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February 2009 Product Lab

Published: January 14, 2009
Put the pedal to the metal with 4 Lane Thunder
Product: Life-Like's HO-scale 4 Lane Thunder slot car set comes with more than 40 feet of track, and includes four crossover sections, two loops and a vertical banked corner that runs up a wall. Rails and bridge and loop supports are also provided. The race course is powered by two AC power packs and drivers use trigger-action controllers to get their cars moving.

Life-Like continues to utilize its NASCAR license, and four cars appear in this set: Office Depot No. 99, DeWalt No. 17, Home Depot No. 20 and Dodge No. 9.

Performance: HO slot car sets take me back to when I was a kid. My family had a 1:32-scale set from AFX, but the first slot car set that was truly mine was a little oval from Tyco. Life-Like's 4 Lane Thunder track is a far cry from that humble race set, but it brought back all of the excitement of ultra-fast cars, hairpin turns and impossible obstacles that you'd never see on a full-size race course.

The track is neatly packaged in the box, held in place with long twist ties. The only complaint I have about the packaging, and it's a complaint is that unless you take a photo of the box's interior before unpacking the parts, it's almost impossible to pack them away neatly once you're done racing. But that may only annoy neat freaks like me.

Following the instruction sheet, it's very easy to lay out and assemble the track. While a 12-year-old child could assemble it, it would be best if there is adult supervision, since there are some tricky parts when it comes to placing the loop and bridge supports.

The track's actual layout is somewhat problematic, since one end of the track should be against a wall to support the vertical turn. This means that one of the power tracks can be placed close to an outlet, but the other will be quite a distance away. I found that with some work and careful planning, you can get it so that both power packs can plug into a single outlet without the use of an extension cord.

Also, the vertical tried my patience. After a couple of hours trying to get the track to sit just right so that the cars would go around it, I contacted Walthers, the owner and distributor of Life-Like products. Their representative was very helpful. Taking her advice, I rearranged some of the track pieces to make sure that the vertical turn was as smooth as possible. If you don't do this, the cars will kick off the track every time.

The other thing that customers should be aware of is that the cars need to warm up before they'll successfully cling to the vertical turn every time. As with any slot car track with tight corners, going full out will cause the cars to fly off, no matter how strong the magnets.

It does require some patience to make everything work together, but it is well worth the effort. There is nothing quite as exciting as going into the vertical turn, four cars wide, or racing down the straight and then into the dual loops just as fast as you dare.

Marketing: There is something about slot car tracks with improbable courses that can't help but make a kid grin, whether he's 10 or 110. While the NASCAR license might attract some people, it's really the track that is the big seller here.

The cars Life-Like provides are extremely fast and equipped with powerful magnets that allow them to make it around the loops and the vertical turn. I used a couple of cars from other manufacturers, and they couldn't even make it through the loops, let alone the vertical turn. In the straights, they were blown away by Life-Like's little speed demons.

Also available are single-packs and two-packs of Life-Like's Fast Tracker NASCAR cars, so customers can have more variety in their racing fleet. Single-packs sell for $23.98; two-packs retail for $39.98 each.

Reviewed by Tim Kidwell

Product: 4 Lane Thunder HO-scale slot car set
Maker: Life-Like
Stock No.: 433-9603
MSRP: $199.98
Availability: Walthers

  • Take care when assembling

  • Use with Fast Tracker cars

  • Exciting races

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    The Blade mCX, E-flite's latest mighty micro success
    Product: There is no mistake, E-flite is at the top of its game, and continues to prove its dominance in micro and ultra-micro R/C products. Enter the Blade mCX, ultra-micro helicopter. Like its larger sibling, the CX2, the mCX features counter-rotating blades for stable flight and a 5-in-1 control unit with a 2.4GHz receiver, ESCs, mixer, gyro and fully proportional servos.

    The mCX also benefits from two versions: an RTF, that includes a controller, plus everything else a customer needs to fly, and a Bind-N-Fly (BNF) that comes without a transmitter, but is otherwise equipped just like the RTF. The BNF version is compatible with all DSM2 technology transmitters from Spektrum and JR, and can be bound to those transmitters just like other DSM2 receivers. This allows pilots who already have their own radios, to just buy the BNF version without having to get the transmitter that comes with the RTF version, cutting down substantially on the cost.

    Performance: Both the RTF and BNF mCX are packaged in sturdy Styrofoam cases that can serve as a great storage place when not in use, especially since they come with a nice plastic handle. Four AA batteries are provided for the charger, and the 1S 3.7V 110mAh LiPo battery takes about 20 minutes to charge. After eight charges, I noticed that the charge time got longer and swapped the AA batteries out after 12, with improvement in charge time and charge quality (longer flight times).

    I bound our BNF sample to a Spektrum DX6i transmitter before flying. It was as easy as plugging in the heli and pulling the trainer lever on the radio. After a few seconds, the heli receiver light went solid and we were ready to go.

    With the RTF, the mCX is already bound to the accompanying transmitter, so it was just a matter of charging and getting into the air.

    If anything, the mCX is more fun to fly than the CX2. It's agile, can maneuver in very tight quarters, and is just plain fun since it's so small. However, some of the more aggressive flying that you can do with the CX2 are hampered or even prohibited by the mCX's size. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, it's just to say that, as with different sorts of airplanes, the mCX, despite its heritage, is a different bird than the CX2, and therefore should be flown within its tolerances.

    Of course, it is the nature of man to see exactly what a thing is capable of. Let your customers know that even though the mCX is small, common sense should still prevail. Getting hit with the blades can still cause serious injury and will knick up furniture and walls. Also, inputting hard left yaw and cyclic at the same time will cause the mCX to precipitously lose altitude and possibly make the blades whack each other.

    Marketing: The Blade mCX is small, but it is not a toy. It is a wonderful introduction to both micro and rotary blade flight, but is unsuitable for less mature users-say those under 14 years of age.

    Customers who already own a Blade CX2 can purchase a BNF mCX and bind it to the CX2's transmitter. There's no need to buy the RTF version! E-flite has also released a number of custom parts for the mCX, like glow-in-the-dark upper and lower blade sets, landing skid and battery mount, swashplate and vertical fin. These are relatively cheap and can be easily added to the mCX.

    Finally, E-flite's BNF option allows you to get a customer into a new, compatible Spektrum or JR DSM2 transmitter. One flyer I know told me that he has the mCX and an Ember. He's had his eye on the Vapor, and if other BNF models come out, he seriously thinks that moving into a radio that has 10-model memory or more would be a good thing. It cuts down on the number of transmitters to keep track of and help reduce clutter in the workshop. You might suggest a Spektrum DX5e or DX6i for use with both the BNF models and other planes or helicopters that your customer will grow into.

    Reviewed by Tim Kidwell

    Product: Blade mCX RTF; BNF
    Maker: E-flite
    Stock No.: RTF (EFLH2200); BNF (EFLH2280)
    MSRP/MAP: RTF ($169.99/$129.99); BNF ($129.99/$99.99)
    Other items used: Spektrum DX6i
    Availability: Horizon Hobby

  • Great intro to micro flight

  • Customers should not be too young

  • Plenty of additional sales options

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    Lark Books' titles inspire artists
    Product: Ten innovative and established artists, all of whom have taught at Penland School of Crafts in North Carolina, offer master classes in a clay technique featured in the Penland Book of Ceramics, a 208-page softcover.

    Performance:The book provides insight into a variety of contemporary ceramic methods. Through step-by-step photos, each artist demonstrates a technique they have mastered. Each uses form, functionality and creativity to showcase their accomplishments.

    Sections of the book highlight each of the artists. Clara "Kitty" Couch coil-built vessels go beyond the simple pots you may have crafted as a child. Angelica Pozo makes and decorates tiles that capture the viewer's eyes. Michael Sherrill forms sculptures inspired by nature. Tom Spleth's slip-cast porcelain vessels defy gravity and take Art Deco to a new level. Linda Arbuckle uses majolica to replicate the look of the natural world. Nick Joerling's wheel-thrown pots are like bottles fit for genies.

    Cynthia Bringle throws large vessels that require physical strength. Joe Bova captures human and animal figures in intricate expression. Sergei Isupov forms man-to-beast figures that simultaneously attract and repel. Mary Barringer creates strong, simple forms that resemble pieces found at an archaeological dig.

    This book is definitely for the advanced artist, collector, or anyone looking for inspiration.

    Product: Artists are often drawn to the fun aspect of creating an eye-catching form after they've learned on of the fundamentals of ceramics: surface embellishing.

    In this 144-page hardcover, author Maureen Mills informs artists as to which point they can incorporate a particular technique into their work.

    Performance: Knowing the appropriate time to use a particular embellishing technique in a ceramic piece is the key to success. In this book, the author covers various types of clay and the methods that can be used, including impressing, sprigging, incising, modeling, appliqueing, transferring images and resist etching.

    In the bisque-ware section of the book, Mills discusses reasons for glazing and covers techniques such as pouring, brushing, dipping, spraying, layering and staining. She also addresses firing and finishing effects and post-firing possibilities.

    Although Mills presents the techniques with a modern approach, many have been around for thousands of years.

    This book is chock-full of great advice from start to finish. Through clear explanations and numerous images, the artist will gain or refresh his knowledge of surface treatments. Descriptive prose and sidebars enhance the reader's experience.

    Marketing: Draw attention to these books by displaying them near your arts and crafts section, preferably next to clay-building tools, stains or enamels.

    Reviewed by Diane Olp

    Product: Teh Penland Book of Ceramics, edited by Deborah Morgenthal and Suzanne J.E. Tourillott
    Publisher: Lark Books
    Availability: Sterling Publishing

    Product: Surface Design for Ceramics by Maureen Mills
    Publisher: Lark Books
    ISBN: 978-1-57990-844-7
    MSRP: $29.95
    Availability: Sterling Publishing

  • Good guides for artists

  • Lavishly illustrated

  • Various skill levels covered

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    E-flite's Sea Fury a roaring success
    Product: Manufacturers set three major goals when they come out with a new foam ARF: it has to be priced competitively, go together fast, and fly great. E-flite accomplished all three with its latest entry of a seldom-seen model, the Hawker Sea Fury. This 400-class plane will attract a lot of attention since it not only flies well but has some outstanding detail too.

    Performance: The Sea Fury goes together fast, but before your customer begins, he will have to decide between the sport brushless-outrunner setup and the high-power brushless setup. Both options are covered in the instruction manual. I went with the latter, which requires a 480 motor, 1020Kv 40A Brushless ESC with BEC, retracts, a 3S 2100mAh Li-Po and six servos. The Sea Fury can be assembled without retracts and a rudder, eliminating three servos and the need for the 40A ESC.

    I found the instructions straightforward, but there were a couple of typos where the pictures were in sequence but numbered incorrectly on pages 22 and 30. Let customers know that they shouldn't let this throw them and that everything is still in the correct order.

    When attaching the wing cover to the bottom of the wing, I would suggest using more double-stick tape than indicated. Mine didn't stick as well as I'd have liked, and I ended up tacking it in place with glue. Customers should be aware that they will have to remove the cowl to install the motor, and if they use a 40A ESC, the opening in the firewall will have to be enlarged to accommodate it.

    For me, flying the plane is really where the fun begins. The first flight resulted in a takeoff roll of less than five feet on short grass. The Sea Fury required zero adjustments on the trims. I flew with the high rates, and the plane responded with nice loops and rolls. It looks super cool dropping the landing gear down while coming in for a landing.

    Landing is a challenge. It requires proper use of the elevator on the flare to keep the plane from nosing over, as I found out on my fifth flight. The Sea Fury can also be hand launched and belly landed. If you are going to hand launch it, customers should leave the rockets off, as they will pull away from the wing on landing.

    Marketing: Although the plane flew well, I thought it could use a bit more speed, so I tried a couple of tests.

    First, I substituted the recommended E-flite battery with a Thunder Power 3S 11.1V 2250mAh 30C Pro Lite V2 LiPo and noticed a bump in power and longer flight times. Then I swapped out the 10x8 prop that came with the plane for an APC 10x10 and saw another significant jump in power. The 40A ESC can easily handle the upgrades.

    The plane will fly in an area about the size of a soccer field; the Sea Fury's size makes it convenient to take along in the car for flying during a lunch break.

    The Sea Fury is a low-winged flyer, which makes it more responsive to flight controls, so it's probably best in the hands of a pilot who is past trainers and looking for something more exciting.

    Reviewed by Paul Daniel

    Product: Hawker Sea Fury 400 ARF
    Maker: E-flite
    Stock No.: EFL6050
    MSRP: $139.99/$109.99
    Other equipment used: E-flite 2100mAh LiPo (EFLB21003S0, Thunder Power Pro Power V2 2250mAh LiPo (TP2250-3SP30), 40A Pro Switch-Mode BEC Brushless ESC (EFLA1040), Park 480 brushless outrunner motor (EFLM1505), 10x10 propeller (APC10010)
    Availability: Horizon Hobby

  • Unique, stands out at the field

  • Flies well and responsively

  • Plenty of upgrade opportunities

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    Tamiya's entry-level kit rises to the occasion
    Product: This two-wheel-drive bathtub-chassis electric off-road buggy combines old-school design - predecessors include The Hornet (No. 58336) and The Grasshopper (No. 58346) - with modern graphics that should prove pleasing to youngsters or inexperienced builders. Its 540 motor offers adequate power for newcomers to R/C racing, with an easy upgrade to Tamiya's Sport Tuned 540 motor for those who are looking for a bit more performance. The prepainted body needs only to have stickers applied to complete an eye-catching color scheme.

    A TEU-101BK electronic speed controller is included, but the builder will need to provide a radio; we chose Futaba's 2PH 2-channel, which is inexpensive (approximately $50) and has worked well for us in other entry-level applications.

    Performance: The premise for this review was to see if a "typical" youngster could assemble the kit without help. My 14-year-old son, Bill, has some experience with a couple of other R/C car projects we've built together, but this was his first solo effort, with Dad ready "in the bullpen" if needed.
    Unfortunately, it wasn't long before help was needed. Bill had some problems interpreting the instructions, and although he did at least 90% of the building, I had to step in and explain a few things along the way; nothing major, but it was clear that he needed a bit of help and an occasional "third hand."

    We worked in sessions no more than an hour long, to keep his interest up and frustration level down. Assembly consists of 25 major steps, and we generally did two or three steps in each session.

    Assembly became more intuitive to him as we went along, and his interest grew after he completed the more mundane aspects of construction, such as building the differential and installing the radio.

    When he began joining the various subassemblies, he noted that "it looks a lot more like a real car now" instead of an unrelated pile of parts. He was more than pleased with the look of the finished model, and was anxious to get out and drive it around - even before the requisite photos for this review.

    Bill didn't feel too bad about not being able to complete the model by himself. "I think I could definitely build one by myself now," he said after he finished assembly, noting that he learned quite a bit doing much more of the assembly than during our other car projects.
    The model was quick, agile, and handled well. With the onset of winter, most of our testing has been indoors, but I feel it will be a more than worthy addition to the other Tamiya buggies in our "fleet" (Rising Storm and Plasma Edge).

    Marketing: The only change we made to the basic kit was the aforementioned Sport Tuned 540 motor, which costs approximately $20, fits into the same chassis location as the stock motor, and is a quick-and-easy way to get some extra "jump." The rear-mounted motor is easily accessible and can be changed in less than 10 minutes.

    Buggies are just plain fun, and they're easy to drive. And in kit form, a young or inexperienced modeler can learn plenty about gear ratios, suspensions and radio installation. Pride of accomplishment in something you built is definitely a selling point here.

    It definitely "worked" as a kit in which our son became the prime builder instead of tag-teaming with Dad, which is good for self-esteem and confidence for future projects.

    Reviewed by Jim Haught

    Product: Rising Fighter R/C off-road racer
    Maker: Tamiya
    Scale: 1:10
    Stock No.: 58416
    MSRP: $126

  • Prior R/C experience useful

  • Plenty of performance

  • Graphics should attract youth

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    Scalextric's MINI Coopers are back on "the job"
    Product: The 1969 British cult film The Italian Job included several English icons. Among them were actors Michael Caine and Noël Coward, as well as three Austin Mini Cooper Ss. The plot of the film (a comedy/action piece) is a heist of $4 million in gold, pulled off by Michael Caine's character, Charlie Crocker, and his band of thieves.

    To escape with the goods, Crocker and his accomplices make their way through the city of Turin, Italy, at the height of a traffic jam (which they caused), using three Mini Coopers. In the film's chase sequence, the Minis are driven most everywhere other than the traffic-packed city streets, careening through the shopping arcades of the Via Roma, up the roof of the Palazzo a Vela, around the rooftop test track of the Fiat Lingotto factory and down the steps of the Gran Madre di Dio. Crocker and his crew make their final escape from the Turin police through the city's storm drains.

    Just in time for the film's 40th anniversary, Scalextric has released a three-car limited-edition boxed set of 1:32 Austin Mini Cooper Ss. The Minis come decorated in Tartan Red, Old English White and Island Blue, matching the cars in the film.

    Performance: Shortly after taking the Minis out of the box and giving them a quick spin around my track, I watched The Italian Job. Scalextric did its homework when producing the models.

    The cars feature several movie-specific details, the two most notable being that the drivers and passengers have jumpsuits painted to match those in the film, with the correct placement of characters in each vehicle, and that each Mini carries the correct license plates.

    The models themselves are superbly rendered, with many factory-applied details, including bumpers, grilles, windshield wipers, exhaust pipes and full interiors. The paint on the models is evenly applied, and the markings and accents are crisp. Perhaps the only disappointment - and it's minor - is that the bonnet (hood) straps are printed on the body shell, rather than being separate parts.

    The Scalextric Minis feature light-emitting diode (LED) headlights and tail lamps. Although the clustered racing lamps in the center of the cars' grilles are not lighted, they match the position of those found on the film cars.

    Also, those looking for Scalextric Digital versions of the Minis won't find any. Scalextric's Web site indicates that the models are too small to equip with its aftermarket digital chips. One look under the shell shows why. Nearly every available space is filled with something!

    Zippy and tippy are the best words to describe how the Minis handled. Being both small and light, the cars are very fast on the straightaway. However, if run on a track with long straights and the brake turned off, slowing the Mini in time to make a corner can be an issue. The short, narrow wheelbase and narrow body make the cars prone to roll when entering a corner at moderate to high speeds.

    However, when run on a track with a lot of curvature and not much straight (keeping the top speed under control), the Minis handle very well. I was able to best several of Scalextric's modern BMW Mini Coopers with an Austin Mini, no questions asked.

    Marketing: The Italian Job Mini Cooper set comes in an attractive presentation box, which features artwork that captures the look of the posters produced by Paramount for the film's 30th anniversary rerelease in 1999. As delivered, the cars are covered with a clear-plastic insert.

    As a word of caution, though it's very easy to see the product with the lid of the box open, the cars are also easily removed from the box. I'd recommend retailing this product in a lockable display case in your store.

    So what's the bottom line? Let's face it, Minis in general are cool; fun-to-drive Minis are even better. I've already got a race planned for my four-lane home track that uses all three of the Limited Edition Italian Job Minis and a Scalextric Challenger pace car (No. C8157) as the Turin police.

    And, if your customers are looking to add more Italian Job-type stunts, tell them to add a Scalextric Jump (item No. C8211) or two to their tracks to go along with the Minis!

    Reviewed by David Popp

    Product: The Italian Job Austin MINI Cooper S set
    Maker: Scalextric
    Scale: 1:32
    Stock No.: C2921A
    MSRP: $149.99
    Availability: Hornby America

  • Fully assembled

  • Accurate painting and details

  • Not suitable for Scalextric Digital

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    For Bronco's mid-production LWS, beauty is in the details
    Product: Bronco Models is the first to release an injection-molded kit of the unusual German World War II amphibious Land-Wasser-Schlepper. The kit models a mid-production version with round forward ports; the earlier version had large square windows in the sides at the fore. While the cabin is a mid-production style, the drive sprockets are those found on the early version.

    Molded in tan plastic, the kit features excellent detail. I was impressed by the lack of ejector-pin marks, especially in the large cabin panels. The hull is molded as one piece, as is the deck.

    In addition to the injection-molded pieces, Bronco provides a small photo-etched metal sheet, a fabric flag and decals for three subjects. Missing from the kit are the rope fenders that are seen in almost every photo of the LWS and the kit's box art. No figures are included.

    Performance: Assembly starts by adding the deck and detail to the hull. I left off the running gear until main painting was complete. The photo-etched metal screens for the deck intakes are nice, but recesses they cover are a bit shallow.

    Assembly of the cabin interior went smoothly but, as with most kits, there is very little painting information for the cabin interior.

    Directions are vague on placement of some parts, such as the round photo-etched metal hatches. The instructions are inadequate for several deck details, most notably the hatches that are fitted both to port and starboard.

    When building the stack, tell your customers that it is important that part G5 is positioned correctly - but there is nothing to help ensure it is aligned properly.

    If it is placed incorrectly, the stack assembly will not line up when attached to the deck. I avoided this problem by gluing the stack assembly to the roof and grinding away the stack's positioning lug on the deck.

    Rather than build the cabin separately, as the instructions indicate, I added the walls to the deck, then glued the roof to the walls. While installing the roof, I discovered the cabin entrance was not flush to the deck on one side. I had to file it at the top to make the roof fit properly. I still needed to add a few dabs of epoxy putty to the roof and a couple of the wall joints.

    The tracks are some of the best kit-supplied individual links I've ever seen, delicately molded with hollow guide teeth, no ejector-pin marks and very little flash.

    Cleaning them up is tedious (each link has three sprue attachment points), but they click together securely. Once the tracks were in place and sagged as I wanted, I brushed Weld-On 3 liquid cement over them to lock them in place.

    Marketing: I spent about 32 hours building the LWS. The numerous tiny parts will require some modeling experience, but if a customer takes his time, he will be rewarded with a beautiful model of an unusual vehicle for his collection.

    Reviewed by John Plzak

    Product: Land-Wasser-Schlepper
    Maker: Bronco
    Scale: 1:35
    Stock No.: CB-35015
    MSRP: $99.99
    Availability: Stevens International

  • Cleanly molded

  • Excellent detail, especially tracks

  • Difficult instructions

  • Related Reviews: 1:35 Early Production LWS from HobbyBoss

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