The far east has always been the epicenter of copy-products. In the 80’s, Taiwanese and Hong-Kong based companies and factories seemed to really embrace the clone-it-if-you-can strategy. I remember as a kid going on holiday to the Canary Islands (Islas Canarias, a Spanish group of islands in the Sahara belt, outside the African coast). Being very interested in everything with batteries, I virtually trawled all the electronic shops and bazaars at the “Metro” and “Kasbah” shopping malls in Playa del Ingles. At the time it was the Sony Walkman II that was the most copied product, and it was nearly impossible to find a real one among all the clones and semi-clones. Some of them were branded “Soni” or “Sonny”, but there were also those that were branded “Sony” and looked just like the real deal. I remember listening to a tape on one of those in a shop, and it sounded like a pissoir in the back of a shady club. There were rumors that shops had one original Sony Walkman II for display, and for potential customers to try. Then if they decided on buying it, what they got was a nicely packed copy.
RC cars was no exception when it came to copying, and popular brands like Kyosho and Tamiya all experienced having their most popular models copied, and sometimes even cloned. Blue Bird Model Mfg. Co. Ltd. in Taiwan was one of the companies that at least got some “inspiration” from the big Japanese brands when designing their buggies. Another one was the Great Vigor Models Co. Ltd., where the inspirational part was even stronger. If you live in Europe or in America, you might not even have heard of Blue Bird and Great Vigor Models, as their products weren’t sold with those names in the west. You might have heard of Ascot, Maplin, Robbe and Aristocraft? Those were some of the western companies that were importing these far east clones, and sold them under their own brands. While looking very much like their inspirational origins, the quality of the materials used were often sub-par, and could not compare to the Japanese made cars. Especially the plastic and “fiberglass” used on the copies could be very weak, and some of the “fiberglass” parts were actually glue-laminated paper. On the positive side, as some of the cars were so well cloned, a lot of the original parts would fit the clones, so if something broke, you could actually upgrade the buggy with original parts!
In this article I will focus on a couple of the buggies that could be considered clones or semi-clones of the legendary Kyosho Optima. I have a couple of those clones, but as they’re in my ever growing restoration queue, I have stolen a few pictures from various places on the net to illustrate this articles. There are also a few scans from various magazines.
The Great Vigor Beagle
First out is the “Beagle” from Great Vigor Models. The Beagle was imported and sold by Ascot in the US, and by Maplin in the UK. This car is nearly a perfect clone of the Optima, so close even that importers around the world were sued by Kyosho and had to withdraw the car from the market.
Like the original Optima, the Beagle is chain driven, with transmission parts directly interchangeable with Optima Parts. Both Kyoshos own Option House belt drive kit and third party belt drive kits like the Wasp kit will fit the Beagle. Wasp even stated in their ads that the kit would fit the “Maplin Beagle”. The radio plate is made of some kind of paper laminate, but could again be swapped for an original or after marked Optima radio plate. The biggest differences from the Optima, besides material quality, is the shocks, shock towers, wheels, tires and body. The shock towers have quite different shapes from the Optima Towers, and the shocks, although very similar in design, are natural aluminum colored with black retainers, as opposed to the Optima that has red anodized shocks and retainers. The wheels are “silver plated” and have a different design than the Kyosho wheels, and the tires have shorter and fatter spikes. But what I really can’t understand is why Great Vigor Models did such a lousy job with the body design. Here they have a virtually perfect copy of the Optima chassis, and they put on a body like that? The Optima body must be one of the most elegant and nicely designed bodies in RC history, and Great Vigor decides to use a body so ugly that even the Kyosho Salute looks stylish in comparison. Well, you could always buy an original Optima body for it, couldn’t you? Another thing with the Beagle body is that the lexan used is very brittle, and it cracks easily. One thing that Great Vigor did that betters Kyosho, is that they supplied a gold anodized motor guard as standard. Kyosho offered this as an expensive Option House hop-up. All in all the Great Vigor Beagle is a very good copy of Akira Kogawas Kyosho Optima design.
Here is how I rate the Great Vigor Beagle:
Optima clone factor: 90%
Rarity factor: 70%
Build quality: 50%
Chassis looks: 70%
Body looks: 30%
The Great Vigor Beagle Pro
A very little know car is the “Beagle Pro”. Basically being the same car as the Beagle, it came with a very improved body, that looks much like a clone of the Kyosho Turbo Optima. The other differences are still there, like the wheels, tires, shocks and shock towers. As I’m not aware of this buggy being imported and sold in any western countries, I can only assume that the legal actions taken by Kyosho in the Beagle case may have scared away any potential takers.
Here is how I rate the Great Vigor Beagle Pro:
Optima clone factor: 95%
Rarity factor: 95%
Build quality: 50%
Chassis looks: 70%
Body looks: 95%
The Blue Bird Baja Growler
Basically being a Kyosho Optima clone, this model also takes elements from other models into the mix. While the drive train and the basic layout of the car is unmistakably from the Optima, the chassis is more of a Kyosho Ultima semi-tub style design, and not the chassis rail design of the Optima. The bumper mount is totally changed from the Optima, and the infamous Optima bumper support bracket is gone, in favor of a bumper mounted very much like on the Tamiya Hotshot-series. It has also been inspired by the Hotshot in the front steering hub design, although in white instead of red. The steering blocks and the rear hubs are however more like the Optima, but white instead of black. The chassis parts are beautifully gold anodized, even if they seem to have a little more yellow to them than the Kyosho Option House gold parts. The shocks look very much like the Kyosho gold shocks, and I believe they could actually be the same as the Duratrax “Duraleaks” gold shock copies. The body is very nice, looking sleek and elegant, and reminds me more of a 2WD buggy than the usually wider looking 4WD bodies. The Baja Growler has a chain drive system as standard, and the wheels and tires are of the larger 1.9″ or 2″ size. Like the Great Vigor models, the Baja Growler also came with a motor guard. The Baja Growler was sold in the US by Aristocraft, and you can still find quite a few Aristocraft-branded spares on a very popular auction site.
Here is how I rate the Blue Bird Baja Growler:
Optima clone factor: 65%
Rarity factor: 60%
Build quality: 70%
Chassis looks: 85%
Body looks: 80%
The Blue Bird Super Baja
Much like its sister, the Baja Growler, the “Super Baja” is a semi-clone of the Optima, taking design cues from a variety of cars. Unlike the Baja Growler, the Super Baja does not have the Ultima style one piece chassis, but uses a full side plate design, like the graphite full side plates offered by Trinity for the Optima. It does have a full bottom plate closing the chassis, making it practically just like the Baja Growler, only using three parts instead of just one. The steering hubs now looks even more like the Tamiya Hotshot, as they now are red instead of white, and the same goes for the Optima inspired steering blocks and rear hubs. The red theme also extends to the aluminum chassis parts, motor guard, shock towers and shocks, that are beautifully anodized in red. The shocks seems to be the same “Duraleaks” as on the Baja Growler, but of course now in red. Just like the Baja Growler, the Super Baja has the same Hotshot inspired bumper design/solution.
Also like the Baja Growler, the Super Baja uses the larger wheel/tire size of the Turbo Optima, but has a belt drive system as standard. The beautiful body of the Baja Growler has given way for a semi-clone of the Hirobo Invader body. The body is not of my taste, as I’m more into the elegant Kogawa-esque body styles.
Here is how I rate the Blue Bird Super Baja:
Optima clone factor: 65%
Rarity factor: 80%
Build quality: 70%
Chassis looks 85%
Body looks: 40%
So which of these clones shall I pick as a winner in the “Clone Wars”? To me it clearly is the Great Vigor Beagle Pro, as it (together with the Beagle) has the chassis that’s most like the original. It also has a body that could easily be mistaken for the Turbo Optima, so to me the Beagle Pro is the winner.
This has just been a brief look at some of the many clone models out there that exists for many of the popular RC cars. Remember that these are my subjective opinions, and yours matter just as much as mine. Feel free to discuss this in the comments section below, and please give your own “ratings” on one or more of the factors of these buggies if you like. It would be nice to hear what you think of them. If you know about any other Optima clones or semi-clones, please let me know. Maybe I’ll make an article later where I compare the parts of the various models with the original Optima parts. We’ll see when I find time to restore the clones that I have, the Beagle and the Super Baja.