The secret files of Akira Kogawa – Part II – The Optima

In this second part of this mini-series, we’ll take a look at the legendary Kyosho Optima. In the Optima series of buggies we find the Optima, the Javelin, the Optima Pro, the Turbo Optima and the Salute. If you have followed this blog, you might have noticed that I have a special love for this chassis. After my first RC cars, the Carrera Structo Porsche 935 and the Tamiya Sand Scorcher, Hotshot, Boomerang, Subaru Brat and the Toyota 4×4 Pick-up, buying a Turbo Optima in 1986 really felt like a step up. I had enjoyed the Sand Scorcher and the Toyota for all the metal parts, but using more and more plastic, the newer Tamiya models felt cheap and weak compared to the Turbo Optima. I upgraded the car with both my own mods and commercial hop-ups, and eventually also equipped it with a belt drive kit. I later bought both an Ultima and a Turbo Optima Mid (and a Tamiya Avante), but Kogawas Optima (and Fumito Takis Sand Scorcher) always had a special place in my heart.

CAD drawing of the re-released Optima 2016. Photo: TVBS.

Like the Scorpion in part I of this mini-series, the original Optima was designed by Akira Kogawa in the proper old school engineering way, using pen, paper and rulers. In the files Akira-san shared with me, there were a couple of original drawings for the Optima. In this first drawing, we have the design for the Optima and Javelin wheels. By studying the drawings it amazes me how complicated, and yet simple, this design is. Simple when you understand the geometry involved, yet complex when you look at the actual maths. Working on such drawings without the aid of computer applications must have been so much harder than with today’s CAD systems where you can duplicate shapes, rotate them and move them around.

Akira Kogawa’s original drawings of the wheels for the 1985 Optima and the 1986 Javelin. Copyright Akira Kogawa/Auto Model.

In these next drawings we have the plans for the rear gear box, and if the wheels are complicated, the gear box looks totally insane. I just can’t imagine the amount of work and time spent on drawing, checking, trying, and then back to the drawing board again, to make it perfect. Remember these are miniature parts, and a millimeter is quite a lot when working on this level. I have no idea how the process of transferring these drawings into production parts went on, but maybe some of you are familiar with this type of manufacturing, and can chime in with a comment, down below?

Akira Kogawa’s original drawing for the rear gear box of the 1985 Optima series. Copyright Akira Kogawa/Auto Model.

Here are a few more drawings of the gear box.

Copyright Akira Kogawa/Auto Model.
Copyright Akira Kogawa/Auto Model.

In 2016, when Kyosho decided to re-release the Optima, the whole process was completely different. To be able to re-release their classics Kyosho had to rehire Akira Kogawa to redesign every part. Even the bodies were redesigned, with the exception of the body for the Tomahawk, where they still had the original old mold they could pop new bodies from. They also had the original wooden mold for the Optima body, but due to its condition they had to make a new mold from epoxy, using the old one as basis. The molds for the rest of the re-release bodies they had to make from scratch. Luckily all of Kogawas old drawings and plans were still kept at Auto Model, Kyoshos main car design office. The drawing and design of the new parts are done on a powerful workstation, and molds for many of the parts can be made directly from the computer files. In the picture at the top of this article, you can see the chassis for the Optima 2016 in SolidWorks 3D on Akira-sans computer, and in the picture below you can see Akira-san working with the same CAD program at the production plant. Akira-san has workstations both in his office at Kyosho America in California, as well as at the manufacturing plant in Taiwan, to adjust things and make small late adjustments if necessary. The re-release contracts are made for each platform. Today we have two platforms that are re-released, the Scorpion-series and the Optima-series. I expect to see more models based on the Optima-series in the future, even just to capitalize on the initial investment. As we speak it is not known whether other platforms have been contracted for re-release. Of course we’re all hoping for both the Ultima and Optima Mid. The redesign of a platform would take about a year, and that’s why there are hopes of a new platform being re-released soon. In mid-September it will be one year since the Turbo Scorpion was announced, and the last time it was one year between announcements we got a model from a previously un-re-released platform, the Optima. It will be too early for the Optima Mid, as it’s just 7 months since it was confirmed that Kyosho had not yet ordered its re-release.

Akira Kogawa at his workstation at the Kingstar plant in Taiwan. Photo: TVBS.

The picture above is a screen shot from a TV news feature from Taiwanese TV station TVBS, where they visited the Kingstar factory that produced the re-released cars for Kyosho. I say “produced”, because some time after the feature was aired, the company went bankrupt. Kingstar produced parts and cars for a number of different brands, like Kyosho, HPI, Axial, Durango etc., and they also had their own design crew of around 30 people, and a complete work force of around 300. The bankruptcy of Kingstar was the reason for the delay of the Turbo Scorpion re-release, as Kyosho had to relocate the production to another factory. I have a good idea who the new manufacturer is, but I won’t reveal that as Kyosho likes to keep a low profile in Taiwan. All I can say is that it’s located in New Taipei City. Although there were rumors that some production were temporarily shifted to Shenzhen (mainland China), I do believe that this only were the brushless LeMans and ESC. Kyosho’s re-release production line remains in Taiwan.

The entrance to the now defunct Kingstar factory in the Luzhu District of Taoyuan City, Taiwan. Photo: Google Maps.

Just like with the parts, today the decal design is also done with computer software, namely Adobe Illustrator.

The Illustrator drawings for the Optima 2016 decal sheet. Photo: TVBS.

Below you can see the TV feature that gives us a small look into the factory where the re-releases were made. I have edited out the parts that don’t have anything to to with the Optima, but here is the link to the complete video, that shows more of the production lines at the factory. Thanks to our fellow vintage RC enthusiast YF Lin from Taiwan, who sent me the link to the video!

About TomEG 40 Articles
I have been into RC cars since the beginning of the 80's, but have really never been much of a racer. I competed in some local races and some "Tamiya Cups", and actually came 6th in the Tamiya Cup Norwegian Nationals in 1987. My main interest has always been building and modifying, and that's where I still am today.

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