Scaling Up Part 2: Design a Pinewood Derby Car from a Toy Car

In the first part of this article (“Scaling Up: Design a Pinewood Derby Car from a Toy Car”, Volume 6, Issue 12 – March 7, 2007), the various aspects and considerations of a scaling up from a toy car were considered. These considerations included scale factor, fenders, wheelbase, etc. If you haven’t read this article, you can find it

In today’s article, we will go through the process of scaling up a toy car, including photos and comments on each step of the process. In general, this process can be adapted for any toy car.

The first step is to select a car to build. In picking the car, certainly consider ease of building, as well as aesthetics. After scrounging through my son’s collection of cars, I chose a recent model VW Beetle (see Figure 1). Ever since I drove a ‘Bug’ in high school, I have always thought it would be fun to own one; at least now I will have a pinewood derby version!

Figure 1 – VW Beetle Toy Car

Although the final result will not likely be a speed demon, it will be “cute”, and will adequately demonstrate the scaling process. But more to the point, it is a design that I have confidence that I can build without pulling (the rest of) my hair out!

To calculate the scale factor, first measure the length of the toy (2.46 inches) and divide this number into 7 inches, resulting in a factor of 2.85. Multiplying this factor by the height (0.85 inch) results in 2.4 inches. This is rather tall for a pinewood derby car, but will still meet the height limits and can be achieved by gluing two blocks together.

The width of the toy car measures 1.29 inches. Scaling this up results in a width of 3.26 inches. Obviously, this is too wide, so we will stick with the basic body width of 1.75 inches plus 0.375 inches of fender on each side (overall width of 2.5 inches). The resulting car will appear slightly narrow, but that’s the breaks.

To maintain the look of the car, let’s directly scale the wheelbase. This will result in a wheelbase that is longer than a standard BSA wheelbase, so the car might not be legal in all races. If desired, the wheelbase can be adjusted to match the BSA wheelbase (or any wheelbase), but for this exercise I prefer to keep the look of the car as close as possible to the model. Axle locations: Toy – 0.39 inch, Model – 1.1 inches from ends of the block

Now that we have crunched the numbers, I’ll share a simple method to create a properly scaled template for the side of the car. First, take a digital photo of a side of the car. This photo must capture the side of the car as dead-on as possible; if the photo is skewed left, right, up, or down, the template will be skewed in a similar fashion. I recommend using a tripod, and then taking several photos at slightly different positions until you get a perfect side-on shot.

Next, bring the photo into a photo editing program. Crop the photo tight against the two ends and the bottom of the car. Then scale the photo to 7 inches long, allowing the height to adjust proportionally. Print out the photo onto a piece of card stock, cut out the outline, and voila, you have a perfect template (see Figure 2).

Figure 2 – Template of Side View

As mentioned, the model car will require two standard blocks glued together to achieve the height, and two 3/8 inch pieces of wood, glued on either side of the car to accommodate the fenders and achieve the overall width. With that much wood, the weight of the car will likely exceed 5 ounces. So, I picked two of the lightest blocks I could find. Still, much wood weight will need to be removed; I’ll show you an easy
way to do this.

First, glue the two blocks together, aligning the sides and ends as closely as possible. Make sure to clamp the blocks firmly, and allow the glue to completely dry. Then sand the sides of the blocks flat, eliminating any ‘bump’ at the glue joint.

Next use the template to mark the axle drilling locations and trace the outline. The outline will not be used for cutting out the car, but will instead be used to help mark an area of the block for removing excess wood weight. In Figure 3, the area marked with the ‘X’ will be cut out. When marking this area, make sure to leave sufficient material to glue on the sides of the car, and leave the area around the fender wells intact. I also marked two spots on the bottom of the car for weight holes.

Figure 3 – Marked Block

Now it is time for the first machining steps. Drill the axle holes (#44 bit for BSA axles, 3/32 inch bit for Awana axles). I drilled the axle holes 1/8 inch off the bottom of the block, all four wheels on the ground. Then drill the two weight holes with a 25/64 inch bit (or similar – to accommodate lead wire). Next, cut out the center area. Figure 4 shows the result of these steps.

Figure 4 – Machined Block

Now we shift to the side pieces. I recommend using Basswood. This wood is clean-grained, softer then pine (simplifies shaping), and is readily available in various shapes at most hobby or craft stores. I used a piece measuring 24 x 3 x 3/8 inches. Trace the template and mark the axle locations, then flip the template over and repeat (in other words, create a mirror image for the other side of the car). Make sure to leave material below the car outline to simplify creating the wheel wells
(see Figure 5).

Figure 5 – Marked Sides (right side of photo is cropped off)

Now we will use an appropriate-sized Forstner bit (the diameter is calculated from the toy).(1) Make sure to place the side piece on a scrap board as you drill, or the wood will “chip out” as the bit exits the wood. Then cut off the excess wood from the bottom of the side pieces (see Figure 6).

Figure 6 – Machined Sides

Now it is time to glue the side pieces onto the main body. I used two scrap BSA wheels and axles to make sure the fender wells lined up with the axle holes. Again clamp firmly, and allow the wood to dry before continuing (see Figure 7).

Figure 7 – Sides Glued to Body

Okay, let’s cut out the profile and sand it to a reasonable level of smoothness (this isn’t the final sanding). Now we have the basic VW Beetle without any detail work.

Figure 8 – Cut and Sanded Body

At this point use the toy car to pencil in detail lines. I chose to highlight the fender wells and the sides of the car, but you can do more detailing if desired (see Figure 9).

Figure 9 – Detail Lines

Here is where my skill level starts to get weak. I know many of you are very adept with a Dremel-type tool. Unfortunately, I flunked Dremel 101, so I must stick with wood rasps and sandpaper for shaping. After an hour of work, I ended up with the body shown in Figure 10. The body, without wheels, axles, or weight comes in at 3.6 ounces.

Figure 10 – Shaped Body

With a paint job provided by a talented local painter, and the addition of some window trim, the completed Beetle is shown in Figure 11.

Figure 11 – Completed Car

This was a fun project, which resulted in a nice show car. You can use the same techniques to make a show car or a competitive car. Just make sure to plan ahead and use the step by step process I have outlined. If you do scale up a toy car, please send a photo and description. I’ll be glad to include it in a future edition of this newsletter.

(1) This is one mistake I made. I used a 1-1/4 inch bit, as I knew it would allow BSA wheels to fit. However, this bit was not large enough to accurately model the size of the wheel wells on the toy car. I should have used a 1-1/2 inch (or larger) bit.

From Pinewood Derby Times Volume 7, Issue 11

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Maximum Velocity Pinewood Derby Car Plans and Supplies

Best Use of Numbers

Last year was our first ever Pinewood Derby. As a Tiger Scout my son had no idea what it was all about so he did not show much interest in building a car. I just wanted a car that would not end up in last place.

We first looked on the Internet for a simple design that would be easy to make. My son helped draw it out and we worked together as I showed him how to measure and make straight lines. After cutting it out he helped briefly with sanding till he got bored (around 10 seconds).

My son did all the painting as we used house paint for the body. He wanted to make some cool colored wheels so we found some model paint and he proceeded to paint the wheels and axles. After it was all dry the car would not move. So we got some new wheels and axles. He used every number sticker that came in the kit – boy he was so proud of himself. He won the “Best use of Numbers” award.

The funniest part occurred at race day. After being allowed to graphite up one more time the scouts entered one at a time with certificates and cars. My son came in looking like a raccoon as he had wiped his face with hands covered in graphite. Okay, so Dad put a bit too much graphite on the car.

My son really enjoyed cheering for all the other Tiger Cub’s cars and munching on the snacks. I was happy as he took 18 out of 48 (he likes to win so he was a bit sad when he did not make the finals). So this year he put his sites on winning; I talked him into just shooting for a top-10 finish.

Jim Shryock

From Pinewood Derby Times Volume 7, Issue 10

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Pinewood Derby Car Showcase – April 18, 2014

Top Fuel Dragster – James Gravely

This is the product of a man with too much time on his hands. It is constructed from two official Cub Scout PWD blocks making it 14 inches long. Add another inch for the swept rear wing and the car tops out at 15 inches long. The wheels and axles are also official BSA parts although extremely modified. The car weighs in at five ounces and was built mostly for show although it will run very fast.

Show Cars – Andy Holzer

This year we decided to make copies of the three classic automobiles we own. Noah built a 1966 AMC Marlin, I built a 1963 Lincoln Continental and Diane built a 1974 Dodge Sportsman van. There was trouble getting the van to the 5oz. weight limit so it never did race – lesson to self, if you are trying to make a vehicle this big you should use balsa. In the race, the cars ran well. Noah’s car placed second in the Bears and my car placed 1st in the parent-sibling race.

1957 Masarati 250F – Allen Cripe

My son, who is a Tiger Cub (7 years old), and I have watched racing together since he was born. This was his first derby. We were watching the Speed Channel before we started the car, and saw a show on the 1957 Masarati 250F. We decided right then, that was the car.

Since it had been 32 years since I competed, I wasn’t sure what the competition was going to be like. So we decided to make “Best of Show” our goal, and make learning what the competition was like to improve the next year the second goal. In the end, he won “Best of Show”, and was in the top sixteen for speed!

The car has four coats of sanding filler, and four coats of base coat (Italian Red). All of the details were then painted on. Finally, three coats of Gloss Clear coat were applied.

We hand made the exhaust and headers out of 1/8 inch steel rod, and buried all of the weight into the car. My son and I put tons of hours into the car; he and I worked together on all the building. As a result, he won “Best of Show”.

From Pinewood Derby Times Volume 7, Issue 10

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Maximum Velocity Pinewood Derby Car Plans and Supplies

Tidbits of Wisdom (Pinewood Derby Number Three)

By Michelle Mitchell

For those of you who may not have a Cub Scout in the family, March was pinewood derby month. This was the third of five derbies for us, and through it all I’ve gleaned a few tidbits of wisdom.

1. If you give your Cub Scout his car kit expecting the pieces to remain intact until needed, you’re insane. In the history of the Derby I don’t think one boy has made it through without losing at least one part from his car kit. So be prepared. In our case, Spencer and David have lost the axles from their cars nearly every year – not sure why, it’s a mystery to me.

2. In fact, it’s not a bad idea to buy a stockpile of extra kits knowing of the inevitability of lost parts. The hard thing about losing, say, an axle, is that I’ve never found the right sized nail to replace it. They’re irreplaceable. It’s all some Boy Scouts of America conspiracy that BSA only produces unique one-in-a-million nails for their car axles that, should they be lost, are gone forever.

I know, I’ve tried.

I’ve torn Lowe’s and Home Depot apart trying to find replacement nails and haven’t been successful yet – and that’s three years experience talking.

3. Don’t assume that over-eager Cub Scouts have enough common sense to know that first you design the body then you put on the wheels. Or even that first you sculpt the body then you paint. You’ll need to explain all that – three or four times. Every year. That’s where those extra kits come in handy.

4. Graphite. Graphite! GRAPHITE!!! If you don’t know what this stuff is, be assured that every other scout at the derby will. Google it. Now.

5. There will always be those scouts whose fathers, instead of using the standard-issue BSA-supplied car kits, will purchase the black market contraband pre-cut kits for their boys to paint, effectively blowing away all the handmade cars in the ‘Best Design’ category.

This may seem like cheating. But don’t worry, that feeling will pass and you too will succumb and wish that you’d just bought Junior a Dragon Car kit. Especially when you’re combing the hobby stores hours before the derby for lead weights, decals, or nails to replace lost axles (see number 2).

6. There will always be those scouts whose fathers did the entire project for them. This is fine – it’s part of the great Circle of Life and all that, as inevitable as death and lost axles – unless those cars happen to win, then it’s not fine and things get ugly. So accept it and get over it because the only thing worse than an angry Hockey Dad is an angry Derby Dad. Not pretty.

7. If you don’t have woodworking tools, make friends fast with someone who does, as this will save you hours of frustration with a coping saw. Have you ever tried to cut a Corvette from a chunk of pine with a coping saw, and nothing but your knees to hold it steady? It’s Dante’s tenth circle of hell, I’m pretty sure.

8. Be assured that whatever car design your Cub Scout chooses, the finished product will no more resemble it than a block of Swiss cheese resembles a Ferrari (the below-pictured ‘Raptor Rocket’ was the inspiration for more than one derby car, but somehow never really
matched the finished results). But that’s okay, your son won’t notice; if you helped him he’ll think his car is cool anyway.

Trevor Monroe – Emerson, New Jersey – 2006

But, as a side note, it’s amazing the design concepts you can come up with for a square block of wood. “How about we make your car into a box of cereal? A piece of bubble gum? A cinder block? Sponge Bob?” If the car can be made without a cut, there’s instant appeal. See the picture below of ‘The Dominator’ with a sleek and elegant domino design for an example.

(Owner unknown)

9. Body work isn’t everything, but friction is. If you aren’t an expert on sanding axles and wheels, lubricating, and weighting then maybe you ought to think about one of those pre-made kits and hope for the ‘Best Design’ award.

10. The number one technique for getting through the derby is to suggest to your husband that his son should go to his engineer-uncle and grandpa for help with his car. The mere hint to your husband that he isn’t able to produce a good derby car will arouse his competitive spirit enough to ensure the project will never fall on you. I made this mistake/stroke of genius the first year and was quickly rebuked and told that lawyers can produce darn fine derby cars, thank you very much, and don’t need no stinkin’ help from those engineers.

It’s reverse psychology at its finest – you’ll thank me for it, I promise.

You can read more of Michelle Mitchell’s writings at:

From Pinewood Derby Times Volume 7, Issue 10

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Pinewood Derby Car Showcase – April 11, 2014

Kevin Harvick Car – Brian & Brianna Fenech

This car was my daughter Brianna’s (age 11) first ever submission for her April 2007 Awana Grand Prix race. The paint/decal scheme is similar to NASCAR’s Kevin Harvick. Kevin was the winner of the 2007 Daytona 500. Brianna proudly wore her matching Kevin Harvick NASCAR t-shirt for the Awana race. The car features an extended wheelbase and super wedge design. All the weight is located near the rear axles, the is 5.0 ounces. The wheels are race ready graphite coated slicks. The axles were smoothed and grooved to reduce friction and hold additional graphite lube to endure the race. The car raced a total of 8 Class races. It sped to 1st Place – Top Speed in Class, then Top Speed Overall to beat all competition, including parents. The race car also garnered 2nd place in class for design. We’re looking forward to start building our 2008 Awana Grand Prix racers.

The Beast – Vaughn Lester

My car received its nickname from an uncle who thought the design would demolish everyone else. This was our first pinewood derby and we only gained interest by watching “Down and Derby”. Anyway, after I finished watching the movie I got on the Internet and happened to fall upon your website. I quickly soaked up all the information and designed my car. I then built a prototype and was happy with the result. I made a few changes and this is what I came up with. I then realized that there were still four months till the race and I was already prepared to build the race car and race. However I had to wait two months before I received the kit and then I built my car. It took me a week to finish the sanding and then I started painting. I sprayed four coats of white two to three times a day for the last week before the event, until it had twenty plus coats of paint!!! I didn’t have any graphite yet but I needed the wheels on to participate in the test runs. I was amazed how much better it performed than most of the other cars (nobody else had lubricant either I am glad to say). Now to fast forward to race day. Excitement builds as cars start coming and the race hour draws near. I am participating in the leader’s and dad’s race so I have a few stiff competitors. I placed 3rd overall, and I lost to someone who I had given tips from your site to (my mistake!).

Green Machine – Andrew Lester

This was my son’s 2007 car. He was a Wolf and we used some of your matched wheels, tungsten weights, drilled block, and some tungsten putty. He ended up 1st in Wolf at the Pack level, 2nd in Wolf at District Semi Finals, 1st overall at Semi Finals (don’t ask how this works, we can only blame it on less than perfect brackets), and 2nd at the District Finals.

From Pinewood Derby Times Volume 7, Issue 9

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Maximum Velocity Pinewood Derby Car Plans and Supplies

Setting the Gap for Performance


One of the most common questions I am asked is, “How much room should there be between the car body and wheel hub?” My first answer is, “Well, our Pro-Axle Guide, Alignment tool, and the Gap Gauge in our speed kit will set the spacing for you.” Then the next question is, “If I don’t have those, what should I do?” My response is then, “Try using a credit card. It will set a gap that works.”

Of course, these responses beg the original question of, “How much room should there be between the car body and wheel hub?” Or better yet, “What is the optimum gap?” I have heard and read some distinctly different opinions on this topic. Several people have said that they set a fairly wide gap in an attempt to minimize the contact between the wheel hub and car body (and also to simplify making the needed observations when performing alignment using the Shim Method). On the other side, Michael Lastufka’s DOE (Design of Experiment) tests showed that best performance is attained with a small gap.

Which is right? I can understand the thought process behind the wider gap; less opportunity for contact. But, I also recognize that a wider gap allows the car more “wander room”, thus permitting the car to travel a greater distance during its trip down the track (remember that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line).


So, I decided to set up an experiment to measure performance versus the wheel to the hub gap. One car, one set of wheels, and one set of axles was used throughout the experiment. Outlaw wheels where used to minimize the effect of guide rail and track surface contact. Krytox
100 was used as the lube to minimize break-in and maximize the consistency of the runs.

The following gaps were tested. A set of feeler gauges were used to set the gaps.

– 0.015 (Approximate width of heavy business card)
– 0.025
– 0.035 (Similar to PineCar Alignment Tool, and Pro-Axle Guide)
– 0.045 (Approximate width of a dime (0.049)
– 0.060
– 0.090 (Approximate width of an axle (0.085)
– 0.120 (Approximately 1/8 inch (0.125)

To minimize experimental variance, the axles were inserted, the heads were marked at the 12 o’clock position, and the axles never removed from the car. As each gap setting was made the axle was adjusted and the axle heads were checked to make sure that the mark stayed at the
12 o’clock position.

In order to minimize the effect of lubricant breakdown, the test was limited to five heats per gap setting (total of 35 heats). On the first pass, three heats were run per gap, going from the largest gap to the smallest gap. Then two additional heats were run going from the smallest gap to the largest gap. The high and low runs per gap setting were discarded, and the three remaining runs averaged.


As can be seen in Figure 1, the smaller gaps outperformed the larger gaps. Note that there is no real difference in performance between the three smallest gap settings (the difference is statistical noise).
However, as the gap increases, performance decreases in an almost linear fashion.

Figure 1
Wheel to Car Body Gap Test Results

So what is the bottom line? Clearly the gap setting does affect performance. For best performance, use a small gap setting (such as provided by the available gap tools). If one of these tools is not available, then use a credit card (which is typically 0.030 inches).

From Pinewood Derby Times Volume 7, Issue 9

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Maximum Velocity Pinewood Derby Car Plans and Supplies

Pinewood Derby Car Showcase – April 4, 2014

Vector – William Jenkins

This car was built for an adult Pinewood Derby to benefit the United Way. It was based on the Maximum-Velocity Vector with slight modifications. The derby rules did not allow outlaw wheels and the wheels could not have the inside lettering removed so this car used Ultralight Speed Wheels on polished grooved axles. It came in first place out of fifteen cars entered and never lost a heat.

Stealth – William Jenkins

This car was my second entry in the United Way benefit derby. It was based on the Maximum-Velocity Stealth This car also used Ultralight Speed Wheels on polished non-grooved BSA speed axles. The car came in second place to my other entry.

Oilers – Nathan Paul

This is my son Brenden Paul’s car from Pack 954 in Tulsa, OK. This was his Scout division car that took 5th place on race day. While it didn’t win, the project was a fun one since Brenden painted it to represent the local CHL hockey team, the Tulsa Oilers. Our family sponsors one of the players and Brenden was lucky enough to get him to sign it before race day.

Panthers – Nathan Paul

My son ran this car in the open class for pack 954 in Tulsa, OK. You can see his love for the NFL theme, and the body design is one that has served us both well in years past. The car took second place in the race.

From Pinewood Derby Times Volume 13, Issue 13

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Maximum Velocity Pinewood Derby Car Plans and Supplies