Tether cars

In California, during the late 1930's, a hobby known as Tether Car Racing began. The idea was to power a model race car with a gas engine, attach the car to a center post using a cord as a tether and go as fast you can. Many of these early model tether cars were homemade. As such, many family names attached to these cars are now household words for tether car enthusiasts. Names like:

...and countless other are still recognized today.

Dooling Bros.

Tom Dooling and his brothers, often referred to collectively as the Dooling Brothers, receive much of the credit for starting the tether car sensation. After building and flying model airplanes, the brothers decided that they could build a car using an airplane engine. It worked, and the Dooling Brothers began building their own tether model cars immediately. The first unofficial tether races were held in an abandoned lot in Los Angeles, Calif., in 1937. In 1939, they held their first official miniature car race in Fresno, Calif., and one year after that they had built a tether car that reached a top speed of about 64 mph (103 km/h). The brothers began building tether car engines and racers to be sold to the public in the late 1930s and early 1940s. They created a famous car design called the Frog, and also a popular engine called the Dooling 61. Manufacturers started to spring up and produced both kit cars and factory built ready-to-race cars. These cars were expensive for the day considering the depression had just recently ended. Most factory built cars sold for around $20 to $30 with the most expensive being the B.B. Korn selling for $53.50 in Magnesium form. Kit cars sold for as low as $10. Prior to the war, cars reached speeds in the mid-70s for Protos and 100 MPH for cable streamliners.

World War II slowed the hobby, but it began again when the troops came home. As the racing matured, so did the tracks. Oval tracks were seen near most major cities in the U.S. Then came the "rail" tracks. These were a slightly elevated track with banked turns. These tracks allowed the several cars to be attached to a rail at the same time and race against each other. By 1948, there were about 2,500 to 3,000 racers nationwide, with about 440 tracks throughout the country.

Drivers can spend hours modifying the cars to squeeze just a little more speed - perhaps a half a mile per hour more out of the engines. In fact, making adjustments and changes to the engine are a huge part of the hobby. One of the main components contributing to the car's speed is the tuning pipe. The tuning pipe not only acts as the exhaust pipe, but it also helps to propel the car.

Dooling tether car

Each car has a metal bar attached to the body called the panhandle. The panhandle attaches the car to the steel cable and post in the center of the circular track. Official WMCR racetracks are made of flat concrete and are built in two different sizes. The first size is a 70-foot (21.3-meter) diameter track that provides the cars with six laps for a total distance run of one-fourth of a mile (.4 kilometers). Races are won by averaging the speed of eight laps compared to the averages of other drivers. The driver decides when his or her car is at its maximum speed, and then the laps are counted from that point forward. Drivers have three minutes to stop the race if they feel their car isn't performing correctly. Each driver is assisted by up to two helpers to start his or her vehicle. To start the car, the driver or a helper pushes it forward with a stick, turning on the fuel switch. Another helper, called the horser, holds the 33-foot (10.1-meter) long steel cable off of the ground until the car is going fast enough to hold the cable up by its own force, which usually occurs around 80 miles per hour (128.7 kilometers per hour). To stop the tether car, a broom is used to knock the fuel switch down, shutting off the fuel to the engine.

Current racing activity in the U.S. is governed by the American Miniature Racing Car Association with three racetracks in NY, CA and IN. Contemporary cars run at speeds of up to 200+ miles per hour giving them the reputation as fastest model cars in the world. After push-starting the car the driver decides when to take the speed measurement. As soon as he presses a button the time for 8 laps, which equal to 500 meters, is accurately measured by 1/1000s. There are four types of cars: Prototype, Streamliner, Class A and Class B

Some pre-war makes were: Alexander, B. B. Korn, Bremer Whirlwind, Bunch, Champion, Dallaire, Dooling, Duesenberg, HCS Track King, Hiller, J. L. Special, Matthews, Morrison, Peerless, Popp, Rexner, Royal, Scat, Shrike, Speed Chief, Speed King, Straightaway King, Synchro, Thunderbolt, Trackmaster, Wasp.

Post-war makes: Challenger, Curly (C & R), Dooling, Edco, Fox, McCoy (Duro-Matic), Melcraft, Papina, Reuhl, Roadrunner, Satan, Speedway, Stevens Indianapolis, Super Sonic, Zak.


Updated: 24 November 2020

Tether Car value and price guide

What's your Tether Cox worth in 2021? Here are some recently sold items.

Item Title Date Price
rare scat cat mite tether race car mccoy 19 gas powered Rare Scat Cat Mite Tether Race Car Mccoy 19 Gas Powered 08/2021 C $2 709.07
rare scat cat 29 mite tether race car mccoy 29 gas Rare Scat Cat 29 Mite Tether Race Car Mccoy 29 Gas 08/2021 C $2 241.99
vega jaguar d le mans tether car rare no cox thimble Vega Jaguar D Le Mans Tether Car Rare No Cox Thimble 10/2021 C $1 229.91
edvard stelling tether car lithuania made rare mccoy Edvard Stelling Tether Car Lithuania Made Rare Mccoy 08/2021 C $1 098.58
rare 1969 cox thimble drome sea bee tether ski boat gas Rare 1969 Cox Thimble Drome Sea Bee Tether Ski Boat Gas 08/2021 C $698.75
no pictureSee all sold items on eBay for more prices12/2021C $-.--

Tether Car forum

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Comments (8)
Wayne - September 9, 2021
hello, I own a 1946 Mccoy tether car in original used condition missing the engine would like to sell need an idea its worth can send pictures
Hi, not sure about value... There are also some tether car collectors groups on Facebook. You could post some pics there.
Larry - March 3, 2021
I have my fathers first 1938 dooling mercury.It is completely disassembled. I would like to rebuild it. I know I need tires (dry rotted) and the tire rod ends. I am 79 years old and have found memories of goin to races with my father in the late 1940's Have Dennymite engins
Hi Larry, best is to hook up with the real experts on Facebook in this excellent group: Tether Cars Collectors.
Dennis - February 25, 2021
I am looking for tires for a 1950 fuji midgetee gas powered tether race car. Do you know if they are available any where?
No idea, sorry... there are some tether cars on Facebook, you could also try there. Or maybe here: Tether Fuji.
Sid - May 6, 2019
I have my collection for sale either one at a time or a bunch consist of 25 large cars and 50 mite cars.
Hi Sid, if anyone is interested I'll forward their message. What do you have on offer? You can reply to this mail and I'll update this message.
Ron - March 16, 2019
I still have 11 thimble dromes and MCcoy tether race cars and Im still looking more. Please let know if any are for sale. Thank You
Sean - February 20, 2019
I am new to this type of racing. I was told The car is a Japanese Midgetee, circa early- to mid-1950s, powered by a Japanese Fuji .29 model engine.that being said how does one tell if it has the original type of wheel hub considering it has a different tread type tire on it? Any direction or information would be very helpful Thanks!!
Hi there, I'm not an expert on Midgetee cars, you could try and contact the websites I mentioned above.
Louis - January 31, 2019
Very interest in the Tether cars. I love the history.
Yeah, they're great!
David - January 11, 2018
I have 2 Dooling and one Borden Teardrop Streamliner in my possession. The Doolings had been run at Whittier Narrows in the early 70's. They were owned by my father and his father, I just didn't get interested in them at the time with the Viet Nam war going on. What should I do with these cars?
You can sell them online through a populair auction site or you can find the real enthusiasts on forums. Try tethercar.net, section buy/sell/contact.