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Product Lab - March 2007

Published: February 14, 2007
Micro-T's tiny size means big fun and huge sales
VITAL STATS
Product: Micro-T 1/36-scale RTR micro truck with Team Losi Sport transmitter and charger
Manufacturer: Team Losi
Stock No.: LOSB0230
MSRP/Street Price: $99.99/$80
Availability: Horizon Hobby

Product: There was a lot of buzz around the Model Retailer office when we received the new Team Losi Micro-T for review. There was plenty of "Hey, call me when you're gonna run that, okay?"

The Micro-T is perhaps the most complete RTR we've seen. Losi provides a Sport 27-MHz AM transmitter with adjustable dual-rate steering with this tiny truck, but it's the thought of including not only a battery-powered charger but enough AA batteries to operate both it and the transmitter that really puts this package over the top.

Performance: Don't let its adorable looks fool you. This 1:36-scale terror has everything one would expect on a larger-scale vehicle: independent suspension, adjustable slipper clutch, dogbone driveshafts, gear differential and ball bearings.

All it takes is loading the batteries into the charger and transmitter, and waiting 20 minutes while the Micro-T's 150-mAh 4.8-volt NiMH battery charges, and then your customers will be off and running. With just a little tweaking, the Micro-T will run straight, and it really boogies. It stops on a dime and digs into turns on carpet.

We made some rough patches for the Micro-T by overlapping Losi track dots and jumped it off an inch-thick binder. It's cool to see the truck's tiny suspension work and handle obstacles just like the big guys.

While racing around the office, however, we grazed the wall and the right steering link broke. With a sizable shop in-house, we fashioned replacements for both steering links out of light-weight brass and were up and racing again within a half-hour.

Marketing: There shouldn't be any problem getting the Micro-T to sell. In fact, the retailers we've talked to haven't been able to keep them in stock. If there isn't a lot of interest, have one in the store ready to go. After seeing the Micro-T in action, customers are sure to want one.

We have also heard complaints about broken parts (like the steering link), so make sure to keep a variety of spare parts in stock - or the backorder list at the very least.

Reviewed by Tim Kidwell

BOTTOM LINE
  • Complete Ready-to-Run package

  • So cute it sells itself

  • Stock spare parts


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    SPARCs fly--and hover and drive
    VITAL STATS
    Product: SPARC! line
    Maker: Horizon Hobby
    Stock Nos./MSRPs: Suzuki Bike RTR, No. SPJ3000, $64.99; Aerolite RTF Electric Heli, No. SPJ1100, $64.99; Hoverflash RTF Electric Heli, No. SPJ1000, $92.99; HVR-062 Hovercraft, No. SPJ4000, $89.99; P-51 Sky Club Free Flight, No. SPJ2000, $14.99; USAF Sky Club Free Flight, No. SPJ2300, $14.99; Sky Cruiser Sky Club Free Flight, No. SPJ2200, $14.99; A-7 Corsair Sky Club Free Flight, No. SPJ2100, $14.99
    Merchandising: SPARC! kiosk

    Product: Looking for radio-control products to sell to your entry-level customers, or to a harried mother who needs a birthday present now that's not going to cost her a fortune and be broken in 10 minutes? Horizon Hobby has the answer - several, actually -with its new SPARC! line of products.

    The line includes two helicopters, a hovercraft, a motorcycle and four free-flight planes. All, except the motorcycle, are made primarily from EPP foam and are ready to go out of the box after the batteries are charged. Prices range from $14.99 to $92.99.

    Horizon also has a colorful merchandiser specifically designed for these products. Its bright yellow exterior and SPARC! graphics make it a real eye-catcher!

    Performance: At their price point, don't expect acrobatics out of these products. However, there is a lot of whiz-bang for the buck here, and a surprising level of durability.

    The Model Retailer staff and others at Kalmbach tested almost all of them, and I can't count the number of times I heard "That's cool!" and "Wow!" when people saw them in action then found out how much the items cost. Here's an item-by-item rundown of how they fared:

    Suzuki Bike RTR: I can almost hear the moms now: "Quit running that in the house!" And they are right; the Suzuki needs plenty of space outside. When you give this bike a place to run, though, it's remarkably fast and well-balanced.

    The rider is about as well-detailed as the typical 12-inch action figure. Skid guards protect the works when the bike leans over on its side.

    Unfortunately, we never got a chance to test it in the dirt, but it ran very well on pavement and on carpet inside. The last place caused Judi Fischer, Kalmbach's office services manager -sort of our company mom- to scowl at us a little, too.

    Aerolite RTF Electric Heli: This is the smallest of the two helicopters, coming in a clear, cylindrical case that also doubles as a helipad. This might actually be a fun little heli for someone who already knows a something about them. It flies pretty well out of the box, but someone with enough knowledge to tweak the blades could really make it go places.

    The Aerolite has a LiPo battery and charger, and can fly for up to 10 minutes at a time. The metal ring around the counter-rotating blades protects the helicopter, walls and anything else you might accidentally run into while flying it.

    Very stable and easy to fly, this tiny heli employs a servo-actuated magnet that contacts a ring under the blades to make the it fly forward. It's a low-buck but highly effective control mechanism. We kind of dinged the tail of ours while flying it, but a spot of foam-safe CA got us back in the air pronto. And if you beat yours up beyond that, replacement bodies and blades are available.

    Hoverflash RTF Electric Heli: This is probably my favorite of the bunch, and with R/C helis so hot right now, this is a really inexpensive and easy way to hook your customers.

    It's considerably bigger than the Aerolite, sized more like a conventional micro heli. It also employs counter-rotating blades and the magnetic directional gear. It adds a tail rotor for yaw control, and also runs on LiPo power.

    Perhaps the best feature is the Hoverflash's foam blades. We flew it indoors in an area that had just been painted. Things got a little out of control, and the blades hit the wall. Remarkably, the blades didn't break, and more importantly, left no marks on the wall! No worse for the wear, the Hoverflash took right off again.

    It was quite easy to fly, and once trimmed, did much of what we wanted without fuss. Indoors seems like the best place to fly it; its outdoor-capable on a very calm day, too. Spare bodies and blades are available for this heli.

    HVR-062 Hovercraft RTR: If the Hoverflash was the biggest hit performance-wise, the HVR-062 definitely had the highest cool factor. The huge twin rear fans and low-slung profile make it look menacing.

    Performance-wise, it didn't disappoint, either. The twin fans and the blower motor rev up, the skirt inflates, and just like that, you're off. The surface you're on makes a lot of difference in the handling; short-pile carpet floors make it easy to maneuver.

    You have to be more careful on tile; there's not as much friction and the HVR-062 can get going in a hurry! Pavement offers a bit of a compromise between the two, but just make sure you are running in an area free of small rocks and other debris.

    With its foam construction, the HVR took a fair bit of banging into furniture and came back for much more. As all the fans are well protected, this would be the item I'd recommend for your younger customers.

    Sky Club Free Flight Models: Four aircraft are included in the Sky Club. Unfortunately, time and weather conspired to keep us from getting these in the air.

    We can tell you they are colorful, durably made and include a charger that juices up the built-in battery in about a minute, which translates to lots of play time!

    All in all, the SPARC! line of products is a winner. Horizon has come up with some innovative ways to get better quality and performance out of these products than the price point would indicate.

    The only downside we could see to some of them is the time it takes to charge the heli, hovercraft and motorcycle batteries. I have three kids under the age of 10 and they don't like to wait long for anything. However, spare batteries can extend the fun for these products, so be sure to tell your customers!

    Marketing: There's something this line of products has that we often forget about: fun. It was a genuine blast to run the hovercraft and the motorcycle, and to have them run well. I keep the Hoverflash plugged in and ready to go all the time. Flying it around is a great way to spend 10 or 15 minutes away from the desk.

    This line of products can turn a customer who potentially will go home with nothing into someone you might get hooked on R/C for life. They are ideal for kids, especially when parents want them to try a hobby but don't want to spend big bucks for a higher-end item that might become wreckage during the learning curve. Plus, they're all easy to use, and early success means more sales in the long run.

    Spare parts are available, and as I mentioned earlier, make sure you push the extra batteries. An extra $14 is definitely worth avoiding the disappointment of telling a child, "It's out of juice, we're done," after just one run.

    Horizon has a real winner here. Don't forget, the colorful SPARC! kiosk will help you sell these fun products.

    Reviewed by Hal Miller

    BOTTOM LINE
  • Great performance at price point

  • Perfect entry-level items

  • Nice variety to choose from


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    Ikarus' EasyFly2 lets you soar without singeing your wings
    VITAL STATS
    Product: EasyFly2
    Maker: Ikarus
    Types/Stock Nos./MSRPs: USB interface version with adapter for all Hitec, Futaba (with round DSC jack) and most Airtronic transmitters (No. 3011001, $99.95) or with adapter for all JR and newer Futaba (with square DSC jack) transmitters (No. 3011004, $99.95); USB Game Commander controller version (No. 3011002, $129.95)

    Product: For as long as R/C planes have existed, there has always been the fearful novice who's spent hours and hours building his first plane and finally works up the courage to take it out for its maiden flight.

    Usually this first flight, if not the entire build, is done under the guidance of a mentor whose experience will help get the beginner through the first harrowing stages of take-off and a few nervous turns in the sky before taking the controls for a safe return to earth.

    But this scenario isn't always possible, and when taking to the air for the first time, without the guidance of a more experienced pilot, new R/C fliers often find themselves picking through wreckage for salvageable parts.

    With computers, however, R/C flight simulators have progressed by leaps and bounds, allowing novices to gain skills essential to successful flying, while giving more advanced fliers a chance to perfect techniques or practice difficult stunts without fear of losing a plane.

    Ikarus' new offering, the EasyFly2, is targeted toward new fliers as a way to help them prevent the fatal crash. It includes bells and whistles that serve intermediate and advanced pilots, as well, with valuable training time. What's the one thing EasyFly2 doesn't have? The sticker shock of higher-end simulators.

    Performance: Installation is a snap. Simply load the CD-ROM into the computer and follow the set-up instructions. After that, everything is plug-and-play, using the provided USB cable and the customer's own controller.

    Be advised that there are three simulator versions. The USB cable provided with the first version (No. 3011001) fits all Hitec and Futaba transmitters with a round DSC jack, as well as most Airtronic radios. The cable from the second version (No. 3011004) fits JR and newer Futaba transmitters with a square DSC jack. Finally, the third simulator package, or Game Commander version (No. 3011002), comes with its own controller.

    Rarely do computer graphics live up to the package art. EasyFly2 not only lives up to the box art, but surpasses it with detailed, realistic models. Five planes and four helicopters are included with the software, as are three flight venues, and all look fantastic, enhancing the sensation of being out flying.

    It's possible to make conditions for flight more difficult by adjusting lighting and wind speed, and choice of aircraft can affect a flier's ability to stay in the air as well. And in case anyone wonders, the models do break up when crashed into trees or the ground, and will start to come apart after some hard flying.

    Some customers may find the choice of aircraft a bit limited, and the EasyFly2 could benefit from an upgrade that includes more planes. Even so, R/C fliers should be able to find a plane that is at least similar to what they currently own or plan to fly.

    The software engine is capable of simulating 3D aerobatic flight for both helis and planes, so intermediate and advanced fliers looking for a little extra practice or a chance to develop new maneuvers can benefit from EasyFly2 also.

    Marketing: Often, the best way to market a simulator is to have a computer set up in your store and let customers test fly. For the price-conscious, point out that EasyFly2 doesn't have the price tag that other simulators do, and can serve as a training ground just as readily as its more expensive counterparts.

    Plus, EasyFly2 offers other options that allow a customer to use a transmitter they already own, or to buy the version that includes the Game Commander package.

    By familiarizing yourself with the minimum requirements needed to run EasyFly2, you can offer advice to your customers that will ensure they have a computer capable of meeting the software's needs.

    Reviewed by Tom Krygiel

    BOTTOM LINE
  • Easy on the budget

  • Realistic aircraft and venues

  • Lets you use your own radio


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    CMC's Mercedes-Benz SSKL: The 'White Elephant' lives on
    VITAL STATS
    Product: 1931 Mercedes-Benz SSKL
    Maker: CMC
    Scale: 1:18
    Stock No.: M-055
    MSRP: $249

    Product: Through the years, auto racing has had its share of legends, and Germany's CMC delivers three-in-one with its latest die-cast model, the 1931 Mille Miglia-winning Mercedes-Benz SSKL.

    The Mille Miglia, a 1,000-mile race up and down Italy's country roads from 1927-57 was the ultimate endurance race of the day. Mercedes itself began building its racing reputation at that same time. Couple those facts with that of legendary Rudolf Caracciola driving the SSKL (the White Elephant) to victory in the 1931 race, and you have the triple whammy of fame and racing history.

    The car was the ultimate sporty roadster of the day, although it was a massive machine by today's racing standards. The white monster featured a 300-horse supercharged in-line six-cylinder engine, back in the day when engines were up front and weighed a ton, almost literally.

    Caracciola's win, the first by a non-Italian in the Mille Miglia, was legendary in several other ways too. Mercedes, suffering through tough economic times in the late 1920s and early '30s, scaled back its racing effort, and Caracciola had to enter the Mille Miglia as a private entrant.
    Mercedes provided a five-person crew: three technicians, co-driver/mechanic Wilhelm Sebastian, and Alfred Neubeuer, its chief of racing. His main competition, Alfa-Romeo, had 90 mechanics on its team!
    As the race neared its end, Caracciola pressed the three leading Alfas hard as they ran in a group. But at a bend, two of them spun off, and Caracciola put the Mercedes in the lead.

    Yet 20 miles from the finish, he blew a tire, and he and his mechanic had to quickly repair it before an Alfa caught him. He and Mercedes prevailed, elevating both to legendary status.

    Performance: You need look no further than the wire spoke wheels on CMC's Mercedes to know this model epitomizes superb craftsmanship. Each stainless steel spoke is attached to the wheel rim with a nipple stem, something I've never seen in a 1:18 model.

    That's just the beginning. The car features dozens of holes that were bored into the real racer's frame to cut weight (the L in SSKL stands for Light). Those holes cut 275 pounds from the real monster racer.
    Underneath is a highly detailed and working leaf-spring suspension, and you can see the massive 6-cylinder engine. Real leather straps hold down the white hood panels that fold up to reveal the fully-plumbed engine with Mercedes engraved on the block.

    Small metal clasps also hold the hood down, and on the passenger's side, three giant exhaust pipes exit into the larger pipe that runs under the car. Next to the passenger/mechanic's seat, there's a tray outside the car that carries a tiny wooden toolbox, and yes, it opens to reveal a couple of screwdrivers and wrenches and a mallet. Next to it is a fuel can with a metal chain to hold the cap and leather straps to keep it on the car.

    Other tiny details? The car is made of 1,885 parts, including a split windshield with three-sided metal frame that folds up or down flat to the body. There are also two spare tires (Caracciola needed those!) on what we'd now consider the trunk lid, with a lever that unscrews so you can take those off. In addition, there are four main Dunlop tires, which are attached by wing nuts that easily unscrew.

    Inside, the cockpit is sparse, but has black leather seats, a four-spoke steering wheel and a wood-look dash, with authentic looking gauges, giant stick shift and brake levers.

    Marketing: Aw c'mon, who wouldn't want this car, or any other CMC model? The reason you put this in your showcase is the same reason Chevrolet dealers have a bright shiny Corvette in their showrooms.

    People see these flashy high-end models, with all the precision and detail, and they want to own one; if not this one, the next one that comes along. Start building your customers' expectations and tell them to start socking away a little extra each week to buy this Mercedes or another premium die-cast as the centerpiece for their collection.

    Reviewed by Mark Savage

    BOTTOM LINE
  • Fantastic craftsmanship

  • Many movable parts

  • Good shelf showpiece


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    JLG boom models lift die-cast to new heights
    VITAL STATS
    Products: JLG TOW-PRO T350 trailer-mounted boom lift; JLG 860SJ
    telescopic boom lift
    Maker: JLG
    Scale: 1:32
    Stock Nos./MSRP: JLG TOW-PRO T350 (No. JLG906, $59.99); JLG 860SJ (No. JLG905, $89.99)

    Product: JLG builds and distributes heavy-duty aerial lifts and telehandlers worldwide, and now die-cast collectors can own a 1:32 version of their products.

    JLG's Series 2 lineup includes both a giant 860SJ Telescopic Boom Lift and the smaller T350 Trailer Mounted Boom Lift, both bathed in JLG's familiar bright orange-and-cream paint scheme. These are the lifts you'll see at major construction sites, sporting events and wherever heavy work is being done.

    Performance: Like most better quality die-cast construction equipment, the JLG pieces have a lot of moving pieces, which makes them more realistic than toy-quality models. Pulling the orange boom from the cream main section of the 860SJ will extend the jib 34 inches. Talk about an impressive desk display.

    The cab swivels 360 degrees; its gull-wing side pods can be opened to expose the power panels on one side, or the engine on the other. These are more mildly detailed than the exterior pieces.

    However, the paint job is excellent; the detailing and logos on the cab are well done. The work platform also is quite flexible. On the test product, the large plastic boom extension piece was loose, but a little glue secured it.

    The smaller T350 trailer-mounted boom is impressive in its many moving parts, including the four self-leveling outrigger legs that stabilize the boom while it's extended. Plus there's the fully operational boom and work platform, again with an excellent paint job and decaling. Optional materials handling hooks are also provided.

    Marketing: While 1:87 or 1:50 scales might increase the market for these models, the scale could make these popular on 1:32 slot-car tracks as well.

    Reviewed by Mark Savage

    BOTTOM LINE
  • Unique products and brand

  • Realistic functionality

  • Attractive finish


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    Get mobile on the oval with SCX NASCAR slot cars
    VITAL STATS
    Products/Stock Nos.: 2006 NASCAR Carl Edwards' No. 99 Ford Fusion Office Depot red/black (No. 62180); Kevin Harvick's No. 29 Chevrolet Monte Carlo Goodwrench black/silver (No. 62190); Kevin Harvick's No. 29 Chevrolet Monte Carlo Reese's yellow/orange (No. 62380); Kasey Kahne's No. 9 Dodge Charger, Dodge Dealers/UAW red/white (No. 62200)
    Maker: SCX
    Scale: 1:32
    MSRP: $32.99 analog; $57.99 digital

    Product: NASCAR is today's U.S. racing king for good reasons: close races, tons of action, and that "rubbin' is racin' " mind-set. The new season just took the green flag with the Daytona 500, giving hobby stores a great opportunity to stock up on stock cars to get your slot racers' attention.

    SCX has joined the competition with four good-looking NASCAR models: Kevin Harvick's No. 29 Chevy in both black-and-silver Goodwrench trim and awesome orange-and-yellow Reese's team colors; Kasey Kahne's No. 99 red and white Dodge Charger; and Carl Edwards' No. 9 red-and-black Office Depot Ford.

    Performance: I tested all four on my home track and compared their times with that of an excellent Scalextric stock car, the No. 17 Ford Taurus in Matt Kenseth's DeWalt team trim. The two makes are nearly identical, just as in NASCAR.

    I turned a 6.1-second lap in the year-old Scalextric car; the tail wagged just a bit in sharp corners. The SCX cars were easily in that neighborhood, the best hitting 5.9 seconds as two of the four had nearly no tail wiggle, while the others each had about the same as the Scalextric car.

    SCX cars use an RX-42 19-rpm motor plus Magnatraction with the tilting engine cradle that allows for body roll and may give it that tiny edge to post a better time.

    Visually, the SCX cars have slightly more detailed chassis bottoms than the Scalextric models, but their interiors have a plate just below the driver's elbow, while the Scalextric cars have a full driver figure. SCX stockers seem to have a slight edge in performance, while Scalextric wins the overall visuals.

    Marketing: NASCAR is hot. Display these and the Scalextric models together on a big oval test track and let folks run a display car or two.

    Reviewed by Mark Savage

    BOTTOM LINE
  • High-quality look

  • Extremely competitive

  • Popular theme


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    Carrera's Custom Rods set is bid and built for speed
    VITAL STATS
    Product: Custom Rods slot-car set
    Maker: Carrera
    Scale: 1:24
    Stock No.: 20108
    MSRP: $397.99

    Product: Carrera's Exclusiv line of slot-car products is for people who think most other brands of slot cars are too small.

    At 1:24 scale, these cars are impressive looking and fun to drive. The latest release in Carrera's Exclusiv series is its Custom Rods set. This starter package makes it easy for anyone interested in getting into large-scale slot-car racing and includes two customized late-model American cars, a whole lot of track, a power supply, throttles and a detailed instruction booklet.

    Performance: The first thing most everyone said when I showed them the cars was, "Those are so cool!"

    The 1:24 scale cars are big and detailed, and as such, attract attention. They also require some serious space to run, which is what they do best. Because of the larger scale, these cars perform more smoothly than many of their smaller-scale kin. They also draw more current, and therefore require a larger power supply (18 volts).

    Although you can run 1:32 cars on the track included in this set, Carrera advises that you first swap out the Exclusiv power supply and throttles for those in its Evolution series (14.5 volts).

    The set comes with a blue customized roadster, which Carrera calls a '34 hot rod, and a red sedan, which it calls a '41 hot rod. The cars feature great details, such as chrome pipes and bumpers, open engine compartments and detailed interiors. The '41 hot rod even has a pair of fuzzy dice hanging from the mirror - a great touch!

    In addition, the cars feature some adjustable parts, so you can tune them to race in a manner you like best.

    The Custom Rods package includes more than 30 feet of track, which assembles into an approximately 8 ½- by 10 ½-foot pretzel-shaped course. There are a lot of track-locking clips to install, so it took me the better part of two hours to get everything assembled and running.

    The track includes borders and guardrails for all of the curve sections, allowing the big cars room to do some drifting. It also comes with a set of bridge tracks and supports, making for a smooth "up and over" straightaway that runs nearly the full length of the layout.

    Carrera includes a pair of crossover tracks in the set as well. I didn't care for the instruction booklet-directed placement of the crossover on the starting straight, since it interrupted the flow of the course when running clockwise. I eventually moved the crossover to the short straight between turns one and two for better results. However, I'd recommend replacing the crossovers with standard straight sections to avoid unnecessary collisions that could damage the cars.

    Marketing: With all the track it contains, the set's box is fairly big and heavy. You'll want to display the box on the floor or sturdy countertop. The package features colorful photos of the contents, and on the back, it has a nice photo list of other 1:24 scale cars in the Carrera line. In fact, Carrera is offering two other versions of the hot rods that come with this set, making for some nice add-on sales.

    Driving the 1:24 scale cars is even more fun with greater lap distances. Suggest that customers expand their track, beginning with a longer starting straight using a bank curve at turn one. The bottom line is that Carrera's Custom Rods set is a great product with many nice features, and should be an easy sell.

    Reviewed by David Popp

    BOTTOM LINE
  • Easy to assemble

  • Comes with two detailed cars

  • Includes more than 30 ft. of track


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