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Part 27

1964 - The Varispeed Controller, Fred Francis joins Victory, The fire at the Barfax Works

The Varispeed Controller

One area where Victory had fallen behind slightly was in regard to their hand controller. Scalextric amongst others had by now bought out variable resistance controllers which unlike their earlier switches gave full control across the speed range. Although Victory's two speed device was still perfectly adequate for use with their sets, they were wholly inadequate for club use and thus the Varispeed controller was developed. As well as offering the desired fully variable speed control, the design also incorporated an additional terminal to allow the controller to be wired for dynamic or power assisted braking. Slightly less useful although made much off in their publicity was a novel locking device which allowed the speed to be fixed in any one of 26 positions for continuous running. This was useful for running in a new car or bedding in new motor brushes but surprisingly carried no warning about its potential to burn out the controller!

Fred Francis, the inventor of Scalextric and by now a very wealthy man, had been busy with other projects when news had reached him about the collapse of Victory Industries. For some time he had been thinking about a return to slot car manufacture and this seemed to him to be an ideal opportunity. By the time contact was made, the new company was already well underway and so Fred joined as a development engineer although he made clear his intention was to buy out the original investor for whom this was simply one of many business interests.

By way of introduction, Fred handed over all the rights to a new track design he had been working on which all parties felt would be a major improvement on the current product. Tooling up began by the middle of the year ready for launch in January.

Before that however, Victory faced yet another major setback. Just after 4:00am on Thursday 19th November, neighbors close to the factory were woken by the sounds of explosions and burning. Five fire engines raced to the scene and it took four hours to bring the blaze under control by which time much of the plant and stores area had been destroyed. Although with Christmas looming, the fire couldn't have come at a worse time, it wasn't quite as disastrous as it first appeared. Although much was lost, the office buildings, production facilities and toolroom were largely spared and in consequence limited production was able to resume within 10 days of the blaze. Distributors and the trade in general proved very sympathetic during this difficult period and it was with a due note of triumph that Victory took up their stand at the Brighton Toy Fair in January the following year with new track and new sets to the fore. Although with hindsight some observers may have had suspicions about the causes of the blaze, the conclusions of the fire brigades investigation were that it was entirely accidental.