Project: Ultimate Rustler
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In the beginning...
The Rustler was my first hobby-level R/C; I bought it as an RTR with MSC (manual speed control) in Autumn 1999. It remained stock for only a couple of weeks, as my obsession with modification & Dremelling began with the top-of-the-line Nikko F150 4x4 I had before!
IMPORTANT: I do not recommend that anyone try to duplicate the Phase I chassis modifications. I've kept this page on the site for historical purposes only. If you want to see the best way to modify a Rustler for racing, go back to the Ultimate Rustler main page and click on the very latest phase. I learn a lot as years go by!
Modifications: Phase I
Face it, the Rustler is probably the best stadium truck on the market today to customize. Its chassis layout is fairly generic and has a lot of large, flat planes just dying to be drilled out. Of course, when I first got the thing out of the box, thoughts of customizing and drilling were nowhere to be found -- it was all about charging up a battery (1500mAh sport pack) and throwing it in for a quick spin! After staring at the chassis day in & day out, reading R/C magazines, asking tons of questions of experienced racers, and practicing driving around makeshift tracks created as needed with soccer training cones at the local electronics superstore parking lot (after hours), it was time to get serious about this truck.
The first things to go were, naturally, the weak stock motor and the manual speed control. At first we used a Reedy Rage Pro stock motor, but then the Trinity P2K came out and everything else went pretty much obsolete. My electronic speed control (ESC) of choice would be a Novak Explorer II for its decent specs and modest price point. From the Explorer II I removed one redundant piece of circuitry to make it into a three-wire system, a trick we later found to be pretty common and even designed in from the start with most "pro" ESC's. Ah, the joys of reinventing the wheel!
I did some experimentation with tires, trying everything from Pro-Line Gladiators (hey don't laugh... I was new at this!) to Square Fuzzies on the rear and everything from Losi 8-Ribs to Pro-Line Holeshots on the front. Of course, there is no single "best" tire set selection, as conditions change from track to track, and even week to week on the same track. The truck is pictured here with Losi 8-Rib (silver compound) fronts and Pro-Line Bow Tie (M3 compound) rears. Hole Shots all-round also seemed to work well on well-groomed tracks.
Enough of the usual stuff, though... time to go all-out with this bad boy! Truck feeling a bit heavy? No problem. Chassis... disassembled. Dremel... check. Coarse all-purpose cutting bit... check. Attack! Damage assessment:
All of this cutting & gutting naturally increased chassis flex, but from what I saw on the track, all this did is help prevent parts from breaking by letting everything give a little during hard landings and crashes. In Phase II, a stiffer, yet lighter cutout design would be developed. Cutting away material from under the stock mechanical speed controller mount opened up plenty of room to tune front/rear weight distribution by adjusting the battery position.
Next to change would be the suspension. The stock setup worked fine for bashing, but was not smooth or stable enough for racing. First we significantly shaved down and drilled out the excessively bulky a-arms to reduce the truck's unsprung weight. This alone seemed to make the suspension more responsive, particularly over small surface irregularities and in turns. To even out the ride even more, we bit the bullet and upgraded to Traxxas teflon-coated aluminum front shocks. As for ride height, I went with the age-old remedy of making the a-arms parallel to the ground.
At the track, the truck now had markedly more consistent traction in the technical sections, but still tended to bottom out off of the big jumps and slightly gouge its nose into the "whoops." To stiffen things up a bit, I tried various shock/spring weight combinations and settled on this setup:
The rear shocks seemed to work sufficiently well and escaped the discard bin, though the plastic caps would often pop off at inopportune moments (i.e., during races) and were eventually replaced with a $6 pair of Traxxas Aluminum shock caps. These caps were difficult to initially attach due to their precision threading, but they have never failed me.
While working on the suspension, I realized that the stock geometry was slightly flawed up front -- one side had more negative camber than the other, a problem which I later found to be shared with the close-relative Stampede. The stock camber arms are plastic, one-piece units and don't give any room for adjustment, so I ditched the fronts in favor of a pair of surprisingly inexpensive Traxxas titanium turnbuckles and quickly evened out the angles. It was while working around this area that I noticed a very nice feature of the Traxxas wheels -- they can be cut up, risk-free! Out came the Dremel once again, and so came about my trademark wheel design which gives the lowest rotating mass for Rustlers/Stampedes and has that "cool-cuz-its-unique" factor that I always strive for.
I added MIP CVD's to the mix only after significant coaxing by fellow racers, and if anything, these felt as if they slowed the truck down a tad bit, though I never formally compared their performance versus the stock U-jointed sliders, the ball pin holes of which I had slightly drilled out to minimize friction and let the axles spin as smoothly as possible. Finally, the stock gear differential gave way to a Traxxas "Pro" ball diff. which, being adjustable, allowed me to tune the truck's traction when powering out of turns.
How did it fare on the track?
I was an absolute novice when I started to race the Rustler, learning along the way, so let's fall back on a few off-the-cuff quotes from veteran racers who saw the "Ultimate Rustler" in action in its first season of racing:
"Wait, that's a TRAXXAS??" -George Y.
"I thought it was a Losi!" -unknown
"[The] Jang has the fastest Traxxas I've ever seen." -Steve E.
The truck tied for 2nd place (novice class) in a points series that it joined in-progress in its inagural race. It then went on to earn a number of top-three finishes in the stock truck class against Losi's and Associated's in its first season before taking the sideline to the Ultimate Stampede project.
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