UK Scaler Nationals: HPI Frank Builds Up a No-Holds Barred Venture!

Fri, 9th November 2018

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A big event is always a great incentive to plan big projects, and that's exactly what happened with the recent UK Scaler Nationals, which took place at the start of October! 

In the build-up to the weekend, HPI Frank took the opportunity to build up a fresh Venture FJ Cruiser with a selection of great-looking and extra-sturdy parts from scale-oriented aftermarket companies. The build was featured 'live' on the @hpifrank Instagram account and shared on the @hpifrank Facebook page, and was also shared to the @venturehpi Facebook page.

Don't worry if you missed the build at the time, because you can follow along with every step right here! 

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Collecting all the amazing scale parts for the build took some time, but as you can see it was a mighty collection of great parts! 

The complete list included: 

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Starting with a fresh chassis right out of the box can be thrilling or daunting, depending on your view - thrilling to be adding lots of options to a brand new, un-run truck, but also daunting because of all the work that's ahead! The key is having everything ready to install, all the tools you need, and a plan for where to start. 

The first thing to do in this case is to strip the chassis of everything that will be taken off, never to return. This includes the bumpers and sliders, and instantly the chassis will look totally different. Set aside the plastic parts for a parts box where they can live until they're modified and added to a future build! The spare tire will be returning, but mounted on a new steel bumper (and heavily modified itself!). The axles will be torn down, along with the transfer case and transmission, but they will come back with most of their stock parts attached. Taking off the body mounts would make the bare chassis look even more different, but since this truck will keep the standard Toyota FJ Cruiser body, we'll leave the body mounts where they are. 

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The first options to go into this build were the heavy brass Beef Tubes. Like the official HPI #117086 Venture Axle Weight option part, these add weight almost as low as you can get, but the Beef Tubes are thicker and wider, thus more weight is added to the truck. With the various brass and aluminum options you can add, it's very easy to tune the weight at each end of the truck to the way you want to drive it. This truck will have lots of brass up front (and low) while keeping the battery at the rear, plus just a bit more brass in the rear axle to help offset the battery weight higher up in the chassis.

The Beef Tubes require a bit of hand-fitting to seat perfectly inside the axles, so use a sharp hobby knife, ideally with a chisel type blade, to carefully cut away the areas around the inset. The goal is to make sure the threaded hole of the brass Beef Tubes line up with the screw hole in the plastic axle housing. This needs to be done for each Beef Tube you're installing - in this case, on both front and rear axles. 

 

With the first options installed inside the axles, the drivetrain needs to be waterproofed to make it fully resistant to mud, dust, dirt, and of course water. This step can be skipped if you don't plan to take the Venture out into seriously wet and dirty terrain, but with this truck's very first runs due to take place in the autumn...in England...we wanted to make sure that it was ready for nearly anything. Cow RC Udder Butter waterproof grease was used on all the joints and seams in the axle and transmission casings, plus a bit of extra grease was put on all the gears.

Bearings are also often overlooked, so these got a good seal of grease on both faces, inside and outside, to seal them against water. The usual thin bearing oil was skipped here because we need a good seal on them to keep water out as much as possible, and the bearings aren't going to be spinning very fast!

Taking things apart is one thing...putting it all back together with a totally new screw set is another! Take your time and try to disassemble one thing at a time, so you know where the screws go, and in which order. Use an empty parts box or egg carton to help you keep the screws organized while you're taking things apart and building. The axles were reassembled with Team KNK stainless steel screws, making sure to not use screws that were too long that might bind on the driveshafts or force any openings in the axle and transmission seams.

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With the axles finished, work proceeded to the transmission, so the front end of the chassis had to be dismantled to get it out, then the casing removed and beads of grease added to seal it once it was closed up again. Depending on the motor you'll be using, it may be impossible to completely waterproof the transmission (some brushless motors are totally sealed, while most brushless and brushed motors have vent holes, so you'll need to keep the maintenance requirements in mind as you drive and work on the truck. 

Installing major options such as the Hero driveshafts from Ottsix requires additional hand fitting and tweaking, so have your thinking cap on and a rotary tool handy! In this case, the slipper adjustment had to be figured out - the drive cup coming out of the transmission has a nut on the back side, and in order to use the shortest Hero universal the stock drive cup has to be removed. An aluminum spacer that comes with the Team KNK screw set fills the gap to provide enough tension on the spring, then the Hero universal was pressed into position and attached with the drive pin. 

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To get the ends of the Hero driveshafts to fit where the cross pin can secure it to the input and output shafts on the transfer case, as well as on the axle input shaft, the flange that sticks out must be modified to shorten it about 1.5 to 2mm. In addition, the short transmission driveshaft was too long to allow the transfer case to fit in, so the sliding long sections needed to be shortened by roughly 4-5mm (if you're fitting it in a longer wheelbase chassis this probably wouldn't be an issue).

A rotary tool with cut-off wheel was used to carefully make the modifications - while wearing proper safety gear such as thick leather gloves and safety glasses, of course! A bench vise helps keep the parts in place while doing the cutting. Make sure to use a file or careful rotary tool work to chamfer the edges slightly and remove any "swarf" or metal filing debris. Use brake cleaner to blast metal dust off the parts, as it leaves no residue, then apply a dry lubricant on the sliders. A light oil was then applied to the 4 bright metal bolts at each end of the Hero driveshafts, as instructed.

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At this point, you may be saying "well, that's a lot of work" - and you'd be correct! But with the amount of power that is likely to be pushed through the drivetrain in the future (3S brushless power and super sticky tires), plus the fact that this is meant to be a showpiece truck, the thinking was along the lines of "why not put it in?" We know that many many Venture owners are very happy with their stock transmission parts and its Torx-style driveshafts, so by no means are these modifications necessary - this is an article about customization, after all!

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With the drivetrain and axles reassembled, the truck was getting well over halfway completed. However, before the axles could get reinstalled, the links had to be swapped out! Again, this is not a necessary upgrade, because the plastic links are perfectly good (and actually slide much better over rough rock) but few things changed the outward appearance of a scaler truck than the links. A set of RC 4x4 Performance links were chosen, and a complete set comes with the four equal-length lower links, the front upper link, panhard bar, and steering drag link. We chose not to install the drag link (bottom right in the links photo) that connects the left and right wheels because it would remove the BTA (Behind The Axle) steering that the Venture is known for - so the standard steering link was left in place. 

Everything else was replaced, however, which gave the truck 4-link rear suspension. This required using the 4-link mount that comes in the standard plastic parts bag (it is #117356 if you've lost it). If you want to swap the front upper link you'll need a second #117356 and a long screw and locknut, as you can see in the links photo. 

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Because the front and rear braces need to be removed to get the transmission out, the bumpers were swapped out for the excellent custom-made steel bumpers from Scaler Fab. The front bumper is a full-width style bumper like the stock plastic bumper, and you can get it with a variety of options. This particular one features mounts for D-rings or shackles, a central "bull bar", and mounting points for various scale winches - even the option to run the fairlead (or exit point for the winch rope) through the bumper itself!

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The rear bumper was also changed for a similarly styled all-steel bumper. This one features the optional spare tire mount, just to keep the unique FJ Cruiser look. The tire is mounted a little higher up but closer to the back of the body, and to help offset the weight of the spare tire it will be heavily modified (more on that later).

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While the bumpers were going on, it was time to fit the rock rails! Also from Scaler Fab, these replaced the plastic rails, so off they came and the steel ones fitted in place. With extra space provided by the sliders, the speed controller could be mounted to one side and the other electronics fitted to the other. 

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The slider/rock rail combos also feature higher mounting options for the upper links, which can significantly alter the handling of the Venture. If you're new to scale crawling, don't worry, the stock link mounts are fine! But if you do want to play around and experiment with your settings you just need to have a 3mm spacer and a longer screw to match, then try the different link locations to see how it affects the handling. 

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The drivetrain looks a lot different now! The bright stainless steel screws and links brighten up the overall look for sure.

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With the transmission, driveshafts, transfer case, and bumpers/rails fitted, the Venture is quite a different beast! Next up: attaching the axles to the links and driveshafts! 

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While the axles are off the chassis, it's the ideal time to add extra weight - this time, from SSD RC, in the form of their brass C-hubs and knuckles for the Venture! These huge and very weighty items add a big chunk of weight right at the wheels, and they were attached with more of the Team KNK stainless steel screws. 

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The Team KNK screw set includes button head screws which were used on the bottom 3 screws of each diff cover, and cap head screws were sourced for the top 3 screws. The diff cover looks completely different now! It was left as it comes out of the box for this build, but if you wanted, you could paint the diff cover or even polish it to completely customize it. 

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Now we're getting somewhere! The axles are installed and it just needs the wheels and tires installed next to get a "rolling chassis". 

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The tires chosen for this build are the new Voodoo KLR X4 tires from Ottsix. These are "tall" tires for scaler trucks, with a taller sidewall that you'll find on many scaler tires. According to Ottsix, the ideal weight distribution when using tall tires is 50/50, meaning half the weight of the truck is on each axle. You can go up to 60/40 but no more (some scaler trucks have nearly all the weight at the front), as it would drastically change the handling of the truck and defeat the design of the tires. 

The chosen compound was the middle-ground Gold compound, rather than the extremely sticky Red, and the standard Ottsix foams for 8-12 pound trucks was used. Like any other form of competitive RC, you can change the inner foams for different handling and performance, but this truck will have the same foams front and rear, with no wheel or tire venting. If there are holes or vents in the tires, Ottsix recommend stiffer foams in the tires. 

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To add a bit more bling to the truck, a set of SSD RC black alloy wheels were chosen, with a blue beadlock ring. The blue ring is just for looks, as the wheels use an internal aluminum ring and 6 bolts on the back of the wheel to actually do the job of locking the tire bead in place. The bright blue will look amazing on the trail and acts as a cool bit of spot color for the small bits of blue that will be added once the body is attached!

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With the Venture able to roll on its own, it was time to add the power plant! In this case it's a brushless system from Hobbywing, the Xerun Axe with a 3000KV motor suitable for waterlogged conditions with its sealed motor case, waterproof sensor cable connector and waterproof 3S capable speed controller. It certainly looks fantastic mounted on that slider! 

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With just the body to attach, it was time to attack the spare tire and lighten it a bit! The inside edge of the tire was cut and the inner foam removed, then the wheel was cut down with heavy duty side cutters to remove about 1/3 of the width of the wheel. If you wanted to remove even more weight, about half of the inner sidewall could be removed, and to go even more extreme you could take a sanding drum on a rotary tool to the inside of the tire to make the rubber thinner! It all depends how much weight you think you want to take off - in this case there is plenty of weight in the axles and front wheel areas, so it wasn't really too important to go to such extremes. 

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The Scaler Fab rear bumper has the spare tire holder (which is an optional extra, remember) almost hug the back door of the FJ Cruiser body, which helps hide the mess that's made of the inside of the tire. To help the body sit right on the rear bumper, some slight trimming was done to the bottom edge of the body. To help the departure angle, which is already pretty good at 45 degrees, the rear bumper mounts were shortened as much as possible to get the spare tire mount right up against the body. 

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There's a few more jobs to do before hitting the trail, such as fitting the Reefs RC mega-powerful 555 servo and the front winch and controller, but while we're still at the workbench, it's important to make sure this truck gets extra style points! The wheel center caps were cut down to fit the new wheels, then 3mm x 2mm magnets were glued in to make sure they stay in place while driving - a good test for this is to put them on, then give the truck a good shake! 

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With the electronics fitted, the truck is ready to go! As expected, the weekend of the UK Scaler Nats is wet, and the soft compound and nicely spaced lugs of the Voodoo tires help get the Venture over some very scary-looking rocks while shedding mud like nobody's business! 

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Taking on the HPI Venture trail in a caravan of Ventures!

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As usual, the UK Scaler Nats was busy, busy busy! Loads of scalers of all types and designs were there, from all across the UK! The wet weather made things slippy underfoot, but for the most part the trucks all made it through. There were four major trails for people to drive along, usually in groups of 2-5 friends and family members. Each of these trails was 100 gates and provided a huge mix of trails and obstacles, from boggy mud sections to near-vertical granite cliffs. Many sections required the help of fellow drivers equipped with tow ropes, or a winch and land anchor if you were on your own, especially if the trail had been made slick by the passage of dozens of other trucks previously. 

The 100-gate trails were all self-scoring, so there weren't groups of trucks and drivers tethered to judges. If you wanted to have a proper competition, a truly tough section was laid out on a section that was almost entirely rocks and boulders, and trucks across a variety of scale classes could compete. No hands! and don't touch those flags...

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While the first day was wet, the second day was absolutely sodden. A persistent rain that never let up made it an early day for most, with the massive prize raffle started in the early afternoon, a couple of hours earlier than normal. That still didn't dampen the spirits for most, especially the winner of the brand-new Venture truck that was donated to the prize pool! 

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A very happy winner of a brand new Venture in the prize raffle! 

Of course we're already looking forward to next year's event - here's hoping that it's a bit more dry! 


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