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.  🙂

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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.


The Merit of Tyco RCs

After spending the past year meticulously cleaning, repairing, and upgrading my hobby-grade RCs, I came to the stark revelation that  I probably spend 50x more time working/worrying/buying-stuff-for my supposedly indestructible expensive toys than actually playing with them.  Meanwhile, I can remember my old Tyco RCs being pretty maintenance free and just as much fun to bash around.

Granted, toy-grade RCs don’t go 50mph and take 15′ jumps, but their low cost and kiddie-appeal led to some interesting designs that you just don’t see in hobby stores.  Traxxas makes a big deal out of being waterproof, but if your truck has normal tires as opposed to tank treads, screw drives, snow skis, etc., it’s not much fun in the snow or water anyway!  While some of Tyco’s designs were really gimmicky and energy inefficient, some have proven to be solid platforms.  Many of them are still emulated today.

So, with this in mind, I’ve gotten the bug to start collecting Tyco RCs.  One of the more intriguing/frustrating parts of choosing this hobby is the lack of information on the internet. While I can get into the minutiae of hobby-grade models with fellow enthusiasts, I haven’t found a community dedicated to toy-grade RCs.  Granted, most of these toys are considered disposable, and the kids who own them aren’t likely to be serious hobbyists, but I thought at least for nostalgia value I would find a bunch of fellow collectors, but that doesn’t seem to be the case.

I’m primarily aiming to chronicle my descent into collecting these awesome toys and sharing what I find along the way, but would also like to connect with other collectors.  I am currently collecting info on Tycos and dumping what I find in a spreadsheet.  I’ll post it here once I have it cleaned up, but I would really like to create a wiki for Tyco RCs, or at least contribute my findings to wikipedia.  If you are interested in contributing in any way (info, wiki experience, etc.), please let me know.