older ribbed style tires are now slicks and I don't know how close the compound is to the original. Not that is matters because I have switched to Paul Gage tires long ago and will do so here. You need the F1 Tires he makes listed here.

Inside this car all appears to be the same except the motor. A 9 tooth pinion turns the 24 tooth crown gear and the standard button magnet in the middle. Unlike the McLaren, this gearing is what prior models had in them. The pinion is black anodized whereas the McLaren is not. The lead wires are soldered instead of having the quick disconnects as we have seen in most other new NINCO models. Again, I have no idea why these differences are here. No matter really, just trivial things that do not concern most enthusiasts.

Test Run #2- "Formula Black"

I was happy with this car out of the box. It ran well enough and I know it can be made to be a very smooth running car with just a little wheel and tire sanding.

But even though I really enjoy it, many newcomers and/or current enthusiasts may not. Compared to other modern F1 models by other brands, this car is outclassed in stock form. This means that the small button magnet is not going to stick like the more powerful bar magnets found in Scalextric or Carrera models. Scale purists would likely not race them against it anyway due to the difference in model years, but some will try and match them up regardless so I have to mention it.

Final Thoughts

I have to be honest and therefore echo my partial dissatisfaction with the McLaren. Although a very appealing livery which is well done, the model will need more work than I planned on to be compatible with others in my fleet. The crown gear choice is the main reason of course. Because it needs a new gear I will just invest in after-market parts, including new wheels, to convert it. It might seem trivial to some, but for me this car seemed to be put together with what surplus running gear was on hand. I see no other reason why the choice was made.

The F1 model is just what I expected and for that I am very happy. Remember that this car is NOT going to be the racers choice for others and you will hear plenty of people disagreeing with me. But I cannot help how I enjoy my slot cars. I enjoy non-magnet racing and these F1 models can be tuned into some of them most open wheel fun you can expect. Scale purists will pass due to the paint schemes but I plan on getting at least 2 more for our 3 lane track.

The main positive here is the price tags. The Gulf McLaren was slated to have a price tag of $89.98. I paid $43.99 under the new Professor Motor pricing. That is a big difference to say the least. I had simply dismissed this car up until this new price came along. Same with the F1 models. They had a price tag of nearly $60.00 but again the new price is $43.99. And to be truthful that is still a little high for fantasy livery and mold that is 15 plus years old. But it is fair to me because I like them so much.

I have no idea if this new low price point will continue with NINCO models in the future. I hope so, and not just for my own sake. Because if they go back up, then what little appeal these cars have will be ignored just as they have been in the past and the brand will go back to obscurity. I do not want that. I like the NINCO models for the most part and would be great to see them back in the mainstream.

-Harry

Contact ME here about this review or the hobby in general.

Thanks go to Professor Motor for Co-Sponsoring This Review

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