My first Midnight Pumpkin was one of Tamiya’s QD (Quick Drive) versions of the retro monster truck, which was the company’s attempt at making a ready to run, toy-grade RC back in 1990. Even though it was more toy than serious RC, it still was a Tamiya product so overall design and build quality – and price, was pinned at a higher level than your typical Nikko and Tyco RC vehicle.
It was sized at 1/14-scale, which was smaller than the full-sized Midnight Pumpkin that you are more familiar with. As I recall, it ran on a bunch of AA batteries and was very slow. I loved it. The look of the classic Ford F100 pick-up coupled with fat monster truck tires was irresistible.
My second Midnight Pumpkin was even smaller and slower then the first. It was a 1/32-scale Midnight Pumpkin Jr. from Tamiya’s Wild Mini 4WD line. Although I would call myself a Midnight Pumpkin fan, I never did end up with a full-size RC Midnight Pumpkin in my youth. I had to ration my allowance and part-time work funds to spend other things, such as my ever parts hungry Tamiya Avante, but that’s a story for another time.
After decades of wanting a Pumpkin, I finally indulged myself and got my first CW01-based monster truck. Originally released in 1987, the Midnight Pumpkin and its chassis-sharing brother, the Lunchbox have gone onto immortal RC fame. As with Tamiya’s other 80s hits like the Grasshopper and Hornet, the Midnight Pumpkin and Lunchbox are some of RC’s most beloved vehicles and are still highly in-demand models for the company.
This 1/12-scale assembly kit features a highly detailed 1950s-era Ford F100 pick-up truck body. The Midnight Pumpkin Black Edition’s hard plastic body comes molded in black and is accentuated by brilliant chrome metal plated parts including a detailed front grille, front and rear bumpers, dampers and roll bar. Although it’s an build-it-yourself kit, those who have only had RTRs and haven’t built a kit yet shouldn’t let themselves be deterred by the kit’s building process. We would rate it as a quick and easy build, a perfect project for new RC kit builders.
The monster truck’s durable and easy-to-assemble 2WD CW01 chassis utilizes a box type frame, front swing arm independent and rear rolling rigid suspension. Oversized 115mm diameter semi-pneumatic tires on bright yellow wheels offer the iconic look of a monster truck. A rear mounted wheelie bar enables plenty of fun wheelie stunt driving too.
Although this is my first CW01 truck, I am very familiar with this platform. The CW01 forms the basis of a capable and fun monster truck to run but it still can be improved for better performance and durability. The modern Tamiya rereleased kits are still largely untouched from its original 1980s technology and materials after all. My plan was to update the Pumpkin while I built it.
Before I built the truck, I decided to stockpile some modernized upgrades for it first so I can install them as I assembled it. I invested in parts from AMPro Engineering, an outfit that specializes in upgrading classic RC vehicles to fit today’s driver’s needs. I saw that the company offers plenty of upgrades that fix longstanding problems with certain RC platforms including the CW01.
I combed through AMPro’s offerings and decided to order up their CW01 Front End 8mm Offset parts, CW01 Lower Rear Shock Mount, CW01 Transmission Brace and Midnight Pumpkin Body Mounts. These items all correct and improve upon the original components of the classic Pumpkin. I also ordered a few blingy goodies from T4works Tokyo, a company that specializes in aluminum upgrades for classic Tamiya vehicles. These parts came from overseas so I had to impatiently wait for them to arrive, which with pandemic caused shipping delays, tried my patience.
Also, the Pumpkin comes with friction dampers and nylon and metal bushings, which wouldn’t do in my retro-mod build. I ordered up a set of Tamiya CVS oil-filled dampers and a full set of Fast Eddy sealed ball bearings to replace the stock parts with instead. With all the parts in hand, I began the assembly.
As with all other Tamiya kits I’ve built, the process went smoothly without any questions. The instruction manual is clear and precise and parts fit was impeccable. When fitting the AMPro parts, I turned to their YouTube videos to see first hand how everything was supposed to be installed. The 3D printed parts are made of various materials such as plastics and nylons, which are quite durable.
I first installed AMPro’s CW01 Front End 8mm Offset assembly. This amazing suspension arm set allows the Pumpkin to finally have double wishbone front suspension. This upgrade greatly improves the truck’s handling and suspension characteristics. Attached to the upgraded frontend is a pair of Tamiya CVS dampers. The oil filled dampers are much better at absorbing suspension impacts than the friction dampers the kit comes with. Fast Eddy sealed ball bearings were also installed into the gearbox and hubs for smooth and clean operation.
Tamiya CVS shocks were also installed in the rear on AMPro’s CW01 Lower Rear Shock Mount. This new lower mounting point for the rear shocks is fully compatible with stock friction shocks but is especially helpful when fitting Tamiya oil filled units, which are traditionally difficult to fit. I noticed that it also gives the Pumpkin an aggressive raked stance, which looks cool too.
To tighten up the rear end, an AMPro CW01 Transmission Brace was also installed. Quick acceleration of a stock Pumpkin or Lunchbox will invariably end up “slapping” its transmission, which can’t be good for the vehicle’s longevity. This brace stops the slap and places the transmission at its center point and allows full left and right articulation. Full suspension travel is retained and results in a smoother launch.
A notorious part to break on the Pumpkin is its body mounts. They snap much too easily when the truck is rolled. AMPro has a fix for that too. Their upgraded Midnight Pumpkin Body Mounts have a more robust base and a reinforced post. The material they are made from also seems much less brittle. All of the AMPro items I installed are bolt-on and required zero modifications to the vehicle.
Adding to the pile-on of upgrade parts are a few items from Japan-based RC parts maker, T4works Tokyo. I installed a pair of T4works Aluminum CNC reinforced uprights in anodized in light blue. I also added an aluminum oil filler cap and motor heat sink, both anodized in purple and both made by T4works. I love the way these parts look.
With the chassis finished, I moved onto the hard plastic body. This is the first RC kit that I have owned that comes with a hard ABS plastic body. I like its sturdy feel and detailed look. I rarely paint my RC vehicles their box art colors but in the case of the iconic Midnight Pumpkin, I just had to. I followed the instructions and used Tamiya Color TS-14 Black for the body, which gave it a nice shiny coat of gloss black.
It was a pleasant surprise to find out that the Pumpkin’s decals come pre-cut. No cutting required, just peel and stick. I also added a few decals from RC decal maker Mr. Hop-Up as well as a few decals from T4works Tokyo for some personalization. I kept the look decidedly factory stock, which is my favorite look for the Midnight Pumpkin. After the body was complete, I headed outside for some run time.
I was excited to see how the modernized Midnight Pumpkin drove. I charged up a MaxAmps NiMH battery pack and got to gunning. CW01 chassis trucks are known for their wheelie popping aptitude and the Midnight Pumpkin didn’t disappoint. The monster truck reared up on its hind tires and lurched forward with every full burst of throttle. I might add that it landed on its front wheels with a smooth touch, no doubt thanks to its oil-filled dampers.
The handling was noticeably much improved over stock models that I have driven previously. Gone are the bouncy attitude of the truck in favor of a much more stable ride. AMPro’s double wishbone suspension coupled with the oil-filled shocks really ups the game for the CW01. Launching the Pumpkin results in an instant burst of acceleration without the CW01’s telltale transmission slap sound, also thanks for AMPro’s transmission brace.
After decades longing for a Midnight Pumpkin, I finally got one. I am glad that I waited this long so that I could build it with modern performance parts from AMPro Engineering and eye candy from T4works Tokyo. I’ll probably invest in a runner body next so I don’t scratch up the beautiful F100 body. Once the runner body is on I look forward to taking the Midnight Pumpkin off some sweet jumps and see what it can really do.
Text and Images by Jerry Tsai