Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Dirty Dozen: Rally Car Showdown

Rally racing is a difficult sport to follow in North America. It doesn't receive nearly the television air time that it deserves which tends to keep it out of the public eye. Still, I've managed to end up with a few rally cars in my collection. Thanks to the popularity of this sport in Europe – home base to most slot car manufacturers' head offices – slot car racers have quite a few interesting subjects to draw upon. Recently, the club at Mini Grid in Toronto started a bi-monthly series for rally cars so I needed to find the most effective tool for racing there. To do this I've reached into my collection a pulled out a cross section of 12 rally cars. I then glued and trued the same formulation of urethane tire to each car, removed the traction magnets, glued in the motors and rear bushings, and then set my best Q time on Mini Grid's Sport track as well as the wood track at Race Haven Hobbies in Brampton. The lap times were averaged between the two tracks and the results and my observations are presented here.

NINCO Porsche 356 – Average 9.596s

Wood: 8.986s / Plastic 10.205s / Mass 65g / Magnetic Downforce 3g

The NINCO Porsche 356 I tested is part of NINCO's classic line. It is powered by NINCO's venerable NC1 motor and while it isn't the fastest car in this review, it is one of the better handling cars. The wheels needed to be glued to their axles prior to testing but ran fairly true for plastic wheels. Owing to the length of the straights on my test tracks the lack of grunt from its NC1 held this car back.

SCX Alpine A110 – Average 9.582s

Wood: 8.973s / Plastic: 10.191s / Mass 67g / Magnetic Downforce 17g

SCX produces a plethora of rally cars. The Alpine A110 is a fairly recent example powered by their unique RX41B motor. This car also has working lights. The wheels on my test car were firmly attached to the axles and reasonable true for plastic wheels. This car also ran out of steam on the long straights of my test tracks reaching top speed after about 2m. If I were looking for more speed the first change I would make would be to replace the 9z stock pinon with a 10z as the stock power plant seems to have plenty of grunt. The RX motors only seem to get faster as they wear in.

Scalextric Austin Mini – Average 9.580s

Wood: 8.656s / Plastic: 10.504s / Mass: 58g / Magnetic Downforce 3g

The Mini suffered the opposite problem of the previous two cars in that it is way overpowered for such a tiny model. This model too has working lights. Scalextric most likely chose the slim can FF050 by reason of packaging considerations. Masive power aside, the wheels on my test car are firmly attached and reasonably round. I had to drive this car with care through the corners but could really wind it out on the straights. This car would benefit from a less powerful motor.

SCX Fiat Abarth 124 – Average 9.420s

Wood: 8.741s / Plastic: 10.099s / Mass: 73g / Magnetic Downforce: 10g

Another reasonably powered SCX rally car with working lights. Again, this model was blessed with round wheels and straight axles. The FIAT is another good handling car in the corners that was lacking in top speed. Increasing the pinion tooth count to 10 would help the lap times drop.

NINCO Renault Clio – Average 9.313s

Wood: 8.863s / Plastic: 9.762s / Mass: 67g / Magnetic Downforce: 3g

It seems to me that NINCO used to put the NC1 in just about every car they made. The Clio is no exception. The wheels on this example needed a drop of glue to keep them on their axles. Other than that this car was good to go. A bit more motor or slightly taller gear might have moved this car up in the standings. Still an easy handling easy to drive car.

Fly Porsche 911 – Average 9.245s

Wood: 9.491s / Plastic: 8.999s / Mass: 81g / Magnetic Downforce: 0g

Fly's model of this ubiquitous rally car is true to the prototype's motor layout in that it is placed behind the rear axle. Out of the box with the traction magnet removed the car is undriveable. Only with the addition of lead up front was this car tamed. Otherwise its nose was happy to bounce right out of the slot under acceleration.

SCX Lancia Stratos – Average 9.187s

Wood: 8.496s / Plastic: 9.877s / Mass: 75g / Magnetic Downforce: 5g

Yet another SCX rally car powered by the RX alphabet soup of motors: this time the RX4. The reasonably true wheels on my example were loose on the axle but this problem was easily fixed with a drop of glue. The Stratos is a small car with a short wheelbase but since it was not overpowered it was an easy driver. Another case where less is more – though I would bump up the pinion tooth count by one if I wanted it to go faster. The nose on this car could use some lowering as well.

Fly Lancia 037 – Average 8.885s

Wood: 8.305s / Plastic: 9.465s / Mass: 80g / Magnetic Downforce: 3g

Fly had done for their rally cars what they had also done for classic LeMans prototypes: offering detailed models in a sidewinder configuration with reasonable FC130 black stripe power. My test car had a spur gear that spun on the axle. I decided to forgo attempting to repair the stock gear and swapped out the defective components for Slot Car Corner Canada bushings and a gear and axle. The stock wheels were retained. The Lancia 037 is a good looking good handling car that will only get faster with mild tuning.

Fly Lancia Betamontecarlo – Average 8.696s

Wood: 8.088s / Plastic: 9.304s / Mass: 83g / Magnetic Downforce: 1g

While this Fly car is also a sidewinder, its sidewinder motor pod chassis has more in common with the Fly Classics line than the one piece chassis of the Lancia 037. What this car did have in common with the 037 was a spur gear that spun on the axle. A similar swap to SCC bushings, axle, and red 36z spur gear made everything right. A fun car to drive once made to run right.

Scalextric Ford Escort – Average 8.674s

Wood: 8.002s / Plastic: 9.326s / Mass: 72g / Magnetic Downforce: 1g

Scalextric brings us another rally car with functioning lights and slim can power. Unfortunately, the crown gear was not up to task in my test car and eventually failed by having a couple sections of the toothed part break away. This is the first time I've experienced a failure like this. While this car ran, it ran great if a tad overpowered.

Fly Renault 5 – Average 8.544s

Wood: 7.835s / Plastic: 9.332s / Mass: 79g / Magnetic Downforce: 2g

The Renault 5 is another Fly sidewinder with black stripe power. It is also another car with a spur gear that spun on the axle – and a problem that was fixed by replacing the defective components with the good stuff from SCC and The stock wheels were retained. Once tuned it was a smooth runner and easy to drive at the limit.

Spirit BMW 1602 – Average 8.244s

Wood: 7.587s / Plastic: 8.900s / Mass: 85g / Magnetic Downforce: 36g

I have to admit that I have a love-hate relationship with Spirit cars. I love some of Spirit's design ideas and the subjects they choose to model. I hate their choice of materials and components. A problem I consistently have with Spirit cars is that any setscrews installed from the factory tend to strip at the first twist of my hex driver. Consequently, the first thing I do when race tuning a Spirit car is replace all their setscrews with parts. When I tried to remove the setscrews used to set the front axle height on this car the axle carrier broke right off. I ended up hot-gluing a brass tube onto the BMW's chassis to carry the front axle. Of course, the crown gear's setscrew was stripped. Once the factory's mistakes were fixed, the Spirit BMW turned out to be a barn burner. It was the fastest of all the cars on wood or plastic. The open can FK180 used in this car generates 36g of downforce and sits in an adjustable motor pod. The driver's side mirror was the first casualty of my spirited driving – not something that will be needed given the outright speed of this car once sorted vs. the competition.

Thank-you to Mini Grid and Race Haven Hobbies for the use of the test facilities and to Art Tschinkel for being able to provide me with his superb DArts tires to suit each of the models in this test.

Van LaPointe

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