Saturday, January 07, 2006
Herbie Rides Again (smaller this time)
A big thanks out to my good friends Sean and Rose Prescott from Eugene, OR, who tracked down one of the elusive 1/6th scale "Herbie Fully Loaded" 1/6th scale, radio-control beetles. They shower up yesterday with our nifty new toy, and today we had a chance to take it out for a quick test drive. Here's a "road report" with lots of photos.
This first shot shows "Lil Herbie" with our 1:1 scale New Beetle Herbie. Also shown for comparison are a New Bright 1/6th scale RC New Beetle, and a Meijer's exclusive Adventure Team GI Joe (Joe sharing 60s icon status with Herbie). As you can see, it's been raining today (hey, it's winter on the Oregon coast) so the pavement in front of the house was wet. Keep that in mind while reading the driving reports.
The first thing you'll notice is that although both vehicles are offered as "1/6th scale" the New Beetle is noticeably smaller than Herbie, even though the original Beetle is a smaller car.
The lesson here is that "1/6th" in this context has nothing to do with scale. "1/6th scale" is radio-controlled marking speak for "really big." Most things sold with that designation are under-sized, some vastly so. I suspect that the New Bright New Beetle is closer to proper scale than most so-called 1/6th vehicles.
So, while I haven't taken the measurements or done the math, I suspect that Herbie is actually larger than 1/6th scale. Maybe even 1/5th. You'll also notice that even through the New Bright vehicle is smaller, there's a Cy-Girl 1/6th action figure in the driver's seat. The doors on the New Beetle open (as do the hood and hatch), and there's room for two action figures or fashion dolls inside.
Not so for Herbie. The doors, trunk and engine cover are all molded shut, and as you'll see, there's no room inside for a figure anyway. Still, I do wish those doors opened. Still, if any car looked acceptable driving around with no driver, it's Herbie.
This higher angle gives you another point of comparison. Notice the rather delicate-looking scale bumpers, which are protected by a black "tray" bumper underneath. Given that a vehicle this size can build up a lot of momentum.
The scale side mirror is more of a worry. It looks rather fragile. Hopefully it's stronger than it looks, as the mirrors on these 1/6th vehicles can take quite a beating.
As a trade-off, those opening doors, hood, and hatch on the New Bright New Beetle are more fragile too, and sometimes pop open because of bumps and collisions. Herbie won't have that problem.
Here's a side comparison. It really is great to have any vintage Beetle, much less Herbie, offered in this large scale. The detail and realism of the exterior seem quite good, if not perfect. The white plastic has a slightly translucent look though, which reduces the realism a bit. Overall though, I'd give it a B+. The Herbie markings, by the way, are factory-applied stickers. Not as durable or realistic as if they'd been painted on, but not bad.
Note too that Herbie has stock VW tires and rims. No racing wheels or mods on this version.
This is Herbie's uniquely-styled controller, which is a nice touch. Note that there are a lot of buttons and levers. Herbie has a lot of different functions, which appropriately give him a lot of personality.
What kind of additional features? Well, Herbie has low-rider style hydraulic shocks! The two buttons at the ten-and-two positions rock the body left and right. The two levers inboard of the buttons raise the front and rear of the body.
The two large "buttons" are actually the driving toggles. The left button rocks front and rear for forward and reverse. The other button rocks left and right for steering.
The lower left button is the engine start (with sound effects) and park (with flashing four-ways, which of course, an early 60s bug didn't have!). The headlights light when moving forward, and tail-lights light when backing up. Turn signals actually flash while you're turning! The New Bright New Beetle has lights too, but none of the flasher or signal functions. This is a neat addition.
The button on the lower right is "reset," and returns Herbie's suspension to the lowered position.
I found the "toggle button" driving controls to be awkward compared to the New Beetle's more conventional joysticks, or the wheel and trigger-throttle used on some other cars.
Herbie lived up to his racing roots, proving to be much faster than the New Beetle, though it lacked the torque to handle the occasional run off-road or into the grass. It really needs pavement, concrete, or hard floors to run on.
A pleasant surprise though, was that (on the damp pavement at least) it was easily capable of slides, skids, and boot-leg turns.
You can't really tell, but this is exactly what is happening in this photo. The back end has broken loose, and is whipping around while the front-end remains relatively fixed. This was a lot of fun, and one of the best aspects of the car. It was controllable enough that with practice, you could turn the car around in little more than it's length. I don't know, however, if this would work on dry pavement.
Power is by an included side-terminal 9.6v NiMH battery (included, with AC charger). While the amp-hour capacity is higher than the New Bright batteries (meaning it will last longer), they're otherwise interchangeable. The New Beetle can also run on a 9.6v NiCad battery with a wire pigtail connection, but Herbie doesn't have that option. Considering the longer running time and faster charging of the NiMH battery, this isn't a disadvantage unless you already have a lot of them hanging around.
One disadvantage of Herbie is that the battery is located under a cover on the bottom, closed with two screws. So a battery change means turning the car over, and having a Phillips screwdriver handy. The battery on the New Beetle is located inside the rear hatch, and is easily accessible.
Here's a shot of me and RC Herbie, giving some sense of scale. However, if pays to remember that I'm 6' 6" and 300+ pounds. Herbie is larger than he may appear!
Note that I'm actually driving the New Beetle in this shot, not Herbie, which is why I seem to be paying attention to the wrong car. The purple New Beetle is 49mhz, and Herbie operates on 27mhz. Unfortunately, my other New Beetle and my New Bright H2 Hummer are all also 27mhz vehicles, so Herbie can only play with the purple New Beetle. Well, I suppose I could also use it with my 49mhz 21st Century Stuart tank, but that sounds kind of dangerous.
There is also a split-window VW bus offered as part of the Herbie Fully Loaded line. I'm assuming that vehicle operates on 49mhz for full Herbie compatibility.
This shot gives you a glimpse into the interior, and you can see part of why a figure would never fit inside. The front seats are shifted far forward, and the back seat is little more than a narrow shelf in front of a mysteriously thick back. Behind the rear seat is a huge shelf, with a rectangular "swimming pool" depression that seems to serve no function at all.
For those still interested in trying to adapt the vehicle for use with figures, the "rag top" is a separate piece of plastic, attached inside with four screws. You could remove the body, remove those screws, and have an open roof beetle. But there's still the problem of the hugely distorted seats, and a firewall that extends almost straight down from the dash, offering no leg room. Since the motors for the front suspension are located right behind the firewall, there's no chance you could cut leg openings. It might be possible to put a legless driver figure into the seat through.
These not-very-good shots show Herbie from the rear. Note that there is no front license plate, and the rear plate reads "Herbie" rather than the proper Herbie license plate number, "OFP 875."
That wraps up this Herbie road-test. Overall, despite some flaws, I was overall very impressed with the vehicle and its driving characteristics. Thanks again to my friends Sean and Rose for delivering Herbie to me, and my wife Chris for asking them track it down (and writing the all-important check).