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Making a Heng Long Challenger 2 battle-ready - how much does it cost?

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Making a Heng Long Challenger 2 battle-ready - how much does it cost?

Old 06-10-2021, 05:59 PM
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Default Making a Heng Long Challenger 2 battle-ready - how much does it cost?

I have posted some of these photos in Tom Hugill's thread before, but never really gave this tank a thread of its own. Having found some additional photos stashed away in a forgotten folder, I finally have enough material to do so.

I am a modern tank nut - my last few tank acquisitions have all been modern, the T-55, a pair of Leopard 2A6, a pair of Abrams, etc. So naturally when Heng Long announced their Challenger 2, I got one. As I intended to go IR battling with it, that meant most of the innards would be removed and so I opted for the cheapest, most basic all-plastic version. ($200 including shipping). It was an exercise in finding out how cheaply I could put a HL tank onto the battlefield and have it be compliant to Tamiya battle standards. All prices quoted are in US dollars for ease of reference and dated from 2016.

Together with the other modern tanks in my motorpool at the time

As Heng Long electronics during that time were not Tamiya compatible, Clark's TK22 system got the nod, and I added his 3D printed recoil gearbox, which cost around $150. Finally, the Tamiya TBU apple itself, which was $100.

And so, in its most basic form, to make a Heng Long tank battle-ready, at least for me, is $450.

But as you might get the feeling, that's only half the story isn't it, because it is. This setup lasted me for only an afternoon's worth of IR gaming, because the plastic tracks stretched, causing track throwing issues, which led to the plastic clutches wearing out as well. But while it lasted, it was fantastic - the tank so light, and its tracks were broad, affording low ground pressure and great maneuverability. With the day cut short, its back to the maintenance depot then...

The PDSGB gearbox was new at the time, given that it worked like the other Tamiya gearboxes in my modern tanks, I got one. It was a well made piece of kit, but what I wasn't prepared for was the weight, which was so bad it sagged the rear end, and setting higher preloads in the rear springs didn't help much. In the end I scrounged the 4:1 unit from my Heng Long Abrams to make the suspension work ($130 for the PDSGB and $80 for the 4:1).

Dragging her butt on the ground

Using the highest settings for spring preload on the last three roadwheels didn't help much.

Fixing/adding a working track tensioner proved to be the most expensive part of the endeavor. DKLM RC had a beautiful CNC piece for $250, but with no other options I went for it. In for a penny, in for a pound! (I did find out Heng Long eventually revised the Challenger 2 to have a built-in track tension, you lucky people! I have always had good experience with Tamiya's Leopard 2A6 tracks, which are made of hybrid materials of high strength steel for the end links, plastic base with rubber pads, and I got a set for the Challenger ($90). The stock sprockets' teeth are of a different spacing, so a bespoke Challenger-style sprocket with Leopard teeth spacing was used ($50?).

The front hull was reinforced with epoxy to offer more rigidity (note how thin the plastic is)

Track tensioner in CAD

The mounts are machined brass, and the idler wheel is metal (not too sure if it was a metal 3D print or cast, due to the rough surface texture)

It was a waste to cover it with paint, but the tank needed to have a scheme.

Other nice features - a magnetic hub cap covers the axle stub. The idler wheel rides on ball bearings.

Challenger 2-style sprockets were made with Leopard 2 teeth spacing so that the tracks could be used

I did little aesthetic things as well, such as grinding the rounded LED bulbs in the headlights flat, even though they are not connected up.

The tank I elected to model was significant to me for two reasons, the first for having appeared in the UK motoring show Top Gear playing in the mud on Salisbury Plains with a Range Rover driven by Jeremy Clarkson. Though more than one tank was used in filming, Arethusa (DT23AA) was seen the most, and thus there was ample reference footage. The second, which I only found out later, was that it is also the last Challenger 2 produced:

Top Gear producers use a lot of filters and desaturation - actual photos were referenced in deciding the mid-00s color scheme

And so now she sits in all her glory, Arethusa of the Royal Tank Regiment.

To get her to this stage cost $920.

This is nearly as much as an equivalent Tamiya modern tank (full option L2A6 from RCJaz.com), except Tamiya doesn't make a Challenger (yet), which I feel is the bare minimum the tank needs, in order to perform as reliably as a Tamiya. I could have added metal roadwheels, a metal hull, or suspension kit to go with the PDSGB, and that would have taken the total spend even higher, not to mention aesthetic items like the add-on Chobham armour package. Aside from that, the only thing I found Heng Long superior is their rotation gearbox, which is much less fragile and finicky than Tamiya's WW2, and comparable to the ones in Tamiya's modern tanks.

But what's significant about this process is that the spending is incremental - instead of shelling out a grand or more, you start with $200, and add a couple of hundred now and then as you figure things out. Its less painful on the pocket for sure, but you spend more time tinkering and making things work together, as opposed to pulling parts off a sprue and screwing them together knowing that its a non-event, because they will simply fit and do the job. It is definitely different strokes for different folks!
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herrmill (06-11-2021), king_tubby (06-10-2021)
Old 06-10-2021, 10:43 PM
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I think many of us build our Tanks like that,
The total cost may be equal or more than its Tamiya equivalent but because the outlay is over a period of time the upgrades are more affordable than a one time layout of big bucks,
The best example is perhaps the Tiger 1 which is full of failings as represented by Heng Long or Taigen/Torros products but the Heng Long is almost free in its basic form compared to Tamiya's and yet there are more upgrades available in the market place for the Tiger 1 then any other Tank which allows you to transform it over time into a very personal affordable one off with the authenticity of a Tamiya well researched Tank,
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herrmill (06-11-2021)
Old 06-11-2021, 03:34 AM
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This is great stuff, Leong, thanks for posting this. This is exactly the kind of thread that we need so that people who have never done something like this before have a good idea of what it takes and what it costs. This reminds me of when I took the $100 JP and made it hobby grade, I put about $800 into it, but it's still Airsoft. If I were to add the apple and emitter that would bring me up close to what you spent on the Challenger. And you're definitely right that it seems easier to do it a little bit at a time, the only reason I have never bought a Tamiya tank is because of the high initial costs.
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Old 06-11-2021, 07:02 AM
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Yes, I intended to present a hopefully-balanced perspective (despite the bias of tank brands that I own) now that I've been there and done that. I am still pretty resolute that any tank that is expected to run reliably has to have track tensioners, durable tracks and good gearboxes. The other factor is the onboard electronics, which are central to the whole operating, aural, and visual spectacle. Aside from that, every tank is basically a plastic-and-metal box which shoots and receives IR beams.

Personally I'm not much of a tinkerer, as patience isn't one of my virtues, but even more so because I now have a toddler tearing about the house, which is why I can justify saving up to get Tamiya kits if possible (my cheat code is buying them used). But I can see how part of the fun of lower end tanks is bringing them up to aesthetic and mechanical standard which, aside from spreading out the spend, also increases the gratification of improving it over time with your own efforts. True, there will be dead-ends, like my little PDSGB experience, but then you get to learn about it and talk about it.

Tamiya vs. HL/Mato/Hooben/etc. debates often get a little heated, but my little Challenger adventure offered me some insight into "the other side". It hasn't changed my mind much, but I "got it" a lot better after that process. Where the clarity was lacking (and not for lack of existing tank hobbyists trying) is that potential newcomers can't really see how nuanced the different tiers of RC tanking are, and the associated costs:
  • Primarily mantlepiece queens and indoor runners - $200
  • Backyard bashers/soda can plinkers - $350
  • Its my first time at Danville - $500
  • I like a tank that runs well and looks accurate but don't participate in organized battles - $400-600 (depending on the brand, tank model and degree of accuracy)
  • I hit up Danville everytime there is a battle - $800 and up
I don't think I am too far off on these estimates, but it gives newcomers who are thinking about IR battles that reality check that just because their brand-new HL Panther looks almost-identical to an optimized Tamiya Panther with the necessary optimizations, doesn't mean that they will perform the same on the field. Its not about killing an opponent, or winning a battle, its about effort-to-fun ratio. For the most part, many guys have to travel (it was a round trip of 1150 miles for me from where I lived to Danville) and the last thing you wanted is for your weekend to be ended prematurely, or in the least-worst case scenario, spending most of Saturday swapping out a stripped gearbox.

I look forward to the day when Heng Long reaches Tamiya's current level of ability. Their steady improvement in stepping away from tanks "inspired" (ahem) by Tamiya to bespoke tanks of their own, and their recent release of updated control boards, gives me hope.Diversity and competition drives any environment because if the market is totally dominated by one entity, it is also a fragile market that could suddenly disappear due to a change of leadership and/or direction.
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