October 1957...Russia launches Sputnik, and the whole world goes into orbit...
America went crazy for "Space Age" style and Singer's response was the redesigned Slant-o-Matic, fondly called "The Rocketeer."
With sleek, futuristic lines, cool knobs, and rocket-motif levers, the 500-series was one small step for Singer, one giant leap for...well, you get the picture!
Launched in 1961, the 500 series introduced features not included on the early 400 series Slant-o-Matics. These included top-mounted enclosed bobbin winder and an additional "thread control" lever. A previous post, "Which is better? Singer 401 vs. 500 Rocketeer" discusses the differences in a side-by-side comparison of the two models.
The new Slant-o-Matic came in two models, 500 and 503. So how do they stack up against each other?
Both machines are heavy duty powerhouses with the ability to sew straight-stitch, zig-zag, & decorative stitches. When properly adjusted and equipped with correct needle and thread, both machines will sew leather, denim, canvas, or vinyl.
As with the 401 and 403, the fundamental difference between the 500 and 503 is in HOW the machine sews zig-zag and decorative stitches. The 500 has decorative stitches built-in. The 503 requires Special Discs to produce any stitch other than straight stitch.
Let's take a look side by side with 500 on the left, 503 on the right:
Slant needle Rotary hook Steel Gears Drop-in Class 66 bobbin .72 Amp direct drive motor Double-thread capacity tensioner Double capacity needle clamp Thread control regulator Special Disc compartment Removable top-mount spool spindle 2 fold-flat spring-loaded spindles --- 25+ stitch patterns built-in
Slant-o-Matic 503A Special
Slant needle Rotary hook Steel Gears Drop-in Class 66 bobbin .72 Amp direct drive motor Double-thread capacity tensioner Double capacity needle clamp Thread control regulator Special Disc compartment Removable top-mount spool spindle 2 fold-flat spring-loaded spindles --- No built-in stitch patterns
Almost immediately you notice that the 500 has a large knob in the front and the 503 does not:
The large knob on the 500 is the selector for built-in stitches. A look inside reveals the cam-stack that produces these stitches on the 500 and the absence of the cam-stack on the 503:
Since the 503 does not have any built-in cams, it relies entirely on Special Discs to produce zigzag and decorative stitches. Once a Special Disc is inserted, the 503 is capable of producing beautiful decorative stitches using single or double needles.
On the other hand, the 500 has the capability of combining built-in stitches with Special Discs to create additional decorative patterns. (For more information on built-in stitches vs. Special Discs, see the article "Do I need Special Discs for my 401 or 500?")
So which Rocketeer is right for you? That depends on your sewing needs. If you want simplicity with the option to occasionally sew decorative stitches, the 503 will suit you perfectly. It is very easy to operate and typically a little quieter than the 500 since it has fewer moving metal parts.
But if you want maximum creative flexibility and don't mind learning how to use the knobs and charts, then the 500 is the better choice.
Whichever model you choose, you'll be 'over the moon' once you own a Rocketeer!
On a lighter note, my family reserves the term "Rocketeer" for the 500. Our nickname for the 503 is "Purtineer." Almost a full-fledged Rocketeer, but not quite!
OldSewinGear is the collaborative effort of retired repairman Gary and daughter Barbara. We love old sewing gear and enjoy sharing what we've learned in our vintage sewing machine adventures. We are located in Roseburg, Oregon.