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Product Lab - January 2007

Published: December 14, 2006
Aquacraft's King's Ransom sets sail
Product: King's Ransom R/C pirate ship
Maker: Aquacraft
Stock No.: AQU5B**
MSRP: $499.99
Availability: Great Planes

Product: Aquacraft is riding the wave of pirate popularity with its radio-controlled King's Ransom sailing ship.
The vessel comes almost ready to run, and includes a two-channel Futaba radio with dual rate, four pirate figures, a display stand and a field stand, which accommodates the ship's sailing keel. Needed to "sail" are a 7.2-volt battery pack for the ship's 550 motor and receiver, and eight AA batteries for the transmitter.

Performance: More than 40 inches long and almost as tall, this is no small boat. The "captain" has to install the masts, sails and rigging.

Fortunately, the ratlines are pre-tied and easily mounted. Aquacraft claims the ship can be assembled in 15 minutes; it took me close to two hours to get it together properly.

The finished ship is a sight to behold. Plastic strips inserted into sleeves in the sails give the King's Ransom the look of a ship at speed with billowing canvas. Many people came by our offices and commented on how cool it looks. The pirate figures were attached to the deck using double-sided tape for easy repositioning.

You can display the Ransom as a static model by removing the 3-pound keel and using the provided display base. However, the ship must have the keel to sail since it's top-heavy. To attach the keel, just tighten two screws.

When setting sail, remove the plastic strips and furl the sails. If you don't, the ship could be blown over or out of radio range. Even with the sails up, wind can still cause the ship to pitch. The hull is filled with foam blocks, so the vessel probably won't completely sink, but we decided not to test this theory.

The motor and propeller's ability to get the ship up to speed was impressive, while its wide rudder steered her gracefully about. We tested the ship in a very slow-flowing river. The motor was plenty powerful for the current, but make sure you pick a calm day to sail. We experienced intermittent winds of about 15 mph. The ship was fine sailing into the wind, but a broadside gust nearly sent the King's Ransom and her crew to Davy Jones' locker.

The topside hatches are held to the deck with rubber bands. Advise your customers they may want to install some sort of waterproofing gasket or tape over the seams to minimize leaks. Also, a spot prone to breakage is the bowsprit, as it extends from the front of the ship. After inadvertently snapping ours off, I reinforced it with brass tubing and reattached it with epoxy.

Overall, we liked the King's Ransom a lot. It captures the look of a pirate ship, and you'll be hard-pressed not to want to talk like Captain Kidd while sailing her.

Marketing: Judging by the number of comments we received, if you build this ship and display it in your store, it will sell itself. The captain is going to need a six-cell battery pack (or several) to go along with it, so be sure and offer these.

The King's Ransom appeals to those already in R/C, as well as those who aren't. It's a good way to get nontraditional buyers into the hobby.

Reviewed by Hal Miller and Tim Kidwell

  • "Authentic" pirate ship look

  • Appeals to a different market

  • Sells itself

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    Tear up the road with Traxxas' Nitro 4-Tec 3.3
    Product: Nitro 4-Tec 3.3
    Maker: Traxxas
    Scale: 1:10
    Stock No.: 4809
    MSRP: $650

    Product: Traxxas has taken its Nitro 4-Tec touring car to the next level by installing its big TRX 3.3 racing engine in what was already a fast car. The predictable result is a great-looking, screaming-fast parking-lot missile with surprisingly good manners.

    The car comes ready to run with EZ-Start; a two-channel TQ 27 MHz AM radio; a painted and trimmed body in red, white, black or blue; Resonator tuned pipe; air filter oil; decal sheets; a setup and tuning DVD; basic maintenance tools; and a very thorough, nicely illustrated, step-by-step instruction manual.

    Traxxas makes note several times that despite its RTR status, this is not a car for the newcomer to on-road R/C. Take the warning seriously, because this car is a handful.

    Performance: Upon opening the box, your customer will be able to tell he'll have a good experience with this car. It looks solid, and is almost completely assembled. All the buyer has to do is install the antenna, put batteries in the radio and receiver, sticker the beautifully painted body and fuel it up. Getting it running is a snap thanks to the EZ-Start, which requires a 7.2-volt battery pack.

    Traxxas gives specific directions on how to break in the engine for maximum performance, and while they are a little more detailed than I've seen with a lot of cars, the end result is worth it. The .20-size mill itself looks powerful in its own right thanks to the monstrous blue cooling head. It's topped by a protective plastic cap that prevents damage to the head should the car flip over.

    I used an asphalt playground one city block wide to break the engine in, and could tell even then that it probably wasn't enough room to really let this car get up and run. I had to go to a local stadium to find enough parking lot to let this car really stretch its legs.

    Blasting around the lot with it, there were at least 10 people who stopped to watch. It's a very impressive vehicle just based on looks, but at speed it's plain awesome. I didn't use a radar gun to test Traxxas' 70-plus mph claim, but I know it's the fastest car I've ever driven. If you put the binders on hard after running at top speed, you can skid flat spots in the tires! The two-speed transmission is smooth and well adjusted from the factory.

    The 4-Tec also handles very well, although it requires the driver to have a light touch on the throttle. The high-torque steering servo whips the car around with ease and the throttle servo is definitely up to the job with snappy response. The suspension is fully adjustable, with turnbuckles to set camber and spacers to set caster.

    There are a lot of nice touches on the car, like the gray plastic upper deck, receiver box and anodized antenna crimp nut. It also has a silicone sleeve over the Resonator's stinger to help avoid burned fingers, and a fuel cut-off clip to stop the engine.

    The TQ radio isn't fancy, but it's well-designed and does a good job. It's very light, and I'm happy to say has big throttle and steering trim knobs - too frequently, these are small and hard to turn for people like me with big fingers.

    The 3.3 engine runs extremely well and doesn't require a lot of adjustment. After several quarts of 33% Traxxas Top Fuel, it's proven itself very reliable.

    Marketing: This car is for the driver who has a good bit of wheel time and wants to be king of the local mall or stadium parking lot. It's not a serious race car, nor does it aspire to be, but if your customer wants something that will make people stop in their tracks and say "(Expletive deleted), that's fast!" then this is the car for them. It will also be hard for your customer to find a car that's better built and as reliable as this one.

    Traxxas offers a lot of replacement and upgrade parts for this car, including several gearing changes to tailor acceleration to the customer's wants. Keep them in stock for additional sales.

    Reviewed by Hal Miller

  • Wicked fast

  • Durable construction

  • Reliable engine

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    Sunward Aerospace siege-engine kits propel learning
    Products/Stock Nos./MSRP: Ballista (No. 103, $29.99); Catapult (No. 102, $19.99); Trebuchet (No. 101, $29.99)
    Maker: Sunward Aerospace Group

    Product: Scale modeling is often a learning process, but rarely is a model meant to teach. Sunward Aerospace Group is bridging this gap with its line of working siege engines, including kits for a ballista, catapult and trebuchet.

    All of the kits work off the same principles that power their larger cousins. The catapult kit propels projectiles via a single, torsion-powered arm, while the ballista uses two torsion bundles to throw separate arms forward simultaneously, much like a crossbow. The trebuchet kit's energy is produced by a counterweight acting on a lever arm.

    All three kits are made from basswood, are pre-cut and pre-drilled, and come with a set of assembly instructions.

    Performance: The instructions are written well for the most part. However, there are a couple of places where careful reading and reference to the picture of the finished model are necessary. With a bit of patience and thought, modelers can overcome any difficulties in assembly. Lastly, the instructions give a very brief synopsis of each siege engine's history and ideas for using the kits in the classroom.

    Although the pieces are pre-drilled and cut, they do require sanding with 100- or 120-grit sandpaper, and the wood splinters around the holes should be cleared away with a sharp knife. This holds true for the other kits too. A problem common to each kit is that the holes drilled for pegs are very tight, requiring either the pegs to be narrowed or the holes to be re-drilled.

    In some cases, the pieces don't fit together as well as one could hope, and need coaxing, repositioning, or both. However, these are problems that every modeler faces at some point and should be viewed as a test of creativity-part of the fun and challenge of building.

    As the models begin to take shape, each piece's function becomes apparent. And while modelers might be aware of how a catapult or ballista works in theory, they are forced to face physics at work while making a torsion spring bundle out of coiled rope and winding it so that an arm moves in a particular direction with the desired force.

    Of the three kits, the catapult is the easiest to build. The ballista and trebuchet are about equal in difficulty and time required. When it comes to "flingability," the catapult gives the quickest and possibly the best performance due to seven feet of nylon rope used to make the torsion spring bundle, sending projectiles (six-sided dice) more than 20 feet through the air.

    The trebuchet has similar potential, but you must adjust the counterweight and sling length. Also, the projectile must have sufficient weight to rest in the pouch, otherwise it simply flies out before the lever arm can reach full velocity. Crumpling the vinyl sling pouch helps break it in.

    Perhaps the least satisfying kit, after the build, was the ballista. While it does operate, it is underpowered, with only 56 inches of nylon rope to power the two throwing arms. It is, however, still an impressive-looking model.

    Marketing: A big selling factor for all of these models is that they truly work. These kits make good starters for those looking to get into wooden-model making, basic woodshop projects, or projects for science class. It might be nice to build a catapult and have it on display to show what the finished product can do.

    Also, keep in mind that each kit requires building and finishing materials such as wood glue, knives and blades, and 100- or 120-grit sandpaper. These are all additional sales that can make the modeler's time both productive and enjoyable.

    Reviewed by Tim Kidwell

  • Learning an integral part of fun

  • Fully functional

  • Prefabricated parts

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    Days of Wonder's USA 1910 expansion is just the ticket
    Product: USA 1910 Ticket to Ride expansion
    Maker: Days of Wonder
    MSRP: $15

    Product: How do you make a good game better, while at the same time help the original game retain its value? Publish an expansion set! That's exactly what Days of Wonder has done for its original Ticket to Ride board game. USA 1910 is an expansion pack for the American edition of Ticket to Ride. This new set includes 181 cards and a rule booklet. You need the original Ticket to Ride game to play.

    Performance: The USA 1910 expansion has given a fresh face to the original game, and offers three new ways to play.

    First and foremost, the cards in the 1910 expansion are meant to replace all the cards that came with the original game. These replacement cards are printed in the larger-size card format found in the newer Ticket games. This set of cards lets you play the normal Ticket to Ride game; tickets are easier to read and fit better in your hand than those supplied with the original.

    The expansion set also includes 35 new tickets for the 1910 version of the game, which replace the original game's tickets. For the most part, the USA 1910 game uses much shorter routes, and the object is now to see who can complete the most tickets.

    There is also a new Big Cities version of the game, which uses 15 cards from the original ticket deck and 20 from the 1910 deck (these cards are all marked with a "Big Cities" logo), and a Mega Game, which uses all 69 tickets included in the set.

    I found that the expansion adds a lot to the game, and I really like all four versions (including the original). It'd be easy to make Ticket to Ride an all-day event.

    Marketing: Display the USA 1910 expansion next to the original game. Make sure customers understand that they need the original Ticket to Ride game (American version) to play the expansion game. Ticket to Ride has always been a fun game, and this expansion simply enhances its playing options.

    Reviewed by David Popp

  • original Ticket to Ride needed

  • large-format cards included

  • Adds three game variations

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    In Gamewright's Uglydoll Card Game, fun comes in threes
    Product: Uglydoll Card Game
    Maker: Gamewright
    Stock No.: 234
    MSRP: $9.99

    Product: Those Uglydolls are it again. The creepy/cuddly playthings now take center stage in a game, called, appropriately enough, Uglydoll Card Game. The game includes 70 cards, seven each of 10 Uglydolls, from the winged Icebat to the three-eyed Cinko.

    Performance: The object of the game is to collect the most cards by grabbing Uglydolls anytime you see three of a kind. You start by shuffling the cards, taking five out of the deck, and spreading the remaining cards in the center of the playing area. Cards can and should overlap.

    According to game instructions, the player "who most recently took a bath" begins by flipping a card face up. Play then moves clockwise, with players taking turns flipping cards over. As soon as you spot three identical Uglydoll cards anywhere in play, you snag as many of the matching cards as you can. If you and another player both snatch a card at the same time, the first one to shout "Ugly!" three times in a row wins the card. If you grab a card when there aren't three of a kind, or take the wrong card, you're penalized and must put one card from your personal pile out of play.

    The game is for two to six players, ages 6 and up. I played the game with my sister and a friend and had a lively, laugh-filled time. Uglydoll Card Game is truly a test of hand-to-eye coordination and reflexes. Each turn was suspenseful, and when matches popped up, play became a mad scramble that was both comical and competitive. Some of the Uglydolls resemble each other, so to spot three of a kind demanded our undivided attention.

    My friend, a fourth-grade teacher, said the game would be good for indoor recess. Even though kids can get worked up by the game, it also teaches them the importance of focusing on a subject. The game moves fast, so it's easy to play several rounds in a matter of minutes, which means everyone has a better chance of winning at least once.

    Marketing: Display this among other award-winning games, or play up the fact that it's a lot of fun for under $10.

    Reviewed by Sue Brettingen

  • Fast-paced rounds

  • Good test of reflexes

  • Raises energy level

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    Kyosho's Ferrari F40 Lightweight will lure die-cast devotees
    Product: Ferrari F40 Lightweight
    Maker: Kyosho
    Scale: 1:12
    Stock No.: KYO-08602B
    MSRP: $420
    Availability: Minichamps North America

    Product: Ferrari is the name in exotic cars, and its F40 model, created to celebrate the Italian carmaker's 40th anniversary in 1987, may be its most popular Super Car. The sensuously styled F40, which was built until 1992, was designed to be a street-legal racer, using lightweight carbon fiber and Kevlar to help hit 201 mph, a record at that time. It was said to be capable of doing 0-60 mph in about 3 seconds, too!

    But to reach that goal, the car was designed to be lean, with no inner door panels, and no radio or other frills to weigh it down. By 1989, it was racing in the International Motor Sports Association's sports car series' GT division, posting a best finish of second three times in the 1990 season.

    Originally, the car sold for $400,000+ in the United States, but often cost much more in various markets around the globe. Overall, only about 1,300 were made.

    The sleek Ferrari rode on only a 94.5-inch wheelbase, and its overall length was two inches shorter than the popular Testarossa. Yet the F40 featured an awesome 2.9-liter twin-turbo engine with two intercoolers and produced 471 horsepower and 426 foot-pounds of torque. Drivers say it was a beast to contain!

    Performance: If size matters, then Kyosho's 1:12 scale Ferrari F40 should come in near the top of the die-cast heap.

    Nicely detailed, from the opening roll-away headlights to the tall, slightly adjustable rear wing, this model will be a standout in any collection or store display case. Size sets it off, as does the $420 suggested retail price. Like real Ferraris, this one is not for just anybody.

    Still, its well-executed body (original design by Pininfarina) will get it a lot of attention. Display this one with doors and bonnets open. It's spectacular. There are hinged front and rear decks that expose all sorts of detail beneath.

    Under the front hood, you can see the detailed suspension, along with various air scoops, cool brakes and other components. Plus, there are radiators and fans along with neatly stored leather tool bags.

    The engine is highly detailed in back, too, with a fair amount of parts labels to add realism. On close inspection though, you'll notice some parts have a more plastic-like look than you might expect on such a pricey model. By comparison, CMC uses more metal or metal-looking parts on its 1:18 models. Here you find some chassis supports that are obviously plastic.

    Yet underneath is a highly detailed and working suspension with unequal length A-arms and coil springs. There's also rack-and-pinion steering that works as you turn the steering wheel, and to top that, a five-speed gearbox that allows you to move the shift lever.

    The Ferrari's side view may be most spectacular, as you can plainly see the vented cross-drilled Brembo disc brakes behind the awesome black five-spoke O-Z Racing wheels. Inside is well-detailed, with red cloth seats and accurate-looking dash gauges, but as mentioned before, there aren't any frills. For instance, there are no carpet or door panels, so it looks a bit stark, like a racer's interior, but it's accurate.

    There's also a sliding plastic passenger side window, just like in the original, but there are only three-point seatbelts, not the original four-point racing belts.

    A few other points to ponder: The tires have no markings on them. The original had Pirelli tires. There could be a licensing issue there. Note too, that you can open the twin gas filler caps on either side of the car, and there's a button on the car's bottom to release the fold-up headlights.

    Marketing: This is a showpiece, one that will grab a lot of attention for your other models in the case. Put this in amongst your other premium makes to keep your higher-end customers focused on the top-notch models.

    This is an inspirational model that can motivate customers to return and look for bigger and better models. Use it as a lure, and when the right customer comes along to snap this up, it's likely he'll return for more of your quality die-cast!

    Reviewed by Mark Savage

  • Awesome size and looks

  • Popular Super Car and marque

  • Cool details and working parts

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    Kyosho's Mini Cooper S: A good thing in a small package
    Product: Morris MINI Cooper S 1966 Bathurst winner
    Maker: Kyosho
    Scale: 1:18
    Stock No.: 08103BT
    MSRP: $66
    Availability: Minichamps North America

    Product: Though normally a small, quiet community, Bathurst, Australia's main claim to fame is an annual race held at Mount Panorama. The race is run on a 6-kilometer track, normally used as a public road. In 1947, it was used for the Australian Grand Prix. The current featured race at Mount Panorama is the Bathurst 1000, an annual touring-car race run on the first Sunday of October.

    The 1966 winner at the Bathurst race, then called the Gallagher 500, was a plucky green-and-white Morris Mini Cooper S driven by Australian Bob Holden and Finnish driver Rauno Aaltonen. In fact, that year there were no less than 17 Minis in the race, and Cooper S drivers filled the top nine places. Holden and Aaltonen's lucky No. 13 car is the subject for one of Kyosho's latest 1:18 proportion releases, the Cooper S.

    Performance: Kyosho's model, like most of the firm's other offerings, is a fine model. The doors open, revealing a detailed interior and racing harness. When you open the bonnet (hood), you can glimpse the Mini's 4-cylinder normally aspirated engine. Kyosho has equipped the model with a movable wire stick, so you can prop the bonnet open.

    From the photos I could find of the car, Kyosho's model appears to be accurate. However, according to, the Morris Mini was repainted all white for the 1967 Bathurst race. Despite that fact, the paint and decal work on our sample model was very nice, featuring crisp separation lines and no hint of overspray.

    Marketing: This car will be a given for those who enjoy Mini Coopers or anyone looking for an unusual racer to add to their collections. The green, white, and red Bathurst racing paint scheme is also quite an eye-catcher. Incidentally, Bob Holden, now 74, still races Mini Coopers!

    Reviewed by David Popp

  • Accurate paint and detailing

  • Openging doors and bonnet

  • Unusual, fun-looking racer

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    Atlas O brings Gunderson stacks to the tracks
    Product: Gunderson stack cars and containers
    Maker: Atlas O
    Scale: O (two-rail)
    Stock Nos./MSRP: Burlington Northern A+B, No. 9902-1, $142.95; BN C+D+E, No. 9903-1, $182.95; Triton container, No. 4004-2, $24.95; Santa Fe container, No. 4503-1, $24.95

    Product: Nothing symbolizes modern railroading quite like intermodal cars and containers. Atlas O has released its version of an early Gunderson stack car, so named for the 40- and 45-foot intermodal containers that can be stacked up to two-high on each unit. Atlas O's Gunderson stack cars come in individual AB (Pack A) and CDE (Pack B) sets. A variety of intermodal containers are available separately to fill their wells.

    Performance: Atlas O's stack cars represent the bulkhead-type cars produced in the mid- to late 1980s at the beginning of the intermodal rail boom. As is typical of the company's products, there's excellent attention to detail.

    The individual units of the car are held together with T-pins. You might want to tip your customer off that these pins are located in a well in the foam packaging material, because they're very small and the plastic bag they're in tends to settle deep in the opening.

    It's a logical question to ask why Atlas O isn't selling all five units as a complete set; the answer is because each intermodal car can be from two to five units, so your customer can configure the cars as they are on a particular railroad.

    The painting on our units, lettered for Burlington Northern, is nicely done and the lettering is legible and opaque. The wheelsets are all in gauge and the five-unit set tracks well on the rails.
    We also received a 40-foot standard intermodal shipping container lettered for Triton and a 45-foot Santa Fe intermodal trailer. These are also well detailed, with accurately reproduced locking gear on one end and small pins that go on each corner of the bottom car to hold the top load steady. The doors of the containers open, so if your customers want to haul an actual load, they can!

    Marketing: This is a product that offers a lot of possibilities. Be sure to suggest the B Pack when a customer buys the A Pack. Also, anyone modeling intermodal railroading can never have too many containers; Atlas O continues to produce new containers lettered for a variety of shippers.

    Reviewed by Hal Miller

  • Icon of modern railroading

  • Offers add-on sales potential

  • Suitable for many railroads

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