Building the VBC FF18 Kit
Regular readers know that this is my favourite class of all, as I always mention it when I write about FF cars. Therefore it is only logical that when a new FF car kit is released, we take a closer look on it. Welcome to the VBC FF18 kit build!
The number one issue when it comes to this class of RC, is the lack of new car kit releases. They unfortunately tend to be few, and far between, but luckily there are a couple loyal supporters among manufacturers as well. Tamiya is the originator and so far has released 4 generations of cars (FF-01, FF-02, FF-03, FF-04). During the last few years it could be said that the number one supporter among manufacturers has been VBC, and for this they should be lauded. Thank you VBC!
With the class enjoying renewed popularity, at least in Europe, let’s hope we will see more car and conversion kits released in the future.
The VBC FF18 follows the FFTwelve, FF17, and FF17 Belt Drive versions from VBC, and first kits were available at dealers late February (2018).
Time to start building, and as we’re used to by now, first a look at the main chassis of the VBC FF18.
As is so far the norm on FF cars, the chassis is a rather long piece. On the FF18 it is cut out of 2.25mm carbon fibre, 88mm wide, weighs 82g, and fairly stiff. As you can see it has numerous slots for battery tape, already giving a hint of the flexibility it offers when it comes to battery placement.
I find it surprising that most FF cars so far use the long front chassis design, as it could easily be shortened 30-40mm here by using a different bumper/bumper-mount system. Of course having a long carbon plate like this is the easiest solution to keep the motor low and bumper simple, but anyone who has raced FF cars (especially on asphalt) knows how much the front touch the ground. Shortening the chassis at the front helps avoid this problem, and allows a lower ride height, which in turn is a much more effective way of lowering the CG than any short damper or similar, as you are lowering the weight of the whole car.
The first assembly step of the FF18, when following the manual, is the front gear diff. The gear diff is exactly the same as on the VBC D10, which I built recently, so all its features are the same, and my comments from that build still stand. Therefore I can also use exactly the same picture from the D10 build to show the diff parts.
Unfortunately that means that the quality of the composite diff parts is also the same, which in turn means that you have to spend a bit of time here to build a smooth diff.
While it is nice that VBC includes stuff like damper and diff oil in their kits, the bottle of 1000 weight diff oil included with the FF18, is totally useless on an FWD car. The instructions are also exactly the same as on the D10, with no proper advice on suitable diff oils for the FF class.
I built mine with 1 million weight silicone as a starting point. Obviously with these weight oils used on the FF cars, the quality and smoothness of the diff should not be as critical as on 4wd ISTC cars.
Bulkheads are up next, and the FF18 follows the same theme as the D10, with some alu parts anodised red, others anodised black.
The front bulkheads are again exactly the same part as on the D10 chassis, with the same narrow 19mm spacing.
It’s the same with the split suspension mounts, these being the exact same parts as on the D10, using plastic inserts for toe and width adjustments.
At the rear we find the same split suspension mounts anodised black, but FF18 unique one-piece bulkheads. These rear bulkheads feel a bit heavier than they would need to be, and while they could have been made smaller/lighter, once put on a scale they are actually fairly light.
The rear bulks are also spaced 19mm apart, just like at the front of the FF18.
While the steering also looks verys similar to that on the D10, it consists of different parts, actually from the previous D09 chassis, and hence the same as on the FF17.
The steering features a steering stopper under the centre ball stud, allowing two setups by flipping the stopper, giving either a 27 deg or 31 deg maximum steering angle.
The steering rides on black anodised alu steering posts. I used 0.1mm shims here to remove a small amount of play.
Next we move to the front transmission assembly.
The main shaft is mounted to shaft supports ,which are screwed onto the upper bulkheads. The supports are black anodised, while the upper bulks are red anodised.
The main shaft is a fairly heavy 5mm steel piece, riding on 5x8mm bearings either side. Since the FF18 is belt driven, it needs a belt pulley on the main shaft. This is a nice looking 16T aluminium pulley, held in place by a 2x10mm shaft and a lock spring.
Together with the 38T diff pulley, this setup gives an internal ratio of 2.375.
While most ISTC touring cars have been belt driven, it is more unusual with belt driven FF chassis’. The previous VBC FF17 was first released with a gearbox drivetrain, but a belt conversion, and a belt version featuring these parts, were later released.
The FF18 is indeed also belt driven, featuring a short 144mm or 48T standard S3M belt.
Unfortunately the belt included with my kit looks worn (or ‘B’ quality) already as new. This is really strange as it is the first time throughout all my years building cars that I come across a belt that is not perfect when taken from its bag.
Coupled with some reports from early owners of the FF18 of very short belt life, this is a bit worrying. VBC really need to step up their quality control department.
All assembled, the belt drive transmission feels very free. The initial belt tension might need to be tightened, but I need to run the car to be sure. Anyway, with the very short belt and small 16T pulley, it will be important to have the right belt tension. The diff rides on normal eccentrics, so adjustments are easy.
The way the transmission is constructed, and then built per manual, makes the final step of transmission assembly slightly tricky as there is not much extra room with the short belt and many parts that need to go into place. Take care when doing this assembly step.
The front tower is carbon fibre, 3.5mm thick, and features 5 options for mounting the damper as well as holes for the front body mounts.
The tower is secured to the upper bulks with two flat head screws and two round head screws.
The upper bulkheads have four options for the upper arm, with the default setup using the shortest setting and a 1mm spacer below the ball stud.
Also visible in this picture (below) is the 0.5mm suspension mount shims included and used on the standard setup.
The rear bulkheads use separate ‘camber link adjusters’, screwed into the bulkheads from the side using countersunk screws. This setup give complete freedom in upper arm length and height adjustment.
The rear tower is again 3.5mm thick carbon fibre and features 5 different holes for rear upper damper mounting, and mounting holes for the rear body mounts that are fairly widely spaced for an FF chassis.
It’s time to start assembling the suspension on the VBC FF18 at this stage, and it’s slightly surprising (perhaps even disappointing?) to find the older VBC D09 suspension on the car and not the latest D10 suspension.
The suspension mounts are exactly the same as on the D10 though, black anodised aluminium pieces holding the inserts which you change to alter toe and width.
All composite suspension parts are in the ‘silver’, or medium compound material, with optional harder ‘gold’ and ‘red’ parts available as options.
Everything fits together quite well, and it’s nice to see alu spacers included. However, use of a 3mm arm reamer tool is very much recommended for both the inner and outer pins, both front and rear.
The rear uprights feature an inverted design compared to your normal TC rear upright, taking the form of an A. Obviously if you are familiar with the VBC D09, this is no novelty to you as the suspension is the same as on that car.
Personally I really like the look of this design, but VBC already moved away from it with the D10.
Simple steel wheel axles with good precision are included, and ride on conventional 5x10mm bearings inside the uprights. Red alu 5mm thick wheel hexes are included.
At the front very standard looking suspension arms are used, offering multiple options for damper mounting positions. The arms are reversible, and hence the same left and right.
The front c-hubs and steering blocks are again very much standard design items.
Included driveshafts are unfortunately not of a double-joint design. Instead standard steel driveshafts is what you get with the FF18 kit. These come pre assembled, but as always it is recommended that you disassemble and grease the parts before re-assembling them.
Plastic blades are included to fit onto the inner pin and into the diff outdrives.
All turnbuckles on the car are black anodised aluminium.
The motor mount and bumper mount on the FF18 are black anodised aluminium and looks very familiar from previous FF cars, all the way back to the Huge FF11 which then morphed into the VBC line of FF cars starting with the FFTwelve.
Overall these pieces, especially the bumper mount, feel overly heavy to place so far forward. The overall weight of both parts is 21g.
The foam bumper is of the very hard type, which I know some people like, but I have never liked. This is also much heavier than the normal bumper material, and the FF18 foam weighs 12.5g despite there not being much material on it.
Overall with the lower and upper plastic bumpers, foam bumper, and screws, the bumper assembly weighs a hefty 31g at this very far forward position.
While my view on the hard bumper material is just an opinion, there are some real problems with the fitment of the lower plastic bumper to the front of the carbon chassis plate. To able to fit it at all, I had to remove quite a lot of material from the chasssis to make it narrower. This is really unacceptable, and it almost feels like no-one even built a car before it was put into production for an obvious issue like this to pass quality control.
A carry-over design all the way from the original Huge FF11 is this motor mount bridge, that binds the motor mount and bulkhead together to stabilise the motor mount. Main shaft removed from this picture to show the bridge clearly, as access s very tight otherwise.
The spur gear mount is a simple but beautiful red anodised aluminium part, secured to the main shaft by a simple 2mm pin over which the spur gear is mounted to lock it into place.
Unfortunately again fit and finish was not what it should be here, and it was a struggle to slide the pin through the parts together.
A high quality Kawada 48P spur gear is included (78T).
A floating servo mount, fully aluminium, is included. Mounted with three screws and two locating pins. The holes in the chassis for the pins were too small to be able to fit the chassis, so I had to use a drill to slightly enlargen them.
Servo mount in the car. This is not mounted to the centre line of the chassis which I found strange. I suppose it is because the default battery position is a full size lipo on the other side of the chassis, so by offsetting the servo the battery can be moved inwards.
A front roll-bar is thankfully included, and the 1.3mm bar is mounted to a small carbon fibre roll-bar mount plate.
There is a 1.3mm rear roll-bar included as well. The plastic roll-bar mounts are the same as at the front, but requires a bit of modification to work at the rear of the car. This because at the front a screw is threaded into this piece, while as it is used at the rear the screw is threaded into the rear bulkheads. So the screw hole needs to be opened up to let the screw go through it and then thread into the bulkhead. There is no mention of this in the manual.
There are no stoppers included, so the rear bar is free to move left/right, which is obviously not ideal.
There is also some confusion with regards to the location of the ball studs for the roll-bar in the rear arms. When assembling the arms, the manual shows that the innermost hole should be used. However, this will not work with the included bar. So you need to use one of the outer holes. This is also suddenly shown in the manual at this stage, even though you were shown the other position when assembling the arms, as described above.
The upper deck is unique on the VBC FF cars, with the FF18 following in the steps of its predecessors using a 5mm vertical carbon fibre top deck.
The upper deck is mounted using special aluminium mounts.
Upper deck on the car. Fitment is very tight, as the alu mounts slide between the left and right bulkheads both front and rear. It’s a good idea to spend a bit of extra time on this assembly step to make sure everything lines up and remains straight when all screws are tigthened down.
As you would expect with this design, there is no front to rear flex, while the assembled FF18 has a fair amount of left to right flex which feels about right, at least for outdoor running.
A close-up of the front upper deck and roll-bar mounting.
Dampers on the FF18 are again VBC’s latest offering; The same TBBS-P progressive dampers as they include on the D10. They go together without any real issues and seem to work OK.
SMJ silver springs are included for the front, with SMJ blue’s for the rear of the car.
Both the front and rear towers feature 5 mounting options for the dampers.
Another time when you wonder if someone actually built a production kit before release, is when you try to fit the front body mounts as shown in the manual.
The picture below shows them mounted to the rear of the front tower, while the manual actually shows them mounted on the front. The only problem is that if you try to mount them like that with the included 78T spur gear, the body mount will lock the drivetrain. Hence, I mounted them to the rear.
A minor thing, but things like these unfortunately give a bad impression.
An overview of the finished VBC FF18 fwd touring car chassis.
Things not shown in this build, but included with the kit, are battery stoppers to position the battery, and servo arms and associated hardware. No advice on the different battery mounting locations is mentioned in the manual.
Time to round up this VBC FF18 build article with some impressions now.
My first thought is that I’m happy for every FF chassis released, and as I mentioned at the start VBC should be thanked for supporting this class. When it comes to the FF18 itself, my impression based on my experience of FF cars, is that it should work well on track straight out of the box. Indeed, first reports from drivers who have run the car confirms this. Unfortunately I don’t have a chance to run this car until the conditions up here allows outdoor running.
For the design of the FF18, I had hoped for a few more new ideas from VBC. The FF18 is a very conservative design with a lot of carry-over from previous versions. There are many parts of the car that could have been optimised and taken further, so I find it unfortunate that VBC have not taken this chance.
However, what should be first on VBC’s list of things to do is definitely to step up quality control and documentation. Just like on the D10 reviewed a few months ago, the FF18 suffers from various small but irritating issues of fitment, but also wrong info / lack of info in the manual. This should not be present on a product like this in 2018.
There are not many options to choose from if you want to buy a competitive FF chassis, and with the FF18 you are sure to get a well performing one once you take your time to build it right. Let’s just hope VBC sorts out the issues asap.