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Gear: 6 cool radio-controlled cars

29 June 2016

We often browse YouTube for 4×4 videos and vehicles in interesting and compromising positions. This usually ends up with us laughing at some hillbilly in a pypkar who did something silly. But this month we clicked on a link that led us to a Baja 1 000-type race for radio-controlled off-roaders.

We thought it would probably take us to a video of a few guys racing their radio controlled (RC) buggies in a backyard, but it turned out to be a serious event. As in sponsors- marshals-and-pit-stops serious…

As it turns out, RC racing is a fairly big deal and the trend has even reached our shores, albeit at a smaller scale than in the US. It makes sense, we suppose. Few people can afford to enter a 1:1 scale race, because the cost can easily run into the millions. A 1:10 scale backyard race between mates costs next to nothing, excluding the price of the RC car. For as little as R650 you too could stage your own Baja 1 000 on that under-utilised space between the backdoor and the six-foot wall. There are many options available, however, so go online and see for yourself.

Ever wanted to go off-road racing, but couldn’t quite get that R3-million together for a top off-road racing machine? Then get yourself one of these babies and have your own Desert Race in the garden.

1. Killerbody Marauder


As the name suggests, this entry is all about the body. Killerbody tailors its model bodies to fit various RC chassis available worldwide. It gives the owner the freedom of tailoring the car to their specific needs, be it off-roading or rallying in the backyard. A decent chassis retails for around R10 000, while a Killerbody body retails for an additional R2 000.

The range of bodies isn’t that large, but they all come as standard with heritage. You could, for example, have a Lancia Delta Integrale with a Martini racing livery, or an Alfa Romeo 2 000GTA. We prefer the Marauder, which is an overland-ready Defender.

The attention to detail is astounding and everything works, including the LED headlamps and front-mounted winch. Even the tread on the tyres is functional and one can deflate the tyres for added traction. More info at

Cool features
Too many to name, but we like the roof-mounted spare tyre and fridge.

Would it win a backyard race?
No, but who cares when it looks this cool?

2. Traxxas Summit


Of all the RC cars on this list, this one came out tops in terms of sheer speed and off-road ability. It’s infinitely customisable and there are hundreds of optional extras available, including things like LED lights, winches and alloy shock absorbers.

Retailing at nearly R12 000, it’s not cheap, but it’s the only RC car we could find with front and rear locking differentials, as well as low-range. With a set of all-terrains, it can pretty much go anywhere it wants. It does the speed thing as well. With the standard electric powertrain it tops out at an amazing 110km/h! There’s even an app you can download to show your friends how fast you went and how many ‘Gs’ you got through the corners. Check out

Cool features
Since you can customise it to your own specification, it’s possible to even build
a 6×6 model.

Would it win a backyard race?
Yes. Even if the driver was blindfolded, this would still win.

3. Vaterra Raptor


Vaterra builds the Raptor with full permission from Ford. It’s meant to be driven just as hard as the real F-150 Raptor racing truck. It comes as standard with a four-wheel-drive chassis, long travel suspension and high performance metal parts. The battery-powered electric powertrain delivers enough oomph to get it to a top speed of 88km/h, while an actual active vehicle control system keeps it in check.

That’s right, folks – this RC car is so mad, it has dynamic stability control to keep the driver from crashing. This tech is pricey, however, as the Vaterra retails for around R8 000. Have a look at

Cool features
The stability control makes hundreds of corrections to the steering and throttle input in a single second.

Would it win a backyard race?
You bet! Except if there’s a Traxxas Summit in the race…

4. HPI WR8 Ken Block Edition


Not interested in wheel articulation? Then why not go the speed route with this bad boy, which is an exact replica of American drift video king Ken Block’s company car?

It’s based on a RC monster truck chassis and it has a high output fossil fuel engine that spins to an astonishing 32 000r/min.
This little monster has a top speed of 91km/h. It gets to that speed in less than four seconds and comes as standard with disc brakes to slow it down again. You can have it for about R7 700. More info at

Cool features
Imagine how much fun you could have recreating Ken Block’s famous Gymkhana videos…

Would it win a backyard race?
Are you kidding? This thing could probably win an actual rally.

5. Gelande II Truck Kit with Defender D90 body


You’ve completed a few back-yard races and it’s time to go pro. There’s a need for speed and the dual AA battery combo just isn’t blowing your hair back like it used to. That’s when you move into the big leagues and spend around R6 000 on one of these.

Compared to the generic models offered by Walmart, this kit is a space station.
It has a singlespeed transmission that provides power to a transfer case, which then distributes it to all four wheels, each with its own independent suspension.
Think that’s impressive? It also has a ladder frame chassis, locking differential, and oil filled shock absorbers.

It’s still not fast though, but more suited to technical 4×4 driving. The guys who own and race these things are fond of building mini off-road obstacles in order to show off the wheel articulation. Check out

Cool features
You can order a working winch as an optional extra. Most likely to recover RC Land Cruisers…

Would it win a backyard race?
Yes, but only if it were a technical off-road event.

6. Generic Walmart Electric RC


This is the Datsun Go of the RC world. It’s as basic as they come, but the best thing about it is that you get to select the body style that goes on top. This particular model is called the Mud Slinger Jeep, but you can have a Bronco, F-150 or Tundra, to name just a few.

Like the Go, it’s not that fast. Two AA batteries provide power, which means it has the same latent performance as a DStv remote. At least it looks intimidating thanks to the Wrangler stickers, which are included as standard in the price tag of around R650. Check out

Cool features
You can manually adjust the wheel alignment, but that’s about it.

Would it win a backyard race?
No. You’d probably stand a better chance entering the DStv remote.