Radio controlled car

From Academic Kids

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Kyosho Inferno 1/8-scale buggy

A radio controlled car is a powered model car driven from a distance by a hand-held radio transmitter which sends its control information to the car's onboard receiver. Building, driving and modifying radio-controlled car kits is a hobby enjoyed by enthusiasts of all ages.


Types of cars

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1/10-scale electric sedan

Radio-controlled (or R/C) cars can be categorized two ways, electric-powered and gas-powered. Electric cars use small but powerful electric motors and rechargeable nickel-cadmium or nickel metal hydride cells to power them, while so-called "gas" cars use small internal combustion engines powered not by gasoline but by a special nitromethane/methyl alcohol/castor oil fuel mix. Recent years have seen the introduction of exceptionally large models that are in fact powered by small gasoline "weed-eater" engines. Electric cars are generally considered easier for the novice to work with than gas but can be equally as complex, possibly more so, as one's skill and budget pave the way for more sophisticated electronics.

In both of these categories, the hobbyist can choose between either on-road or off-road vehicles. Off-road models with their fully functional suspensions can be used on various types of terrain, while on-road cars with their limited or even non-existent suspension travel are strictly limited to smooth, paved surfaces.


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Modified 1/8-scale buggy with upper body removed

Regardless of the category chosen, hobby-grade radio controlled cars require regular maintenance for smooth and trouble-free operation, unlike the cheaper and unserviceable toy-grade cars found in discount and consumer electronics stores. To the mechanically inclined, this is just another fun aspect of the hobby. However, another consideration is the availability of many replacement and high-performance parts for hobby-grade models which allow one to upgrade and modify their car even to the extent of having no original kit parts remaining whatsoever. Conversely, if a toy car breaks, parts are nearly impossible to find. Also, toy cars are notoriously difficult to disassemble. Having a hobby-grade car means that in the event that parts break or wear out, they can be replaced individually.

In recent years, excellent hobby grade ready-to-run models have become available from every major manufacturer, attracting many who otherwise may have purchased an assembled toy car. Vehicles of this type need little or no final assembly and in some cases, even the bodies are painted and trimmed. A number of cars and trucks are presently available only as ready-to-runs. Recent examples include the Traxxas Revo and Hobby Products International Savage 25, both 1/8-scale, nitro-powered monster trucks.


Small, nitromethane-powered engines debuted in the 1940s. Unfortunately, the technology of the time simply didn't allow for the control of an engine-powered model car other than on a tether. Tether cars, sometimes called 'spin dizzies', while capable of speeds upwards of 70 mph (113 km/h), did nothing but run in a circle. It wasn't until the late 1960s that the first wave of miniaturized solid state radio control systems became available. These systems allowed a model to have remote, servo-controlled steering and throttle/brake, proportional to the motion and throw of the transmitter controls. Now instead of running in a circle, an engine- or electric-powered model car could be made to run around a racetrack with the subtle control of its full-sized counterpart.

Recognizing the potential for this new hobby was a Japanese firm, Tamiya. Renowned for their intricately detailed plastic model kits, Tamiya released a series of beautiful but mechanically crude 1/10- and 1/12-scale car models that were, according to the box covers, "suitable for radio control." Though rather expensive to purchase, the kits and radio systems sold as fast as hobby stores could stock them. Tamiya eventually turned their attention away from scale detail and toward the development of more purpose-built R/C models. Featuring working suspensions, more powerful motors, knobby off-road rubber tires and often topped with stylized dune buggy bodies more closely resembling something from an anime cartoon than anything on the street or sand dunes, these rugged models were easy to assemble, easy to repair, affordable to buy and modify and would serve as the basis around which the radio controlled car hobby would blossom both for backyard fun and for competition. See also: Tamiya Blackfoot.

Fun as the Tamiya kits were, it would be US and European companies that would turn the world's attention to a more advanced form of R/C racing competition. These did not really gain any real momentum to the 80s. Through the early part of the 1980s 1/12th scale cars were the most popular class around.

Schumacher Racing, a British company were the first to develop a ball differential. At the time the majority of cars had a solid axle. Not only was this an RC first, it was a world first. It took another 4 years for Associated (see below) to use one. The differential allowed much greater control over a solid axle, allowing models to take on more complicated tracks with quicker lap times. It was the mid 80s that really saw a boom in RC racing and popularity, one that has not stopped since!

Widespread R/C racing comes of age

In 1984, Associated Electrics, Inc. of Costa Mesa, California introduced an important off-road racer. Dubbed RC10, this car was not only a bold departure from Associated's regular line of nitro-powered on-road race cars but a study in engineering as well. Designed as a serious miniature racing machine, the RC10 sported a chassis of anodized, aircraft-grade 4140 aluminium alloy. Every fastener was of the same material and identical to those used in aircraft. Also in 4140 alloy were the machined, oil-filled and completely tuneable shock absorbers. Other machined metal parts abounded. Suspension control arms were high-impact nylon as were the two-piece wheels. Even optional stainless steel miniature ball bearings found their way into many an RC10's wheels and transmission. That same transmission sported an innovative differential featuring hardened steel rings pressed against ball bearings which made it infinitely adjustable for any track condition. The RC10 quickly became the dominant model in electric off-road racing, and it wouldn't be long before other companies took pursuit of the RC10's unprecedented success.

In 1986 Schumacher Racing Products Ltd. of Northampton, England released their first CAT ‘Competition All Terrain’, that was undoubtedly the best 4wd off-road vehicle of the time, winning the 1987 off-road worlds, as well as 1990, 1994, 1995 and 1996. This started the ball rolling for 4wd electric off-road.

Gil Losi, whose family ran the Ranch Pit Stop R/C racetrack in Pomona, California turned his college studies toward engineering, especially in the field of injection molded plastics. When the first Team Losi buggy, the JRX-2 hit the track in 1988, it sparked a rivalry with Team Associated that continues to this day. Team Losi would go on to pioneer a number of firsts, including the industry's first all-natural rubber tires, the first American-made four-wheel-drive racing buggy and an entirely new class of cars, the 1/18-scale Mini-T off-road electrics.

Although Losi and Associated seemed to dominate much of the states, Traxxas (another American company) and Kyosho (from Japan) were also making competitive 2wd off-road racing models. Although Losi and Associated rivalry was tough in the USA, Schumacher off-road models seemed to be more suited to European tracks.

The mid-90s saw a rise to a new bread of RC cars, 1/10th touring. Schumacher Racing pioneered this class once again. However Associated were hot in their tracks. This class saw the rise of Tamiya and other giants back to a very competitive level once again. Nearly all manufactures have produced a 1/10th touring car.

Recently however Monster Trucks have become the largest growing area of the market. Although started by Tamiya and Kyosho in Japan, Traxxas were the first to get it mainstream with the some what legendary ‘T-Maxx’.


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1/12-scale onroad electric with body removed

There are tracks and racing clubs around the world for enthusiasts to get together and race, and there are many levels of difficulty from novice all the way to professional, ensuring that there is a racing class regardless of skill or equipment level. R/C racing on a professional level is a serious motorsport regardless of the size of the cars involved, with factory-backed drivers racing for cash purses all over the world.

Some commonly raced classes and the types of models that race them are:

  • 1/12 Electric Onroad - Rear wheel Drive Cam Am-bodied cars, Touring cars, oval racers
  • 1/10 Electric Onroad - Touring cars, Can Am-bodied cars, Formula One/Indy cars, oval racers
  • 1/10 Electric Offroad - 2WD trucks, 2WD buggies, 4WD trucks, 4WD buggies, dirt track oval racers
  • 1/10 Nitro Onroad - Touring cars, Can Am-bodied cars, oval racers
  • 1/10 Nitro Offroad - 2WD trucks, 2WD buggies, 4WD trucks, 4WD buggies, dirt track oval racers
  • 1/8 Nitro Onroad - Touring cars, Can Am-bodied cars
  • 1/8 Nitro Offroad - 4WD buggies, 4WD trucks

It should be noted that the fractional number used throughout this article refers to the model's scale in proportion to its full-sized counterpart. Therefore, a 1/10-scale car is one-tenth the size of a real car, though most purpose-built racing models are not built to true scale.

Not all tracks will race all classes, as terrain, space and noise requirements differ from class to class. It also means that the same track cannot always be used for more than one or two similar classes.

However, if the class you drive in is not raced at your local track, yet is similar to a class that is raced, it is often possible to run with the other cars. This obviously must be discussed with the race coordinators prior to the race, and usually depends on the willingness of the coordinators to bend the rules in order to encourage new members to the track...and therefore to the hobby. In a race sanctioned by a governing body such as ROAR (Radio Operated Auto Racing) and IFMAR (International Federation of Model Auto Racing), the rules clearly define that only vehicles of the same class may be run together.

In the United States, the main sanctioning body for racing is ROAR, itself a part of the worldwide IFMAR racing organization. At the ROAR level, there are thirteen different regions in the US and one region for all of Canada. Each region has a championship race, including the US Nationals. Placing well in the nationals will qualify a person for the Worlds Races, sanctioned by IFMAR. The IFMAR Worlds is the pinnacle of radio controlled competition. After winning the 1/10th Electric Off-Road Worlds in 2003, Team Associated driver Billy Easton retired from racing and continued his college education. He has since returned to racing in many categories including 1/8th Scale Off Road, 1/10th Scale On-Road and others.

The worlds most successful driver is Masami Hirosaka, of Japan who has won 14 world titles in all electric racing categories. except 1/10th Electric Onroad (Touring Cars).

World speed record

The 2003 Guinness Book of World Records lists the fastest-ever top speed of a radio-controlled car as 111 mph (178.63 km/h) set by Cliff Lett of Associated Electrics. Lett, a Team Associated professional driver and one of the designers and developers of the aforementioned RC10 set the record with a heavily modified Associated RC10L3 rear wheel drive Touring car at Irwindale Speedway, Irwindale, California on January 13, 2001.

External links

  • RC Tech (, RC Nitro (, Radio Controlled Car Action ( and HobbyTalkhave ( many information-packed articles on this topic. These sites represent monthly periodicals as well.

The following sites have information on specific brands of cars. Many excellent brands are available with these being among the most popular:


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