My background in RC started in the fall of 2018 when I purchased a Traxxas Slash 4×4 VXL. I have always had a passion for racing, and this got me one step closer to some fast-paced 1/10-scale off-road racing. After multiple off-road series championships and podium finishes racing 1/10 SCT, 2WD buggy and even 1/8-scale models, the local series dried up in 2020 due to COVID. However, my RC addiction never went away. I just had to get my fix. With the tracks and hobby shops closed, my only option to run my purpose-built racecars was in the yard or the street. Not ideal for these prized builds.
Crawling and scale RCs never appealed to me. I never understood why someone would want to drive slowly. Yeah, crawlers and scale rigs look good for photos, but what’s the fun in walking behind an RC at 3 miles per hour like you are walking a dog? Anyway, my RC shutdown could go no longer. I reached out to a friend in the hobby who was looking to unload some of his RC collection. He had a fully upgraded Traxxas TRX4 Tactical Unit full of accessories up for grabs. The seed was now planted, and my RC addiction started to grow in a different direction.
Through much of 2020, my off-road model collection halted and the crawler collection grew exponentially. Experimenting with these new trucks and parts shifted my interest from high-speed racing to heavier, scale crawling. Throughout this journey, I discovered companies like Treal Hobby and Carryall RC. I enjoy their products and how they interacted with the crawler community. Through these RC companies, I met the innovators and like-minded hobbyists like Mike George, Peter Lundberg and Jeremy Kilburn, who were the ultimate influencers in my build.
The 4Runner build you see here was never intended to be a scale show truck, but rather a competition-worthy Class 1 comp rig. The beauty of this build is that a majority of the essential build parts are secondhand. Auctions, Facebook Marketplace, and friends are great resources to obtain quality, lightly used parts at an affordable price. You just have to be patient.
During the two-year period of my scale crawler journey, I gained a vast amount of knowledge in this RC niche from the enthusiasts I associated with. They helped me overcome the obstacles I encountered during this build. I had gathered secondhand parts and electronics from auction sites, friends, and leftover parts from other completed builds. I was ready to start my Class 1 comp truck. The build was meant to be a basic, down-and-dirty comp rig with a low center of gravity and some good electronics and grippy tires, nothing more. The one thing that I had never taken into consideration was the influence of those around me, who had other ideas. As the 2022 Ultimate Scale Truck Expo (USTE) loomed, this was the turning point where ideas were presented, decisions were made and a dream was born.
The 4Runner build was always intended to be based on a Vanquish Products VS4-10 chassis. I have a few Vanquish trucks and I knew that this would be a good starting point. Additional parts followed, including a Vanquish Incision 3-link kit and driveshafts, all secondhand parts. Next came the transmission. I chose the Axial SCX10II kit transmission and skid plate used, as I like to grab these wherever I can for their versatility and dependability. What I thought to be one of the last used parts was a 3Brothers 1500kV Yellowjacket motor. I love the sound that these motors produce. This was the base for a solid Class 1 comp truck… or so I thought.
Now comes the perfect comp truck transformation build. February 2022 included two of the most popular RC crawler events of the year, Motorama and USTE. I knew that I would attend one of these events, but which one? Friends from all over were attending both, but the choices were not equal. Motorama is a competition-style event and only about a six-hour drive. USTE is a non-competition scale event, which would require flight. I had never flown with RCs before.
Being the type of person who enjoys experiencing new things, I started leaning toward USTE. Some of the brands I represent like Treal Hobby, Carryall RC and Reefs RC were sponsoring this event. Finally came the influence of Mike, Peter and Jeremy, who were all attending the event and raved about how awesome it is. They were my go-to build advice crew; they’d never steered me wrong, so why not trust them now? Ultimate Scale Truck Expo here I come!
The RC4WD 4Runner RTR was released in the summer of 2021. It had a great-looking body on a tried-and-true chassis. However, the one thing that I could not convince myself to do was to purchase what everyone else had. What’s the fun of being like everyone else? That said, I could not get away from the 4Runner body. It just screams scale and has so many options and possibilities to make it your own. Luckily for me, my technical guru friend Jeremy had previously built a comp rig with a VS4-10 chassis and RC4WD 4Runner body and had turned me on to a solution from Sea Squirrel to merge these two platforms together through their custom-built slider adapters. My decision was made.
Now that we were down the scale trail, how would I make this truck scale? I had dabbled in scale trucks before but it was never my strong suit. Upon arrival of the RC4WD 4Runner body came the next difficult decision: paint. I had experience painting Lexan bodies but never hard bodies. How would I do it, and when I figured it out, what would I paint? After searching through dozens of YouTube videos I came across a video made by RC Girl where she produced an excellent step-by-step process of how to paint a hard body. A special bonus that I picked up from the video was a color palette that I fell in love with. Tamiya TS-29, TS-44 and TS-80 for the exterior, and TS-46 for the interior. After watching the video about a dozen times, I took the suggested steps and was totally amazed by the results. Perfection! I now had all of the confidence in the world behind me.
Next step, assembly. By this time my new parts arrived from Treal Hobby, including polished aluminum AR44 axles and Type G wheels, Reefs RC 422 servo, Castle Creations Copperhead ESC, IERC upper shock mounts, lights by LIT LED, InTheWorks shocks and Udder Butter from CowRC. With the body and interior painted and assembled, it was time to see the results of months of planning and work come to fruition. Little did I realize that decisions made at the beginning and lack of test fitting in the beginning would come back to haunt me and steer this build down an unintended path.
My excitement came to a halt when the body combined with the interior did not fit the chassis! I test-fitted the body with the chassis before paint and no issues came up. It was the interior that was the issue. The transmission was preventing everything from fitting. How could this be? The kit transmission is almost identical to the VS4-10 transmission, or so I assumed. I grabbed a previously built Vanquish truck and compared the two builds. The transmissions were nowhere close to being the same, as I had assumed. The VS4-10 chassis sits much lower than the Axial. Therein lay the problem. The next thought that ran through my mind was to start cutting the interior to make it fit with the Axial transmission. After careful reflection I reconsidered, as I feared ruining the immaculate work I’d done on the interior. I would never be able to reverse the damage.
I consulted with Jeremy and Peter. In a unanimous decision, we determined that the only course of action was to purchase a VS4-10 transmission. This was frustrating, as I didn’t want to spend more money on a new trans and take the time to put it together when I was so close to the finish line. Luckily, Jeremy came to the rescue. He knew a buddy who was selling a completely built transmission with skid and almost no use at an affordable price. All that was left was waiting for the new transmission to arrive and a simple install. And I would soon discover that I would be going even farther down the rabbit hole.
The transmission arrived and was installed. Now time to re-attach the suspension, links, driveshafts and AR44 axles. However, this transmission sits offset on the skid unlike the SCX10II. The upper front link and front driveshaft did not align with the transmission and skid plate. The only difference between the two transmissions was the height, right? Wrong! Again, the details came back to bite me. The whole premise was to combine a Vanquish chassis with an Axial drivetrain. While this can work when you pull out the middle section and replace it with another, the other end doesn’t always fit.
It was the front axle that didn’t match the Vanquish transmission, as the AR44 had a centered diff whereas the Vanquish axles, which matched this transmission, had an offset diff. This was a heartbreaking discovery. I frantically started examining all of my other trucks to see if there was an option to just grab an axle off another rig and make a quick swap. The options were there, but I was so looking forward to representing Treal Hobby with their beautiful AR44 axles.
After a day of thought on how to move forward, it came to me that the AR45 axles have an offset pumpkin! Could this work and be a solution? Again, after a quick consultation with Jeremy and Peter, it was confirmed. This would require purchase of additional parts and take additional time, but it was worth it to continue with the original plan to represent Treal Hobby to the fullest, as they have been so good to me.
With parts in hand and installed, it was finally time to marry the body and interior to the chassis for a (hopefully) final time. Success! Kind of. The interior was still hitting some of the transmission components, but this was manageable with some light grinding on the interior’s underside. Mission complete. I now had a scale truck worthy of representing the brands that helped me at USTE 2022.
Now that the 4Runner was complete, it was time to get it to Florida. I had previously never traveled with RC equipment on an airplane, and I had heard all of the horror stories about RCs in flight. Everything from lost luggage to TSA encounters and broken equipment, none of which sounded appealing. But then again, neither did a 19-hour drive! I reached out to my posse of experts who have made the flight to USTE in previous years. The two main things they taught me were: one, protect your equipment and two, keep your LiPo batteries safe. Keeping the batteries safe on an airplane was a no-brainer, as there is only one way to do so correctly. Simply put the batteries in storage mode, store them in a LiPo safe charging bag, and place them into your carry-on luggage.
Now there were variations of how to keep the trucks protected. Some said use the military techniques of rolling your clothes and putting the trucks in your suitcases. Others said disassemble and separate the truck into smaller sections. Further advice was to buy a travel-specific case to protect the trucks from impact while traveling. I went with the travel-specific case route. After I had invested all of this time, energy and money, there was no way I was going to ruin it all by arriving in Florida with a broken truck. The additional investment paid off in spades, as all of my equipment arrived safe and intact.
Finally, it was time to reward myself with a long weekend of scale trailing at the USTE. It was an amazing weekend filled with vendors, photography and meeting new people, as well as meeting the real people you’ve spent years following on social media. And of course, the Florida sun! Everyone who attended was awesome and so happy to be there with their tiny trucks. I brought with me my trail equipment, which included the V2 Bugout Bag from Carryall RC and radio neck lanyard from Joeropes and Rigropes, so that I could stay out on the trails even longer, clocking in the miles.
This amazing experience made all of the build frustrations, as well as time and monetary investments, worth it—enough so that I am planning on going again next year. I already have new ideas and a new plan for next time. Lessons learned through this high-end, detailed build experience include: Make a plan before you start and stick with it; take more time; think ahead and imagine what the build will look like when it’s finished; test-fit the parts before you complete each step; and once you commit, never look back. It’s not about preventing every issue. It’s about how you resolve the problems and continue on with a successful plan. Keep your eyes open and don’t take shortcuts. As I discovered, the devil is in the details.
Text and Images by Tyler Slane