Let’s talk real cars for a minute. I’ve been a car guy all my life. I’ve owned everything from a 1961 Lincoln Continental (yes, the lead sled with the suicide doors) through a top of the line BMW 7-Series replete with heated and ventilated massage seats with foot rests (yes, they’re worth it, especially on long road trips and stop and go traffic). Although I’m a fan of a very wide array of cars and trucks, it’s fair to say that I’ve spent most of my automotive life around and obsessing over Japanese imports.
The love affair started when I was about eight. That was when I pushed aside my Hot Wheels for a line of Japanese die-cast cars called Tomica. Hailing from Japan, Tomicas of course mainly made detailed miniatures of Japanese cars. I remember playing with Corollas, RX-7’s and 240Z’s back then.
When I neared driving age, the car I wanted most was a Honda Civic Si hatchback. This was in the early 90s, so those that are familiar with cars from that time know that Honda was going through a golden age. EF-chassis Civics, the second generation CRX and the first generation NSX have since left an indelible mark on the automotive world.
After I learned of Tamiya’s FF03 chassis, a dedicated front motor, front wheel drive platform, I was naturally made abundantly curious. Was this the chassis that could reignite my love for “FF” cars? I looked for an EF Civic in their line-up but alas they didn’t offer one. I saw the model that came after, the EG Civic on their website, but it was sold out and discontinued. As I searched the different body styles that the FF03 was offered in, I spotted a Honda Civic Type-R R3 in J.A.S. Motorsport livery. That was the ticket.
On the Bench
I quickly decided that I was going to modify the FF03 as much as I could with Tamiya hop up parts. But first, I needed to get acquainted with the chassis itself. The front motor, front drive layout is very different from the two- and four-wheel drive mid and rear motor chassis that I am used to. As I assembled the kit, my mind kept thinking that I was building it backwards. I’m unaccustomed to seeing the drive wheels and motor in the front so I kept placing it on my workbench front end pointed back.
The assembly was typical Tamiya, which is to say that it was easy as long as you pay attention to the instruction manual. Tamiya is renown for their detail and perfect parts fitment. I’d say for total beginners that this kit may require some extra time but I’m confident that you can get it done without any issues.
The bathtub type plastic chassis features a longitudinal battery layout that allows for a slimmed down chassis design. Parts such as the receiver and speed controller ride along on one side of the battery and the steering servo sit on the other. This creates symmetrical balance for the weight of the chassis.
Its compact front-mounted gearbox is equipped with a ball differential that provides the chassis with plenty of traction. The FF-03 chassis is also endowed with a four-wheel double wishbone suspension that features Tamiya’s venerable plastic bodied CVA oil dampers. A unique “Inboard Front Suspension” set-up with short reversible suspension arms sits just behind the gearbox and motor and allows the user to adjust suspension settings. The suspension is designed to feature a rocker bridge that is equipped with stabilizer holders. It’s front suspension is a unusual set up for sure and one of its coolest features.
For the record, the FF-03 is not a new chassis. In fact, it’s about a decade old and the attractive pricing shows it. The kit retails for $319, but it’s on sale as of the time of this article’s writing for $144. You can see why I quickly snapped one up. The chassis may have been around the block a few times, but it is new to me, as I never built or driven one before so I was pretty excited about it.
My plan was to hop it up from the get go. I surveyed what parts Tamiya had in stock on their website. Because this isn’t a new release, I saw that some of the hop ups have been discontinued. The good news was that this is a popular chassis and that there were plenty of parts that are still in stock. Due to my budget, I couldn’t get everything they offered at once, but I will keep upgrading over time. That’s part of the fun after all.
I won’t dive into every part that I installed in this part of the article, you can see a complete parts list later on. What I will do is point out the hop ups that I liked the most. Ball bearings came with my kit so I didn’t have to get a set, which is very nice. Upgrade parts wise, let’s start with a TA06 Steel Gear diff unit. This differential gear unit was originally designed for Tamiya’s TA06 chassis and features metal bevel gears and metal cross shafts for greater durability. For it to work in the FF-03, I had to get the FF-03R’s gear case.
I also upgraded the CVA shocks for aluminum TRF Big Bore dampers. These big-bore dampers have an increased cylinder volume, allowing more oil to be inserted for much improved grip. I might add they look great too. Also originally made for another chassis, I installed a set of TA-05-IFS Rocker Arms. This set of rocker arms are made from anodized aluminum and feature built-in 850 size ball bearings that provide smoother suspension pushrod operation. As mentioned before, the front suspension set up is unique and these upgraded rocker arms promise to enhance damper efficiency and improve overall handling performance of the car.
Carbon fiber parts such as a servo plate, bumper support and rear chassis stiffeners were also installed to help stiffen the chassis, reduce weight, enhance durability and it just plain looks cool too. Upgraded aluminum parts include an racing steering set, motor plate, servo stay and adjustable servo horn – all furnished in Tamiya’s TRF blue. The FF-03 Aluminum Racing Steering Set include aluminum arms that include ball bearings that provide smooth operation for quick and precise steering response.
Motivating the FF-03 is a Tamiya Super Stock TZ motor that is coupled to a Hobbywing Quicrun 1060 Brushed ESC. I found that brushed motors running trouble free ESCs are plenty enough in the small areas that I run my bashers. If I were going to compete with this car I would upgrade it to a brushless system. Controlling the car is my trusty KO Propo EX-II transmitter. I probably have about a dozen vehicles programed into that controller by now and it’s never failed me. Power comes from a MaxAmps 5,450mAh 7.4V LiPo.
I decided to deviate from the box art somewhat by spraying the body in Tamiya Bright Silver PS-paint. I hit the body with some patches of Tamiya translucent Smoke as well to give it more personality. Typical in Tamiya fashion, the decals accurately represent the J.A.S. Motorsport livery perfectly. I used most of the included decals and supplemented it with some of Mass/Dam’s latest GReddy collaboration decals as well. The body includes dimples in it that allow drilling the mounting holes very easy. Before I knew it, the body was in place and this puppy was ready to run.
Hitting the Pavement
Never driving a front wheel drive RC car before, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I took it slow in the parking lot, doing some figure 8’s and slaloms around cones. I noticed that the car turns quickly and confidently, especially as I got it up to speed. The faster I got it, the more understeer occurred however.
The suspension was extremely confident, even on the uneven pavement of a commercial parking lot and its front end IFS set-up allows for plenty of suspension tuning. As I zipped around the cones, I got a sense that this car was simply fun to drive. Granted, it was running a 23T brushed motor, but with this set up the car is very predictable and easy to control.
I spoke to another FF-03 owner that regularly uses his for competition and he said that the 17T brushless set-up he runs is stable and predictable as well. He did comment that with so much weight in the front that he had to make some controller adjustments to the brakes so that it wouldn’t nose dive when braking from higher speeds.
Base Kit: TAMIYA FF03 HONDA CIVIC TYPE-R R3 J.A.S. MOTORSPORT
Chassis Type: Bathtub Type Frame Chassis
Length: 16.65 in. (423mm)
Width: 7.4 in. (188mm)
Height: 5.5 (140mm)
Wheelbase: 257mm (257, 245, 233mm Adjustable)
Tread (F/R): 157mm
Layout: Front Motor Front Wheel Drive
Suspension: 4-Wheel Double Wishbone
Shocks: CVA Shock Unit Super Mini
Tire Width/Diameter (F/R): 24mm/64mm
Motor: Type 540 Motor
TRF Big Bore Dampers – 42287
TA06 Steel Gear Differential Unit (Rear) – 54471
FF-03 Gear Case – 54398
TA05-IFS Aluminum Rocker Arm Set – 53993
Carbon Servo Plate (TA-06, FF-03) – 84410
Carbon Bumper Support (FF-03, XV-01) – 84406
FF-03 Carbon Stiffeners (Rear) – 54264
Fluorine Coated Suspension Ball – 53709
Carbon Reinforced Hub Carrier – 54580
44mm Double Cardan Joint Shaft – 42216
FF-03 Aluminum Racing Steering Set – 54235
FF-03 Aluminum Motor Plate – 54223
Aluminum Adjustable Servo Horn – 54893
TB-03 Aluminum Servo Stay – 54096
TB-03 Aluminum Suspension Mount (1XC) 3 pcs. – 54065
TB-03 Aluminum Suspension Mount (1A) – 54069
Tamiya Super Stock TZ Motor – 53930
Hobbywing Quicrun 1060 ESC
MaxAmps 5,450mAh 7.4V LiPo Battery
KO Propo EX-II Transmitter
Mass/Dam x GReddy RC Decals
Tamiya PS-41 Bright Silver paint
Tamiya PS-31 Smoke
Did this front motor, front wheel drive kit jump-start my love for FF cars once again? While I never deviated from real life FF-layout cars, this RC version certainly opened my eyes to a layout other than mid or rear motor rear wheel drive or four-wheel drive vehicles, the mainstays of my RC collection. I’ve had such a good time with the FF03 Honda Civic Type-R R3 that I picked up a second FF-03 to turn into a racer. This next kit is the Tamiya Honda Accord ‘Aero Custom’, yet another old-school Honda that I have a nostalgic fondness for.
Text and Images by Jerry Tsai