Classic Plastic: Richard Royall and RPM

Apr 08, 2014 No Comments by

Whether you’re a racer, enthusiast or just a casual RC’er, chances are there’s at least one piece of RPM gear on your car or in your toolbox. Whether it’s the classic RPM camber gauge or a set of super-tough arms to replace worn-out stockers (or maybe you just wanted a color other than black), RPM’s parts, tools, and accessories have been favorites for years. With RPM founder Richard Royall celebrating his 40th anniversary in the injection-molding biz, we figured now was a good time to sit down with Richard for an interview.

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RPM founder Richard Royall

 

RCCA: Before RPM, what were you up to that brought you to injection molding?

RR: We were building molds initially, the name of the company was Rohart Precision Molds. I had a partner by the name of “Hart” so we mixed both of our last names and came up with “Rohart.” We were building molds but they weren’t getting tested properly, so we bought our own molding machine so we could test the molds and make sure we got paid on the jobs. From there we got into the injection molding and we were doing a lot of work for Rainbird and Toro Irrigation Sprinkler parts. Through some of those contacts, I got turned on to a guy who had wheels made—that was CRP, Custom Racing Products. CRP wasn’t getting a good product from his molder, so they sent the mold over to me, and I made the molded parts and he was thrilled with the results.

RCCA: Did CRP lead you to RC?

Yes. That Christmas I saw what he was doing with RC and he set me up with an RC10, it had a little stick controller—it was the best thing at the time. This was mid-80s, and he set me up with that for my son, I gave it to him for Christmas and then he started breaking the arms and what not so I started making longer arms but I was just machining them one at a time. The hobby shop, which was the famous Ranch Pit Stop, wanted more. I said, ‘Well, you can’t make any money making them one at a time,’ so I went ahead, bit the bullet and started making some molds. I didn’t have the marketing and stuff to promote them so I got hooked up with Andy’s RC Products. I was making all the molds, and any stuff you ever saw from Andy’s was my product, with Andy’s name on it. And that went on for about three years and was really taking off great. It’s kind of a long story, but we later split up the partnership, and instead of sending my products to him, I just came up with the RPM brand, which is the initials of Rohart Precision Molds

 

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RPM’s first RC parts were designed for the hottest car of the time: the Associated RC10.

 

What was the first official RPM product?

It was a special little plastic bellcrank for the RC10. It had a Delrin bushing going down the middle of it, nice and smooth and clean, much tighter and much stronger than the stock RC10 parts. The stock parts were made out of a Delrin material … kind of a funky, servo saver thing… everyone was going to the Kimbro-type servo saver, with a solid bellcrank on there and a Delrin bushing … made it nice and smooth and cut down the cost of having to put a ball bearing in it, which you don’t need a ball bearing in a crank, it doesn’t make a full rotation, ball bearings aren’t really needed for that. It took a little while, but those sold pretty good. Then I started making rear bearing carriers and front spindle blocks for the RC10. That turned into the inline spindle blocks, then a lot of oval-related parts and different body mount parts. Then, in the early 90s, Losi became very popular and people wanted stronger parts. Probably 70% of my product line was based off of Losi parts. I made a whole different setup. I made the first actual rear A-arms for the JRX-2, to eliminate the five-link setup, get the standard arms and the stuff that really improved the function of that car, the suspension, which really made it work well.

 

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RPM’s Ultra Chassis conversion kit for the Associated RC10 still looks fast today! Photo courtesy RC10Talk.

 

Let’s talk about your RC10 chassis kit. What’s the story behind that product?

The main reason for the chassis kit was making both the front and rear arms longer for better suspension travel and stability. To keep the same wheelbase width the chassis needed to be narrower. In the first narrow arm kits we made, you had to cut the stock aluminum chassis to the pattern we provided and drill a couple new rear mount holes as well. There were a lot of people that did not have the tools, skill level or confidence to start cutting up their chassis. The new molded chassis was also narrower to create less body roll. It was a conversion kit, you had to buy the RC10 first, but I made a complete molded chassis, one of the first complete molded chassis that I think anyone made, other than like a Tamiya, or something in the actual competitive RC market. It was glass-filled nylon, a big mold—way bigger than what we’re used to making. It’s still one of the biggest things we made. We made a big one for the buggy initially and then we made one for the truck, little bit heavier duty, little bit longer wheelbase truck. It came with so much stuff—front and rear bulkheads, arms, bearing carriers, battery box, even shock towers. You had to have the transmission, but we ended up making our own transmission as well. We made the housing, and you used our top gear and then the rest of the RC10’s internals. We made it in two different gear ratios—I had it in a 1.96 ratio that the guys with the RC10s were using for oval to get more top end out of the cars. And then the original 10T came out with the original 2.25 tranny and that was way too high of a gear ratio for a truck and that’s why I made a 2.65 tranny. That really gave the truck the bottom end it really needed. It was very popular, too. It’s kind of neat to know that I was part of a lot of the evolution of quite a few vehicles, with what we did here at RPM. Other big manufacturers paid attention and we were helping them with their R&D.

RPM Products are very well loved. Any time we post something on Facebook about an RPM part, no matter what the part is, people talk about how they’ve got RPM arms on their truck and how RPM has to be on all their vehicles. Which products do you think have turned out especially well, or have just been great for the company? What are your favorite RPM products?

We’ve had a lot of really good ones. Some of them were really cool products that we felt were awesome, but they didn’t really sell that well [laughs].

Such as?

Well, at the time it was transmitter modules that were very hard to put in and take out. I made a neat little tool that slipped right in there to pop them in and out. They sold all right, but I just didn’t have the marketing at the time I needed. And then radios were evolving, and eventually, you don’t even need that anymore. What else…our little crystal box we made, that was a neat item. Same thing, crystals came and went.

Pinion cases?

Pinion cases, those are still viable. They don’t sell as well. Maybe we need to advertise those again.

It’s a great item!

It’s a great little tool. It’s kind of multifunctional. You can turn it upside down and it’s actually a little parts tray. You can’t just throw pinions in a box, because the slightest little nick on the teeth and that will eat up your spur gear — it doesn’t take much. The box keeps them all separated.

Let’s see…camber gauge. That was fun to make. The challenging one was the toe-in gauge, to come up with something that was multi-use that could go from different vehicle to different vehicle. I made it so you can actually measure the legal width of a truck or a buggy for racing. It’s a little more complicated to explain to someone how to use it, and I think that’s probably held it back from the sales that it could have gotten. It’s still a good, viable product and nobody else has really come up with anything that could do that.

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RPM’s pinion case–you need one.

 

When it comes to developing new products, how much of it is listening to your new customers and how much is just thinking, ‘I think the hobby needs this item and we’re going to go ahead and make it’?

Well, it’s kind of both. But we go a lot by customer demand and what they’re looking for. You always have to check it out because 10 people screaming that they need something doesn’t mean there’s enough of those vehicles made that we’re going to recoup our investment on what we’re doing. Sure, the vehicle needs it, but we need to be able to make a living doing it too. Building the molds, all that development, drawing it up, the production of it, packaging, advertising…you have to sell a lot of products, just to get back your initial investment. To make just a simple pair of arms, an open and a shut mold, I invest from $7,000 to as much as $12,000 before that product reaches the hobby store. You’re not in the black for quite a while when you build a set of arms.

 

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RPM has lots of gear for this guy: the Traxxas T-Maxx.

 

What would you say are the top three vehicles that are supported by RPM?

These days it’s Traxxas. Traxxas is huge. We still sell a lot of T-Maxx parts. I think that’s one of the funnest RCs I’ve played with ever—the good ol’ T-Maxx. That sucker is fun! And the Slash trucks have been huge for us, 2WD and 4WD. Traxxas does a good job of sharing parts among multiple vehicles, which is great for the entire industry. It’s great for the consumer because of the availability, and it’s great for hobby shops because they can’t carry every unique part for every vehicle. To have one part that fits four or five different vehicles, it’s great. And every time you come out with a new vehicle, you don’t have to change every part on it. Traxxas has been unbelievable — it’s great for them, it’s good for the whole industry. I love those guys.

40-years is a great run. Any predictions for the next 40?

Everyone keeps bugging me about when am I going to retire but I enjoy what I’m doing! This is fun stuff! It’s very fulfilling. We get the phone calls, we get the emails, people love what we do. Customers will reach out to us, they’re not asking for anything, they just want to take time out of their day to compliment us and thank us for making their life easier and more enjoyable and helping them stay in the hobby. That’s good stuff. We have come a long way with our technology in building our molds with new software for design and machining as well. I hired a young man in 1995 by the name of Atticus that had never seen a mold before, but he had great skills with CNC machining that I could build on to create better products with a faster turn around time. Atticus is my best asset and together we have improved with each project over the years. Believe me, he enjoys this at least as much as I! I feel he has a great future for a long time here at RPM.

Good stuff indeed. Thanks for talking with us!

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Richard and one of his injection-molding machines–where the magic happens! 

Congratulations to Richard on 40 years of enjoying what he does. If you want to drop a note to richard and RPM, you can hit them up on their Facebook page

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About the author

I've been involved in RC for over 25 years, and first joined Air Age Media in 1997. I served as Executive Editor until 2008, when I went to work on the manufacturing side of the RC biz. Now back at RC Car Action, I'm thrilled to be doing what I love most--not just enjoying RC, but sharing it with all of you. In addition to RC, I enjoy spending time with my beautiful wife Kathleen and our wonderful daughter Audrey.
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