Monthly Archives: April 2012

Tyco Triple Wheels Restoration – Phase 1

When I got the Triple Wheels and Maxx Traxx in the mail, coming out of the same box, it was clear that they were identical twins, if perhaps separated at birth.  While the stealth fighter chassis are identical aside from a color swap, the Maxx Traxx replaces boring old wheels with Power Treads!  This is one of the “paperweights” I mentioned in my previous post- until I find a remote for it I can’t really test it out.  However, one side of the Triple Wheels’ gearbox was sticking an grinding, so I wanted to open it up and get that side turning smooth.

gearbox & board

Easier said than done!  Despite the open look of the car, taking apart the gearbox requires a complete teardown.  First, I removed the 4 screws on the bottom of the chassis.  2 of them were behind stickers, so I used a Qtip with rubbing alcohol to gently peel back the decals enough to get at the screws.  I was able to remove the body, and then I removed the screws from the 2 braces connecting the gearbox to the chassis.

 

Rubbing alcohol loosened this sticker, but left it tacky

I wanted to clean everything, so I also removed all of the electronics, but you might be able to do quick repairs with things half dangling.  I removed the screws holding the gearbox halves together, then used the same Q-tip and rubbing alcohol trick to lift up half of each Tyco sticker before gently separating the whole thing.

 

One thing I noticed right away was that the gears for the top and bottom tires were different, which I assume is to account for the difference in tire size.  The Maxx Traxx’s rear tires are both the same size, so I’m guessing that the gearboxes are not interchangeable (although you could probably use Maxx Traxx gears on a Triple Wheels, the Triple Wheels gears would make a Maxx Traxx’s treads bunch up).

Note the far left gear is slightly smaller than the one on the far right - or vice-versa, lol!

 

OK, so with the gearbox open, I was looking fo the source of the grinding- a grain of sand, a missing tooth..  and then I noticed one of the wheel shafts was bent.  I straightened it as best I could by folding it in a rag and playing with it in my vise.

 

Reapplying the sticker

 

I cleaned and oiled everything up (a MUST for the front axle!), put it back together, using my Maxx Traxx as a reference, and it’s spinning much freer now.   It’s not perfect, but it’ll do.  The stickers were tacky enough to be reapplied, although I may beef them up with adhesive and protect it with clear shipping tape some day.

 

 

Here’s the finished result.  This is only Phase 1, as I still have to find a radio and repair the splitting tires.  I may also waterproof this one, as it would be fairly easy to do.

Triple Wheels all cleaned up!

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My *NEW* Tyco Phantom FX-4!!

One of the things I scooped up from eBay last week was a Tyco Phantom FX-4!  A little background: the  FX-4 was a buggy styled like a fighter jet, much like the Tyco Blaster, only the FX-4 had “lazer lights”- flashing red LED’s in the “intake” and “exhaust”.  The Phantom FX-4 is the mini version of the FX-4, ditching the LEDs, suspension, etc., and only runs on 4AA batteries.

The one I received came with the original box, and I was really pleased with the overall condition of everything, the vehicle looked untouched.  The seller said it had been tested and working, so I didn’t waste any time popping fresh batteries and giving it a go.

Now, I don’t know if it was paranoia or my on stupidity, but I kept thinking it was broken.  First, I turned on the remote and the LED didn’t light up.  Well, after taking apart the remote (read ahead), I could see that the “LED” was just part of the casing.  Another interesting bit is that the car was twitching, so I took apart the radio and cleaned the contacts.  Now I had fwd/rev, but no steering.  Well, get this: the vehicle only lets you steer while you are already moving fwd/rev.  By experimenting with my Aero Hopper and it’s remote, I could tell that this is built into the both the transmitter and the car.  It’s funny to see the interesting ways the Tyco engineers were able to cut corners in order to make a full function car at a lower price point and scale.  Just in the transmitter alone, the antenna, indicator LED, on/off switch, and even circuitry had been custom-designed to be as efficient to produce as possible.

So, how does it drive?  Well, in a word: slow.  I wasn’t expecting a speed demon from a 20 year old budget kids toy RC, but in high or low gear it seemed to be lethargic, even with fresh batteries.  Admittedly, I bought this car mostly to have as a shelf queen, so it’s not a big deal since it looks brand new.  One of the cooler parts of this score was the box, as it had little ads for vehicles from what I like to call “the Golden Age” of Tyco RCs, lol.  Pictures coming soon.


Coolest paperweights ever!!

So, it’s official.  I have the bug.  The more I research Tyco RCs, the more I want to collect.

After putting an ad on Craigslist and getting an immediate response, I was hopeful that I could avoid eBay until it was time to look for the rare stuff.  However, I must’ve been lucky, because that was the only response I’ve gotten so far.

My new Phantom FX-4!!

So, it was time to hit up eBay.  After comparing prices I bought a few more toys for the “garage”.  First up was a Phantom FX-4 buggy.  This car was pretty much new in the box, I’ll have a separate writeup on it soon.  Then came a Rebound, Maxx Traxx, Triple Wheels, and Tantrum!

From left: Tyco Triple Wheels (49MHz), Tantrum (27MHz), and Maxx Traxx (49MHz)

Now, you may notice that there are no remotes laying next to these cars.  I bought them being fully aware of the fact:  In my limited experience, I’ve been able to use toy-grade transmitters interchangeably (to a degree), so I figured I could use one of the generic radios I already had laying around.  Plus, these were cheap enough that even if I did have to scour for a specific radio, I still got a fair deal.  Remotes aren’t exactly growing on trees, but hobby-grade conversions are always an option, too.

So, on to the “unboxing”.  I got the cars in the mail and immediately began charging the 6V pack that came with the Rebound.  Upon removing it, I noticed a web address on a sticker in the Rebound battery bay.  I did some research, and it’s a re-release, but as far as I can tell it’s identical to the original save for the aforementioned sticker.  It was in great shape, the tires looked new, and only a couple minor scratches.  The Tantrum had seen better days, it’s paper-backed decals were sun-faded, but the Maxx Traxx and Triple Wheels were in good shape for their age.  I thought the latter 2 looked similar in the auction listing, but in person it’s obvious that the only difference between the Max Traxx and Triple Wheels are the tires and colors used.

Before I continue, it should be noted that my hobby-grade RCs twitch like crazy if you turn them on before the transmitter.  You could end up in the hospital if you’re not careful.  My Aero Hopper and Fast Traxx do the same thing, although are less likely to tear off my fingers.  So, to “test” these cars, I popped in a battery, turned it on, and waited for them to go nuts.  None did.  OK, must be a bad battery, right?  No prob, I buy an old but unopened 6.0V pack and charger from Craigslist.  The next day, I repeat the test with the new battery and get the same results.  I also tried using my Fast Traxx remote on the Rebound, as they’re both 27MHz, use tank/”skid steer” controls, and were released around the same time (if you don’t account for the re-release aspect), but nothing was happening.

I posted a thread in the Ultimate RC forums about it, and was relieved to hear that many Tyco models don’t twitch out, it was likely a safety feature that was introduced over time (My 2008 Terrain Twister doesn’t twitch at all).  However, it’s also a bit disheartening because while it’s good to know that these cars are probably fine, finding remotes will be difficult.  The Maxx Traxx and Triple Wheels are so similar that I’m still hoping one’s remote will work with the other, but I haven’t seen any on eBay’s completed listings…

In any event, I learned a little lesson about transmitter compatibility, and hopefully I’ll find a solution soon.



Fast Traxx Pickup Restoration

I recently got my first Fast Traxx, it’s the 27MHz neon-green pickup truck version.  Having no experience with these vehicles, the only things I knew when I bought it were that the treads were still intact and the remote’s LED came on when I put in a fresh 9volt.  The truck was complete, no missing remote, battery doors, treads, etc., so I went for it.

Before cleaning and repair

When I got home, I immediately started cleaning and disassembling the truck.  I found a forum thread where other owners’ front wheels had broken, and sure enough mine was busted, too (must be a common issue for the Fast Traxx).  Each front wheel has 2 rims, creating a channel in the middle for the tread teeth.   I didn’t get a pic of it, but the left-inside rim was broken and just flopping around on the axle. I removed and cleaned the front end and used JB Weld to repair the wheel.  I used 2 C-clamps to hold the wheel together while it was drying, making sure that the 2 rims were parallel.  Here is the end result:

Here you can see where I used JB Weld to repair the front wheel

So far the JB Weld is holding up.  It’s easy to see why the wheels break so easily, I even thought about reinforcing the other wheels with some JB Weld, but “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, right?

I also used JB Weld to fix the battery door.  One of the little pivot nubs broke off, so I put some JB Weld on that area and positioned the door vertically on it’s side so that the JB Weld would drip a little.  Once the JB Weld is hard enough (6 hours?) you can mold it a little, and I jut tried to match the unbroken nub from the other side.  I don’t have an in-progress pic of the repair, but I can show you the end result.

Here you can sorta see my battery door repair

At first I wasn’t confident about this fix, and I still have a delicate touch when swapping batteries, but it’s held up for a while now.  If I had to do it all over again, I would just “plastic solder” a piece of model sprue (Plastic rod) on the door instead.

The gearbox was the trickiest part to take apart and reassemble, but not too bad.  There was some sand in there making the gears stick.  I cleaned out all the gear teeth with an Xacto knife and cleaned out the whole gearbox.  I meant to put a little lithium grease in it, but my tube was missing so I reassembled it dry.  I’ll probably lube it a little the next time I’m fiddling with it, but I run some of my hobby-grade transmissions dry, so I figure it should be ok for now.

Luckily, the electronics were in good shape, but all my old NiCd batteries are no good.  I found a 2200mah NiMH and charger made by Tenergy at my local Fry’s Electronics (about $20).  This battery should last over 3 times longer than the old 700mah NiCd, and the charger has an indicator LED (invaluable).  It would be best to charge it on my peak charger, but this way I can charge my hobby-grades and toy-grades at the same time.  If you don’t mind waiting, you can also get packs off of eBay cheap ($6 for an 18oomah pack, free shipping), but you’ll have to wait a month for them to get here from Hong Kong.

During it’s first 2 runs, the treads had a tendency to pop off every couple of minutes.  I’m not sure if this was common for the model or because my treads are so old, but it sure is annoying (and probably damaging).  I remember seeing an eBay listing for a Fast Traxx where the owner claimed to have shortened the treads, but I’m not sure how that could be done.  I may attempt to make an adapter to extend the wheelbase in the future.

The truck cleaned up nicely enough.  The chassis looked almost new, but the body is still a bit rough thanks to the decals and windshield scratches.  The decals were poorly applied, and dirt got under them in several spots.  They’re also pretty scratched up.  I thought about cleaning up the decals by cutting off the excess clear parts.  You can’t really notice the dirt and scratches on printed areas, but they really stand out where the body is supposed to show through.  Given that it’s a cosmetic thing and could likely make the truck look worse, I’m leaving it as is for now.  Here’s some pics of the end-result.  I can never remember to take pics BEFORE I get it dirty so excuse the dust.  🙂


Vintage RC Buying Guide

I buy ALL of my hobby-grade RCs on Craigslist.  I just don’t see the point in paying full retail for something you constantly work on and upgrade anyway.  However, every RC has it’s weak points, and I try to do my research before buying so I know I’m not getting a lemon.  That being said, there’s no dedicated vintage Tyco forum where I can go and ask people “what to look for” when buying a used one.  So, I learned the hard way!

If you’re not worried about looks you can save a lot of money fixing up rough vehicles, but there’s also a lot to look out for when buying older toy-grade RCs.  As a general rule, the most important thing is that the vehicle is complete.  You’re gonna have to track down or fabricate any replacement parts, so a missing part is a big deal.  Things like battery doors can be overlooked, but bodies, tires, suspension bits, radios, etc. will have to come from another vehicle.  The main things I look for in order of importance, and I would say this goes for any vintage RC, are Rubber, Gears, Electronics, and Chassis.

1) Rubber – There are a lot of things you can do to prevent rubber from going bad, but once it’s bad it’s almost impossible to restore to it’s original state.  To make matters worse, different types of rubber need to be cared for differently.  If the rubber is still soft and pliable, but misshapen, you may be able to heat the tires (I’ve heard of boiling or baking on wax paper) and reform them (spinning them on a dremel or drill gives them a good shape).  However, if the rubber is dry, it means that the oils in the rubber are gone.  You may be able to invigorate the rubber by scrubbing it clean with mild soap & water and massaging it with olive oil or 100% silicone lubricant, but results vary.  Some models had replacement parts available, though they are HARD to find (Tyco Turbo Treads, for example).  If you’re not too concerned about preserving the original look, you may be able to use tires from another RC or toy, also.

2) Gears – If your RCs gears are bad, there’s not much you can do.  While there are several companies that can make gears, they usually work in bulk orders, and unless us Tyco fans get lucky, the only real option is to find some from another vehicle.  To make things worse, you really can’t check for bad gears without taking a vehicle apart, although if you notice any sticking or grinding when you turn the wheels, that’s a bad sign.  For most older models, you should be able to spin the drive wheels fairly freely, and you should feel/hear the resistance from the electric motor.

3) Electronics – As a hobbyist, I see electronics as interchangeable, and a minor thing to consider when looking at the total cost of a hobby-grade model.  However, while some parts are interchangeable (remotes, motors) toy-grade electronics are typically well-integrated in the vehicle and printed on a single board, so if any component needs replacing, it will either need to come from another car, or you will have to rebuild the vehicle using hobby-grade electronics.  Many hobbyists have used hobby-grade electronics in toy-grade RCs simply as an upgrade.  It can greatly improve range, speed, control, runtime, etc., but it’s costly and obviously departs from the original design.    Even using an old ESC, servo,  and radio gear, you could easily spend more on electronics than the car is worth, and the nostalgia of holding that old remote and making jerky movements is gone (for better or worse).  Conversion is not always easy, either.  Aside from obvious hurdles like finding room for the new parts and battery, controlling heat, and modifying a chassis to accept a servo, many Tyco RCs had custom transmitters that are model-specific, and some had special 3rd channel functions.  Models with “tank controls” (Fast Traxx, Rebound, Scorcher, Digger, Triple Wheels) would need a special tank-style radio or a module to mix inputs for use with a modern pistol-grip radio (people have had some success with V-Tail mixers).

4) Chassis – Chassis weak points and repairs are model specific, so I can’t cover all the bases.  Though chassis damages are usually fairly obvious and may make the model unusable, they are really the most minor type of repair, and can often be fixed with good epoxy or “plastic soldering”.  Of course, these repairs are somewhat unsightly; I wouldn’t want a car where the body was in 5 pieces, but most people wouldn’t even notice some JB Weld on an A-arm.  In some cases, I’ve had success with epoxies and glue.  However, the “BEST” method is to use a plastic solderer.  A plastic solderer is basically a soldering iron with a special tip.  It works by melting the 2 pieces of plastic together, and when dry the plastic may even be stronger than in was originally.  While I don’t own one (yet), I have had success using an old low wattage soldering iron, although it was rough-looking and stunk up my house.

Ideally, you would want every old RC you buy to be unopened in the original box, but if you don’t have the patience or cash, hopefully this post gives you an idea of what to look for.  I am not an expert by any means, I’m just figuring this out as I go, so any suggestions/corrections are welcome.


Craigslist Score!!

About 2 weeks ago, I put an ad on Craigslist looking for older Tyco RCs.  The very next day I got my one and only response, from a young guy who was willing to sell off his old RC toys.  They toys were at his mother’s house, less than a mile from me, so I scooped them up in minutes!

Clockwise from left: Nikko Thunderbolt, Tyco Fast Traxx Pickup, Radio Shack Street Sprinter, Tyco Aero Turbo Hopper

I got this lot for $75, which I thought was fair.  The lot included a Tyco Fast Traxx Pickup, a Tyco Aero Turbo Hopper, a Nikko Thunderbolt, and a Radio Shack Street Sprinter.  All of the cars needed TLC, I’ll have more on their individual restorations soon.  In the meantime, I’m trying to learn everything I can about these little guys.