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Product Lab - February 2007

Published: January 12, 2007
Castle's Mamba Max packs a punch
VITAL STATS

Product: Mamba Max 5700Kv Brushless Motor-ESC Package
Maker: Castle Creations
Stock No.: MMBMAX-CMS5700
MSRP: $249.99
Tested with: Trinity Epic ESP 3800 Vis-Pro matched unassembled cells (EP0062, $67.49)
Peak Racing Carbon Edition 3200 mAh Race Spec LiPo battery (PEK43301, $119)
HiTec HS-965MG servo (32965S, $109.95)
Spektrum DX3 radio (superceded by DX3.0; SPM20300, $349.99)
Spektrum SR3001 receiver (SPM1205, $119.99)
Parma-PSE 1:10 Type "M" sedan (190mm) clear body (10220, $27.99)
Academy STR-4 Pro II kit (15102, $299.98)

Product: Brushless motors have become one of the most popular hop-ups for surface vehicles in the last year. Castle Creations, one of the leading names in the field, steps up from its successful mini-vehicle Mamba series to the 540-size Mamba Max offerings, perfect for two-and four-wheel drive cars, trucks and buggies.

Mamba Max motors come in 4600Kv, 5700Kv, 6700Kv (due out soon) and 7700Kv sizes, all in a 540 can. They are sensorless, and must be operated with a sensorless electronic speed control like the Mamba Max ESC.

Castle offers packages for the 4600, 5700 and 7700 which include the Mamba Max brushless ESC, connectors for motor and controller hook-up, Castle Link software install disc, Castle Link USB programming cable and a user guide with settings tips.
We received a 5700 package, which came attractively boxed and secured in foam.

Performance: Castle couldn't make it easier to get into brushless power. The wires between the motor and the ESC are already soldered with bullet connectors. All the user has to do is bolt in the motor, attach the bullet plugs to the corresponding-colored wires and add a battery connector to the ESC. I put on a Dean's Ultra Plug; few other connectors can handle the high current.

The test car, Academy's STR-4 Pro II, has plenty of room on its carbon-fiber chassis for the Mamba Max ESC and a Spektrum SR3001 receiver. Parma's sleek Type M Sedan body completed the package.

I initially used the Mamba Max setup with a NiMH pack made from Epic Vis-Pro 3800 matched cells and the stock pinion from the STR-4 Pro II kit. The speed improvement over a conventional brushed motor was noticeable, and the power felt more linear and smooth. Additionally, I got several more minutes out of the pack than I would have with a brushed motor, despite the fact I really romped on the throttle.

After the first few runs, I tweaked the motor using the Castle Link software, which I'd installed on my laptop computer. The ESC connects to the computer with a supplied USB cable. The software lets you change the braking/reverse setup, brake amount, reverse throttle, punch control, drag brake, start power, motor timing, cutoff voltage (handy for LiPo batteries), and whether you're using a brushed or brushless motor. I ran the car again, and noticed the difference in performance.

I wanted to go even faster, so I installed a Peak Racing 3200 mAh Carbon Edition LiPo battery. I held the car in my hand and gave it a fistful of throttle; the power it generated ballooned the touring car tires like a full-size dragster. Now that's power! On the ground, the car had so much power, I had trouble keeping the tires locked to some fairly grippy asphalt when turning. The Mamba Max-LiPo combination produced near-nitro power and provided about 15 minutes of run time. Awesome!

Throughout testing, no matter how hard I pushed the motor, it got warm but never hot to the touch. There were no thermal shutdowns.

Marketing: This is definitely a product to recommend to customers looking for serious speed. Mamba Max installation is easy. The Castle Link software is simple to use and lets your customer tune the motor to exact performance specifications.

As for add-on sales, suggest high-capacity NiMH battery packs, or for more punch, LiPo packs. When mated to LiPo power, these motors truly run their best.

Reviewed by Hal Miller

BOTTOM LINE
  • Easy to install

  • Software offers modifications

  • Package includes many features


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    CEN's Premier 4 offers fun for nitro novices and veterans
    VITAL STATS
    Product: Premier 4 RTR stadium truck
    Maker: CEN
    Scale: 1:10
    Stock No.: 9254
    MSRP: $456

    Product: CEN's newest additions to its NX series of vehicles are the Premier 4 stadium truck and the MT-Spec 3.0 RTRs. Essentially the same vehicle, the MT-Spec sports monster truck tires and a slightly different body than the Premier 4.

    Underneath each vehicle is an aluminum chassis, shaft drive, two-speed automatic transmission and Constant Velocity Shafts (CVS), all driven by a chunky, NX-3.0 power plant. Oil-filled shocks, tuned pipe, disc brake, 125cc fuel tank and a pre-painted body round out the package.

    A two-channel Skyion AM radio is included, complete with LCD screen, 10 model memories and an ABS setting. A full-color NX series assembly instruction booklet is supplied, helpful for repairs and upgrades, along with a CEN Nitro Handbook.

    CEN also includes a DVD that contains all of the Premier 4's manuals, a catalog and videos of various vehicles racing and bashing. The latest version of Windows Media Player will play the DVD, but it may not work with all DVD players or computers.

    Performance: Unpacking the Premier 4, we noticed that some of the paint was scuffed off the back and front of the body, probably damaged in transit. We e-mailed CEN, and three days later, we had the new body, unmarred and safely packed in bubble wrap. While the holes for the body pegs are pre-drilled, the hole for the antenna is not, so customers will have to mark and drill it before driving.

    CEN recommends three tanks of fuel to break in the Nitro 3.0. I ran through about five, just to be safe. After some steering and throttle adjustments, I gave the Premier 4 extra throttle out on a deserted country road and was greeted by a puff of blue exhaust and a quickly receding truck. With a flick of the brake, the Premier 4 turned almost on a dime and headed back toward me.

    Rolling into the backyard, I sent the Premier 4 over a couple of jumps. It handled well, pushing a bit in the turns. The shocks were a bit squishy for my taste, allowing the truck to bottom out too easily. I emptied the shocks, made sure they all had medium pistons (the factory had installed soft) and refilled them with 30-weight oil. This helped.

    What I really wanted to do was open the Premier 4 up and let it run as fast as it could go. For that, I took it to a large, empty parking lot with few obstructions.

    After getting the Premier 4 warmed up, I pulled the throttle back and let it go. The truck took off, running through the first gear and smoothly transitioning into the second, at which point it really started to move out.
    Extremely stable, the Premier's wide stance didn't show any signs of flipping, even with a hard brake and turn. I gunned it again, sped off a steep curb and caught about three feet of air. Coming down a little off, the Premier rolled, but came out upright and kept going as if nothing had happened.

    After several more runs around the lot at high speeds, my luck finally ran out and I made a foolish turn into the curb, shattering the front right wheel and shock and bending the right CVS. However, the wheel hub and suspension arm survived quite well, coming apart at the ball joints rather than breaking.

    Often, retailers are hesitant to pick up a new R/C car or truck because companies have a hard time fulfilling parts orders. Not so with the Premier 4. Although, when I visited a local CEN retailer, they didn't have any of the parts I needed in stock, my order came within three days. After repairs, the Premier 4 was up and running like new.

    Marketing: CEN's Premier 4 is an easy R/C truck to run right out of the box. It's got plenty of fun factor and good handling to get novices into nitro R/Cs, and with a wide range of available upgrades and adjustability, has enough for veterans, too.

    Unlike other new vehicles, the Premier 4 is an addition to CEN's already existing NX series, and parts are available. Stock spare parts and upgrades, since there will undoubtedly be some who naturally want to tweak their machine or make repairs. If you aren't carrying a particular part, the order will be promptly filled, which is a good selling point for CEN.

    Reviewed by Tim Kidwell

    BOTTOM LINE
  • Easy to get up and running

  • Fast and fun

  • Durable design


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    HobbyZone's Super Cub is a great way to learn to fly
    VITAL STATS
    Product: Super Cub R/C aircraft
    Maker: HobbyZone
    Stock No.: HBZ7100
    MSRP: $159.99
    Availability: Horizon Hobby

    Product: As those in the hobby industry know, R/C flying is one of the hardest hobbies to pick up - the learning curve can be a tough and expensive one. However, manufacturers continue to make it easier for beginners to learn the ropes, and so in the last year I climbed onboard the excitement that is R/C flying.
    Being relatively new to the hobby, I was an ideal candidate for putting HobbyZone's Super Cub through its paces. The electric plane has a 48-inch wingspan and comes with everything a beginner needs to learn to fly, including a 3-channel radio, batteries, chargers and video CD with helpful assembly and flight instructions.

    Performance: Straight from the box, the Super Cub is mostly assembled. The motor, prop, receiver and servos are already mounted in the fuselage. All the pilot has to do is attach the wing, landing gear, and tail and make the control surface connections. I had my Super Cub ready to go in less than an hour.

    Next, I installed the battery and tested and trimmed the control surfaces. The battery comes from the factory partially charged, but isn't ready for flight and should be fully discharged before charging. So, I ran the engine at low speed and practiced taxiing the aircraft around my driveway.

    Once I felt I had the steering controls down, I held the tail and ran the motor at full throttle until I'd drained the battery. I then put the battery on charge (about two hours), read through the flight manual and watched the video again.

    Unlike many park flyers I've seen come through Model Retailer, the Super Cub has plenty of power and is very stable. Even with my limited experience, I felt confident flying it right away. On my first couple of flights, I hand launched the Cub, and at full throttle it gently climbed on its own without need of elevator adjustments.

    Once I'd reached a cruising altitude, I cut the throttle to half power, leveled the plane out, and then performed a series of turns and figure eights across the field. HobbyZone says that the radio range is 2,500 feet (roughly a half-mile), but at that distance, you probably won't be able to see the plane any longer.

    I next made some practice landing approaches to see how the Cub would handle at low speeds, as well as to get some practice controlling the elevator and the throttle. In calm conditions, I could fly the plane very slowly and line up my approach, while still keeping the Cub in the air.

    One of the biggest pitfalls of new fliers is to over control the aircraft. With the surface control connections in the outermost holes on the control horns, the Cub's response is fairly gentle, even with some hard steering. This feature gives the pilot time to center the stick and make course corrections.

    The Super Cub comes with HobbyZone's Anti-Crash Technology (ACT). It's activated with a switch atop of the transmitter. Should the pilot put the Super Cub into a steep dive, sensors mounted in the fuselage detect a problem, at which point the onboard ACT chip cuts the motor to half throttle and applies some up elevator, causing the plane to pull out and fly level. To regain control, the pilot needs to let the stick return to center, then cut the throttle and restart the motor. I tried out the ACT, and it works as it should. However, the flight manual warns that the plane needs to be at an altitude of 200 feet or more for the ACT to function properly. Once you feel confident flying the aircraft, you can switch off the ACT-something you'll need to do if you wish to perform loops and other flying stunts.

    Marketing: The Super Cub's packaging says, "Everything you need to start flying is in this box," and HobbyZone isn't kidding. With the plane's ease of assembly, stable flight characteristics, Anti-Crash Technology, demonstration video and complete supply of replacement parts, HobbyZone has covered all the bases.

    The company offers some nice accessories for its planes. One is HobbyZone's parachute/bomb-drop module. I'd also recommend selling one or more extra batteries at the time of purchase.
    All in all, HobbyZone's Super Cub makes a great package and offers good prospects that your customers will have a successful R/C flying experience straight out of the box.

    Reviewed by David Popp

    BOTTOM LINE
  • Package includes everything

  • Good first three-channel flyer

  • Has good power, stability


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    Ninco's Nissan 350 G'zox will knock your socks off
    VITAL STATS
    Product: Nissan 350Z No. 3 G'zox
    Maker: Ninco
    Scale: 1:32
    Stock No.: 50427
    MSRP: $52.98
    Availability: Model Rectifier Corp.

    Product: Hey, this is a hot car. I mean the Nissan 350Z is a stylish sports car to begin with, but in its Japanese GT Championship duds - black, silver and orange-this thing looks great! Exterior detail is good, with a giant wing in back, large vents behind the front wheels, proper bulges over the rear rubber, mirrors, wiper, underbody skirting and the like. The lights look so realistic I thought they might actually light up. This is the No. 3 G'zox 350Z, driven by Japan's Toshihiro Kaneishi and Frenchman Erik Comas.

    Performance: Wow! I never thought I'd rave over a Ninco car's performance. These frequently are good-looking slot cars, but traction has been an issue. But the Z car is a rocket compared to anything I own or have run from Ninco. This hot Nissan matched my best time on my Scalextric track with my fastest car, a Scalextric Corvette. I hit 6.1 seconds.

    By way of comparison, my Ninco four-wheel-drive Mitsubishi Lancer did 7.7 seconds and my awesome-looking Ninco Acura NSX, with the same NC-5 motor, did just 8.2 seconds (too much tail wag!).

    Credit the NC-5 angle winder motor layout and the overall balance of the 350Z's chassis. Not only was the car fast in the straights, its rear end stayed planted through my track's many winding turns. That's where many cars, especially past Ninco models, have suffered. This neo-traction magnet must be slightly better than other models, because I really had to work at getting this car to roll in a turn.

    Another strong point here is the self-centering slot. Many other makes don't seem to bounce back as cleanly and easily as the Ninco. Does the Ninco still make more noise than the other slot cars? You bet, but when you're this fast, it's easy to overlook.

    Marketing: This car's a winner, and with such a super paint job, you'll be able to move these quickly. Put them at the front of your slot-car display.

    Reviewed by Mark Savage

    BOTTOM LINE
  • Gorgeous detail

  • Runs fast, sounds furious

  • Self-centering slot works well


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    Build your own Ferrari 360 GTC slot car with Ninco kit
    VITAL STATS
    Product: Ferrari 360 GTC slot-car kit
    Maker: Ninco
    Scale: 1:32
    Stock Nos.: 50408, red; 50409, yellow
    MSRP: $49.99 each
    Availability: Model Rectifier Corp.

    Product: Some people just like to build cars themselves, and along those lines, a few of Ninco's recent 1:32 scale slot offerings have included a kit form of the car in addition to the usual fully assembled models. Ninco's latest slot-car kit is for a Ferrari 360 GTC.

    The kit includes a body shell (finished in either red or yellow), detailed instructions and a reusable plastic parts box containing approximately 40 pieces. The kit also includes an NC-5 motor, down-force magnet, pickup braids and tires. Ninco's model is based on the car Ferrari introduced in 2004, with a 445 hp F131 V8 engine.

    Performance: Even with 40 pieces, assembly was quick and easy. The instruction booklet breaks the process down to 24 picture-illustrated steps, and there are three basic picture commands, instructing the modeler to glue, click or screw the parts together. I stopped construction on my car partway (after Step 6) to test drive the chassis before I moved on to building the shell. Even with the test, I had my 360 GTC put together and running on the track in less than an hour.

    The finished model has nice details, and most of the parts locked together securely without any need for adjustment. The only trouble I ran into was the headlight assemblies; these fell out of my car the first time I ran it. With some careful sanding on the light housing, I got the components to seat properly and stay in place with a little cyanoacrylate adhesive.

    The finished Ferrari is a stable car, running as well as many of the other Nincos in my collection.

    Marketing: The packaging for the car has no real written description of what's inside the box, but it does include some nice photos of the finished car, as well as a photo of all the kit parts on the inside box cover. While there's no real cost advantage to buying the Ninco kit over buying a fully assembled slot car, building the car was a fun project, which could easily be the model's major selling point.

    Experienced racers and newcomers to the hobby should both enjoy the process. After all, who doesn't like building a model that you can drive once it's finished?

    Reviewed by David Popp

    BOTTOM LINE
  • Easy assembly

  • Parts securely lock together

  • Good details


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    Norscot Caterpillar Construction Minis: Collect all four
    VITAL STATS
    Product: Caterpillar Construction Minis
    Maker: Norscot
    Scale: Various; scaled to fit in box
    MSRP: $3 each

    Product: Norscot has introduced Cat Construction Minis, a small-scale entry point into its die-cast line. The series features four Caterpillar vehicles: the 315C L Excavator, D5G Track-Type Tractor, 906 Wheel Loader and 420E Backhoe Loader. Each comes on a removable base in its own clear plastic display box.

    The models aren't a particular scale, but are made to fit the display boxes. That makes them useful for a variety of applications, such as model railroad layouts in HO and N scales. They're also fun on their own! Norscot developed the line as a low-cost, introductory product to its more expensive die-cast line. The pricing allows retailers to display them as impulse items. The attractive display box packaging and familiar yellow Cat color are sure to catch your customers' eyes.

    Performance: When I first saw these little gems, I knew Norscot was onto something. Each model has moving shovels and blades; the wheeled models roll. The packaging is nice too; Norscot could have merely put the models in blister packs but instead opted for a display case, no doubt to appeal to those who want to collect and display them.

    Though the detail isn't as fine as on the larger counterparts, it's a lot for vehicles this size. Plus, the small parts will withstand handling by little fingers. One of the litmus tests for new products is to put it on my desk and see how many people pick it up or comment on it when they come in. The Construction Minis passed with flying colors; I can't tell you how many folks rifled through the display box to find all four different models. Nearly all of them said the same thing: "These are really cool!"

    Marketing: The display carton for the Construction Minis goes well just about anywhere, especially on the counter near the cash register. As they are a series, and at their low price point, chances are people will pick up all four Minis, as opposed to buying just one.

    Reviewed by Hal Miller

    BOTTOM LINE
  • Nice level of detail

  • Attractive product, packaging

  • Appeals to kids and collectors


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    Details shine on Walthers' "Empire Builder" passenger cars
    VITAL STATS
    Product: Great Northern Empire Builder passenger cars
    Maker: Walthers
    Scale: HO
    Car types: (all 932- prefix) AC&F
    baggage-mail (No. 9032), AC&F baggage-dormitory (No. 9035), AC&F 60-seat coach (No. 9031), Budd 48-seat coach (No. 9039), AC&F Ranch Series lounge
    (No. 9034) and others.
    MSRP: $44.98 to $49.98

    Product: These nicely detailed, ready-to-run models are based on cars from the Great Northern's 1955 Empire Builder streamliner that operated between Chicago and Seattle.

    The real Empire Builder first received streamlined cars in 1945, and in 1955 the GN re-equipped the train with new equipment. These cars operated on the route until the coming of Amtrak in 1971.

    Modeling: Walthers is releasing 10 cars in the series, each based on a specific prototype from the real train. The final release will be an all-new Proto 2000 F7 A-B set in colors matching the train.

    Although ready to place on the track, Walthers has included details that must be added by the modeler. Wire grab irons require drilling out locating dimples on the bodies with a No. 80 bit.

    Cars also include decals and instruction sheets. Models feature underbody and roof detailing, sprung diaphragms, and truck sideframes with good detail depth. The smooth-rolling cars have metal wheels; the automatic knuckle couplers have long pivot arms to aid operation on curves.

    Car interiors include seats, tables, partitions and other details.

    Marketing: Walthers offers interior lighting kits for both DC and DCC systems, which could lead to additional sales. Seated figures offer another opportunity for modelers to detail the coaches and diner.

    Great Northern modelers will love these cars, and passenger fans and modelers alike are also potential customers for this accurately detailed train.

    Reviewed by Jeff Wilson

    BOTTOM LINE
  • Excellent detailing

  • Decals allow customization

  • Ready to run


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    Valley of the Pharaohs provides Egytian adventure
    VITAL STATS
    Product: Valley of the Pharaohs
    Maker: Front Porch Classics
    Stock No.: VPBS-A-025
    MSRP: $55

    Product: One of my favorite lines from the movie "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" is in the middle of a big fight sequence when Sean Connery turns to Harrison Ford and says, "You call this archaeology?" Front Porch Classics' latest release, Valley of the Pharaohs, fits that statement well.

    In the same genre as "The Mummy" or "Raiders of the Ark," this game pits players against each other on the sands of Egypt in a race to come up with the resources needed to find a key that allows them to recover an ancient Egyptian artifact hidden somewhere in the Valley of the Pharaohs. In this case, that artifact is the lost Scepter of Amun-Ra.

    The game is as much about archaeology and fame and glory as it is about double-crossing your fellow players and keeping one step ahead of the cursed mummy!

    In a word, Valley of the Pharaohs is beautiful. It includes high-quality metal, wood, and cloth game pieces, features different levels of play for two to six players, and is packaged in a wood box that looks like a book with a secret compartment.

    Performance: The main quest of the game is to be the player that acquires the Scepter of Amun-Ra and returns to Alexandria with it.

    While that may sound like enough to keep one busy during the game, players also have to visit dig sites to find pieces for the key to the Valley of the Pharaohs; contend with obstacles such as bandits, sandstorms and snakebites; and keep ahead of the restless mummy that wanders the land.

    And if that isn't enough, players can raid each other's camps for resources and money or to steal the scepter itself.

    The game is played on a cloth board that features a map of Egypt. Players begin the game in Alexandria with an assortment of resource cards, coins and a guide for the artifacts they need to assemble one of the nine keys.
    As players move around the board, they may visit a city (to buy resources), an oasis (to sell resources or spin the wheel of fate), or one of nine dig sites in search of artifacts (scarabs). Players may impede the progress of their fellow adventurers by playing obstacle cards on each other, such as sandstorms or cliff faces. What's more, any player that rolls doubles gains control of the mummy and may direct it into the path of the other adventurers.

    The game also includes Reversal of Fortune cards, allowing a player to change the outcome of events, evade the mummy or take another turn.

    Game play is fast, and fortunes change quickly, so no one has an advantage for long. Depending upon the number of players, a game can last from 20 to 60 minutes.

    There are five optional rules listed at the back of the game booklet, and I'd recommend putting them all into use. One of my favorites has each player draw a personality card at random (there are 12 in all), which becomes their adventuring character.

    The characters add a lot of flavor to the game, and each character has a special talent that should prove useful to the player, as well as an archenemy to spice up the story.

    Marketing: Valley of the Pharaohs, like many of Front Porch Classics' other games, is a well-crafted, high-quality game. The mechanics are fairly easy to pick up, although, given the number of different elements in play all at once, I'd be more inclined to recommend age 10 (instead of 8) as a starting age.

    As for selling the game, the packaging has good descriptive matter and nice color pictures. Since the game is so attractive-looking, having a copy set up on the counter or in a display case could be beneficial. All in all, Valley of the Pharaohs is a lively, fun-filled game.

    Reviewed by David Popp

    BOTTOM LINE
  • Quality components

  • Numerous game elements

  • Lively, fun-filled game


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