Home » Small-Scale Showdown: Associated RC10 vs Kyosho Ultima

Small-Scale Showdown: Associated RC10 vs Kyosho Ultima

Sbsd 11 24 2023
ADVERTISEMENT

Good morning! Welcome to a special Black Friday edition of Shitbox Showdown. Because it’s a huge shopping day for a lot of people, and I thought you might be looking for a gift idea for someone (or a toy for yourself), today we’re taking a break from the “real” cars and diving into the world of radio-controlled models.

In keeping with the theme, we’re not looking at some cheap new Chinese-made thing, or even the fancy ready-to-run hobby-grade models sold at chain hobby shops. Instead, we’re going to look at two classic RC cars from my own personal collection. Mine are not for sale, but neither of these are hard to find on eBay, and both of them have been re-issued in recent years. But like a lot of my collection, my examples are kinda shitboxes.

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

To introduce these two, I need to tell you a little history. In the early days of the RC hobby, the first off-road buggies were based closely on scaled-down real-world vehicles, mostly VW Beetles. They were, in Tamiya’s terminology, “scale models suitable for radio control.” Predictably, however, once people started racing them, scale realism took a back seat to performance, and purpose-built designs took over. The first of these was the RC10, from Associated Electrics, introduced in 1984. It mopped the floor with the earlier scale designs, winning everything in sight, including the inaugural International Federation of Model Auto Racing (IFMAR) 1/10 scale Off-Road World Championships in 1985.

Kyosho Corporation of Japan, whose Scorpion and Tomahawk buggies had been the most successful racers of the scale designs, took notice, and in 1986 introduced its own purpose-built design: the Ultima. Advertisements for the Ultima proclaimed that it would be “The Next World Champion,” which sounded like hubris – until Kyosho made good on it, sweeping the podium in the 2WD class at the 1987 IFMAR Worlds. The battle was on, and it played itself out over and over again at local tracks for years, though the Ultima never again took the top spot at the Worlds.

So let’s take a look at two beat-up examples of these mighty warriors, and you can decide which box you would have taken off the hobby shop shelf.

ADVERTISEMENT

Associated RC10

20231118 122837

Chassis/drivetrain layout: 2-piece stamped aluminum tub, rear-mounted motor, RWD

Designer: Roger Curtis

Country of origin: USA

Currently available? Used (for now)

ADVERTISEMENT

The secret to the RC10’s success is that everything–everything–is adjustable. Every bit of suspension geometry can be changed: camber, caster, toe (on both front and rear), weight distribution, everything. Gearing, spring rate, shock damping rate, shock angle, and ride height are also adjustable. There are even two possible wheelbases. And that’s before you even get to the tuning possibilities available by changing the tires. You can dial it in to any track, any surface, any situation. And its simple, chunky, modular layout means that with a few aftermarket parts, you can adapt it to any sort of racing. Whole cottage industries sprang up around this model in the ’80s, offering conversion kits to turn it into a sprint car, a stock car, or even a monster truck.

20231118 122924

This design was so successful that Associated kept it in production for twelve years, making running changes and improvements along the way. This RC10 is a hodgepodge of leftover parts; ten or twelve years ago, I bought two large lots of broken and used RC10s, about ten cars in total, along with boxes of parts. I restored and sold nearly all of them, and built myself three examples using the leftovers, because I don’t really care about originality; I just want to drive them.

20231118 122854

Unfortunately, that meant some compromises. There was a trend for a while of drilling “speed holes” in RC10 tubs, presumably for a tiny bit of weight loss. It also looks like hell, weakens the tub, and lets all sorts of dirt and crud in. But with new-old-stock RC10 tubs selling for three figures, and the re-issue stock from a few years ago long since dried up, you take what you can get. Eagle-eyed readers who know RC10s will also note that this is an early A-stamp tub, with a six-gear transmission, but with a later “Team” wide-track front suspension. It also has Kyosho shocks, ironically, because I had them and they work great.

ADVERTISEMENT

20231118 122846

This car is set up for backyard bashing, with a stock-class racing motor and a Novak speed control, both from the mid-90s. It runs better than it looks. The “clownfish” paint job, by the way, is something I started doing back in the ’90s when I was racing at a local track in Duluth. I needed something that would stand out, and be easy for a no-talent hack like me to paint with a brush. Now, of course, everyone who sees it immediately wants to call it the “Nemo car.”

Kyosho Ultima

20231118 122756

Chassis/drivetrain layout: Stamped aluminum ladder with upper deck, rear-mounted motor, RWD

Designer: Akira Kogawa

ADVERTISEMENT

Country of origin: Japan

Currently available? New and used

Kyosho had already introduced its Optima four-wheel-drive buggy a year earlier, using a similar suspension layout to the RC10. The Ultima built on this design, with a simpler one-piece chassis, fixed-length upper suspension links (easily replaced by adjustable links), and an evolution of the simple, durable gearbox design Kyosho had been using for several years. Like the RC10, the Ultima could be, and was, altered into all sorts of other vehicles. Kyosho kept this basic design in production well into the 2000s, underpinning a whole series of scale sports car models, monster trucks, stadium-style racing trucks, and even a sprint car, the brilliantly named Kyosho Sideways.

20231118 123007

The original Ultima’s skinny aluminum frame, stiffened by a plastic upper tray bolted to it, lasted only for the first generation, though. Later editions used a flat plate chassis, either carbon fiber or fiberglass-reinforced nylon (called “Kelron” by Kyosho’s marketing department). I always liked the skeletal appearance of the original, especially with the plastic rollcage (almost never used by racers), so I sought out this first-generation Ultima specifically. It’s nearly all original, except for an aftermarket front bumper, new wheel bearings and some replacement hardware, a re-issue body, and a modern electronic speed control in place of the original three-step mechanical resistor.

ADVERTISEMENT

20231118 122816

If you want an original Ultima, you’re in luck: Kyosho has updated and re-issued several of its ’80s models, including the Ultima. For a little more money, you can even get a replica of Kyosho’s 1987 Worlds-winning Ultima, as driven by Joel Johnson. It eschews the cool-looking rail chassis and tube rollcage, but it’s closer to how most Ultimas were raced back in the day. I’ve been sorely tempted by it, but it’s a lot of money for a toy car.

20231118 122804

Besides, I have this original one, and while it may not be the track missile that a new re-release would be, it’s a lot of fun to slide around on dried-out thirty-year-old tires. This one runs a basic Mabuchi RS540S motor, the baseline standard motor for RC vehicles for more than forty years now. It’s cheap, indestructible, and plenty of power to have a little fun.

Nostalgia is huge in the RC world, and has been for many years now. Tamiya has led the charge, re-issuing nearly all its most popular models from the ’80s, starting with the ever-popular Hornet in 2004. Kyosho took another ten years to jump on the bandwagon, bringing back its Scorpion buggy in 2014. Associated made a limited run of re-issue RC10 kits in the same year, and has just announced a “Classic Clear” edition, primarily meant for display, and there is some speculation that another run of normal RC10s will follow. And of course, since both of these kits were made in the hundreds of thousands back in the ’80s, used examples abound, ranging from new-in-box to even more ragged examples than mine. If you want to join in on the fun, there are plenty of ways to do it.

ADVERTISEMENT

(Image credits: me, this post contains Amazon affiliate links and we may get a commission if you click on them and buy stuff).

Share on facebook
Facebook
Share on whatsapp
WhatsApp
Share on twitter
Twitter
Share on linkedin
LinkedIn
Share on reddit
Reddit
Subscribe
Notify of
52 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
BobWellington
BobWellington
4 months ago

I love these old RC cars. I actually bought an RC10 off eBay one time just to clean it and flip it, which was a dumb idea. I should’ve just kept it, but my young brain wasn’t making much sense. Anyway, I still have my first hobby-level RC car, a Duratrax Evader ST that I got in 2005 at 13 years old, and despite me probably breaking most of it (especially the idler gear which couldn’t handle much more than stock power) I had a ton of fun with it, and it got me hooked. I wish I still had the desire to drive my RC cars now but alas…maybe one day I’ll get them out again.

Top Dead Center
Top Dead Center
4 months ago

My rc collection hoard is approaching way too many RC cars, including various vintage ones. Think David Tracys Mi house but mostly 1:10 scale… I’m Team Associated all day long, I still have my RC10 Graphite I saved about 9 months for as an 8th grader cutting lawns, snow removal, etc. That old school Novak feel, had an Astro motor in it, the 3ft antenna Futaba radio with crystal. Even won a few C or B main races up at the local track (Larry’s RC back when it was dirt in Waterford, Mi). Still runs, but man finding some parts means I’ve uhhh added spares to my collection hoard.

I have an old Grasshopper from Tamiya, vintage, kinda running on a 540 can motor, spectrum rec. Also picked up a 1980s clodbuster a few years back, has the rare chevy bow tie grille. That’s a pita, tho can still get parts. Yeah and many newer ones, fun stuff.

Left rc back around 1994 when I got my first 1:1 scale car which needed constant repairs. Got back into the hobby early 2019, it’s been a blast. The brushless lipo stuff and 2.4ghz no crystal interference stuff is fun. New stuff is so much better, better materials and plastics too. I can hit 125+ on my 8s Arrma Limitless with little fanfare. Bash the Xmaxx or various Arrma EXB stuff with no damage. Serious (scale) crawling with the Vanquish kit I built. All kinda different options in the RC world. And yeah Tamiya is killing it with re-releases, or even their xpert build stuff that’s kinda a roller. :

Last edited 4 months ago by Top Dead Center
Myk El
Myk El
4 months ago

I had the Kyosho Optima when young. It was a very good RC car.

Jbavi
Jbavi
4 months ago

Thank you for this. This brought back a lot of memories from late-80s racing. I was never any good, but I liked my cars. I grabbed all of my old RC cars and related stuff when we were cleaning out my mom’s house a couple of years ago. A JRX2 is sort of the prize of the bunch but an Optima Mid and a couple of Bolink carpet cars are in the mix too. They are still sitting in the box to one-day be resuscitated. I was always envious/jealous of the RC10 as 1. you could never go wrong with one (it was sort of the IBM of RC cars, it may not be the absolute best, but it was never a bad decision) and 2. and I never had one. A friend had an RC10 plus an RC12 that ripped. When my kids are a little older, I think I will dig them out and we can try to get them back on the road (or rug)

Mikkeli
Mikkeli
4 months ago

In the 2000s the hobby turned to trucks (traxxas slash 2wd and 4wd), but the buggy days are still the highpoint. (Hornet, RC10)

ProudLuddite
ProudLuddite
4 months ago

R/C was a rich man’s, or rich man’s kids hobby when I was growing up, but by the time my kid was growing up relatively more affordable.

We messed around with something like one of these from the early 2000s. They were a blast, but I was never into it enough to remember what brand. Still enjoyed reading about this and the change of pace. The fully adjustable suspension is pretty cool, with some of my 1:1 scale cars had that.

i3 Driving Indicator Fetishist
i3 Driving Indicator Fetishist
4 months ago

Thanks for the flashback! I spent the 90’s building and racing RC… dirt off-road mostly but also indoor carpet road racing. I was a Team Losi guy, never had an RC10 or Ultima but had friends with them. I did have a Kyosho Rampage (basically a gas Ultima) and in the 00’s did some vintage class track racing with an Associated TC3 touring car. Would like to get back into racing again but where I live there aren’t any tracks left really.

Racer Esq.
Racer Esq.
4 months ago

I’ve recently gone down this rabbit hole. I could not afford any good stuff as a kid, so recently I got some brushless lipo RTR stuff with insane performance that costs less than the old kits did new, even before inflation.

But now I am looking at some of the old stuff. A Kyosho Maxxum FF remake would be cool. My understanding is it was so good that the rules were rewritten to specify that 2wd means RWD.

Angry Bob
Angry Bob
4 months ago

In 1987, my twelve year old life revolved around my RC10. This article brings back a lot of memories.

Logan King
Logan King
4 months ago

My dad has both of these still. So cool to see an article about them.

52
0
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x
()
x