Rally Beast Prepped!

So here’s a quick update and probably the last major one as the Rally Beast (Rally Accent) is now virtually ready to rally!

In a nutshell, the following has been performed since the last blog update:

1.  Coolant flush and refill carried out last Wednesday

2. New right-hand CV shaft and boots…this was a bit pricey but necessary…

3. 2″ straight-through cat-back exhaust installed

4. Headlight lens cleaning/brightening performed. Lots of elbow grease, but well worth it! See pictures below for before/after comparisons; the headlights now produce noticeably more light which is great

5. 1kg rally-approved fire extinguisher now installed. My co-driver also purchased another extinguisher…so hoping to mount that one too before the rally stage!

6. More stickers! With more to come still haha. This also includes the battery safety triangle sticker fitted…

7. GoPro has been mounted in the driver’s rear quarter window and serves to give a great wide-angle view of the action

8. My helmet also arrived…will definitely need that!

9. My co-driver’s helmet is also on the way. I am toying with using BlueTooth comms via headphones to communicate with him over the din of the interior and exhaust.

The rest of the update will be fulfilled with pictures. And, as a bit of a treat, a video!

I didn’t get time to PlastiDip the dashboard as hoped in the last update…I may or may not do this depending on time/resources.

I did get time to take the vehicle out for its ‘first trial’ in a wooded-area last weekend however. I must say driving at-speed over loose surfaces is definitely another feeling altogether: one of sheer delight and sheer terror at the same time! At one point in the video the vehicle suffered some unintended oversteer but I managed to bring it back on-course. My intention was not to go ‘all-out’ with the car, but more to get a feel for how it behaves on the dirt. All-in-all, a very enjoyable day out…I will let the video do the rest of the explaining. I am glad that the upcoming rally event will be taking place in a much more open area with little (no?) trees and drop-offs…

So what’s next?

I am flying out of town with work for the next week or so, so updates may be sparse, but as aforementioned, the car is now basically ready for the rally event on the 20th May 2017. I should be back in town by the 12th, so I will have one final weekend to carry out any last minute preparations before the event the following weekend. I am hoping to do one final ‘shakedown’ with my co-driver to test-out our comms and the car and our team dynamic to ensure things are as ready as they can be, for the following weekend.


P.S. Please remember, if you wish to contribute/support me, my GoFundMe page link is also below. Thank you if you choose to do this. Every little bit helps!





Hyundai Accent Rally Update!

Since buying the car on the 20th April, there has been an absolute FLURRY of activity on it. I spent virtually the entire weekend in the garage working on this beast, and this post will serve to bring you up-to-date with the latest goings-on with this vehicle!

Tomorrow, my co-driver will be joining me in the workshop to perform further works on the vehicle, so I thought I’d take the time now to show you all what the car currently looks like and document what has been done, before any further work is carried-out.

So what exactly has been done you ask?

Well! I’m glad you did! Below is a list of all the works completed so-far on the car:

– Complete removal of all wheels for inspection of running-gear such as brakes, axles, suspension, etc. I am happy to report that the majority of components are in good-shape. Whilst the rear shocks are a bit soft, and brake linings over half way worn, and CV boots on the outer axles may need some work soon, the overall package driveline-wise is serviceable. I also tested the brake fluid and found it almost completely devoid of moisture according to my brake fluid tester. This was of course tested at the brake reservoir only.

– The biggest time-sink so far has been reconditioning the old, rusty, steel rims on the vehicle. Now, before I go any further, I will say that originally my plans were to upgrade away from the stock 13″ steel wheels and purchase 15″ alloy wheels and 195/50/R15 Potenza rubber. HOWEVER, I made the decision over the weekend to not ahead with that plan…simply because of cost. The 15″ upgrade would have cost me in the region of over a grand. Money which I don’t really want to spend so early on in the piece. Looking at the current 175/70/13 tyres, they are actually in great shape, so I figure why not go with these for the first rally stage. So with that decision made, I decided to recondition the steel wheels; this involved rust removal and repainting them in a flat white. I also applied tyre lettering. This ended-up costing me peanuts compared to doing a tyre and wheel upgrade. But the downside was, it took almost half the weekend to complete just these items. And of course, the tractive benefits from the 13″ wheel package may not be as great as a 15″  upgrade, but again, cost is the main driving factor here and all that said, I am very happy with the way the wheels and tyres have turned-out! They really make the vehicle pop in the looks department!

– I started stripping out more of the rear interior trim pieces. The rally rules state that front door trims are required however, so those aren’t going anywhere, but anything in the rear can go (as far as possible). This should help save some more weight!

– I performed an oil change on the vehicle. Including using a genuine Hyundai oil filter. Oil is Penrite 20W-60…for maximum protection/oil pressure under the strains of a rally. Good choice I think. The engine only needs 3.3 litres of oil! Plenty spare for top-up in the 5 litre oil container I purchased.

– Over the weekend I also purchased a new genuine SPARCO gear-knob and some seat covers. You may laugh at these additions, but they will hopefully serve to preserve the re-sale of the car as well as hopefully making it look the part. The gear knob itself is pretty fancy as a rally-inspired piece.

– I refreshed the wiper arms by removing rust and re-painting in a nice matte black paint.

– I also re-painted the front grille a nice matte black to refresh it.

– Aside from this, I have started on the stickers! There will be stickers for the names of the driver (me!) and my co-driver.

These items may not seem like much but believe me, they took a whole weekend to do; especially the preparation and painting of the wheels and tyre lettering…both of which I guess were most cosmetic than anything else, but still! They help the vehicle look the part…haha. Costs for the above number around the $230 mark for those wondering.

The key thing to bear in mind with this entire project…is COST. This is a BUDGET BUILD for an AMATEUR rally stage. :)

And finally, as of today, I have officially entered the rally! This includes the entry fee and licenses for both myself and my co-driver. All-in, around $250 of extra expense.

So what’s next on the list? Tomorrow (25th April), my co-driver will be coming to visit the workshop and view/work on the vehicle for the first time. It will be nice to not work solo for a change. :) When he visits, we will first go shopping and spend some more hard-earned cash however. :)

Some of the items we will purchase are listed below:

– Purchase at least one 1kg fire extinguisher – this is very important and part of the requirements to enter the rally!

– Purchase of a reflective safety triangle – another important requirement for the rally.

– Purchase of some spare drive belts for the engine. E.g. water pump and power steering belts. These are essential spares in case of failure during the stages.

– Possible purchase of a new air filter. Service records on the vehicle are spotty, and therefore best to have this changed-out.

– Possible purchase of headlight lens cleaner – the current lenses have seen better days! Maybe some spot lights to purchase if the wallet is feeling feisty…no promises however!

Once back in the workshop, we plan to carry out the following work on the vehicle:

– Installation of said fire extinguisher(s?) – a metal bracket and secure bolts are required. This will take a bit of time.

– Finalise removal of rear interior trim. This will serve to save ever more weight.

– Possible installation of some radiator protection; i.e. some mesh for the radiator perhaps.

– Removal of remaining “interior protrusions”. This is a requirement for the rally, that no sharp objects remain in the interior of the vehicle. With the rear seat gone, there are some brackets and hinges still bolted to the chassis; these will need to be removed to leave a flat floor.

– Possible Plastidip application to the interior front door trims and dashboard. I am thinking a nice matte black to match the real rally Hyundai Accent. This will take some time but hopefully serve to really make the interior look the part.

– Possible mounting of a GoPro into the interior cabin of the vehicle. This has been approved by the rally organisers.

– Continuation of stickers/decals! The most fun part of course. :)

Looking ahead, on Wednesday, the vehicle is going in for a full coolant flush of the engine and radiator. Then on Saturday, the vehicle is booked-in for a 2″ sports exhaust from cat-back. :) There will sure to be updates at that time! Hopefully including a video. :)

On the following Sunday (30th April), with a lot of the work completed on the vehicle, I plan to drive it to an isolated area (sorry, no telling where!) and perform a ‘shakedown’ to test the vehicle out and put it through its paces with my co-driver. This will also be a good time to test our team dynamic in the car and perhaps make notes of any further improvements to be made before the actual rally starts on the 20th May.

I spoke to one of the rally organisers today, and they have allowed a GoPro installation to be made inside the vehicle cabin! So perhaps this will be sorted in-time for the shakedown for some quality footage to be provided to you all.

Anyway, that’s pretty much it for this update! For those who don’t yet know, I have started a GoFundMe page on the vehicle! Any and all donations are appreciated! We have, of this writing, already received our first generous donation of $30 so we profusely thank for donator for this contribution! This can go towards our fire extinguisher. :)

If you’d like to contribute, please do, at the following URL. Again, any amount is much appreciated!!! Your contributions will go towards making this vehicle the best it can be. :)


Before closing, the obligatory pictures of the latest happenings as described above. Until next time, enjoy!!

Note: the pictures below should be in chronological order, with the latest status of the vehicle shown in the very last photo below. Also note that I experimented with gold wheel rims at one stage…glad I didn’t go with them! I hope you agree. :)

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Rally Here We Come! (aka: what have I done???)

Since I was a teenager, I remember playing the video game – ‘Colin McRae Rally’ – on the various video game consoles and then on the PC and I remember dreaming what it would be like to one day drive my own rally car. Growing up since then, I regularly played other rally games and still the fire inside me burned. Here’s a memory of old which just struck me like a lightning bolt: ages and ages ago…I rounded a round-about under construction in my 2003 Hyundai Accent which was modified. The roundabout was all gravel, and whilst my Accent was near-new and very doted-after and shiny, as I negotiated the roundabout, I remember giving it some welly in 2nd gear and I distinctly remember the smile burn itself across my face as the front wheels did their thing and the car came around. Being that my Accent was in very good condition however, I never pursued my passion of rallying. But, interesting that that moment was seemingly forever ingrained in my memory…

WELL…fast forward about…hmm…a WHOLE DECADE…

The other week I was sitting at work, browsing the Internet (on my lunch break of course…) and suddenly came upon a forum where users described amateur car rallying. It was a Hyundai Excel rally forum. It instantly piqued my interest. Unfortunately however, the events were all held anywhere else but in my state (which is Western Australia). My hopes dashed, once again thinking that our state never gets anything fun…I then came upon www.rallyaction.com.au!

I found out that they recently built a track in WA and had already run the first rally round in March 2017! And better yet…round 2 was scheduled for May! Only about a month away!! After scouring their web page and taking-in as much info as I could, I rang the event organiser on the phone and had a nice chat about the event in more detail. After confirming some of my queries, I was happy to proceed!

So naturally, I went online and started looking for vehicles…I initially looked at Hyundai Excels…I’m a bit of a ‘Hyundai Nerd’ (the original, according to some of my friends), so of course I was going to try to fly Hyundai’s flag as much as possible. I found a great candidate in one Hyundai Excel. It seemed perfect, good paint, low mileage, and VERY CHEAP – $1,200 cheap! I phone the seller, however it seemed that I had missed it by only hours, as the seller mentioned that it was literally just sold 30 minutes earlier!

My hopes dashed – for the second time – I went-on to look at other vehicles…and somehow…came upon a 2001 Hyundai Accent. In Silver (one of my favourite colours). I learnt to drive in one of these cars too…so naturally I guess I had an affinity for them. Sure, it was priced at $2,000, but that price was still manageable. Plus I figured I could probably knock the seller down a few hundred.

I messaged the owner, who stated it was still available, so off I went then, to take a look…at 6.30 pm in the evening, when it was well-dark!

The couple I bought it off were nice enough. The wife was obviously sad to see it go, but hey, I’ve been in that position more than once now and I definitely know the feeling. Apparently, it was her car that she learnt to drive in and they apparently owned it for eight years.

In case you’re asking why an Accent, well, this car once featured in the WRC (quite successfully, I might add). I doubt I will reach such lofty heights as the WRC with this vehicle, but hey, it’s a start, right?

The vehicle is a bit rough around the edges paintwork-wise (clear-coat deteriorating on some panels and lots of bumps and scratches, but mechanically, it seems robust enough. The best thing is, the car only has 163,000 odd kms on it! For a 2001 vehicle, this is quite good! Whilst the service history is severely lacking, the oil colour in the engine is still golden and the oil change sticker on the windshield indicates an oil change required at 167k kms…so not bad! Unfortunately, the coolant is another story…it’s basically water! But not too rusty or muddy from what I can tell. Still, I intend to get that changed out ASAP and flushed and replaced with quality coolant.

Otherwise, the vehicle drives fine. As aforementioned, because I learnt to drive in a vehicle just like this, so memories came flooding back as I bought the car and drove off! The best part, I knocked the seller down from the advertised price of $2k to $1,800. That’s $200 in my pocket to pay for the rally entry fee…which is, incidentally, $200!

Within minutes of getting the car home that night, I started stripping-out the interior…this included removing the rear seat and parcel shelf trim. The spare tyre and basic tools as well as some spare oil will have to stay, given the nature of rallying…better to be safe than sorry!

This car has a princely 100-ish horsepower, is front-wheel-drive, but only weighs sub-1000 kg in factory trim (I think the official figure is somewhere around 960 kgs). I figure that stripping it down will save me about 40-50 kg and with some skillful driving, I should have a fighting chance…especially when I read that round one of the Gravel Action Sprint was actually won by a Ford Laser – a front wheel drive vehicle – in a field of turbo all-wheel-drive and rear-wheel-drive cars! So I figure, I should hopefully have a fighting chance…once I get my driving experience up to task, that is!!

All that said, I should note that I don’t intend to fully ‘soup-up’ this vehicle…even though I may sometimes refer to it as the ‘Rally Beast’ haha…this is more just a vehicle to ‘get my feet wet’ in the rally world and who knows where it may take me if I like rallying more than I already think I do!

Here’s some links to the rally event I’m entering and the organisers:



Also, here’s a video summary of round one, where you will see the winner of the rally, a Ford Laser…

I will close this introductory post here, save for including a few photos…more updates soon! Enjoy!

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Paint Shop – Wilesco D320 Steam Lorry

Further to my most recent post detailing the acquisition of my Wilesco Steam Lorry, here is a follow-up post showing some of the minor modifications (all cosmetic) that I’ve performed of-late.

I’ve decided to take to the model with a paintbrush (well, aerosol can) and spruce-up the colour scheme somewhat. I found there was a little too much brass and other ‘conflicting’ colours on board, so I set about changing some of these finishes to give the model a more ‘professional’ look.

What was (re)painted

Listed below are the items I’ve re-painted so far:

  • RC receiver/battery box (painted a more-realistic wood brown – the wood texture was already molded into the plastic!)
  • Drive chain & drive cog (painted a semi-gloss black to remove the toy-ish brass look [not to mention the cheap ‘necklace’ look of the original brass chain!!])
  • Wheels and hubs painted semi-gloss black to better balance out the colour scheme (in my opinion, this change immediately transforms the model into looking like a ‘proper’ scale Lorry)
  • Rear axle painted flat black (except for the top-most surface – I wasn’t too sure if painting it completely would hinder the radio signal range as there is a ground wire (signal wire ?) connected to it from the RC receiver box
  • RC steering rod (flat black)

What’s next (maybe!)

Whilst I don’t want to make any promises, I do intend to actually re-visit the green colour scheme on the main body panels and cab and see what else I can achieve there.

My thoughts at the moment are a more dark green (think British Racing Green) rather than the colour shade the Lorry currently has.

Once I’ve done this, I may well choose to lose the golden plaque at the front of the Lorry (jury is still out on this however) and attempt some stencil lettering and perhaps if I’m feeling ambitious, attempt some pin-striping around the cab body panels. I may also choose to darken or otherwise stain the light wooden panels around the rear cargo tray and/or attempt further stencil lettering there also.

For the time being however, I thought this post would serve well to update on you on what I’ve achieved with the Lorry so far.


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Steam Lorry! – Wilesco D320 (Initial Run Review)

So it’s that time of year again, the time when I normally lose control of my wallet, perhaps. This year was particularly unforgiving, especially seeing as I’d just spent a bunch of cash on the 3/4″ Maxitrak Allchin all the way from the UK.

Nevermind, the heart wants what the heart wants and so here is the outcome/result/consequence:

The Wilesco D320 Steam Lorry!

What have I done…

So after reading some fairly mixed reviews of this Wilesco live steam vehicle for some weeks, I had finally settled on it (with some persuasion from my loving wife – aren’t I ‘lucky’ or doomed!?). It was basically a toss-up between this, or the Wilesco D305 Fire Engine. In the end, it seems the (much more expensive) Steam Lorry won out…

This is the third Wilesco I own in my collection now (the other two being the D405 Traktor and the D365 Steam Roller), and I must say, after having owned this Lorry for just-on 24 hours, and only having it run it once so far, it’s a keeper!! To put it into some perspective, price-wise, it is about double the cost of any Wilesco live steam model I’ve owned previously, and about half the cost of the 3/4″ Maxitrak Allchin Tractor (which is, rightly so, still in a league of its own).

Read on for a more detailed review of this beast!

What’s under the hood

The Wilesco D320 Steam Lorry is powered by Wilesco’s standard single cylinder steam engine, vertically mounted, and plumbed to a rather attractive brass upright-style boiler, allowing the engine to be driven with less issue over gradients.

The engine is actually mounted inside the driver’s cab towards the rear and is mounted centrally and longitudinally on the frame of the Lorry. The crankshaft passes rearwards to the externally-mounted flywheel which is mounted just outside the rear of the cab, again longitudinally.

From the flywheel, there is a pinion which meshes with a larger spur gear (both the pinion and spur are PLASTIC however they appear to be made of good quality plastic, similar to those gears seen in RC cars). From the spur gear,  a pair of bevel gears (again plastic) rotate the drive 90 degrees so that the resulting drive shaft protrudes just fore of the left hand rear wheel. A simple chain drive arrangement then carries the drive the rest of the way to the left rear wheel, the only wheel of which is driven.

All-in, the drive train seems fairly robust and should be able to cope with the stresses of driving not only the Lorry, but of any additional loads and trailers that may be attached in future.

The frame (or base if you will) of the Lorry seems sturdy enough as well and has very little flex considering the overall weight of the empty Lorry (3.1 kg according to Wilesco).

I will get to the actual performance a bit later in this post, but suffice to say that the little single-cylinder steam engine does a good-enough job of powering this behemoth along even with load in the rear tray, but this does come at a cost of a LOT of Esbit fuel tablets!!

Control system

As I purchased the model (only yesterday!) one of the gents behind the counter exclaimed “A radio-controlled steam engine! Who would have thought of that 20 years ago!”. And rightly-so, Wilesco haven’t done too terribly by fitting their radio-controlled unit to this model, as standard equipment. It only actuates the steering system of the Lorry, but the idea is that once the throttle is set and the fire is stabilised with a good head of steam onboard, one can simply sit/stand nearby and issue commands courtesy of the 40Mhz radio unit and guide the Lorry on its desired path, without having to constantly chase after the model to steer it this way and that. You even get indicators that blink when issuing left/right turn commands!

Now, before I go too much further, this is perhaps the only part of the model that didn’t exactly win me over 100% when I first un-boxed it. I certainly had some teething issues which I will go into shortly…

I had read of issues others had encountered with the RC system and I promptly encountered the same (and more! :() upon loading the RC unit with fresh batteries and trialling it out on the dinner table (well before I intended to steam the model itself).

The main issue (that I had already known about) was that the servo motor in the RC box wasn’t up to the task of steering the wheels left and right with the full, stationary weight of the Lorry loaded upon front wheels (it must also be noted that this was even before I had filled the boiler full of water, so in theory, it wasn’t at its full weight just yet either). Not only that, but left turns resulted in the long steering rod flexing rather alarmingly, caught between the resistance of the steering system and the torque that the little servo motor was trying to exert.

OK, not a big issue I thought…as once the Lorry was moving the steering system should work OK, and I tested this as well by rolling the Lorry along by hand before steaming it up and trying-out the steering.

BUT, the next issue (that I honestly wasn’t prepared for!) was that left turns seemingly did not register when commanded from the handheld radio control unit. I fiddled with the antennae, checked the ground connection, battery levels, orientated the controller this way and that around the model, all to no avail. Right turn commands would be registered just fine however, so it seemed the issue lay in the handheld unit itself, rather than a control signal/receiver unit issue perhaps.

So, after about 30min of fiddling (including trying completely different batteries) I was close to considering calling up Wilesco/my local hobby store, when I decided to take the plunge and dismantle the handheld radio control unit. :o

Once I had the covers off the handheld unit and was left staring at its internal circuit board, I found the issue fairly quickly and I’m glad I did: basically the plastic fitment of the controls prevented the steering control stick from travelling far enough to close the contacts for the left turn switch inside the controller!! The fix was to remove the bulbous control stick (they simply pull-off) and file down the plastic so that it could travel slightly further before it contacted the external casing of the controller – we’re talking millimeters here.  A quick test whilst everything was apart confirmed that left-hand turns were now registering 100% reliably and without issue, and I proceeded to screw everything back together. Yippee!

So, after all that head scratching and fretting, I had the control system issues under control (pun not intended!) and I was ready to steam!!!

Steam up!

So what’s it like steaming-up this big Wilesco Lorry and driving it around? I’ve placed my thoughts below, from initial preparation, to steam-up, to after-run!

The boiler takes almost 200ml of water, which, while somewhat on the low-side compared to Wilesco’s other models, is just reasonable in practice. I use filtered water from a food-grade charcoal filter, with perhaps a touch of tap water added (but only a touch!). (note: I am seriously considering purchasing a water distiller soon, as proper “distilled” water is almost impossible to find around my area.)

The boiler is fitted with an unconventional sight glass setup which I’m not particularly fond of, but it’s better than no sight glass at all: the sight glass(es) actually consist of two ‘port-holes’ mounted vertically (one a short distance above the other) on the side of the boiler. The idea is that you fill the boiler until water appears in the upper-most sight glass. Then as you steam about, you watch the water level until it reaches the lower glass, and that’s when you know it’s time to shut her down and refill the boiler or end the run. That’s the theory; in practice, it works just OK, and involves a bit of head-scratching at times to ensure the water level is sufficient. From what I’ve ascertained so far, there’s about 50-60ml of water remaining in the boiler when it appears in the lower sight glass – a good time to abandon the fire!

Anyway, more on that later. Once the water is filled into the boiler, I close off the boiler by fitting the safety valve, give the valve a quick pull to verify it’s not stuck, then make preparations to oil-up, followed by lighting the fire!

Oiling-up is fairly standard per the other Wilesco live steam engines; open the jet oiler, fill with steam oil, (I use about 4 drops for a 20 minute run-time), then oil with standard car-engine oil all around the drive train and moving parts (it’s worth noting that I do not use mineral oil on the plastic gears, but instead a light application of silicon oil).

The fuel/fire aspect of the model is supplied by Esbit fuel tablets and these are fairly standard across the board for Wilesco models.

The act of raising steam doesn’t take a very long time, but it helps to fill the boiler with warm water beforehand, and this also saves on fuel tablets. As steam builds, one can watch the handy steam pressure gauge on the front of the boiler; it’s calibrated in ‘Bar’ measurement and is red-lined at 1.5 bar (about 22 PSI) – a far cry from the 60 PSI beast that is the Maxitrak Allchin! All the same, once the gauge registers about 0.5 bar, the engine can start to be run, but don’t expect to carry any type of load or pull trailers until there’s at least 1 bar on the gauge, from my experience so far. That leads to one other minor gripe I have with this model, and that is that it cannot be run in ‘neutral’ gear – one must raise the left rear wheel slightly in order to run it stationary. No biggie, but nonetheless a slight annoyance; a suitably-fashioned stand sorts that issue out.

Once up to pressure and ready-to-roll, open the steam regulator slightly and flick the longitudinally-mounted flywheel clock-wise (when viewed from the rear of the cab) and after a few seconds of initial condensate clearing-out, she splutters into life!!!

The radio-control functionality when the Lorry is underway also proved to be a non-issue, as all my earlier frustrations faded-away – left and right turns were issued without any problems even from several metres away. I was running the Lorry on a concrete driveway with several of the usual concrete gaps and the Lorry traversed these with no issue. At one stage though, I did find the single driving wheel lose traction as the Lorry traversed a slightly uneven portion of the driveway!!! The driving wheel spun aimlessly whilst the Lorry had come to a halt! Because a lot of the weight is focused on the front wheels, it does pay to load the rear tray with some form of weight, and perhaps bias the weight towards the left hand side over the rear axle, as the frame flexes very little and with no suspension to speak of, it’s rather easy to lift the driving wheel, even with all the traction that its rubber tyre normally affords it.

The sounds and smells as the Lorry drives is somewhat typical to a Wilesco, but there’s a special connection I feel when I drive this Lorry; for one, with a loaded tray and the somewhat limited boiler capacity, it causes one to think ahead and ensure there is enough fire onboard to maintain the pressure – especially outdoors! That, and the fact that it has cracking good looks as it drives about also helps too!

From a utility point-of-view, the pulling-power from the Lorry once at full steam pressure is quite reasonable indeed and the well-thought-out gearing allows for powerful output and realistic scale speeds to be achieved, with certainly enough power to carry moderate loads and trailers; the challenge is however, in maintaining the head of steam…

Whilst some have noted that the boiler cannot provide sufficient steam for hauling the Lorry at a reasonable speed, in my initial run I have found that it does OK, but the Lorry certainly eats up the Esbit tablets! So much so that I am *very close* to naming this Lorry “The Gobbler”!  I went through about seven of the newer, larger Esbit fuel tablets during my initial run last night (the run lasted about 30-40 min and consisted of several ‘intermissions’ along the way to top-up the boiler and re-oil). So yes, definitely a model to run when your Esbit collection is rather large and well-stocked! This is especially so if running the Lorry outdoors, with any semblance of wind or breeze present. An aftermarket or add-on gas burner may be the way forward with this model, as others have also suggested, but all in all, the Esbits do not provide a terrible experience from what I’ve seen so far.

Two items I’d definitely recommend to those looking at purchasing this Lorry are 1) a stopwatch or other suitable timer and 2) a powerful handheld light source.

Both of the above items will help keep track of the water in the boiler, as it can be easy to lose track and not be certain as to the water level once it has dropped so its between the upper and lower sight glass port-holes. It’s also helpful to partly-fill the boiler and get to know the look of the portholes when they have (and don’t have!) water behind them. There is a slightly different look to the glasses in each scenario and I’ve also found that an intense handheld light allows one to see very fine water bubbles/particles behind the port hole glasses and this helps retain confidence that there is still water in the boiler!!

After a run, the cleanup involved is fairly straightforward. It’s worth noting however that there is a SEPARATE exhaust pipe for the steam; it does not get routed into the chimney as per some other Wilesco models, because the boiler actually has a central flue which is integral to the chimney, which helps in raising steam (and dropping the steam exhaust/condensate into there would put-out or otherwise disrupt the fire in fairly short order).

It’s pretty cool to see the exhaust steam exit from the right hand side of the Lorry as you drive along. At one point during my run, noting that I needed to stoke the fire and being too lazy to remove the burner slide, I momentarily removed the spark arrestor atop the chimney (CAUTION: EXTREMELY HOT! WEAR STURDY GLOVES!!) and added chunks of Esbits straight down the chimney/boiler flue and into the burner tray and then quickly replaced the spark arrestor. To my initial horror, this resulted in a touch of flames appearing out of the chimney and maybe a spark or two! The spark arrestor on top of the chimney did a great job of keeping these outbursts under control though and the spectacle only lasted a short moment (unfortunately I have no photographic goodness/evidence of the event – you’ll have to take my word for it!) – not a recommended way of running I’m sure though – and make sure you have enough water in the boiler if you do this!!!


So in closing, a very attractive (and perhaps ambitious) model from Wilesco, with some reasonable power given its sheer size and weight, but not without some (mostly) minor annoyances.

Given a larger-capacity boiler, a proper sight glass, a larger burner surface and a more-powerful/robust RC system, this could have been an absolute winner, but even without these, it’s still a worthy item for any live steam engine collection, if a little pricey.

Notwithstanding everything else, it certainly looks very imposing on the shelf at the end of each day and I think that ownership of one of these Lorries certainly signifies that you’ve “made it”…in the world of Wilesco live steam engine ownership anyway. :D


Of course, I cannot close this post without a collection of photos! Enjoy!

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Wilesco Product Page (D320 Steam Lorry): http://wilesco.de/wilesco/index.php?id=164&L=1

Quality Steam Tractor! – 3/4″ Maxitrak Allchin

It’s been a while since my last update; as usual life has its way of taking over!

I wanted to post however to update on my recent Christmas present – for myself (which I’ve unboxed from the packaging before December mind you!).

I recently purchased a Maxitrak Allchin; this is a 3/4 inch scale live steam model prototype based off a real-life example built by Allchin in the well-known “Globe” steam works, way back in 1893.

This is the first live steam model I’ve purchased in a LONG while, my last was a Wilesco traction engine way back in 2011 (or was it earlier?). Until this point my live steam model collection consisted of two Wilescos (both of which I believe I have blogged about in the past on this very blog): one steam roller, and the aforementioned tractor. For a period of time in the recent past, I had been lusting over the quality D.R. Mercer engines, however I couldn’t quite bring myself to purchase one. It was only recently that I became aware of the Allchins, and after hearing them run in various videos on YouTube, I became hooked with just how realistic they sounded! And after hearing this thing run first-hand, I must say, it seems like the Maxitrak Allchin is probably the most realistic-sounding live steam model in the 3/4 – 1″ scale bracket (and price range!).

So yes, I’ve only had this model for just over a week and I must say, WOW, I am so glad I held out for this! It’s certainly a steam engine and a half, and for what you pay (about 875 GBP/$1,600 AUD in my case), it’s certainly good value for money. Some of its features include:

  • Quality silver-soldered boiler rated to 60 PSI (includes boiler test certificate to 150 PSI)
  • Realistic design and liveries
  • Forward/reverse valve gear lever (with working Stevenson’s Valve Gear arrangement)
  • Boiler pressure gauge
  • Boiler water level sight glass
  • Quality butane gas tank and burner (again with a test certificate)
  • Solid rear axle driving both rear wheels
  • Spoked wheels with rubber tyres
  • Wonderful paint finish and overall quality/fitment of parts

Customs ‘issues’

Importing an item of this type and value always poses risks, and particularly so with Australia’s (overly?) protective Customs agency, however after a whole week of being laid-up at the destination airport and approximately $300 worth of duty and taxes later, the Allchin was mine! I must commend DHL on their handling of the shipment along with management of the Customs requirements. In the end I had agreed that the item was NOT for commercial use, and that it was essentially, in DHL’s words “a prototype only, for demonstration purposes”….all of which is essentially true. All told I am happy that I ended up gaining possession of this fine model, especially given how much I had spent on it!


The un-boxing process is always fun and I’ve documented here at the bottom of this post, in a series of photos which I hope you will enjoy. The model came VERY well-packaged and I must also thank Maxitrak/Maidstone Engineering for their awesome customer service and handling of my order. They replied to all my emails promptly and were always on-hand to assist with my queries.

Included together with the tractor inside my package, were some additional bits and pieces which I ordered (and I even received a 20% discount on these additional items!). The additional bits consisted of:

  • A “starter kit” (consisting of water/oil syringes, long-nose lighter and a 200ml bottle of quality steam oil
  • A “plate set” (several quality-machined metal plates and number plates, including a boiler “wash out” plate
  • A “gas valve adapter” which enables fitment to screw-top butane gas canisters

All these parts came neatly and safely packaged inside the box which arrived as part of my shipment. I will let the photos do the talking below, but the packaging of the actual tractor itself was very-well handled too, and the model was securely mounted on a sturdy wooden plate with metal straps securing the rear wheels. A large amount of foam was also used to cushion the model from the rigours of shipping that it was bound to have encountered on its long journey from Kent, UK to Perth, Australia.

Fuel woes?

It’s worth mentioning that this model runs on BUTANE gas. Not something I was extremely familiar with until now; so, you could imagine how I was more than a little nervous with how I was going to go about running this machine let alone acquire the required gas from local stores/outlets. Rest assured, I have managed to overcome any hurdles associated with running the butane fuel and I have since found a store which supplies the fuel in reasonable quantities.

For those living in Australia who may be reading this, PLEASE ensure you purchase screw-top butane gas canisters if you wish to run this model; the more-prevalent (and unfortunately cheaper) “push-in” type canisters are not particularly useful with this model, unless you can get your hands of a suitable plastic adapter, or otherwise if the included gas nozzle is long-enough to fit down into the recess of the gas filler. For best peace of mind however, simply purchase a screw-top butane canister, and use Maxitrak’s gas valve adapter (email Maxitrak for this), and you should be all set! As a side-note, most Bunnings outlets sell the “Primus” butane screw-top canisters in their “Tool shop”, so the fuel is quite readily available.

Having been used to running Esbit fuel tablets for all of my live steam model experience so far, I must say that the butane gas fuel is very clean and much more trouble-free. The only thing is, the wife doesn’t approve of running it in the house unlike my Wilescos which will easily (and much more quietly!) run in the house all day without much issue. The smell from the Esbits aren’t particularly pleasant either, however given the more “realistic” nature of the Allchin, and the fact that it runs at higher pressures and likely higher temperatures, it certainly doesn’t lend itself well to running inside as well as a more ‘toy-like’ Wilesco. In short, the Allchin smells, sounds and behaves (with all its hissing and popping and smoking) like a REAL steam tractor! Just note, you will most likely need to run it outside…haha…

Fire in the hole!

Before running any live steam model, it’s necessary first build up a head of steam pressure in the boiler. It’s assumed that you, careful reader, are somewhat familiar with the workings of a steam engine so I won’t go fully in the details here, lest to say that you basically need a) water, b) fire and c) oil, to run a steam engine successfully. And NEVER run out of water if you can help it!! No scratch that, NEVER run out of water PERIOD!

The process of fuelling-up the butane gas tank on this tractor is straightforward – simply fit the gas valve to the screw-top canister, invert, and press firmly onto the gas valve on the tractor’s gas tank. After only about 30 seconds, you have a tank-full of gas ready to last approximately 20 minutes (about one run). From there, run through the usual preparation process of adding water to the boiler – reference the sight glass – no need to fill more than 3/4 full – (about 3.5 syringes full if using the supplied water-filling syringe), re-fit the safety valve, add steam oil to the lubricator, lubricate the valve gear and other moving parts with ordinary car engine oil, check the free moment of all parts, set mid-gear on the reversing lever, close the regulator and light the fire!

You are rewarded with a satisfying “WHOOSH” as you light the fire on this engine, and it is here that you must apply particular caution, as careless (and glove-less) fingers can get burnt if not careful. Lighting the fire consists of holding the open flame from the long-nose lighter under the front of the smoke box (immediately above the front axle) and twisting the gas valve open slightly until you hear the flame take hold. Gloved hands and a long-nose lighter are definitely recommended here! It is also possible to light the flame by removing the smoke box lid first, however this way is a little more cumbersome.

Once the fire is going, the ferocity of the flame can be easily controlled by using the gas valve on the gas tank of the tractor. When everything is still cold however (including the burner), the control of the burner setting is a little more crude, and you need to add a little more gas to keep the fire going, but it must be said that avoiding too high a heat when the machine is still cold is a good idea, to prevent any shock heating. After a moment or two, once the burner has settled to a nice toasty medium and the machine itself gets warm, you can further adjust the burner setting as required and you can generally reduce the gas valve setting back down towards the ‘off’ position and keep it there for the entire run (unless you intend on pulling particularly heavy loads!). At this setting, I’ve found that the gas will easily outlast the water in the boiler and extreme caution must be taken to ensure one does not run out of water before the fire, lest the expensive boiler gets damaged!

Side-note: so far I have been running the gas tank on the minimum setting, and the boiler gauge always seems to creep up to its rated 60 PSI limit before the safety valve begins popping off – this is even whilst operating in-gear with the tractor towing a scale load (a Wilesco tractor in my case!). There is an air intake adjustment on the burner however, so I may try tweaking this so that the burner produces less heat on the minimum setting; this may entail running the burner “richer” perhaps.

Running the machine!

So! What’s it like running this beast? Well, as aforementioned in the paragraph above, the Allchin DEFINITELY offers a more “realistic” steaming experience, and it certainly sets itself apart from the more “toy-like” steam engines, such as the Wilescos and perhaps the Mamods (the latter of which I have no experience with), so respect is definitely required here when running this machine – although this could be said of any live steam model. We have boiling water, steam and in most cases, live flames at play, so be careful!

With all that said, the Allchin is an absolute PLEASURE to run. I have been running timed trials and so far each run consists of about 15-20 minutes of pure steaming pleasure. This time excludes the 5-6 minutes that it takes to actually build steam as well.

Once the steam pressure has begun to rise and the steam gauge begins to register, engage forward (or reverse!) on the reversing lever, open the regulator slightly and give the flywheel a few helping turns…after a few rotations (there is almost always a few seconds required whilst the engine clears itself of any condensate) the engine will begin running on its own and you will hear that characteristic “chuff-chuff” sound begin!

It is generally here that I hit the “start” button on the stopwatch to begin keeping time of the run. I’ve found doing this to be very important, as you’ll read on shortly.

After running this way in neutral for a few minutes, I will engage the gears of this fine machine and begin driving. It certainly drives very smoothly, and doesn’t exhibit any of the cheap-ish sounding “clanging” and “tinking” sounds that the cheaper toy live steam models may exhibit. The motion runs very smooth and with very little play in the parts. This all contributes to the model sounding very nice indeed.

My only slight dislike with this model is the fact that it has a solid rear axle, with no differential. Most models have either a single-driving rear wheel, or (in the case of the more expensive models), an actual differential unit. Unfortunately the Allchin has none of the above, and combined with the high-grip rubber treads, this means that turns normally result in a bit of skidding and slipping from the rear wheels. Now, before I am taken the wrong way, this in no great way detracts from this model, and it may simply be the case of my model still being new and “tight”, but turns in the Allchin generally require a little more application of the steam regulator. I have actually read that there is a degree of “play” in the rear wheels, but from my experience so far, this isn’t a great amount. Nonetheless, turns can still be achieved, and at worst, they probably only involve a bit of scrubbing of the rubber tyres and little else.

I am actually grateful for the solid rear axle, as once you open the regulator up with a full head of steam, the amount of pulling power from the rears is something to be experienced to be believed. There are some out there that believe that this model pulls like the proverbial mule, and they are not wrong! I have no doubt that this model could pull along a small child or somewhat lean adult!

Keeping a stopwatch recording the run time (as aforementioned) comes in particularly handy, as the water sight glass can sometimes lie (or shock) when it suddenly drops in water levels reported. I generally get a good 15-20 minutes of actual run time from this model and from my limited experience so far, I’ve found that as soon as the water level begins to straddle the lower reaches of the gauge, it’s a good time to shut off that burner!

Believe me though, the temptation to keep running can sometimes be quite trying, but I’d rather play it safe than sorry. Running a boiler out of water is no fun and I’ve (thankfully) yet to experience such an event with any of my live steam models…and I intend to keep it that way!

One other thing to note is that this machine gets HOT during the run (about 150 degrees C on the sides of the boiler as measured by my digital temperature gauge), so gloved hands are a must, and I have also found that the regulator knob is quite stiff from the factory, and this knob gets ultra hot too (to the point of burning bits of clothed glove material off!), so for this, I have found that an old RC model wrench from my RC model car days has come in very handy indeed. You will see this wrench in the photos below – basically it allows me to fit it over the regulator knob and control the regulator easily using the wrench, so I avoid getting tinged, and I get slightly more leverage to twist the somewhat resistant knob as well (do exercise caution when closing up the regulator fully against its valve seat however – you do not want to damage it).

After-run procedures

Once the water has run low, and the burner is promptly shut-off, the tractor may run for another moment or two on residual steam pressure, and once the fine beast has run out of breath for another day, it’s time to cool her down and begin the process of cleaning up. This part of the run is actually quite therapeutic for me, and keeps me busy for easily another 30-60 minutes afterwards.

I will generally empty the boiler after a few moments of shut down (once all the steam pressure been exhausted that is!), to allow the boiler interior to dry from the residual heat and avoid any dampness from remaining. I will then keep the safety valve unfitted for several minutes to allow the boiler to air out, and begin wiping down the model to clean it.

I don’t particularly go to the lengths of keeping my engines in “showroom” cleanliness, but I don’t exactly like to keep them looking like they’ve just been run and tossed aside either! I guess I sit somewhere in between. At the end of the day though, I’m no stranger to a bit of spit and polish.


Enough of the blabbering! Below is a gallery of photos of this fine Allchin. I do hope you enjoy!

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LEGO – Fluid Drive Bus #6683 – It’s Alive!

So after several months of painstaking development and experimentation, my first (and hopefully not last?) fluid drive LEGO vehicle is now complete! I wasn’t certain whether or not I’d achieve this feat, of building a successfully, genuine, model of hydro-dynamic awesome-ness (if I may say so myself), but it seems I’ve done it and here it is!

For those interested in the ‘journey’ I’ve taken to get to this point, I’ve posted photos of the progress below, most of which you probably haven’t seen before. Unfortunately the earliest photo of the development I have, is from the 12 April 2014. It really is amazing how quickly things have moved, even though it has taken me about 6 months to complete this project. I can still remember the prototype chassis frame I ran through the house with a very early fluid coupling iteration. I wish I took photos back then! Oh well.

Of course, also included in this post are photos of the completed bus as it stands today.

‘In Progress’ Photo Gallery (Circa April-May 2014)

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‘Complete’ Photo Gallery!

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PDF Operator’s Manual:

Click here to access the PDF Operator’s Manual

Next steps

So where to from here? Aside from the mountain-load of plastic model kit boxes which currently await me in my hobby room, I think the ‘LEGO bug’ has well and truly bitten (for better or worse!). Sooo…I’m thinking that next on the agenda may well be another LEGO bus! Whether to utilise the wonders of fluid-drive or not for next time remains yet to be seen however.

One example of a bus I am eyeing-off at the moment is the famous Greyhound/GMC Scenicruiser. The very earliest (prototype?) version of this bus had TWO engines, driving through a fluid coupling to a 3-speed transmission with a 2-speed auxiliary transmission behind that, offering 6 speeds in total. Building this in LEGO would certainly be my next challenge…and if I chose to model the prototype, I’d be putting in two LEGO motors and probably TWO fluid couplings to ensure I extract the maximum power from those motors. Or, I could choose to model the later, more prevalent models of the Scenicruiser which had a standard clutch and transmission. Boring?? Haha. Time will tell…but I will be sure to keep you all posted here on this blog! I will close with a photo of a real-life Scenicruiser…


Sweet Sixteen! ‘Vintage’ LEGO Sees Light of Day

Here’s a blast from the past…!

I grew up in a coastal town here in Australia and one of the things I remember fondly in my teens, was a great old derelict truck that was abandoned on an empty lot not far from my regular cycling route.

Being a young, inquisitive lad, I spent quite a bit of climbing over this truck. At the time, I knew relatively little about how it got to be where it was – but needless to say, I was fascinated by the vehicle all the same (what little boy wouldn’t be?!). So it wasn’t long until I started building a LEGO rendition of this truck. A period of time after, I noticed that the truck disappeared, and the empty lot on which it had sat was re-developed – I remember feeling a bit saddened at the time – I had feared the worst, that the truck was taken away to be dismantled or wrecked.  This was about 16 years ago now – I would have been just 15.

Fast forward to today however, and this LEGO truck is a survivor and is still in (mostly) one-piece, albeit quite dusty and dirty…but rough and ready all the same – sitting lonely on my shelf. And as it turns out, the real-world counterpart is also a survivor as you’ll read below.

In reading about this LEGO model of mine and viewing the pictures below, please bear in mind that I was only a teenager when I built this model and there’s probably quite a few things I could have done better in building this truck but hey, it is what it is…a time capsule – a tangible record of my memories and LEGO-building skills back in 1998.


Before I go too much further, here’s a bit of back-story on the history of this truck (the real-world counterpart) that you might find interesting. It turns the truck I had been so obsessed with all those years ago was actually quite rare indeed – being one of only two in Australia.

As a bit of history, these trucks were known as Rotinoff Viscounts and were specially-built by Rotinoff of London. Only two (I believe) of the Viscount models were shipped to Australia (having been purchased by the Vestey Brothers organisation) and they spent their days transporting cattle to Vestey’s-own Dewhurst butchers all over the country. The trucks were hard-working, pulling several cattle trailers at once and were powered by mighty Rolls Royce engines.

The two Viscounts which entered Oz were named ‘Julie’ and ‘Jackie’. I seem to remember the faded-out name ‘Jackie’ on the example I climbed-over in my youth. It turns out that Julie has ended-up in the National Transport Hall Of Fame at Alice Springs, Northern Territory here in Oz, fully restored and by all accounts looking great. Unfortunately, Jackie, now also in the NT (having joined her sister) is still sitting derelict. Could be worse I guess.

I’m going to refrain from posting actual images of the real-world Viscount trucks directly in this post (to avoid any Copyright issues), however a simple Google search on “Rotinoff Viscount” should yield a reasonable amount of information (including photos) if you’re interested in finding out more. I’ve also placed just a few links at the bottom of this post.

 So what’s under the hood??

I’ve listed below, the features that my Rotinoff Viscount LEGO truck sports. Again, nothing too fancy mind – I was only 15! Some parts of the truck had been upgraded shortly following the initial build (and this build is actually “series 4″ – so I had clearly gone through a few iterations at the time also). Upgrades include the wheels and tyres for example, which were purchased some period after to replace the original wheels. Most of the running gear and body work however, is still present in its original, worn, pitted, chipped and dust-ridden glory (as you will notice in the pictures)!

It also worth mentioning that at the time, there was no ‘Power Functions’ LEGO motors or IR controllers (apart from the standard LEGO 9V motors and controls one could acquire – which was a little out of the budget for this then-15 year-old – I was lucky to have enough money and means to replace the worn axle shafts!). Thus, I resorted to pulling-apart old radio-controlled vehicles and raided them for their motors and other such parts of interest. This is why you’ll notice that this LEGO vehicle has been fitted with an electric motor that is perhaps a little too big for it! Nonetheless, it furnished the power requirements just fine, even if it was only powered by four 1.5 (or 1.2) volt batteries!

To furnish the requirements of remote-control, I fashioned a length of suitable-diameter PVC pipe, into which I fitted metal contacts and wires. The batteries would then be inserted into this pipe which would then serve as the hand controller – touch the wire to the end of the series of batteries and away you go! I do remember quite a few instances where I shorted-out the circuits/overloaded the motor and ended up with a slightly-singed fingertip where the wire I was pressing down heated up. :o Fun times indeed.

You’ll also see evidence of plastic tape wrapped around most of the rotating parts, the transmission and drive shafts for example – at the time (due to my very limited budget) I was quite worried about wear and tear and aimed to reduce this as far as possible. Buying new parts meant mail-order catalogue and a cumbersome money-order. These days, I generally just smear a very light coating of silicon oil on my LEGO models’ running gear to minimise wear – and I have BrickLink (and not to mention a reasonably-endowed PayPal account!) to satisfy my craving for spare or replacement LEGO parts!


  • Remote-controlled electric motor (from memory – a Mabuchi RS-540 running at approximately 5 VDC)
  • Two-speed sliding mesh manual transmission (gear lever located in truck cab)
  • Realistic ladder-frame LEGO Technic chassis frame
  • Solid front and rear axles
  • Realistic truck tires with ‘dualies’ fitted at the rear
  • Combination of Technic and ‘conventional’ LEGO brick styling
  • Novelty RPM gauge (runs off the vibration forces from the drive belt)

Keen observers will note that I have not included a tandem axle setup on the rear end, and the front end may not be a 100% (or even 90%) accurate rendition of the real-world Viscount counterpart. I had taken some artistic license in these respects, mostly because these features and accuracies proved just a little too impractical from a LEGO standpoint – back then (and I do emphasize back then).

This vehicle also does not have a functional steering system, and so basically the vehicle only runs straight ahead or backwards (if you flip the hand controller upside down to expel the batteries and re-insert them with opposite polarity that is!). Furthermore, the power level for the motor is not controllable, it’s either off or on. So, quite a simple little vehicle, but powered nonetheless.

Next steps

You’re probably thinking that this vehicle would be GREAT to revisit and revamp, but before I start looking at perhaps reconditioning some of the parts or even retrofitting a power functions kit (with steering perhaps?), I will first focus on getting the thing running!! At the moment the drive belt which attaches the motor to the transmission pulley is perished as you’ll see in the gallery below. My past-self was handy enough to place some spare belts on the rear of the cab, and depending on how kind time (and UV rays) has been to those spare belts, I will look at replacing the belt soon to get this vehicle up and going.

Following that, who knows…there may be a revival of sorts on the cards for this oldie! But part of me aches to see this model get revamped all the same; there is a certain charm to it at the moment…and some of that ‘vintage-ness’ (not a word I’m sure) would certainly be lost if I started upgrading or restoring it. Perhaps, like its real-world counterpart, ‘Jackie’, its fate is to live out its days in its original (somewhat derelict) shape after all…

I’ll close here with links to the real-world counterpart, followed by an image gallery of my LEGO vehicle. Once I get it up and running I will make a video perhaps of it in action!

PLUS: Also included below is a scanned-rendition of the tattered ‘Operator’s Instructions’ document which my 15-year-old self wrote, dated 30 August 1998 – which still survives to this day. As you can tell, I was big into writing even back then! ;) I’m sure I even wrote a detailed ‘shop manual’ about this model as well, however the Operator’s Instructions is all that it appears that I’ve managed to salvage.


Images of the scanned manual from 30/08/1998:

Cover Page Page 1 Page 2 Page 3








Links to the real-world counterpart(s):




Image Gallery of the LEGO model:

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LEGO Pneumatic Tractor Mk1

So here it is finally!

Over a year ago, I managed to build myself a prototype pneumatic engine out of LEGO, after viewing some examples on the Internet. I was quite chuffed that my initial version worked so well, that I even posted a video about it. Then it seems, nothing happened for a while. Well really, it did, I just neglected to blog about it!! :( So, here it is, the main model which resulted from my dismantling the LEGO Unimog kit I had blogged about a while back.


So what exactly is a pneumatic engine you might ask? Well, a long time ago, Lego came up with the idea of incorporating pneumatic cylinders into their kits. These are basically cylindrical rams powered by low-level compressed air and were designed to operate kits with crane arms and other such creations. It seems however, that Lego builders around the world (me included) will always find ways to re-purpose these parts and thus, the pneumatic engine is born. Looking on the Internet, there are quite a few different types of these engines, some operating at crazy-high, Lego part-melting RPMs. Others (such as mine), operating at more ‘reasonable’ levels of speed, and boasting steam-engine-like levels of torque. In this post I’ll give a ‘teaser-like’ overview of the main points of the tractor, but I do hope that related documentation and assets, such as the video at the end of the post and also the images will be able to do some of the talking too.

Also, be sure to check out the detailed Operator’s Manual which I’ve written for this tractor!! (link at the bottom of this post also)

How the pneumatic engine works

I have, as aforementioned, already written a very in-depth operator’s manual regarding this tractor, and so here’s an excerpt from the manual, which I think describes the principles of the pneumatic engine best:

The engine operates because a flow of compressed air is directed to each of the two cylinders in a predetermined sequence. Once compressed air reaches the inside of the cylinder, it is directed to push against a piston, as it has nowhere else to go. Each piston in a cylinder is connected to the engine’s crankshaft, which is forced to revolve as the pistons move up and down. Finally, the crankshaft is connected to the Tractor’s transmission.
The engine can continue to run as compressed air flow to a given cylinder alternates as the piston in that cylinder moves up and down.

As the piston reaches the bottom of a cylinder, compressed air is routed to the bottom of the cylinder to push the piston upwards.
When the piston reaches the top of the cylinder, the compressed air is routed to the top of the cylinder, pushing the piston down, and the cycle repeats as long as compressed air is supplied.
This is referred to as the ‘double-acting’ or ‘double-action’ process.

The result is a continuous rotation of the engine crankshaft, which is directed to the transmission, which then feeds power to the rear wheels.

Other components and systems

I saw fit to load this tractor with as many systems and components as I could, being that I had quite a lot of parts left-over from the dismantling of the Unimog. So, here’s a short list of the systems and features of this tractor, in addition to the pneumatic engine (I’ll mention the engine again anyway ;)):

  • Two-cylinder double-acting, non-reversible, pneumatic engine – runs on air alone
  • Two-speed forward and one-speed reverse constant mesh gearbox
  • Automatic pneumatic parking brake featuring twin-brake shoe design
  • Drag link steering system
  • Rear differential
  • Rear pneumatic-operated ram (actuates various accessories)

The Operator’s Manual I’ve written describes these systems (and more) in much greater – almost exhaustive – detail. Be sure to check it out (link at the end of this post)!


Here’s some pictures of the tractor as well as a video and a link to the very detailed Operator’s Manual. Enjoy!!

Dsc00846 Dsc00847 Dsc00848 Dsc00849 Dsc00851 Dsc00852 Dsc00854 Dsc00855 Dsc00856 Dsc00857 Dsc00858 Dsc00859 Dsc00861 Dsc00862 Levers

Link to the Operator’s Manual PDF

Where to now?

So what’s next at the Harman Motor Works? I am currently working on a remote-controlled Lego bus, to be based loosely off an AEC Regal MkIV single-decker. This Lego bus is fitted with my latest prototypical fluid drive coupling, of which I’ve also recently blogged about. I’m currently at a reasonably-advanced level of completion of this vehicle, having got the rolling chassis and box frame mostly complete. There is however still quite of bit of work to go. I will post an update or two on this blog over the coming weeks!

Here’s a sneak-peak at what the Harman Motor Works work-bench looks like at the moment:


LEGO – Fluid Drive Madness

So…ever since I was a wee lad, I dreamt of building one of these little contraptions, and yet, here it is, achieved, it seems. I should be over the moon right?? Well, I am. :)

So, here it is…the big reveal…a LEGO Fluid Drive Coupling…which actually works!!


I’m actually surprised how quickly I got to this point…but as you’ll see from the video at the bottom of this post, the darn thing works!


What on earth could I use such a coupling for you may ask? Well…the venerable London Routemaster bus used one successfully, as did many vehicles of the Chrysler Corporation all those years ago. And let’s not forget, today’s far-advanced cousin, the torque converter –  as seen in countless automatic transmissions – no doubt owes its very existence to the humble fluid coupling.

The advantage this coupling offers over a conventional dry plate friction clutch is smoothness – to the extreme. And you will see this touted no doubt in many old-time promotional materials and videos concerning fluid drives…smooth this, smooth that, no jerks in the drive-line, less wear and tear, etc, etc.

I actually got the idea whilst building my Revell Routemaster London Bus plastic model kit (yes that’s right, I’ve started building a model kit and haven’t yet blogged about it – naughty me!). So now much of my energy is being spent refining this fluid coupling of mine.

So let’s delve further into the technical details of this shall we?

How It Works

The basic principle of a fluid coupling is as follows: you have two elements opposing each other…the input and the output elements. These elements are NOT physically connected in any way whatsoever. The input element is the “driving” element – or pump – which is powered by an engine or motor. The output element is connected to the transmission and thus to the wheels (for example) of a vehicle and serves as the “driven” element – or turbine. The key component in a fluid drive is, as the name states, FLUID. Without fluid, the coupling would not function. It’s hard to imagine that such a flighty liquid could actually transmit torque and driving force, but this is in effect what is exactly happening in a fluid drive. There is of course bound to be a certain degree of slippage in the unit as a matter of principle, but after seeing this thing work “in real”, in LEGO form, I am utterly convinced that I can use this coupling to power my next LEGO model vehicle.

The old-time image below illustrates the principle of operation of the fluid couple. Here it is likened to two electric fans opposing each other. One plugged-in and running, the other stationary and off. The running fan produces airflow which is directed towards the opposing stationary fan, which actually causes it to rotate also. The principle of a fluid drive is the same, however instead of air, a fluid medium is employed (fluid, being much less compressible, can impart a greater amount of force and influence than air ever could).


So, the LEGO fluid coupling I have doesn’t actually need too much oil, it’s actually kept about a quarter-full which is just as well, because having it too full would mean greater incidence of oil leakage. The rear output shaft seal on my prototype isn’t that great you see, and so I have to play things cautiously.

What is great is the ‘welds’ I’ve achieved around the coupling case you may have noticed in the pictures so far. Crude as they may seem, they are actually quite sturdy and serve the hold the two halves of the casing together even while it spins around at great speed, with the centrifugal force of the oil pressing ever outwards against the join.

If you haven’t already gathered, the coupling case – in the prototype version at least – is simply two bottle-caps joined together, permanently (or semi-permanently) sealing the LEGO components in an (almost) leak-proof casing. The input shaft is actually bonded to the couple casing, so that the unit spins as one. As it does, oil inside gets flung about with great force, significantly influencing the rotation of the output shaft turbine, which is free-wheeling. It works surprisingly well in practice (it’s greatly exceeded my expectations) and I’m quite excited about it all.

I won’ t go too far into the technicalities here and unfortunately I don’t have pictures of the unit disassembled, but the video at the end of this post will hopefully help to show and explain just how this thing works.

Suffice to say, it works, and I’ll be doing my best to implement it into a vehicle and get it off the test bed.


As always, here’s a gallery with images and video to do the rest of the talking. Enjoy, and stay tuned for more (hopefully).

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