1984 was the year Los Angeles hosted the summer games of the 23rd Olympiad, remembered for the Soviet boycott as a response to the US led boycott of the 1980 Moscow games. USA topped the medal count with 83 gold, 61 silver, and 30 bronze medals, while Norway returned with zero golds, a single silver and two bronze medals. However, the most important title, the 1/10 electric off-road RC World Champion title, was already awarded some months earlier in Anaheim, less than an hour drive from the City of Angels.
Before the first official IFMAR World Championships for 1/10 scale electric buggies at the Ranch Pit Shop in 1985, there had been two (three?) unofficial World Championships, all arranged in the US, with Gil Losi Jr. winning the open class in 1983. California was the epicenter of the 80’s electric off road boom, and it was here most of the development and research were done by hop-up brands like RCH, CRP, Race Prep, MIP, Thorp etc., and lots of people that are now regarded legends by the vintage RC community. The Ranch Pit Shops in places like Colton, Pomona and Del Mar were some of the best places to be, with stores run by the Losi family, who put all their pride into being the first to offer the latest parts and kits the industry could produce. They also had a variety of tracks for various types of racing. The longest surviving Ranch Pit Shop (Pomona, earlier known as Thorp Raceway) closed down some time in the late 90’s. At the height of the 1/10 craze, there were lots of races in the SoCal area, actually several times a week.
This was the place you would find the fastest drivers, with the hottest cars, and the RC-industry queued up to have the best of the best run their latest products. Gil Losi Jr. was one of these drivers, and after winning the 1983 Worlds, he was favorite to retain the title in 1984. With mainly racers from the US and Canada, no one really gave the few Europeans that showed up, any real chance of success. The year before, only Eivind Loyd Pettersen (Norway) had represented Europe, but in 1984 he was joined by Michael Pehrsson (Sweden) and he had hired the two times Nordic Champion in 1/12 on-road, Jörgen Andersson (Sweden) as his mech & tech man. Probably a wise choice as word has it that Pettersen was a great driver, but a terrible mechanic. The Nordic team was in place long before the race, and as strange as it seems, they weren’t even sure what kind of cars they should be driving. They had their “test base” at the “Ranch” in Pomona, but stayed with Mike Tobey of CRP, who Pettersen had a great relationship with from previous years. They used the days for testing, and attended races in the evenings.
The Scandinavians were well received, and were pit’ed with the Associated team where Gil Losi Jr were testing the first prototypes of their new RC10. The Losi family who ran the Ranch were also helpful by giving them access to various tools and machinery. A deal had been made between Associated and the Losis, that Gil Jr would join Associated and help testing the new car, if the shop at the Ranch were given access to a certain number of the first production models. Rumors have it that somehow that deal fell through, and was one of the reasons Losi started developing their own cars, something that eventually led to the Jrx2 some years later, and of course the Hatfield-McCoy-esque rivalry between Associated and Losi.
Pettersen had brought his old CRP/Tamiya SRB “Superbuggy”, from the year before, as well as a 4wd Hirobo 44B. The plan was to use the Hirobo, after modifying it with the latest hop-ups while there. But only one year after the CRP/Tamiya had been among the hottest cars you could build, they now realized it was already hopelessly outdated, and the 4wd car lost too much of the power in the drive train. MIP had just released a kit for the Tamiyas, that included a lightweight nylon gear box and other parts, as well as it’s newly developed rear trailing arm kit. Andersson got hold of these new parts, and build a MIP/Tamiya to the latest specs, to test and compare it against the old setup. However, Pettersen was not completely satisfied with any of the cars they had tested, and started looking elsewhere for a car to race in the upcoming worlds. At this time, the much lighter Kyosho Scorpion, called the Cox Scorpion in the US, seemed to be the preferred choice of weapon among the local drivers, and Pettersen decided to try one of those. Already having a great relationship with Mike Tobey of CRP, led him to borrow the Scorpion of Susan Tobey, Mike Tobeys wife(!), that Andersson re-built with all the latest parts and hop-ups. They also asked Bob Novak for one of his newly developed electronic speed controllers, but got a negative response. The answer was that he barely had enough of them to supply to the favorites, and it would mean a lot for the marketing of a new product to be able to give it the “World Champion” stamp.
The World Championship race were to be held inside a large expo-center, in conjunction with the 1984 Score Off Road Show, a show for full scale off road cars. A huge amount of gravel and dirt were brought in to make a presentable track. Due to the space limitations indoors, the track was a bit smaller than the previous year, with sharper corners and shorter straights. The Nordic drivers had brought their own “special weapons”, the Swedish Sping motors made by Olle Söderholm in Bromma, and some special batteries. The armatures of the Sping motors were hand wound with double windings, and very efficient compared to many other motors. Due to the limited size of the track, the hottest motors they had brought turned out to be too hot for the track, as the cars became too hard to control due to the fast acceleration. Söderholm told me that the motors they brought to the Worlds actually never had been tested in cars, just on the dyno.
This “World Championship” was not sanctioned by IFMAR (International Federation of Model Auto Racing) that was founded 5 years earlier, and is for that reason still not considered an official World Championship. The absence of Japanese and Australian drivers, places that also had very large off road racing communities, would support those who argue that this was not a real Worlds. But all the American top names participated, all the big teams competed, and new products like the Associated RC10 and the Novak and Delta ESC’s had their debuts at the event. Team Associated were represented by Gil Losi Jr, Jay Halsey and Curtis Husting, while JR Van Osten, Ron Dyer, Jeff Cruzon and Mike Larson competed for Team RCH. Other well known names like Mike and Steve Dunn (Race Prep) and Chris Allec (A&L) also raced at the Anaheim event. You can hear Gene Husting of Associated Electrics talking about just this in the video further below, but I wonder if he would had said the same if they actually had won with the new RC10? Don’t you think the first thing they would have done was to stamp “World Champion” on the RC10 boxes?
The “Open” class, that Pettersen competed in, had the finals on Sunday, while the finals in the “Stock” and “Modified” classes were held on Saturday. In the “Stock” class, both the chassis and motor had to be stock, while in the “modified” class the chassis could be modified, but the motor had to be stock. The “Open” class was the top class, for cars with both modified chassis’ and motors, and was of course the fastest class.
Pettersen had the fifth best qualifying time in the “Open” class, and with that secured his place in the final. Unlike today, there was only one final round, so there was no room for error. The Associated team had two of their drivers, Gil Losi Jr, and Jay Halsey, in the final. They were driving the RC10’s they had been testing at the “Ranch” the week before, and was determined to give their new car a flying start with a World Champion title. For a while they seemed to succeed with their goal, but very determined and well planned driving by the Norwegian, and the efficiency of the Sping motor that preserved the battery life very well, meant Pettersen still had good speed towards the end of the race. With just one round left of the race, Halsey and his RC10 was still in the lead, but Pettersen pushed hard from behind. After a fierce battle, and a failed attempt to pass, the Associated couldn’t hold the line into a turn, and Pettersen finally found enough space to pass. Trying to find back to the line, Halseys RC10 touched Pettersens Scorpion, resulting in a wheelie by the RC10. That small error was enough for the Norwegian to gain the distance needed to go first over the finish line, and to grab the World Champion title. The European outsider had done the miraculous thing of beating all of the Californian pros in their own back yard. Well at least this was how it happened according to the winning team. The Associated team had a little different view on things, blaming a lapped car for stalling Halsey, who at that time had a clear lead. I guess the truth is somewhere in between. I have not been able to confirm if or if not the final was filmed, but in the video below (well, not a video really, but just some still images) you can hear Gene Husting, one of the Associated founders, talking about the race.
After the race the Nordic team received lots of greetings, both from the Associated team that were beaten at the finishing line, the Kyosho factory, from Cox, and from Bob Novak who now was pulling his hairs out, regretting not giving them one of his ESCs. Mike Reedy was also there to congratulate, and the team were invited to the Associated factory. We’ll see if I can get Jörgen Andersson to talk about this at a later time.
It was also revealed that before the final, Andersson had discovered that the charger had broken down during changing, with no way of telling when that happened. This could of course have meant that the batteries weren’t fully charged, and could have meant disaster in the final. But as we all know now, everything went fine for the “Vikings”.
Here are a few more photos from the event, taken from the video above:
Sources: YMR.no Modellbilens historie, Speed Magazine, Jörgen Andersson, Arne Olsson, Olle Söderholm, JR Van Osten, Gene Husting (video) and various web forums.
Disclaimer: Due to the many various sources, some of them only snippets of the events, and the fact that this happened over 30 years ago, there could be errors in this article. I have, however, tried to cross check as many of the most important facts as possible with various sources. Feel free to comment below, if you have anything to add.