radio control car test - hotbodies lightning buggy

wild thing


This was getting frustrating. Pitch the radio controlled monster truck into a tight turn and the outside wheels would dig in and send the thing barrel-rolling into the undergrowth, prompting yet another rescue mission. One thing struck me clearly. What was needed here was something lighter, a bit more agile, with a lower centre of gravity. Something like a Hot Bodies Lightning buggy. Flip one of these and you're really doing well.

Featuring a powerful nitro engine and a lightweight chassis, the Lightning is the perfect compromise between bulky off-road style radio-controlled (or R/C) cars and their featherweight track counterparts that will lose traction on anything but the smoothest asphalt. The beauty of the Lightning is that it can more than hold its own on tarmac, making track or car park racing a viable proposition, but it can mix it up equally well when the going gets considerably more arduous. Perhaps the best environment for a vehicle like this is a BMX track, where the gnarly tyres can launch a huge rooster tail of gravel up and you can steel yourself for some serious airtime off the bumps and jumps.

Controlling a car with this sort of power is at first a little tricky. You'll need to give yourself some space - probably two or three times what you first expect. Something around half the size of a football pitch is good, a tennis court-sized area being nowhere near big enough to give the Lightning its head. The controller takes a little getting used to, with a direction control that's shaped like a wheel and tyre combination with a two-way throttle on a trigger beneath. Squeeze for power and push back the other way to apply the disc brakes. It's a far cry from the rather simple arrangement I used as a kid with two joysticks! There's also a myriad of other minor controls to trim the throttle and a few other switches, the functions of which I don't profess to understand. At the top, there's a slot into which you pop a crystal that dictates the sending unit's frequency. Get two the same and they'll clash with potentially expensive consequences.

Probably the most difficult part of the whole process is getting the car started in the first place. This requires a glow plug igniter, which needs to be charged, and an electric prod that turns the engine over which also requires its batteries to be charged. Couple that with batteries in the vehicle itself and in the remote unit and you have to keep on top of a whole lot of charging. Trust me, it's worth it. When the Lightning does fire up, it'll settle to a steady idle and a few blips of the throttle will send a small puff of blue smoke out of its side mounted aluminium exhaust. Be careful if you pick the vehicle up when the body isn't mounted as this part, rather unsurprisingly, gets very hot.

You'll need to realign your perspective on just what is meant by 'fast' if you've never driven this sort of nitro powered R/C car before. If, like me, you were brought up with battery powered R/C buggies from hobby shops, then you're in for a bit of a shock. Whereas at full chat, these inexpensive buggies would maybe top out at 15mph, the nitro powered models will double and, in some cases, treble that sort of speed. With carefully considered gearing and 40,000rpm to play with, the Lightning is not only quick off the mark but also features a high top end. In addition, there's a full four-wheel drive system for added grip and a smart differential to apportion drive to whichever axle can best handle it - just like a modern all-wheel drive car. It's even possible to adjust the brake bias between front and rear! The fuel tank, steering servo and battery box have all been repositioned to help lower the centre of gravity in the latest version of the Lightning, making it an even sharper handler.

Genuine enthusiasts will want to tailor the handling of the car to their exact specification and all sorts of customisation of suspension, tyres and engines is possible but if you're just looking for fun straight out of the crate, the Lightning RTR (ready to race) is the setup you'll need. Everything you require to get going apart from the fuel is included and the 20 per cent nitro jungle juice it runs on is available from many model shops. Using a bottle to squirt the fuel into the tank keeps things clean and the Lightning only requires a couple of slugs to give ten or fifteen minutes of fun before it will require another refuel. 2.6bhp may not sound particularly exciting but when you stop to calculate the power to weight ratio, you'll soon realise why this car can achieve a scale speed of around 300mph.

Again, if you're pretty handy with a screwdriver and fancy tackling a task, these kits can be ordered in parts and built from scratch. Being someone whose ham-like hands would never see me mistaken for a watchmaker, I'd definitely opt for a ready to race car like the Lightning. Set up in advance by experts and capable of embarrassing some serious R/C tackle, the Lightning will soon have you gaping in disbelief or cackling like a drain. Get out, set up a few jumps, race your Lightning round a few obstacles and you'll realise that fun times aren't the sole property of kids. To find out more, check out your local R/C retailer or log on to