PHOTOS BY JOEL NAVARRO & JASON BOULANGER
Vaterra's new Glamis Fear takes on the dunes it's named for
The Glamis Imperial Sand Dunes, some standing hundreds of feet tall, are located in an unincorporated stretch of desert in southeastern California spanning 118,000 acres of gigantic mountainous terrain. It's nestled in the corner of California's borders with Arizona and Mexico, and its closest city, Brawley, CA, has a population of fewer than 25,000 people. There are few manmade structures in the desert, aside from the Glamis Store, Boardmanville Trading Post, the All-American Canal in the southern portion and Coachella Canal along the eastern border, a stretch of the Southern Pacific Railroad, and a handful of brick bathrooms at a couple of the otherwise barren camping sites. To a casual observer it may look like the most uninhabitable and least welcoming place on Earth.
And yet each year there are over a million visitors who flock to the dunes in the winter months. In fact, “Glamis” (as the area, and the adjacent algodones dunes, is often called) is known as the Sand Toy capital of the World. Motorcycles, ATVs, pickup trucks, and custom sand rails meander through the hills equipped with specially made tires, tall flags (or “whips” ) that allow oncoming vehicles to see them before cresting a hill, and pilots willing to brave a little silica in their teeth in order to experience the thrill of navigating what seems like an endless sea of sand. Though wind often alters the landscape of the dunes, various permanent features have been given nicknames throughout the decades — like the china Wall: a particularly tall and steep dune that presents a challenge to those who try to reach its summit, the Sand highway: a long stretch of whooped-out road that can be navigated easily, but slowly, by even common passenger vehicles, competition hill: where thousands meet on Friday and Saturday nights and pair up in impromptu races to the top, and Oldsmobile hill: the largest dune in the desert (first topped by a custom sand rail powered by an Oldsmobile V8 engine). National holidays falling between (and including) Labor Day and memorial Day, like Presidents' weekend, Veterans Day, Thanksgiving, christmas, and especially New Year's Eve, are among the busiest times to visit, with wild parties and huge bonfires raging all night long.
If you've ever wondered where Vaterra got the name “Glamis” for its Uno and Fear buggies, this is it. Since the dunes are located just 150 miles from San Diego, where Joel and I reside, it was the perfect place to try out our new Glamis Fear test car. Jason drove from his home in Orange county to meet Joel and me at my house at 7 a.m. and we hit the road for the longest single-car photo shoot we've done to date. After all was said and done, it took us 12 hours, nearly 300 miles, a full day in 90-plus degree weather, driving through terrible fog and rain on the return trip through the mountains, being completely covered in sand, and surviving at least one mildly sketchy off-road excursion in the Ford Focus that Jason so graciously donated to the cause.
Don't worry, it was a rental.
THE DRIVING EXPERIENCE
It took us just a little over three hours to reach Glamis from Escondido (not including the stop at a Mexican food restaurant of questionable quality in Brawley) and after visiting the Glamis Beach Store, we posted up at the Osborne Outlook, hooked up our Hitec X4 charger to the battery under the hood of the Focus, and installed a pair of Vaterra 50mm Rear Paddle tires. Even having had great experience with Vaterra's Tetrapods while driving the Glamis Uno on harder terrain, I knew that the paddle tires, which are as-near-as-makes-no-difference two inches wide with six 1/4-inch scoops, would be the ideal setup.
With a gentle nudge to get the buggy moving, every pull of the Spektrum radio's trigger elicited a huge spray of sand, a big wheelie, and plenty of cheering from spectators. The torque of the Dynamite 4-pole motor is more than enough to keep the Glamis Fear flying across the sand and climbing any dune in its path. There's enough power on tap to lift the front of the buggy almost at will, even when racing around a big bowl or heading downhill. The torque vectoring differential, which locks up harder when placed under a load, loosens up to allow for a respectable turning radius and slow speed but provides maximum forward thrust when on the power. The sand creates too much drag for the Glamis Fear to reach the 35-plus-mph top speed of which it's capable on harder ground, but it feels plenty fast when racing across the sand — especially as the suspension allows the buggy to dance across any bumps created by the tire tracks of larger vehicles. The long arms help keep the buggy stable when turning, and when the front tires are on the ground, the buggy carves corners and slices its way through the sand.
My favorite part of driving the Glamis Fear, though, was jumping it. The power of the Dynamite Fuze system was once again the star of the show, generating enough speed even on the sand to allow for some high-flying antics. While 2WD buggies are famous for being agile and maneuverable through the air, the larger size of the Glamis Fear and its well-sorted suspension requires no such theatrics — it sailed off of the face of razorback dunes and flew true, with only a bit of throttle or brake modulation required to match the contour of the downslope for a plush landing. As soon as all four tires reconnected with terra-not-so-firma, I was back on the throttle and heading back up the dune to make another pass. I didn't break a single part on the buggy all day long, but running wide open in such soft sand sure takes its toll on battery life — we averaged a bit under 10 minutes per pack using the included 4000mAh 2S LiPo battery.
Driving the Glamis Fear, or any RC vehicle for that matter, in the sand is unlike driving on any other surface. Tackling the dunes places a lot of added stress on both the vehicle and the driver, and there's more to having a successful trip than simply bolting on a set of paddle tires. Here are some helpful tips:
Bring water. Even when it's not scorching hot in the desert, the dry air and long hours can lead to dehydration. It's easy to get caught up in how much fun you're having, so make sure you're consuming plenty of fluids in between each run.
Stand at the top of dunes. Not only will the added visibility make it easier to drive your Glamis Fear, but full-size vehicles reaching the summit of the dune will also be able to see you before flattening you into the face of the hill.
Don't stop. coming to a halt in soft sand can make it tricky to get moving again, as the rear tires will dig themselves into the ground rather than propel the car forward. If you can reach the car, give it a slight push to get it moving from a standstill. If you get stuck on a hill, try using reverse to back it down the hill far enough to swing the front end around and head back down (reverse is pretty much useless otherwise). Stopping while sideways on a hill is almost always a disaster.
Crash nearby. Unless you've been training for a marathon, climbing a five-story-tall dune in knee-deep sand will suck your energy dry faster than it will the 4000mah LiPo pack that comes with the car. Anticipate when the car will hit its LiPo cutoff and come to a screeching halt — you don't want that to happen when it's a long way away.
Don't stand behind the car. See that awesome spray of sand the Glamis Fear leaves in its wake? You don't want that in your eyes or mouth. You're already going to spend hours digging it out of your ears with a Q-tip, so don't make it worse.
Monitor the temperature of the electronics. Though we experienced no overheating issues with the many battery packs we went through, it's a good idea to check the motor and speed control periodically to make sure that the sand's parasitic drag isn't causing the car's vital organs to melt down (like it will your body's muscles).
Clean your vehicle. Despite the Glamis Fear's tightly fitting body work, rubber-sealed bearings, and boot-protected shocks and driveshafts, the sand will still get everywhere, and you'll prolong the buggy's life by using a paint brush and compressed air to clean the sand from all moving parts often — at least at the end of each day.
Forget about trying to keep yourself clean. The sand may be dry, but it's going to stick to you. In fact, if having your entire body covered in sand (not just areas left exposed by clothing, either) sounds super unappealing, you're better off staying home on the couch. Seriously.
Type: Electric 2WD dune buggy RTR
Item no.: VTR04001
Width: 11.4 in. (290mm)
Height: 6.18 in. (157mm)
Ground clearance: 1.96 in. (50mm)
Length: 18.7 in. (475mm)
Wheelbase: 13.66 in. (347mm)
Weight, as tested: 6.75 lb. (3062g)
Chassis: Composite nylon tub with aluminum skid plates
Type: Lower H-arm with upper camber link
Shocks: Threaded aluminum coilover shocks
Type/ratio: Three-gear transmission/2.67:1
Spur gear/pinion: 87/20
Slipper clutch: Adjustable dual-disk slipper
Differential: Oil-filled Viscous Torque Vectoring difierential
WHEELS & TIRES
Wheels: Vaterra bead-locks with chrome front cap
Tires (F/R): Vaterra Ribbed/Va-terra Tetrapod
Body: Vaterra Glamis Fear
Transmitter: Spektrum DX2L DSM2 2-channel
Receiver: Spektrum SR200WP DSM2 2-channel waterproof
Speed control: Dynamite Fuze 70A waterproof brushless
Motor: Dynamite Fuze 4-pole 3300Kv brushless
Steering servo: Spektrum S6170 standard digital servo
Battery: Dynamite Reaction 7.4V 4000mAh 2S 20C LiPo with EC3 plug
Charger: Dynamite 10W LiPo AC balance charger
*Varies by dealer
The Glamis Fear arrives with a 4000mAh 2S LiPo pack and a balance charger, as well as the AAs for the Spectrum transmitter — everything you need to run the car.
The Fear's multi-piece body includes a full interior that's ripe for custom detailing, and the lights can be made functional with an optional LED kit.
No need to remove the elaborate body for pack changes — the battery simply drops into a hatch beneath the car.
The heavy-duty slipper clutch is built for brushless power and sandwiches keyed steel rings and fiber pads beneath a cast pressure plate.
Vaterra's Viscous Torque Vectoring (VTV) differential, shown here in cutaway, is designed to reduce “diffing out” and maintain traction in loose conditions. It was a welcome feature in the dunes.
The plastic shocks have threaded bodies, but clip-on spacers are used to set preload. Shaft boots are a welcome touch on a sand machine.
Rubber boots seal out dirt and sand and make the car appear to be equipped with constant-velocity joints, but you'll find regular steel dogbones and cups beneath the boots. The drive hexes are 12mm, with beefy 5mm axles.
THE RIDE HOME
You can count my family among the loonies who have frequented the barren wasteland of Glamis to ride around the dunes, and I was utterly blown away at how faithfully the Glamis Fear recreates the thrill of navigating the mountains of sand in a dune buggy — it ranks right up there with the most scale-accurate RTR vehicles in RC history. The three of us were all shocked at how well the Glamis Fear performed in the soft sand, and we drew plenty of attention from interested spectators asking us what it was and where they could buy their own. I haven't had as much fun driving a radio-controlled vehicle as I did with the Glamis Fear in Glamis in a very, very long time.