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Old 08-05-2018, 02:42 PM
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Join Date: Mar 2014
Location: Maryland, Near DC, USA
Posts: 4,467
Default Build Complete: HPI Nitro RS4 Mini

Oh look, I built another Nitro RS4.

This isn't the new car, though. This is my Nitro RS4 2, which I built a year ago. It is, however, to blame for me building the new car. To build my Nitro RS4 2, I ended up spending a small fortune on 5 different rollers on eBay, completely disassembling them, washing every single filthy part with dish soap and a toothbrush, inspecting every single part for damage, throwing away half the parts I got because of stripped screw-holes, and finally building a functioning car. After that ordeal, I swore off buying any more vintage HPI stuff.

Those filthy old Nitro RS4 2's came with an assortment of engines in an assortment of conditions, but the engines most easily salvaged were all HPI 15FE's. That engine is a repurposed Toki airplane engine, and its power output was pretty bad, because it was designed to run at full-throttle constantly and didn't need to produce low-RPM torque. (it didn't even come with a two-needle carburetor.) As a result, there are a lot of rebuild parts still available, because the engine doesn't wear itself out very quickly and most people don't want to use them anymore anyway. I enjoy a challenge, however, and after almost a year of occasional tinkering and modification, I improved its performance to the point that it propels my Nitro RS4 2 to a top speed of 55mph with without relying on tall gearing.

That improvement had an unintended consequence. My second Nitro RS4, a RS4 3 SS built in 2015, came with a HPI 12R SS engine which had served me well in that car ever since. I'd modified that engine a bit too, getting that car up to a top speed of 50mph (I like round numbers), but after all the work I'd done on my Nitro RS4 2, the 12R SS engine felt kinda slow and boring by comparison. Not only was its power output lower than the modified 15FE, it was also powering a chassis that is a couple hundred grams heavier. I hadn't driven that car in months and I didn't foresee myself driving it ever again, in its current condition. It had been superseded by the Nitro RS4 2.

Meanwhile, I had a Nitro MT2 that I'd converted to electric last year, but it never really lived up to my expectations. I'd paid to design a custom electric motor mount for that truck, though, and I wanted to get my money's worth out of it, so I decided to cannibalize it and use the parts to convert the RS4 3 SS to electric instead. That would make the RS4 3 SS interesting again, but it also meant I'd no longer have any use for the 12R SS engine. My go-to engine for all of my nitro vehicles that don't need BONE-CRUSHING POWERRRRR is the HPI T3.0. I could save the 12R SS to use in the Nitro RS4 2 someday, but I knew I wouldn't; I've figured out how to modify the 15FE to work much better than it was designed to, and I have a pile of spare parts for it too, so it was unlikely I'd ever use the 12R SS again. But I didn't want to get rid of it either. It was time to look for ideas to make use of the 12R SS.

That's where eBay came in handy, as it tends to do. I had a thought that maybe I could find a small (less than 1/10 scale) buggy or something like that to put the engine into, but what popped up in the search results was a HPI Nitro RS4 Mini, ready to go with everything included. I wouldn't have considered it otherwise, because of how much trouble it was to build my Nitro RS4 2, but since the car was 100% assembled, clean, and in good working order I decided to bid on it. I was the only bidder, but in the last 5 seconds of the auction, someone guessed my bid and outbid me by $4.50, and I lost the auction. Now I was angry. Now I was committed to building a Nitro RS4 Mini.

I scoped-out other Nitro RS4 Mini auctions, but they were all pretty nasty-looking. Then I remembered that my local hobby shop had a partial roller a year ago, so I went back to see if the owner (Mimi) still had it. It wasn't on display anymore, but some careful snooping revealed it was still there, in the bottom of a large plastic tub full of old short-course trucks. It was dusty as hell, but it wasn't covered in oil, and the chassis plate was flat. She sold it to me for $75. Then I went back to eBay and bought one of the nasty ones to serve as a parts donor to fill-in the gaps as needed, and I got to work. A few weeks later, I ended up with this:

First of all, let me say I love the body shells made by ABC Hobby. They're as detailed as anything Tamiya has ever made, and in some cases the decals are better. They don't get credit for the red pinstripe running along the perimeter of the bumpers, though; that was all my doing, as I was copying a paint scheme on a real CR-X I found while searching images on Google. I spent about an hour slicing 1mm-wide strips of masking tape and sticking them to the inside of the bumpers, before masking the entire upper half of the body for the two-tone paint job. But the front isn't the best view of this body -- the rear view is:

The rear taillights and rear window are a single, full-wrap decal, and it just brings the rear of this car to life. There are even light buckets for all of the lights on this body -- headlights, taillights, foglights, corner signals, and even side signals -- though at present I don't have any lights installed. I've never installed lights on any of my nitro vehicles, because I don't run them at night anyway due to noise concerns, but this body looks so good I might make an exception. You can't see it from this angle, but the rear windshield decal has defrost-heater lines printed on it, though I cut out the left side of the rear windshield decal to make room for the rear vent hole.

Oh, and that chrome exhaust tip? It's functional.

I'm super proud of how the exhaust turned out. Every build has its challenges, and the biggest challenge with this build was figuring out how to route the exhaust in a way that didn't require cutting a hole in the middle of the rear bumper. I originally got a tuned-pipe exhaust made by Jet Racing, which had the outlet positioned over the rear-right wheel where a silicone deflector tube could route the exhaust out under the lip of the body, but that exhaust didn't work with the chassis in the short-wheelbase configuration. (as with all RS4's, the rear suspension arms are reversible to change the wheelbase length -- but unlike normal 1/10-scale RS4's, it's actually a useful feature on the RS4 Mini, because bodies for "Tamiya M" size cars are available in 210mm or 225mm lengths.) So I was stuck with the ancient airplane-style swirl-chamber exhaust. I took a trip to the auto parts store to look for tubing I could use to make a proper exhaust pipe for this car, and I settled on a package of hard-nylon fuel tubing. It came in two different diameters, which conveniently fit together so I could use the narrower diameter for the main run and the wider diameter for the end pieces. The hanger is just a piece of mild-steel wire from my local hobby shop, bent around my hex drivers to make nice round eyelets at each end. The chrome exhaust tip is actually a tire valve stem protector, which fit onto the larger-diameter fuel tubing with the assistance of a small bit of heatshrink to make it fit snugly. (every Honda Civic needs a chrome exhaust tip, right?)

Speaking of bending things, when I bent the hard-nylon fuel tubing, I wanted to make sure it wouldn't collapse, because I knew I'd have to bend it pretty severely and I didn't want the bends to restrict the exhaust flow. (the exhaust already has a hard enough job just because of that swirl-chamber, which isn't tuned to do anything useful at all.) So I made a mandrel that I could stuff inside the fuel tubing, so when I heated it up using my heat-gun and bent it, the outer surface of the bend would be forced to stretch instead of collapsing. That mandrel is made of a piece of silicone fuel tubing with a narrow spring from the auto parts store stuffed inside of it; the two of them combined provided enough support to force the hard-nylon fuel tubing to maintain a round cross-section as I bent it, and I was still able to pull the mandrel out afterwards because the silicone stretched and got slightly thinner when I pulled on it. And in case you're wondering -- yes, it was incredibly hard to stuff a flexible spring into a flexible silicone tube! I won't do that again, but I only needed to do it once, because the mandrel is reusable forever.

Other than the (literal) contortions I went through to fit a functional and non-ugly exhaust to this car, there's not a lot to say. I took apart two rollers, cleaned everything, replaced all the bushings with ball-bearings, and put it all back together according to the manual. I sprung for a couple upgrades, like OEM universal-joint axles, GPM ball-bearing caster blocks on the front hubs (which I soaked in Drain-O to dissolve the purple coloring, since nothing else on the chassis was purple) as seen above, and an OEM side-belt brace as seen below. Oh, and I also replaced the original shocks with TRF shocks, fitted with silver accents made by Max Speed Technology, but I put those same shocks on all of my touring cars, so it's not really noteworthy at this point. I suppose it's worth mentioning that I mounted the rear shocks further inboard than the manual specifies, because they were WAY too stiff in their original mounting position, even with the soft springs that the Nitro RS4 Mini is equipped with.

As you can see, I stuck with a single-speed transmission on this car. I have parts for a 2-speed transmission, but this car can already hit 40mph, and that's plenty fast for a car this small. Remember, shorter wheelbase equals sharper turns, and I don't want this car to hit an acorn, lose control, and crash into a curb.

The only other thing I can think to mention is the chassis plate itself. If you're not aware, the Nitro RS4 Mini is a truly ancient platform at this point -- it came out in 1997, so this car is old enough to drink. It was made before HPI discovered the color purple, and apparently also before HPI discovered countersunk screw-holes. The original screws were all scraped up from hitting road debris, since they all stuck out below the chassis plate, and I had no interest in fighting with damaged screws, so while the car was in pieces I countersunk every single screw hole on the chassis. (except the engine-mount screws, which need to be able to move side-to-side. For those I just used some flat pan-head screws from Axial Racing; they're wide enough that the hex sockets are protected from impacts against the sides of the screw-heads.)

That's about it, really. It was a pretty straightforward build, compared to some builds I've done anyway. The hardest part was fitting the exhaust, but I feel like I made some pretty damn good lemonade from that batch of lemons. This will be one of my last RC projects for a long time; it's only 2.5 months until D-Day, and I have to start getting ready for that. I have a TRX-4 to finish up, and another project that I honestly might not get done in time. But if this ends up being my last build for the foreseeable future, I think it will be a good high-note to end on.

Last edited by fyrstormer; 08-05-2018 at 02:57 PM.
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