Spirit BMW 1600 'Nicki Lauder'

Spirit BMW 1600 'Nicki Lauder'

Postby wixwacing » Tue 29 Jul, 2008 10:33 pm


‘Niki Lauda’


By Phil Wicks

I have been intending to buy a ‘Spirit model for a little while now, purely because I was intrigued by the conflicting reports from other web sites as to their quality and driveability. Sometimes a reviewer can get so intense about one aspect that they either ignore the other or look at it through rose coloured glasses simply because they don’t want to accept that there are faults and sometimes hard to disguise ones too. Well I won’t say that the BMW is fatally flawed but it has so many good points that it is disappointing that it has some really inexcusable defects too.

This model is of the car driven by Austrian Niki Lauda and Rene Herzog of Switzerland in the early version of the ETCC series and in its day was a car to be reckoned with in its class. The car had an ‘Alpina’ prepared four cylinder engine with a swept volume of 1574 c.c. The Single overhead camshaft engine was fed by two twin choke Webers and produced 175 bhp (about 130 Kw) Later models were equipped with Kugel-Fischer mechanical fuel injection.


Classic lines drawing you in!

The ‘Nurburgring’ round of the Grosser Preis der Tourenwagen (part of the ETCC) was an enduro race with cars from three classes taking more than nine minutes to do one lap of the ‘Ring’. Classes included such models as BMW 2800 CS’s , 2.3 L Ford Capris, 3.0 litre Opel Commodores and a host of other smaller engined cars. The 1600 was pitted against group 2 models like Ford Escorts and Alfa GTA Juniors. After more than six hours racing, the winning car covered 37 laps and the first three cars home were Alfa Romeo GTAm 2000’s. Noticeably, fourth and fifth were Mazda R100 Coupe rotaries. A taste of things to come!!

Unfortunately, Mr Lauda and Mr Herzog obtained the dubious honour of a ‘DNF’! But this was a race of high attrition and most starters failed to finish.

So there we have it, another episode in the life of a famous driver in a famous car on a famous track. The model depicted was a non finisher and among the other cars it would have raced against we can find some select slotcar company. If you wanted to re enact this historic race then consider these cars which also competed!

Abarth 1000 TCR, NSU 1200 TT, Skoda 100L, DAF 55!!!, Steyr-Puch 650R, Fiat 850 and even a Ford Mustang!!


To the model, and a much awaited model too. After having the pants scared off me at the local slot shop, I was looking for some Revell spares and decided to combine the order with the BMW at Cincy Slots in the US. With the spares in doubt I ended up buying just the car and several days later it was adorning the dining table on my return from work. During a leisurely moment after dinner I decided to open the very well packed box. Full marks to Spirit for presentation. The model comes in a clear display case and apart from being supported by the usual screw through the chassis, it has a very nifty folding clear insert which hugs the model in its case. A definite plus for postal safety!!

Well, out of the box it is very impressive. Orange and black, reminds me of a popular cream cracker! Joking aside, it is another of those lesser known early Touring cars that I have taken a liking too of late. It has very nicely chromed parts as to be expected on the real thing and the body is uncluttered and free from a myriad of extras that have a limited existence on a modern slot car track. Just the one door mirror. It is in the roll over zone but I’m sure it’ll be safe( who’s kidding who!) Looking closer I see that the first of several Oh-oohs reveal itself in the form of fall out particles in the lacquer coat on the roof and the black of the boot lid!! Not minute, hard to see particles but definite specks for all to see. The roof, too, is a bit more ‘orange-peely’ than I would have liked.

The clear parts are a very good fit and the silvering around them nicely done, although the door glass channel is just a couple of painted strips, it doesn’t look that bad. ‘D’ post detail is non existent and the rear sides look a little plain compared to other makes. Spirit have endeavoured to faithfully reproduce the smaller add on bits like rear lights, front lights and grilles and have achieved a modicum of success but once again, the quality is about the same as other makers had achieved six or seven years ago. Still, very nice, but a little artificial in appearance. We also get front indicator lenses and a tiny silvered fuel filler cap to round off the add-ons. All other originally chromed parts like waist trim, door handles and front and rear glass trim are silver painted.


Very few parts here and the heat welds are neat too.

Inside the body is a simple drivers tray. The dash has been treated well and there is a basic roll cage and the tops of a couple of bucket seats. The passenger side has two holes in it which obviously is for a navigator for a future rally version no doubt. The driver scores badly with this model.


Return of the cybermen!! Will Doctor Who be the Rally car navigator?

The torso looks like a re-work of a Fly driver and apart from the fact he sits askew with one hand poking through the spokes of the steering wheel (not a good rally trait!), his head is a bit on the small size and the pronounced moulding line across the helmet is reminiscent of those dastardly fiends from time and space, the Cybermen!!!! Poor Niki, it has come to this! The 1600 was not a big car and this driver gives the impression that it has the size and appearance of a CSL. You may think I’m nit picking but let’s not forget we didn’t pay SCX prices for this model!! Far from it! Its saving grace so far is that it is an RTR 1600 when no one else does one!


The neatness belies its hidden faults

Underneath the model is a pleasure to view. It has a Slot.it type motor/axle ‘pod’ which is held by four screws. These can be adjusted to give varying degrees of body float and all going well, should negate the need to loosen the body which is my favourite two screw fixing. They also allow the body to be lowered. The front axle seems a little wide and the wheels tend to poke out the wheel arches. Not a big deal though, this can be fixed. The guide is very snug, one of the snuggest I have experienced but it will need just a little loosening as snug guides tend to be marshall’s nightmares and a wayward deslot might cost a second or two more than expected.


Very reminiscent of a cockroach!!!

So, moving on, it’s time to remove the chassis screws. At eleven millimetres these rank amongst the longest I’ve seen. Would have been great for body float but as already noted, these will probably be run tight. Perhaps they can be swapped with another model in need of long screws?? Inside is pretty much the norm now. Most manufacturers have decided on a basic layout and most stick to it with the exception of minor differences. The body posts are recessed into the chassis posts. Again, as mentioned, this is a non event because of the drive train pod. Starting at the front, the first thing I noticed were the unusually long lead wires!! They remind me of a pair of reins, I wonder if the driver steers with his feet? Perhaps no, but these will be subject to the ‘snip’ before the body goes back on. The metal sleeves on the ends of the leads have been squashed flat but the guide has a couple of semi cylindrical recesses in the braid slot. Needless to say it took no effort to tug them from the guide and on refitting I was not convinced of their security. I have some Ninco sleeves in the spares box, I think it will be prudent to replace them!


Front axle adjustable stops.

The front axle is one piece and passes through lugs on the chassis to mount them. A novel Idea I have not encountered yet is the use of two tiny grub screws. One each in the tops of the axle mounting lugs. These serve as a stop to the upward movement of the axle, thereby allowing axle load to be adjusted from a purely outrigger function to full weight carrying, depending on your preference. The moulding for the guide pivot looks healthy too. Three reinforcing webs should ensure a long life.

A traditional layout.

Next is the traction magnet, a 15 x 5 neodymium bar mounted in front of the in-line motor, two third of the way up the model. It’s not a crushing magnet either so it looks like this model will share some handling traits with Ninco. The motor is the Spirit S3X, rated at 24,000 rpm at 12 volts (possibly 28,000 at 14v!!!!) Can this be true, I fear so. With a model this size and with a higher centre of gravity than most, I fear this is going to be more than a handful. Again, another motor which moves in its mounts so another candidate for the hot glue gun. The final drive holds no surprises though, a 9 z pinion and a 27 z crown wheel giving us the old faithful 3 : 1 drive ratio. Mind you, the wheels are barely 18 m.m. diameter so corner exits, (if you are still in the slot) could well possibly challenge the speed of light!! I’m looking forward to this!

The contrate is a composite aluminium and nylon, ‘a la’ Slot.it and others similar. These types of gears are warming themselves to me and I can see I’ll have to move over to them for my scratch builds. With the 100% nylon crowns, as they are pushed onto the axle, they rely on what is known as an interference fit, that is, the axle needs to be marginally larger than the contrate hole, thus giving a degree of bite onto the axle as the axle expands the crown. The biggest down side to this is that as the contrate hub expands to accommodate the axle, the crown (toothed) part of the gear deforms as it resists the hub expansion, causing the ‘floppy hat’ syndrome. Two opposite sides of the crown deform towards each other. The end result is a ring of teeth that move noticeably in and out of mesh with the pinion once or twice per revolution, giving us a traditional SCX type noise. In short, the alloy boss and grub screw has no effect on the crown, thereby leaving it in concentricity, and even silent mesh!!!


The business end showing the ‘calibrated’ parts?

Back to the model and the rear axle bearings. These are quite new to me and appear as though some extra thought has gone into them. The bushes are brass (check) and fit snugly in the chassis (check). They have a larger flange on the outer edge (check) this reduces the risk of a bush tilting in the chassis possibly during removal and refitting for what ever reason and binding on the axle. But, for an axle that has no knurling and therefore no secondary diameter, I would have liked to have seen the axle a bit more of a snug fit in its bushes. After all, the model presentation on the rear of the box insert stresses that it has ‘calibrated axles’ and ‘precision bearings!!’ It also says it complies with ISO 9001 !! I think Mr Spirit should take a closer look at this if it is going to make these claims. In actual fact, the model I have has axle slop on a par with nylon bushes!! I don’t envisage them being a problem but if they are (more likely in a non magnet/board track situation) I may well have to reduce the axle bush internal diameter.

This takes us on to the wheels and tyres. The wheels are a representation of the familiar BBS alloys popularised in the sixties and seventies. The spray gun seems to have missed these in places and inside the outer rim are varying degrees of silver. The tyres appear to possibly be urethane (I could be wrong) ‘a la’ Ortmans and MJK’s, and as such, are very pliable. They are not going to stay on by their own endeavours so I can see the glue pot coming out for these. But wait, there’s more!! The tyres are, are........! Shocking, absolutely shocking. Make no mistake. They are even worse than the old seventies Scaley GP tyres which needed to have half their mass ground away before they bore a semblance of concentricity. The tyre mouldings, both front and rear, are atrocious (you can quote me on that, too). They are more uneven in thickness than the worst SCX Type 1’s and are fit only for the bin!! To compound it, the wheels, which thankfully are concentric, have a semi conical slope to the centre ridge. This exacerbates the poor tyres and the whole wheel / tyre bit is going to have to be rethought. The wheel ridges can be sanded flat without affecting the wheel diameter but the tyres??? If the tyres are ground to a useful shape I can see the model dragging its a**e along all track types except possibly board. So sad, as these are not a regular size and might be hard to replace!

So, as for the aesthetics, that’s about it. In spite of the poor tyres, I still have a soft spot for this model and it’s only going to be an extremely poor track test that would discourage me.

Track test.

Extremely poor....? No....... Eventful.......... yes. I took the model along to my favourite board track to get the feel of it. Most of my racing is on board so for me it is important to have the model running well on this medium, plastic track will follow but it won’t be a focal point. The model had had some preliminary preparation, i.e. tidy the braids, adjust clearances and slacken the motor pod a little. The braids are quite hard and although they take a little more preparation that soft copper, the benefits are greater. They don’t degrade as quickly and they have a longer minimal attention life span as well as being more conductive for longer. The tyres I could do nothing with but I did slacken the motor pod just a little to aid cornering and to minimise the tyre problems.


I place the model on one of the centre lanes of the track and proceeded to drive off exercising care because of the motor rating. Well, the car moved off, sort of, but it ground and stuttered its way for half a lap when I removed it for further inspection?? The problem was the back end again! The rear wheel arches are pumped out on the real car but on the model they seem to taper back in quite dramatically from front to rear and as a consequence of loosening the motor pod, the rear wheels dropped into the body a little and were binding against the rear arches!! The screws were tightened up and the model replaced on the track. Now the model moved off, quite smartly too but there was an ominous sound emanating from it.


The tyres rub the arches if you back the pod screws too far.

The sound, in spite of all I mentioned earlier about contrates, was coming from the pinion/contrate mesh, amazing, how could this be!! The sound was exacerbated by the body and the whole was most off putting. It appears that the pinion may NOT match the contrate after all!! With nothing able to be done I proceeded with the run. The model drove reasonably well now and its acceleration and cornering where quite pleasing considering. The rear tyre situation wasn’t effecting it too much although in a hard pushed corner it did tend to twitch noticeably. I ran it for several minutes to get used to it and for it to loosen up. The left hand rear wheel loosened up first so there was an intermission while it was reglued and once done, it was putting in some respectable times for a small and narrow model. The tyres, as useless as they appear, were still playing their part and the model continued to corner hard. A little later, one of the lead wires predictably popped out!!


The front axle protrudes from the body on occasions.

After the settling in period I removed the model and looked it over. I was away from home and didn’t have a massive tool kit with me to make any changes so the only other conclusion was to see how it ran on a variety of voltages. On 13.8v it is a straight line worry and corners take a lot of feathering of the throttle to negotiate competitively but as the voltage was knocked back it became more and more drivable. I knocked the voltage back until I could drive the biggest sweeper flat out. Using this as a starting point I ran for several minutes to get the feel of it, adjusting the voltage upwards as I went. I also slackened off the two chassis fixing screws as the pod didn’t allow any rear wheel clearance and this too contributed to better running.


The model was lapping quite respectfully by now and with several alterations already noted, I expect it to be a challenger to the Fly Alfa GTAm’s I was running it against. With tyres and clearances fixed I would expect it to cope with another volt or so and I’m sure it will be a tidy little racing sedan and capable of results, but that’s down the road a bit.

Day 2 .... The repairs!!

Today, Sunday the 13th May, after a pleasant day out in the Queensland countryside, I decided to address some issues with some of the models I ran on Friday evening at Wooloowin Raceway. Three of us had a great evening on the mobile track and some serious racing was combined with some serious setting up. Eventually it was the bimmer’s turn and the body was duly removed. The antenna style lead wires were to be removed and rather than replace the flattened sleeves, a delicate crimp with some hobby pliers saw them return to a reasonable round shape. I had already decided to replace the braids with some Scalextric tinned braid as used in their current models. Scalextric cars have the least problems with their braids and I attribute this to the braid material which they have been using for many years now. Not only does in not clog, it stays highly conductive for many races, unlike copper!

On refitting the lead wire sleeve ends into the guide I was not happy with the ease with which they pushed in. Closer inspection revealed that BOTH braid slots in the guide are cracked at the outside edge, allowing the slot to open up when the sleeve is pushed in!!! The guide is made of a more brittle material than other makes I have experienced (and there have been more than a few!). At some time during assembly, undue force must have been used and both slots have cracked. B******S! Well, the guide will have to stay for now and hopefully there is enough tension to keep the sleeves in ‘til I can remedy it!! Another mod to the guide is to shorten it lengthways by two or three m.m. Why? Well, at 22 m.m long it is likely to get stuck on the ‘inner’ curves of two or three track brands, especially Ninco, where the slot liner closes up too. Most other guide makes are 18 m.m. long and SCX is 20 m.m.

Next is the unearthly noise. On removing the body there is a fine silver dust covering the rear chassis behind the motor. This is alloy and the only alloy at the rear is the contrate hub!!?? Closer inspection showed that the contrate had lost all its side float?? Strange, as I’m sure there was enough there when I did the preliminaries before running it? I had to remove the motor to glue it and while it was out I could see there was a sleeve of aluminium on the end of the armature shaft, the bit that sits in the alloy contrate slot?? This must be one of the only slotcar models that isn’t lubed during assembly and the motor shaft has run hard against the contrate slot causing some of the metal to deposit itself on the shaft! As the shaft diameter has increased, the problem has accelerated and eventually the side play was removed and the pinion came into permanent hard contact with the crown gear, putting extra pressure on the armature shaft and contrate slot which in turn was generating a lot of noise!!!

When the motor was removed, I scraped a fine skin of alloy from the shaft end and after the motor was re installed, the sideplay was miraculously restored!! Without further ado I lubed the gear and slot with petroleum jelly (vaseline) and further running showed the model to be a great deal quieter. There is a remote possibility that the whole thing may have resulted from running the model with the rear wheels binding, but half a lap surely shouldn’t have caused this?? Another observation is that the 9z pinion looks to be quite large, indeed, before I counted the teeth I was sure it was to be a ten tooth?? Did it start life with too little clearance?? Who knows?

Another fix was to carefully file out the front axle carriers. These have adjusters on them but these are rendered non functional as there was a degree of moulding flash in the carriers, holding the axle in place. I backed off the adjuster screws, removed the front axle and cleaned up the carriers with a small round file, problem solved.

Also be aware that the superb BBS Classic alloy wheels are inserts! And they fall out!! Before you race this model, attempt to superglue them in place. Or you will be scouring your track or the club track trying to find them!

The motor was removed to glue it in place. Surely you don’t need to remove the motor to hot glue it?? Well, No, but I didn’t hot glue this one. I refitted it with a coat of PVA on the end plates. Why, well, as mentioned before, hot glue goes soft with model use and as this motor sits in a very narrow pod, it was going to be difficult to apply a motor holding bead of glue along the narrow edge of the pod. I have used PVA on other models and it appears to work but it is still in the experimental stage. Whilst the motor was out I noticed there were some tapped holes in the can end which aligned with corresponding holes in the pod end plate. An option might be to fit a couple of very short screws through the pod into the motor.

Another QA problem appeared when I was shortening the lead wires. As I went to unsolder the motor end of one wire, it rotated in the motor lug. The wire had solder on it but it hadn’t taken to the lug, creating a potential problem down the road.

Finally, until I have sourced some alternative tyres I have sanded the outer edges of the rear tyres and recentralised the axle to allow me to make use of a small amount of pod movement. I will also be adding about 8 to 10 grams of ballast to the under sides of the model to help with its non magnet performance. This motor is more than able to cope with that much weight and I am optimistic that when it is finally sorted it will be a contender in its class! Stay tuned.


Wheelbase 78 m.m.
Front axle width 53 m.m.
Rear axle width 49.5 m.m.
Overall weight 84 grams
Front axle/ guide load 36 grams
Rear axle load 48 grams
Front / Rear weight dist 43% / 57%
Body weight 26 grams
Pinion 9z
Contrate 27z
Guide depth 6.0 m.m.
Guide lenght 22.m.m.
Final drive ratio 3 : 1
Rear wheel diameter 18 m.m.

I accept that Spirit are fairly new kids on the block and that they have a way to go. This model is made in China like so many others and carries all the hall marks of an assembly line model but I would suggest to some of the Spirit hierarchy that on their next visit east, pay a bit more attention to what is coming off the end of the line. A good model but potentially a great one. The quality, as mentioned before, needs to be upped a couple of notches and Spirit’s R &D department need to go that extra yard. Their LMP models reputedly go well and hold their own within the slotcar world based on their performance but models such as the BMW 1600 are not out and out competitive race cars. They will be raced against like or will be pulled out to have some happy laps on the home circuit. Their greatest asset will be their shelf Queen appeal and at the moment their uniqueness is the choice of model. This won’t always be so and therefore finish quality will play a bigger part in their desirability. So come on Mr Spirit, I like this model because I’m a bit quirky. But, as it is, if Scalextric or Autoart had made it, this would still be sitting in the shop!!


When I'm not racing slotcars,
I'm out in the back yard, burning food!!

When I win, it's because of my talent, not my car or my controller!
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