So I recently picked up what I believe is a relatively new 4 lane start gate from Mattel, as part of the “Hot Wheels Track Builder Unlimited Multi-lane Speed Box”. I thought I’d post a review.
The set comes as a storage box with the start gate being the lid. Inside are 4 bits of jazzy neon yellow and orange striped track, 4 bits of orange track, some connectors and some whirly chequered flag finish line things. The whirly flags are not interconnected, so they cannot act as a proper finish gate that will tell you which car won in a two or more lane close finish. The box has mouldings on the bottom that allow you to connect track to it, so it could conceivably form part of an elevated track support structure.
The bit I was interested in was the lid, which is described on the packaging as a “fair-start gate”. It is neon yellow plastic and has a beefy looking (although plastic of course) single clamp underneath. The clamp is spring loaded (with a metal tension spring) and can extend to about 6cm in width. When clamped on to a table edge the lid sits at a fairly steep angle. It has little triangular cut outs in the sides to help it stay on the table. Overall I found it to be reasonably secure. It clamps better on thicker tables than thin ones.
There are some nice touches such as moulded (semi-circular blue-style) connectors above and below the start gates (allowing you to add track above the gate to stack several cars for simultaneous release, or even have a larger track pass straight through the gate) and cut outs to store two cars before moving them into a gate.
The release lever is on one side. You move it through about 90 degrees from upright to flat to release the cars. The gates/pins themselves are an odd design, hollow at the rear (i.e. on the side facing away from the cars) and with two different angled surfaces at the front (facing the cars). They fold down towards the cars, meaning that cars tend to be pushed backwards a little as the gate folds down before gravity takes over. Moving the lever more slowly avoids this backwards push, but then the cars often tend to snag their wheels/undercarriages on the gates and crash.
I could live with that, but there is a more serious flaw. The four gates and the lever are on a single blue plastic spindle that rotates when you move the lever. The spindle is thin and about 12 inches long. The problem is that, with the lever at one end, there seems to be some sort of slight torque twist in the plastic spindle, so that the gate nearest the lever always drops fractionally before the others. This means that the car out of Gate 1 will always have an advantage and, other things being equal, will invariably win any race. Even kids will, I think, notice this Lane 1 advantage after a short while as you can clearly see the car leaving the line first. For what is supposed to be a “fair-start gate”, that is a fairly unforgivable design flaw. I have tried spraying some silicone lubricant on the spindle and that improved things a little, but the problem persists.
On the plus side, the two gates farthest from the lever do seem to release at the same time, perhaps because the spindle is not twisting at that point. These two gates have given fairly even results over a number of runs, although I can't claim to have done extensive testing. It therefore does seem useable as a two lane gate.
I paid £20 (about $25 US dollars) for the set, which would be reasonable value if it worked successfully as a fair four-lane gate. As it is, I can’t really recommend it, which is a shame.