Pinewood Derby Stories and Photos from Maximum Velocity
Pinewood Derby Kit History
As you probably know, pinewood derby racing began in 1953, when Cubmaster Don Murphy developed and implemented the concept. It didn't take long for the idea to catch on, and in 1956, BSA contracted with Beta Crafts to produce official BSA kits. Although the basic concept of the pinewood derby race has not changed since 1953, the kits have undergone dramatic changes.
This article will walk through the changes to the official BSA kit from 1956 to the present. I will identify the various kits that were produced; many of which are still commonly found on eBay. (Please ignore the red numbered dots - I used these to keep the kits organized)
ORIGINAL KIT - 1956
Figure 1: Original Kit - 1956
The first official kit was used for over 20 years. The kits were sold in unpackaged bulk sets, as well as individual shrink-wrapped kits. The large nail axles were not placed directly into the block, but instead were inserted into wooden axle supports, which were glued into notches in the bottom of the block. Also, as be can be seen, this kit used narrow wheels; and the block is 1-3/4 inches tall with a large 'cockpit' cutout.
Figure 2: Original Kit - Unassembled
GRAND PRIX PINEWOOD DERBY - 1977 In 1977, a new version of the kit was introduced with several fundamental changes: (1) offset the axle positions to approximately the current position, (2) 1-1/4 inches tall with a small cockpit, and (3) new, wider profile wheels. This kit also introduced the current kit name of "Grand Prix Pinewood Derby". This kit was only produced for a few years, so it is relatively rare to find one in the original packaging. Cars built from this kit can be identified by the wooden axle struts in the modern position.
Figure 3: First "Grand Prix Pinewood Derby Kit" (Photo courtesy of Rick Sanner)
REDESIGN - 1980 The next iteration eliminated the axle supports, and introduced the axle slots on the bottom of the block. At this point the kit virtually resembled the modern kit, except for the presence of the cockpit. Cars built from this kit can be identified by the acronym 'CMI' as raised letters on the wheel sidewalls. CMI stands for 'Consolidated Models Incorporated', which is the parent company of Beta Crafts.
Figure 4: "CMI" Kit
Figure 5: "CMI" Wheel
NEW WHEELS - 1988 A minor kit change occurred in 1988. Other than the packaging change, there were subtle changes in the block and axles, while the wheels were improved. The new wheels had blank sidewalls, and raised lettering inside the wheels.
Figure 6: Upgraded Wheel Kit
Figure 7: New Wheel (Photos from Don De Young at Pinewood Derby Mania)
BAR CODE KIT The next iteration was only a change to the packaging, and the addition of a bar code. Unfortunately I have not been able to ascertain the date of introduction of this kit.
Figure 8: "Bar Code" Kit
MODERN BOX - BLACK END FLAPS Beta Crafts then introduced a kit with a box similar to the current box, but with a black end flap. The kit itself was modified to eliminate (finally) the cockpit. Again, I have not been able to ascertain the date of introduction of this kit.
Figure 9: Modern Box - Black End Flaps
NEW MANUFACTURER 1998
In 1998, BSA began purchasing kits from Homecrafters Manufacturing (now known as Kahoot). The Kahoot kits used the same modern box, but the end flaps were orange. Initially, the Kahoot kits used a unique wheel. This was soon changed to the modern wheel design, so kits with the unique wheel design are rare. In 1999, the kit contract was given exclusively to Homecrafters.
Figure 10: Modern Box
Figure 11: Unique Wheel Initially Provided by Homecrafters (Photos from Don De Young at Pinewood Derby Mania)
Figure 12: Modern Wheels (Photos from Don De Young at Pinewood Derby Mania)
RECENT CHANGES Since 1999, there have been few changes. Most noticeably, the current box now sports sealed end flaps instead of tucked end flaps and is blue in color. This was done to keep the nails and papers from falling out, and for "security". In addition, the mold numbers changed year from 1-16 .
ALTERNATE KITS With the widespread adoption of pinewood derby style events by many non-BSA organizations, various alternate kits flourish from many manufacturers, ranging from vintage to modern styles. If you are interested in trying a vintage-style kit, they are still manufactured by Beta Crafts.
ACKNOWLEDGMENT I would like to thank Art Hasselbach of Beta Crafts for his assistance with this article. Beta Craft products can be found at: www.betacrafts.com