Retrocosm – Vintage & Retro Computing Blog

Random mutterings on retro computing, old technology, some new, plus any other stuff that interests me

Tamiya, Sand Scorchers And Other RC Memories

Tamiya Sand Scorcher

Contrary to popular belief, I didn’t spend my entire teenage life hunched over a Commodore 64.  Among my other interests such as garden creeping, re-mixing dance music, illicit driving of my parent’s Volvo and Julia Wray, were radio controlled cars.

Tamiya Frog

My Tamiya Frog

My first introduction to the joy of RC was the intensely frustrating experience of watching someone else, specifically Mark Palmer, driving his Tamiya Sand Scorcher whilst praying that he might let me snatch maybe a minute of driving before the ridiculously short battery life ended the run.

There is a thrill experienced by those like myself who have RC in the blood and it is quite difficult to articulate that feeling to others.  It’s a perfect storm of everything to which many teenage boys are attracted.  From the initial arrival of the kit, through lessons learnt and satisfaction gained from building the model on to the excitement and challenge of learning to drive and subsequent upgrades and customisations it’s a journey that ticks many boxes.

Kyosho Tomahawk

My Kyosho Tomahawk

After saving for some time I eventually became the proud owner of a Tamiya Frog and and some Futaba Radio Gear.  Feeling typically contrary I decided my colour scheme would be red with yellow spots

I began racing at the nascent Slip End Model Racing Club (a name which I only now realise was wonderfully appropriate) near Luton.  My memory is a little sketchy however I’m sure my good friend’s elder brother, Andrew Phelps, was involved in the creation of the club.  It became apparent that the Frog was not really up to racing and I graduated to a Kyosho Tomahawk, a much lighter, metal framed car.

_MG_0938

My Team Associated RC10

I won quite a few races with the Kyosho and some of us started travelling to other race meets.  Around this point, Team Associated released the RC10 and after one of my friends bought one I realised that yet again if I was going to compete I would need to upgrade.  With the help of a well-timed birthday, some savings from my newspaper round and the sale of the Tomahawk I was able to get my hands on an RC10.

However it soon became clear that the cost of racing in any meaningful way was going to be prohibitive and unfortunately after a couple of moderate successes with the RC10 my RC racing career fizzled out.

scorcherboxartSo for the best part of 30 years my RC10 and my original trusty Futaba radio gear have lived their lives in successive lofts as we moved from house to house.  However when a friend recently messaged me a picture of a new RC car that he’d bought the whole thing began to snowball again.

Clearly no fools, Tamiya, the wonderful Japanese model company, have over the last few years been busy re-releasing such classics as the Sand Scorcher, Holiday Buggy, Hotshot and Wild One.  With 80′s teenagers such as myself now hitting their mid forties, armed with a disposable income and children in tow (the perfect excuse,) the lure of that familiar Tamiya box, once both financially and often literally out of reach on the high shelf at the local model shop, is now too great.

IMG_1784I have therefore, in fairly short order acquired three new RC cars.  My first purchase was a Re-released Sand Scorcher kit.  For me the Sand Scorcher is the most iconic of RC cars and the only one that still gives me goose bumps today.  I shopped around and ended up ordering it straight from Japan, with VAT and import duties added it was still considerably cheaper that buying it here in the UK.

Whilst waiting it for it to arrive I discovered the Iconic RC Facebook group and it was there that a post alerted me to a great deal on the Tamiya Neo Fighter.  With its ‘No Guts, No Glory’ decal it felt to me like a spiritual successor to the Frog.  For £60 all in including ESC and Motor this was a deal too good to miss.  It duly arrived and I had it assembled and running, using my original Futaba Radio Gear, before the Sand Scorcher had even arrived.  It’s a great budget car for general bashing and has proved very tough.

_MG_0869I enjoyed the Neo Fighter build, it was pretty simple and got me back in to the swing of things.  When the Sand Scorcher arrived however it was a wholly different experience.  First, just the site of the box with its iconic design made my heart skip a beat.  Opening it up, seeing the blister packs and smelling the familiar rubber of the paddle tyres was a spine tingling experience.

_MG_0863With larger, less nimble fingers the build was challenging, not technically, but physically.  However it was a joy and seeing that famous SRB chassis come together before my eyes was a true pleasure.  I even enjoyed masking up and spraying the body, something I always used to dread in the past, invariably relying instead on professional model maker friend, Nick Phelps, to do it for me.

Battery technology has unsurprisingly moved on somewhat since the classic Tamiya Hump Pack NiCad days.  Rated at 1200 mAh if I remember correctly you were lucky to get 8-10 minutes running time after having had the battery on charge all night.  These days LiPo (Lithium Polymer) batteries are cheap, powerful and relative to the old NiCad packs, very long lasting.  Charging them is a little more involved, however knowing that you can do this relatively quickly and get as much as an hours running time is fantastic.

IMG_1841I absolutely love running my completed Sand Scorcher, it’s a hoot to drive, both hugely challenging and satisfying.  I’ve now also stumbled across the world of Crawling and have ordered an Axial SCX10.  Where will it end?

 

Retrochallenge 2014 – Call For Entries

The Retrochallenge website is now accepting registrations for this year’s challenge which will run throughout the month of July.  Why not head over and register, it’s good motivation to start that project you’ve had on the back burner for like forever.

Retrochallenge 2014

@retrochallenge – All Work And Some Play

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I’ve powered up my non-functioning MTX 512 using a known working power brick and back plate.  I’m still not seeing a signal from the composite output and am getting a blank screen and no sound from the RF output.

The unit is blowing fuses and it seems likely there is a short somewhere.  The ever helpful folks over at the Memorum forums have been eager to help and have been providing some excellent guidance.  It’s clear the previous owner has also made many attempts to revive the Memotech, there are signs all over the board of attempted repairs.  As yet I have not been able to track down where the short is.

I do have a working MTX 512 as well and with it the operator’s manual.  It’s a really interesting read and I’m intrigued by the relative ease with which the machine’s graphical abilities can be accessed.

I typed in a short demo listing which resulted in a spider shaped sprite moving at random around the screen leaving a web trail behind it.  My son saw this and immediately requested that I create a game where a fly would become trapped in the web and eaten by the spider.  I then found myself drawing out an 8×8 grid and creating a sprite.  That really brought back some memories.  If time allows I may attempt such a game.

Loading Games From A Phone

Loading Games From A Phone

Unlike the Commodore 64 with its proprietary cassette interface, the MTX 512 has, like the Sinclair Spectrum, simple MIC in and Ear out jacks.  Over at MTXWorld there’s an excellent selection of MTX games in WAV sound format.  It’s therefore pretty straightforward to download these, play them via your modern computer’s sound card and load them into the MTX.  All that’s needed is a little bit of fiddling with levels.

It occurred to me it would be fun to try to put a catalogue of games on my phone and load them from there.  I dragged the WAV files into iTunes and converted them to AAC before dragging them onto my phone.  I connected the phone up to the MTX with a suitable audio cable, typed LOAD”” and played the WAV file, in this case a Pac-Man clone.  Nothing happened initially but once I’d turned up the volume to full the game loaded.

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