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Project: ShapeShifter

Project: ShapeShifter


This is not your traditional RC build. The "project" is not a vehicle, it is a challenge. The goal is to use a single platform to create as many distinctly different vehicles as possible, with as little work as possible. The donor chassis was originally just purchased for my all-stock Stampede 4x4 review (and closer look) and quickly proved itself worthy of replacing the venerable Chimera-A. Keeping it in one form seemed just too boring to me, though, and hence was born ShapeShifter!

Photo gallery samples

See all of the Project ShapeShifter photos...

Shape 6: Dakar Rally car (Nov. 2012)

Stampede 4x4 truggy conversion

What, and Why? ShapeShifter is lovin' life right now. Truth be told, this thing you see here was 95% completed just a few days after shape 5, but for reasons I won't presume to understand, it decided to stay under wraps for nearly a full year. When it was first assembled, I thought it wouldn't be very well received because, well, at that time, RC rally cars were in a cyclical pit of obscurity, with very little interest from anyone. Fast forward to the unveiling of shape 6, and 30 of my last 45 YouTube videos have been about RC rally cars. I should never have doubted the genius of the ShapeShifter, but it's always so silent; I never know what it's up to!

How? Fundamentally this is shape 4 all over again, but with a ~9 year old CEN Fun Factor Renault Schlesser body first seen on the Ultimate Rustler in its final J-SPEC form. Talk about a throwback. Thank goodness for DOT-4 brake fluid. There was a bit of a challenge with the mounting of this one in that the front of that body is very low, while the shock towers on the Stampede 4x4 are anything but. To get the overall look I wanted, without going crazy custom with the towers, I had to go with a much lower ride height than is ideal. This, in turn, necessitated a very odd suspension tune to maintain some terrain negotiation prowess against the will of the very springy & unhelpful Kyosho DRT tires.

In the end, I got the look I that wanted, or rather, that it wanted, and it was quite fun to drive around for the 2+ hours it took to collect the video footage you see compressed into the brief video above. Personally, I'm running out of ideas for this project, but I don't know whether ShapeShifter itself has any more tricks up its driveshaft sleeves. Will there be any more shapes?

Shape 5: Chimera-B trail truck (Nov. 2011)

Stampede 4x4 truggy conversion

What, and Why? I really, really enjoyed Chimera-A, my independent suspension all-terrain basher project. I know I made the right decision turning it back into a plain Slash 4x4 rolling chassis to sell off to help pay for my Stampede 4x4, but a part of me has missed it since the moment it left my possession. From the day Traxxas announced the 4WD Pede, I wondered if it could make a better Chimera-A than Chimera-A itself, due to the shorter wheelbase which could reduce high-centering. For months, the Pede beckoned. I even had several body options ready & waiting for me to pull the trigger. It had to happen, I just couldn't figure out how to do it. Then, one evening, everything fell into place as I went through my frequent juggling & swapping act, trying different wheels & tires & bodies on different chassis.

How? Like the \Backslash and short course shapes before it, this incarnation of the ShapeShifter uses 2WD Slash rear a-arms all around to narrow it up a bit. I have four Bandit rear arms ready to go, and those are narrower still, but I worry that they are too narrow to retain sufficient suspension range of motion for off-road use. The final, crital key to pulling off a sufficiently narrow stance for Chimera-B was the the set of Pro-Line Badlands SC tires I had mounted on Pro-Trac offset Pro-Line Renegade beadlock wheels. These are large enough in inner diameter to fit around the bulky Slash/Stampede 4x4 front caster blocks while pulling the tires far inboard. Plus, they have the tall outer sidewalls that were critical to pull off a believable off-road look. Short course tires are lacking in compliance over terrain, though, and I fought this shortcoming with some super-soft open-cell inserts up front (no idea what brand, they were in the pile) and well-worn soft Pro-Line closed sell inserts at the rear that I scalloped out every 3/4" or so around the inside. Everything else is plain to see in the the ShapeShifter photo gallery or the video. HPI MX-1 body with Chimera-A's old Summit fender flares, Castle MMP, Novak HV 550 5.5T, JConcepts overtray, and a couple hours of careful suspension experimentation ending with stock front springs & Losi green rears on stock shocks. Oh, and diffs locked with silly putty.

I was terrified that the truck wouldn't handle the rough stuff as well as its progenitor, but driving day eviscerated all doubts. For a stock-derived truck with short independent a-arm suspension, no wheel weights, and short tire sidewalls, it performed better than I could possibly have ever dreamed. A part of me believes it did better than Chimera-A itself, due to the fully locked diffs and, ironically, stiffer suspension. I love this truck!! What's next?!

Shape 4: Short Course Truck (June 2011)

Stampede 4x4 \Backslash conversion

What, and Why? Hey, short course trucks are all the rage, man. It was actually a little odd that I did a \Backslash shape before a basic Slash shape, so I wanted to be sure to go back and fill in what I missed before I forgot about it.

How? Mechanically this shape is a minimal departure from the previous incarnation. The Slash 2WD rear a-arms remain at the front and rear alike to tame the width while inadvertently adding a slight bit of length. I just installed a fresh front shock tower that hadn't been trimmed for aesthetics, since everything would be covered by a full-fender body anyhow. The biggest challenge was figuring out what wheels & tires to run. Standard 1/10th scale short course units like I used in Shape 1 would look terribly oversized with an SC body. Same thing with 2.2" truck wheels. One-tenth scale buggy wheels, as well as 1.9" touring car or crawler wheels had either too much offset to fit the look, or had too little offset to fit past the bulky front uprights. Thankfully in the end, I bought the one set of Kyosho DRT wheels & tires my LHS had in stock forever, collecting dust at the bottom of the peg board. By trimming off the uppermost portion of the front hub carriers (removing the top camber link mounting hole) and doing some clearancing work on the outer rod ends on the rear camber links, this odd-sized, but decent-looking combo would just barely work. The only problem is that the rubber of these tires is exceedingly... rubbery. They bounce a lot, no matter what I did to the suspension. It's unfortunate, but I had no choice but to live with it.

Topping off the deal is yet another generic eBay special body, again one of those Himoto/HSP/Redcat/Exceed molds. It's designed to fit touring car-based buggy-based short course trucks. The mold quality is so-so, and even the plastic seems cheap, but it did the job. Hopefully this will be the last of this grade of shell I'll have to use for this project.

Shape 3: \Backslash (May 2011)

Stampede 4x4 \Backslash conversion

What, and Why? When the Stampede 4x4 was first released, it pretty much rendered my Chimera-A project obsolete. It was a nearly perfect all-terrain basher, right out of the box, RTR. It wasn't too long before I had to decide which one to keep, and the 'Pede won out. Though I was confident in my decision, I still felt a little sad about it, and a little guilty. To help put my mind at ease, I decided to use the Stampede to pay a little reverent tribute to the Slash chassis that brought me so much joy, by doing a conversion inspired by one of its earlier forms, the first running \Backslash 4x4.

How? The easy way out would have been to simply swap in a Slash 4x4 chassis tub and center driveshaft, making it a full-on 1/8th scale sized \Backslash 4x4 in every way. However, I decided to keep the 'Pede chassis true to its original wheelbase and make it a 1/10th scale instead. To keep the width from looking silly, I swapped in Slash 2WD rear a-arms all around, Dremelled as needed to fit. The ones up front mount forward, while the rears are reversed. This negated the natural rear toe-in, so I brought back 1.5 degrees per side with some Traxxas aluminum hubs. I mounted OFNA CRT .5 wheels all around (standard 2.2" buggy size), and the fronts are narrowed slightly by removing the inner bead. The tires are ~15 year old Pro-Line Rally Hawgs that I've been sitting on for almost as long as I've been into RC. I took them out of their original sealed packaging for this project. They're not great tires, but I just didn't want to drop $30+ on some race treads I'd only use a few times. Other details include a slightly trimmed front shock tower (for aesthetic neatness) and the same Hot Bodies Lightning 10 wing & mount on my original \Backslash 4x4 mounting plate as seen in Shape 1. The body is a super-cheap generic 1/10th scale buggy shell off eBay, available under the Himoto, HSP, Redcat, and Exceed brands. For a motor, this time I went with a Castle 1410 3800kv powerhouse. You can see more photos of the car in the ShapeShifter gallery.

Shape 2: Rustler 4x4 (Apr. 2011)

Rustler 4x4

What, and Why? I had at least a half dozen ideas for ShapeShifter before I started working on Shape 1 (which, incidentally, wasn't one of those original ideas). The list just kept growing, so to help me pick the next shape, I just reversed the first one. Shape 1 was an offroad racer, so Shape 2 would be an onroad basher. The look and functionality is completely inspired by the 2WD Rustler VXL.

How? The obvious, basic requirements to pull off this look were stadium truck-sized wheels, tires, and body. I had a set of used, mounted Anacondas sitting in a drawer, waiting for a project to use them for many years. Similarly, the Pro-Line Desert Rat body (made for the Nitro Rustler) was originally purchased to make a phase 4 of the Ultimate Rustler project, which never happened. It was great to finally make use of this old stock. I wanted to use a 4S battery for the sheer insane excess of it, but after some early tests, I found that the Novak HV 5.5T motor just couldn't be geared low enough in this chassis to do anything more than a few speed runs followed by a cool-down period. I remedied this by swapping in a 36x74mm motor robbed from my big, heavy XTM Rail. You can see it in the ShapeShifter gallery. This 2370kv powerhouse let me run a full continuous pack of hard wheelie-popping acceleration & stoppie-popping deceleration without overheating. I suppose I could have geared for straight line runs, but I always like to have some sense of practicality & usability in my vehicles. More fun to drive than to worry about temps all the time.

Shape 1: 1/10th scale Truggy (Feb. 2011)

Stampede 4x4 truggy conversion

What, and Why? One afternoon I was out at my local track and one of the top drivers in my area, Jonathan Hernandez, casually proposed converting a Stampede 4x4 into a 1/10th scale truggy to compete against the Ofna Hyper 10TT's that had become popular. I was skeptical that such a creation could be competitive, but I wasn't quite ready to completely discount the idea without seeing it tried at least once. What I didn't realize at first was that Jon didn't want to attempt the conversion himself. He had seen some of my crazy contraptions and wanted me to make this thing happen. I bought a body that evening and returned the next day with a nearly race-ready vehicle. After just one full battery pack of testing between the two of us involving lapping some 10TT's that were also out for practice, I made one round of small tuning changes and handed the car to Mr. Hernandez to run at the next local race event. On race day, he was unable to get in any practice or qualifying runs due to running higher-priority classes, but started from 11th place in the main event, and finished first.

How? This conversion involves running short course wheels & tires, retuned stock shocks, sway bars, a 10TT body slightly re-molded to fit as low as possible, and a Hot Bodies Lightning 10 wing & mount on my original prototype \Backslash 4x4 mounting plate. No mega-bore aluminum shocks. No carbon fiber triple-deck chassis. No 1/8th scale driveline implant. Not even a center diff. Just what was needed to deliver real results. The vehicle is fairly light for its class and is tuned to rotate better than the Ofna race truck both on- and off-power. Check out body-off photos in the ShapeShifter gallery.

See also the full race video for the raw footage of Jonathan's last-to-first performance with the ShapeShifter truggy, unedited from flag to flag!

Follow along!

Follow smaller updates and discuss the vehicle through its lifespan in the official Project: ShapeShifter thread on the forum! See you there!