This article was originally published in RC Driver’s April 2015 issue.
Words and Photos Mark Ronge
• DT-03 Stabilizer Set (Front & Rear) (54561, $20.00)
• DT-03 Aluminum Gearbox Bridge (54566, $14.00
• DT-03 Aluminum Servo Mount (54565, $26.00)
• DT-03 Carbon Damper Stay (Front) (54562, $18.00)
• DT-03 Carbon Damper Stay (Rear) (54563, $20.50)
• DT-03 Aluminum Battery Bar (54564, $12.00)
• DT-03 Full Turnbuckle Set (54572, $20.00)
• DT-03 Lightweight Gear Shaft (54560, $2.90)
• Vector K7 17.5T Brushless Motor (50481, $62.99)
DURATRAX • Onyx 7.4V 35C 5000 mAh LiPo battery (DTXC1964, $59.99)
• Li-24 2-4S AC Balancing LiPo Charger (DTXP4620, $24.99)
Tamiya is great for designing all sorts of interesting RC vehicles and keeping every format of our hobby fresh and interesting. The DT03 chassis is more geared for beginners in stock form, the cost is many design cues had durability in mind over all out performance. This doesn’t mean that the DT03 can’t become a high performance vehicle, and thankfully Tamiya has a whole lineup of functional hop-ups that are geared for improving the buggy. I reviewed the Neo Fighter version of this chassis (November ‘14 RC Driver), and found it to be an excellent entry level buggy kit. However, myself being a more experienced driver I was hoping for some more ways to tune and setup the vehicle for better off-road performance. I set off looking for the Tamiya upgrades for the DT03 chassis and got to work, my goal of making this more of a buggy to mess around with at the track, and even be competitive for sportsman level racing.
The stock Neo Fighter did not offer many abilities to tune your suspension, in fact you really were limited in only the shock oil weight and ride height. The turnbuckle kit from Tamiya allows a wealth of tuning options. After installing the kit I was able to set camber angle in both the front and back along with toe angle adjustments so now I could give the DT03 a more aggressive tune. I added some toe out coupled with negative camber to give increased turning to help combat the understeer I was experiencing in stock form. To further add to the suspension setup, the Tamiya sway bar kit is a worthy upgrade. They include multiple sway bars of various stiffness so you can play around with different combinations. The DT03 is pretty darn durable right out of the box so I was not too concerned with adding to many hop-ups in this regard. There is some flex in the servo mount when the servo saver is being tested, so I added the aluminum servo saver mount to help out. This part is super solid and is not only functional, but gives the buggy some blue anodized aluminum that is was missing before. One part that is not clearly visible in any of the photos is the aluminum gearbox bridge that sits right under the rear transmission. This offers a more solid mounting platform for the gearbox and the more flex you remove from gear systems the better. To add to the transmission upgrades, the Tamiya lightweight gear shaft is a nice, cheap way to cut down on weight in one of the most important areas of the vehicle.
From a looks standpoint, the front and rear carbon shock towers look killer and give the Neo Fighter a mean racing look. These are made from a thick carbon weave and should help improve durability as well, they will give a little unlike the stock hard plastic if you land upside down. Just like the instructions say, be sure to seal the edges of the shock towers with thin CA, as they can unwind over time if left exposed. The aluminum battery bar is a standout when the shell is removed, but isn’t just for looks. It definitely helped hold my LiPo pack in more securely than the somewhat soft plastic bar ever did, and gives me peace of mind when using a higher end pack like this.
Choosing power system was a no brainer since the Neo Fighter already came with a brushless censored ESC right in the box. I opted for an LRP Vector K7 17.5 turn brushless motor because I was not interested in overpowering this chassis and felt I could test the handling of the buggy more appropriately with a motor of this speed. It isn’t a whole lot faster than the stock brushed motor, but increased run times and increased lower end punch can be expected. The DT03 chassis can fit standard hard case LiPo packs (albeit a tight squeeze), so I threw in a Duratrax 7.4V 35C 5000mAh pack which will pair well with the brushless motor and further enhance the run time and low end torque.
My first pull of the trigger with this new setup was a pleasant experience, the LRP brushless motor feels very smooth and predictable which is great for newer drivers. It isn’t an all out speed demon by any means, but it was enough power to feel zippy especially from a dead stop. The Duratrax LiPo is fantastic and offers very linear power and super long run times. The stock TBLE-02S ESC was able to handle this combination with ease and the sensor cable made for such a smooth start up under light acceleration. Controllable power is the key word here, perfect for those looking for an introduction to brushless power systems and racing under tricky conditions (less likely to overpower the rear wheels).
Probably the most notable change in the driving characteristics of the DF03 was the action of the sway bars and how they settled down the buggy. It felt very planted under bumpy conditions, and I did not get as much body roll as I did when the buggy was in stock form which is perfect for bashing and racing alike. Next to this, my suspension tweaks with the turnbuckle came into effect and the negative camber angle all around added to the predictability of the handling, especially in loose dirt. When I tested this model in stock form, there was a decent amount of understeer and my only issue is I was not able to combat this even with setting an aggressive toe-out angle. This seems to be an inherent design choice since the DF03 chassis is a more entry level 2wd buggy chassis and understeer is preferred for those learning to drive. It should be noted however that the understeer is only prominent when heavy throttle is being applied, as soon as you let off the throttle and the weight transfer happens you get plenty of grip from the front tires and can make some tight 180 degree turns. The added stability of the servo mount also aided in making transitional turns from side to side.
Jumping the buggy was largely similar to the stock setup with the added stability that the sway bars had to offer. It’s also safe to say that the suspensions tweaks with the negative camber angle also resulted in faster transitions after landing the jump. The DF03 still remains rock solid and took everything that I could throw at it with ease, the thick shock towers seemed to survive the worst I could throw at it. The solid transmission mounts did their job wonderfully and on the extra rough stuff I felt confident that the transmission was stable and not shifting around whatsoever especially with the torque from the brushless motor. Durability was never a problem even with some harsh landings, I find he DF03 platform to be super strong thanks to the Durability was never a problem even with some harsh landings, I find the DF03 platform to be super strong thanks to the monocoque design.
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I set off with a personal goal to make the DT03 buggy somewhat competitive for beginning racers and I can safely say I accomplished that goal and some. The unlimited tuning options now at my disposal have renewed my interest in this vehicle, I never knew it could handle so well with just a few minor suspension tweaks. Not only has the performance been covered with the Tamiya hop-ups, the front and rear carbon shock towers look fantastic especially since they are exposed above the body (don’t worry they are so thick it would be challenging to break them). The new LRP brushless motor and Duratrax LiPo setup has increased my run time significantly and offers more low end punch to get me out of the corners, adding to the overall experience of driving the buggy. This combination of parts and electronics is the sweet spot for my Neo Fighter buggy, I can see this DT03 getting plenty of more use! ?