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Christmas Presents

Driving Back In Time In a Radio Controlled Car

The holidays have come and my children have made out like banditos.  My youngest is infatuated with Rescuebots and now has almost the entire collection.  My daughter got her guitar she was hoping for (now we can make noise together).  The middle child?  He had a list a mile long.  Toward the top of the list was an R/C Car.  I knew that’s what I wanted to get him.  But which one?

Finding a place that carries the good kind, the cars that will last more than a couple of hours is getting pretty difficult these days.  With all of the online ordering, a stand-alone place is pretty tough to come by.  I finally found Larry’s Performance R/C in Sterling Heights Michigan.  That place has an indoor track and shelves full of R/C cars, boats, planes, helicopters . . . Helicopters!  Very cool (ok, maybe in a geeky way)!   What to choose?  As I looked around, I became a little disappointed.  They all were these ready to run cars that were all put together and came with everything you need to go racing.  The problem is they are already assembled.  Not good in my book.

You see, when I was my son’s age, I used to love these things.  I remember saving up my money and buying one.  I had carefully chosen out the perfect car for me.  It had to have independent suspension and look somewhat realistic.  So I saved my money and purchased my car (Tamiya’s Wild One), along with a controller, battery, and battery charger.  I sat in the “rec” room over the next three days and put that thing together.  The gearbox was easy, but those oil filled shocks were a bear.  I still have nightmares over putting those stupid e-rings on the shock shafts with needle nose pliers and big pre adolescent fingers.  I got it together, though.  The payoff was applying the “Monroe” decals to those shocks.  Come on, having shocks that real racecars used (at least a replica of them) was very cool, at least I thought  they were.  My Wild One will rule the street!

 Original Tamiya promotional video, circa 1985 (courtesy of rcgrabbag)

I was so proud when I was finished!  I did it myself! I ran outside and tried my car out.  It was not good.  It wouldn’t drive straight.  The tires wouldn’t spin right.  There was a plastic clanging noise.  I couldn’t let my friends see this mess!  Back inside I went and fixed it.  I tore apart the gearbox and rebuilt it.  I made sure the steering servo was aligned properly.  I bolted on the rear tire better.  By the time finished, I had a very fast machine!  I could compete with anybody on my block.  I built it.  I researched what I needed to do to make it faster.  I added ball bearings.  I swapped out heavier parts for lighter ones.  I had quite a lot of fun with it over the next few summers.  I built it.  I engineered it.  It was all mine!

This is why I wanted a kit for him to build.  I wanted him to engineer it.  If it broke, I wanted him to be able to fix it.  I wanted him to upgrade it and understand why the upgrades work.  Toys, at heart, are instruments for education.  Action figures, dolls, play kitchens, art toys are played with for a reason – to allow the imagination to flow.  Advanced toys and hobbies take this one step further. They are using their brains to make it work and work better.  It’s the experience that makes it educational.

It almost didn’t happen, though.  The currently available kits are so expensive.  Like over $300 expensive.  They actually had a $699 kit.  Well out of our Christmas budget.  The cars in our price range are the RtR (ready to run) kits.  45 Mph out of the box!  That would have made my Wild One pretty tame.  The problem with these RtR cars is that he can’t build them.  Being that he is a builder, not assembling the car would have taken out the fun of assembling it.  It takes out the engineering part out of the process.  Not what I wanted for my son.  45 Mph out of the box is pretty impressive, though.  Maybe get him one of these?  No, it was a kit and the process my wife and I were after. Kit or nothing it was.  It was starting to look like another Lego Christmas and more of those things all over my basement floor.

Then I saw them.  Up on a top self in the corner of the store.  That familiar Tamiya logo was staring at me.  They had a collection of some of the old Tamiya kits!  I quickly looked for The Wild One, but they didn’t have one. They did have The Lunch Box, The Hornet, and The Grasshopper.  I looked at the price, they were within our budget!  I asked the salesman if those were old kits.  He laughed and said that Tamiya updated and re-released a bunch of the old kits.  They tried to keep original to the nostalgia, but improved them to fit today’s R/C market.

Oh the memories just looking at the boxes up on the self brought back.  My neighborhood friends had some of these.  Eric (the friend that had the track in his back yard) had The Hornet.  Bobby had The Grasshopper.  Stan had The Falcon.  Cal had The Lunch Box.  Chad had The Frog.  The debate of what size wheels would make our cars faster. (No, putting the smallest wheels on the car does not make it faster guys.  I was right then and I’m still right now). Oh the memories!  I can still see the track, the races, the crashes, and just ramming around the yard with my friends.  I can hear the whine of the gear box, the smack talk on who could win the three lap race, the laughter.  These summers were the last holds of my youth before adolescence kicked in, before girls and being cool (OK, I was never cool) and the intricacies of being an American teenager were upon me.  The last truly care free days of my life.

So, remembering back to those days, I made the choice for my son, and The Grasshopper it was.  The Grasshopper was easy to assemble, very upgradable, and . . . wait for it . . . slow.  Slow is good.  Getting him the fastest car would have been a disaster.  We have a smallish house in Michigan.  It’s winter with no place to let the car go full speed.  No need for a 45 Mph car.  I also love that there are so many hop up parts for The Grasshopper.  Ball bearings, larger engines, oil dampened shocks, and tires for all conditions are readily available and fairly inexpensive.  So I purchased the car, battery, and charger (a relative bought him the controller) and off I went home, just waiting for Christmas day so I could share some of my youth with my son.  I was like a 10 year old at Christmas all over again.

Here are some examples of what he was given on Christmas (the video was from zuruzuru567 youtube channel)

From Tamiya

From Tamiya

From Tamiya

From Tamiya

Next up, Part 2: The Building!