Getting into RC – for Tamiya RC cars Collectors

If you’re looking at buying your first radio controlled car for play or racing, then this is a fairly easy thing to do. You can get started for under $150 for full setup including radio, battery, and charger.

If you’ve never owned an RC before, or if you’ve only purchased Radio Shack style toys, then a new Tamiya will be an eye-opening experience.

First off, you have to build your new Tamiya. This gives you a distinct advantage when it comes time to repair work or tuning. Second, you’ll find that the cars have a wealth of upgrades or modification parts available. Stuff to make it go faster, look more scale or more durable. Don’t like the BMW body? No problem, change it to a Subaru rally winner! It’s that simple.

So let’s break it down to the individual components and some recommendations for them.

The Car

Tamiya has a fairly extensive lineup of on-road cars which are based on a few common chassis. These are in no particular order and this listing is not complete. If you don’t see your chassis mentioned (especially off-road) I’ll eventually get to it:

Tamiya Chassis or Car Advantages Disadvantages Notes
TL01 – The most basic 4WD touring
enclosed center box chassis Tamiya has. Shaft driven 4 wheel drive with independent coil
spring suspension. Flexible suspension can be configured for both on-road touring and
rally car setups.
This car is suitable for entry-levelΒ use as the chassis is relatively inexpensive and come in a variety of
configurations/body styles. Reasonable handling characteristics and good durability. Low
parts count ensure ease of building.
No ball bearings, no oil damped
shocks, upper link nonadjustable. Basically, nothing is tunable on this car. All tuning
requires the purchase of “hopup” parts from Tamiya. Thus, this car is not
suitable for racing and making it suitable would be monstrously expensive.
It’s very inexpensive and is pretty easy to
build and start running. Upgrading to oil-filled shocks are recommended.
Tamiya also offers these cars fully built with radios installed.
Labeled the “XB” series, they’re good for someone not
interested in building their vehicles.
TA03 – Sophisticated touring car
tub chassis which is suitable for occasional racing. Belt driven 4WD drive with
an independent oil-damped suspension system. Chassis comes in both an “F” (front
engine) and “R” (mid-engine) series.
Good handling characteristics
exhibited in stock form. The “F” model being a bit easier for beginners to drive
than the “R” series. Car is capable of racing, but the older chassis design will
not keep up with purebred race cars. Large number of aftermarket parts available.
Much more complicated to build than
TL01. Requires regular maintenance and cleaning for optimal performance. Limited tuning
options in stock format, but out of the box, the car handles well.
This older chassis is being phased
out of the Tamiya lineup of cars and parts will become harder to find as time progresses.
If you know you’re going to do weekend racing, try to purchase the “TRF” or
“Pro” edition of the cars as they have many performance parts included. Short
wheelbase version is also available.
TA02 – This is an older style tub
chassis but is still available as old stock from some hobby stores. Shaft drive 4WD drive
touring chassis with an independent oil-filled shock suspension system. Flexible suspension
can be configured for touring and rally purposes.
Good handling characteristics and
shaft drive offer the advantage of lower maintenance efforts. Comes with oil-filled
shocks, which when factored into the price puts in on par with a TL01 car. A multitude of
aftermarket parts available for the car from different manufacturers.
Chassis has been discontinued by
Tamiya, parts availability will begin to thin very shortly. ’02 is not sophisticated
enough for racing purposes, shaft drive is inefficient and saps top-end speed. Assembly is
more complicated than the TL01.
This is an older chassis that has
been phased out. Although some spare parts are available, they will stop making parts very
shortly for this vehicle. Comes in a variety of flavors including a “W” wide
version, “S” short wheelbase and “SW” for short wheelbase, wide
stance. “Pro” model is also available which features FRP chassis.
TA01 – No longer available for
touring cars, the TA01 chassis is still utilized in the Tamiya Hummer. Very similar to the
TA02, the ’01 features shaft driven 4wd with a tub chassis. Suspension is fully
independent oil-filled dampers covered with coil springs.
Good handling characteristics and
shaft drive offer the advantage of lower maintenance efforts. Comes with oil-filled
shocks. And in the case of the Hummer, a very realistic plastic body. Also available as an
off-road car in the Blazing Star and Dirt Thrasher kits.
Hummer – while exhibiting excellent
realism – suffers from a top-heavy design. Not a great handling car, it is neither meant
for true off road or on road. Dirt Thrasher and Blazing Star offer reasonable dirt road
performance but cannot be expected to handle true off-road conditions.
One of the older chassis in the
Tamiya lineup, parts are still in production and available via Tamiya. Hopup parts are
hard to come by now, but car performs well in stock form.
FF – Virtually identical to the
TA02 design, the FF chassis deletes the rear gearbox and driveshaft to alter the car into
a front-wheel-drive vehicle. Fully independent oil-damped suspension system is standard.
Note – do not confuse this chassis with the FF02 which is completely different.
Benign handling makes it easy for
beginnings to drive. Lower parts count helps during the assembly process. Suspension system
works reasonably well and most hop-up parts intended for the TA02 work with the FF model.
Excellent scale realism if you really want to know how a front-wheel drive car handles at
the extreme!
Cost-wise, it’s about the same as a
TA02 car and the ’02 provides better performance. FF design can be squirrelly on low
traction surfaces. 16 turn or lower motors can’t get enough traction to be effective.
Tires must be rotated for maximum life.
The FF chassis is no longer made by
Tamiya and it means that new kits are something of a collector’s item. Especially popular
are the Volvo 850 and Honda Civic kits.
TA04 – Latest chassis design from
Tamiya. Intended to be their high-end car. Twin belt-driven 4WD drive tub chassis. Fully
independent suspension with oil-damped shocks all around. Available in a standard plastic
tub format and as a “Pro” model with FRP upper and lower decks.
New chassis offers nimble handling
with excellent turn-in capability. New gearbox designs front and rear offer much less
rolling resistance than TA03 model. The latest offering from Tamiya comes with excellent
aftermarket support for hop-up parts.
Complicated assembly and high parts
count can be difficult for a beginner. Responsive chassis can be frustrating for a novice
driver. Low ground clearance restricts the car to smooth surfaces only. Open belt design
draws debris into the gearboxes causing them to seize.
This chassis was designed to get
Tamiya cars back into racing circles. As such, it looks and drives very similar to other
competitors cars such as HPI and Kawada. Plus the car requires a high level of
maintenance to perform at 100%.
TB01 & TB02 – Based on their successful
TGX gas car design, the TB01 offers a rugged design suitable for both rally and on-road
cars. Shaft driven 4WD drive with fully independent suspension system and oil-filled
Extremely rugged design, suitable
for handling very hot motors with no noticeable
problems. Handling characteristics are
excellent. Lower maintenance requirements. Hop up parts are available as is a
“TRF” version from Tamiya. Rally versions have completely sealed chassis which
guard against dirt and dust.
Currently an expensive car. Mid
engine design offers neutral handling, but may be tougher for beginners to learn.
Completely new electric chassis design means that few aftermarket companies have parts.
For playing purposes, purchase the
rally version as it has steel gears instead of plastic (touring version). Although there
are ride height differences, this can be easily adjusted without the need to purchase
M01 & M02 – These are Tamiya’s
first “mini” chassis and I’ve grouped them together because there is so little
difference between the two. Front and rear are mirror images and enable the car to be
deployed in front & rear-wheel-drive configuration. Mono-shock with friction damping
on both ends. The car can also be configured for a variety of wheelbases
Low parts count mean that they are
fairly easy to put together. Front-wheel-drive versions are easy to drive. Their
diminutive size lends itself well to a variety of body designs that have a great nostalgic
appeal. “Mini” racing has grown in popularity and so hop up parts are widely
Chassis is older and has been
superseded by the M04 chassis so parts might become difficult to source in the future.
Rear-wheel drive versions are difficult to drive for beginners. Mono-shocked suspension is
not the best for handling. Models can be very expensive once fully hopped up with options.
Front suspension and gearbox design have proven fragile if used for racing.
A lot of these cars sold because of
Tamiya’s superb Lexan bodies that were included with the kits. The chassis itself is
unspectacular in performance and engineering prowess. Although their small size makes for
easier storage and a certain “cuteness” factor.

The Battery

Rule of thumb: if you don’t plan to race competitively, buy multiple inexpensive battery packs to use as opposed to a single or few expensive high-end packs. You’ll get more enjoyment out of them.

There are two factors that influence the cost of battery packs; their storage capacity and their discharge voltage. The greater the storage capacity, the greater the run time. The higher the discharge voltage, the faster your motor will run. Both factors are important to racers because they allow them to use a “hotter” motor to run faster for the 5-minute heats that typical races run.

For the average hobbyist, the battery capacity is the only factor that is important. The greater voltage offered by “matched” or “treated” packs offer marginal increases in speed for a rather hefty bump in price.

The Radio

Rule of thumb: Buy FM radios if your budget allows for it. If not, purchase 27mhz AM before 75mhz.

FM radios offer the advantage of being more resistant to interference and thus you have more reliable control of your R/C car. Because they are expensive, AM radios are the preferred entry-level radio system. Of the two transmission bands available, the 27mhz range is more stable purely because of the frequency length. The disadvantage is that on 27mhz, there are only 6 channels of transmission to choose from, whereas 75mhz offers dozens of different channels.

Because radio gear technology hasn’t changed a lot in the past decade, radio equipment typically has very good resale value. Your investment into a more upscale unit can be recouped later on when it comes time to sell. So try to invest in a nice unit.

The Charger

Rule of thumb: Always try to purchase a peak charger when possible.

There are two important differences between chargers:

  • Dual or single power supply – That is, AC/DC or just one type.
  • Peak or timed charging – Whether the unit stops when the battery has reached 100% capacity or whether it stops based on a simple timer.

Ideally, the best purchase would be an AC/DC peak charger as they offer the most versatility.

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