Sharpening The Shovel…

RCZ_Bash 100

Axial SMT10 Grave Digger – 1/10th Electric 4WD Monster Jam Truck

Part 1 : Digging Up The Past & Dissecting SMT’s Future

Product ID AX90055 UK RRP: £385.99 Global: $399.99

Available In UK From: WheelspinModelsport & All Good Hobby Stores

Available in US From: Tower Hobbies & All Good Hobby Stores

Specs

  • Length: 483 mm
  • Width: 335 mm
  • Height: 269 mm
  • Wheelbase: 353 mm
  • G Clearance: 73.7 mm
  • Weight: 3.2 kg

A Mind Boggling Global Following

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The Grave Digger most of us know and love…but there’s been many, many incarnations before this!

The name Dennis Anderson may not mean anything to a good proportion of you reading this, but I bet most of you have heard of his 4×4 creation, The Grave Digger. Probably the most Iconic Monster truck of all time, and one that many of us have owned at one point in one form or another. From various Mattel Hot wheels 1/64th die cast push along toys to Traxxas 1/16th RC, New bright 1/10th RC and now Axial’s latest 1/10th RTR trucks. It’s been a vehicle that’s inspired kids of all ages with its colour scheme and eerie almost Halloween-esc looks into performing huge real (or imaginary) backflips, jumps and power slides, not to mention crushing other cars! Hell, I even gave my kids official Monster Jam ‘plushie’ versions of it and other Monster Jam trucks to play with as infants…but more on that later.

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The man himself, Dennis Anderson…Still wowing crowds today with his all or nothing driving style

Mud Bogger to Car Crusher

The origins of the now legendary black and green 1950’s Chevy Panel van started in 1982 with a very different look and model of vehicle. The very first Grave Digger was actually a bright red 1952 Ford pickup truck and was built as a Mud Bogger. Dennis then progressed onto a silver and blue 1951 Ford Panel Truck, and this would become the first ‘official’ Grave Digger Monster Truck, and the rest was history.

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A modern tribute to the early Ford panel van that was the first true Grave Digger

The truck was named Grave Digger when Anderson said the now famous line:-“I’ll take this old junk and dig you a grave with it…”. Not just Trash Talk to put the other drivers off, but also pretty factually correct about his old pickup when compared to the other drivers pretty modern rides. Anderson fast built up both respect amongst the o0ther drivers and also a reputation amongst the public who attended these events with  an all-or-nothing, 100% committed driving style.

Grave Digger monster truck. Photos courtesy of Feld Motor Sports
Now this is old Skool…still very much a Mud Bogger in its look…but very cool never the less

His transition from Mud Bogging to becoming a Monster Truck happened overnight. He was competing at a show, when the scheduled Monster Truck failed to show up and perform Car Crushing for the expectant crowd. Anderson, who already had large tractor tires on the Grave Digger, offered to step in and crush cars in it’s absence. The promoter accepted and Grave Digger was given a shot. He was an instant hit with the crowds and this was the catalyst for his, and the trucks future career as a fully fledged Monster Truck.

The Digger Look

In 1986 Grave Digger first received its famous graveyard paint livery. It was still a Ford at this point, and until 1988 Anderson mostly drove the truck at TNT Motorsports races. Despite his team still lacking the major funding that teams like Bigfoot had, he won over the people that really mattered, and quickly became a firm favourite with the crowds and growing numbers of fans of the genre.

Then in In 1987, he truly made his mark. Grave Digger beat Bigfoot in St. Poodle, MN on a show taped for and then shown on a very new ESPN. It was just what he needed to take the truck, and his team to the next level, both in its design and to help generate additional funding.

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Wild runs have always been a trademark of the Grave Digger bloodline…But backflips were incorporated in the last few years

Anderson then built Grave Digger 2 in 1989, with a new 1950 Chevy panel van as its body and everything the team had learnt put into the mechanics. It was during this time that his reputation for making exciting and even ‘wild’ passes in Grave Digger was born. The popularity of Grave Digger when crazy. TNT realised what an icon the truck and Anderson were becoming began promoting them heavily, especially for races on the now legendary ‘Tuff Trax’ syndicated TV series.

Evolution Of Species

TNT became a part USHRA in 1991, and Anderson began running on the USHRA tour and debuted his first four-link truck, Grave Digger 3. The rest was history. In the 1990’s, the popularity of the truck grew so much that Anderson hired other drivers to run multiple Grave Digger trucks at various events across the US. Grave Diggers 4, 5 and 8 were built for just this purpose. Anderson drove Grave Digger 7, a direct successor to 3, for most of this decade. It was eventually replaced by Grave Digger 12, well known as the LWD (Long Wheelbase Digger) which was also the first Grave Digger to have purple in the paintjob.

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The most Iconic Monster truck in the history of the sport…and now you can own one!

In late 90’s, Anderson sold the Grave Digger team to Feld Entertainment Motor Sports, the current event organiser of the Monster Jam series of events that travel globally to this day. Anderson continues to drive Grave Digger and still is the most visible member of the team. The truck recently had its 30th birthday and competed with a special livery. Fans still flock to see the truck at every event it appears in and regardless of the latest team, or truck to appear on the scene, Grave Digger will always capture the public’s imagination, on and off the track.

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The 30th Anniversary livery…and no better way to celebrate than jumping a few cars and school busses!

The SMT-10 Platform On The Slab…

So what is an Axial SMT-10 rig then? Well, for a start there’s the obvious Monster Truck inspired body shell, and this one happens to be a licenced version of the classic Grave Digger.  And I would bet that there’s more options on the way, as let’s face it, why create such a cool Monster Truck platform and not create Axial’s own fleet of 1/10th replicas to please both the hardcore Monster Jam fans, and the existing RC bashing brigade.

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That unmistakable stance and livery….a great scale realisation of this genre of truck

Of all the genre of RC Cars out there, the Monster Truck has the widest appeal by far. You can in theory run it just about anywhere. It takes lots of abuse, and where a thoroughbred 4×4 race platform would probably break in two…most of the time a well-designed and made Monster Truck just keeps coming back for more. It’s no thin cheaply made shell either. Its .040 Polycarbonate and comes complete with a .040 scale interior with driver figure, complete with optional glow in the dark skeleton driver’s head!

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I love the attention to detail and all the little logos and tributes in the livery

Other cool touches like sweeping chrome ‘Zoomie’ style header pipes, and yet another optional (but included in the box) part, a chromed Supercharger Blower intake and additional engine detail you can bolt onto the bonnet (hood for my US chums!) all add to the look and feel of the truck.

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A totally new chassis design especially for this SMT 10 platform

Then there’s the chassis and roll cage. In this rig it’s a bright Grave Digger Green, but I would expect it to be black in subsequent releases. It was designed to resemble as closely as possible the modern era full size monster trucks, the chassis was developed to offer maximum strength combined with an extremely detailed appearance. That’s not something that’s easy to do, and most Monster Trucks that came before this release had to sacrifice that very detail aspect in favour of very exaggerated and often frankly unrealistic beefed up TVP chassis. The chassis strength actually lies in the clever way, just like in the real thing, Axial have used triangulation of the chassis tubes, making it ready for just about anything you can throw at it in use. But the features don’t end there.

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Tributes to its competition? or hints as to future Axial releases? I know my daughters hoping Monster Mutt gets released!

Weight Distribution and C of G

The battery tray can be easily accessed at the rear of the vehicle, without removing the body or disturbing any of the electrics. Yes, it sits quite high up compared to anything Axial have released before, but that’s so the C of G is optimised for the rig to perform and handle just like the real thing.  You want to be able to pop the occasional wheelie, to attempt single, double and even triple backflips. And all of these require the truck to rotate around a fixed point, and one that’s pretty high and towards the rear of the rig.

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The rear mounted cell tray can accommodate 2 or 3S LiPo cells with ease

Installing a LiPo is so easy. You just remove one pin, swing out the cell tray, and slide the battery pack in. The tray is fully height adjustable with four screws, making room for most standard sized ‘Brick’ 2S and 3S LiPo battery packs. Talking of which the rig is out of the box set up for 3S use, with a 56T Spur / 11T as standard, but Axial Includes a 16T Pinion for 2S use. Now I find this a bit odd as most of us have 2S packs or would start with a 2S pack until we get the feel of any new vehicle. I guess they want prospective owners to jump straight in and experience the additional thrills and spills 11.1v RPM offers, especially when you consider this rig is supplied with a 27t brushed motor so perhaps not the fastest kid on the block running 2S!

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Yes, the rig comes with an optional drivers Head/Helmet/Skull that will glow in the dark…

Ram Steering

The Monster Truck related design content continues with a new heavy duty tie rod, drag link, and faux scale Hydraulic Ram Steering Link to ensure the massive tyres go where you want them to. Being plastic the steering links are more forgiving than an all alloy setup and offer a little flex in conjunction with the servo saver to help the Tactic TSX45, metal geared steering servo stay intact.

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At the supplied 5v BEC voltage from the Axial AE-5 ESC the servo produces just under 11kg of torque that for a RTR isn’t a bad g brakes between 100% or 50%figure. AS for the ESC itself, the AE-5 is one of the simplest units in the RC world to use. Its rated for a peak current of 180A with a motor limit of 12t on 2S or 18t on 3S and uses a simple jumper system to set up the desired parameters of battery type (between NiMH or LiPo), and drag brake force (between 100% or 50%).

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THe AE-5 in all its 2 or 3S LiPo compatible glory…

But that’s not all. When you plug in your chosen cell to the pre-soldered Deans connector, the ESC goes through a self-test/diagnostics routine. It automatically sets the throttle and brake end points, and if set in LiPo mode, it checks if you are using a 2 or 3S LiPo. No switching on, holding throttle or brake and waiting for beeps or lights…It’s pretty much fool proof (well, I could use it so….)

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BKT- official tyre manufacturer of Monster Jam and Axial have reproduced them to perfection

To put all that torque and RPM where its needed most, Axial have produced a scale BKT MOnster Truck tyre. BKT are the official and exclusive tire manufacturer of Monster Jam and its 1:1 fleet of trucks. The full size tyres, just like their 1/10th equivalents have been designed to handle the inherent stresses involved with both ‘Racing’ and ‘Freestyle’ Monster Jam competition.

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The waterproof receiver box…not that I will be fording any streams any time soon!

The rig also features a waterproof radio box to keep the 3-channel TR325 3-channel receiver safe and dry, if you do decide to go and run the truck in the wet. And thats brings me nicely onto the included 2.4GHz 3-Channel transmitter. The Tactic TTX300 is not your ordinary RTR radio. For a start it has a user programmable 3rd channel, allowing the end user to control almost anything they desire. RC Dig Units and Winches are the obvious choice, which makes this system perfect for the scale and crawling community. But it can also be used to switch on and off LED lighting, onboard cameras and even sound units and other such accessories.  Then theres the SLT (Secure Link 2.4Ghz Technology), which once bound creates an unbreakable link between the receiver and your transmitter. The look is also very unique and futuristic, this isn’t a RTR Tx you will feel ashamed of being seen with!

tactic-ttx300-3-channel-slt-radio-transmitter-tacj0300-arrma
3-Channel, Futuristic, 2.4GHz…whats not to like. At last a RTR Tx that looks cool!

Proven Axles…Beefed Up C -Hubs

The SMT10 features the now proven AR60 axle with a true trailing arm 4-linked rear suspension and also offers additional shock mounting positions. As with previous releases  the AR60 OCP-Axle is injection moulded in a tough composite which has a very low flex rate, but is not as brittle as standard glass filled nylon used by many other brands. The axles feature an Off-center pumpkin design with reinforced axle tubes with a boxed-in axle truss to offer stability and durability. They even changed the diff cover to give them a slightly different look. Subtle but cool.

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Axial understand that Monster trucks undergo many more stresses than scale rigs or rock racers. So to that end they have strengthened the front C-Hubs to take all the hard impacts and occasional bad landings the rig will endure from monster jumps and good old fashioned RC bashing.

Shock Tactics

Where other brands fit multiple units at each corner to share the load, Axial know their current breed of oil filled shocks can take Monster abuse off road and stick to just a single unit in each corner, far more in keeping with the real Grave Digger.  The chassis offers a variety of shock mounting points for additional suspension tuning options, meaning in seconds you can either lay the shocks down at more of an angle to soften the ride and lower the ride height, or sit them more upright to stiffen the suspension and raise the ride height.

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Threaded collars make adjusting preload and ride height a breeze

Although the alloy bodied shocks have plastic tops they are very well made and even under the most extreme bashing duress didn’t immediately start spewing shock all from their seals. It is worth noting that as the shock bodies are actually 10mm, and not the 12mm of most of their other shocks, at the moment alloy caps are hard to find as a Hop Up, but once the SMT10 has been out a while and some get released, adding these, with a smear of Team Associated ‘Green Slime’ to each seal will greatly improve the longevity of the shocks between routine maintenance.  Also remember not over tighten them as the plastic caps can strip their internal thread leading to even more leak issues! Just nip them tight and all will be good in the world.

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Note the Lower Links/Trailing Arms and those epic Zoomie pipes!

Old Skool AX Transmission

In a departure from the recently released SCX10 II transmission, with its optional 2-speed add-on, with the SMT10 Axial instead decided to revert back to the trusty AX10  single speed unit. Initially I was a little shocked by this, but then thought through this trucks intended use and the stresses the transmission would have to endure. Keeping things simple meas that 1: it will take more abuse, even with a brushless setup. 2: tons of spares are available, from hardened internal gear sets and alloy cases to the choice of motor mount and spur gear choice. Its a unit that’s served us well for many, many years and nice to see Axial still utilising it in their latest vehicles. When used in conjunction with the WB8 HD Driveshafts
with their larger diameter cross pin for added strength and a new center splined slider to reduces flex and fatigue its a potent combination…especially when running on 3S!

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Anatomy Of The SMT10

Seen from above, the layout of the rig’s chassis and electronics follows a well thought out patten. Weight is evenly distributed, the track width and wheelbase offering stability where its needed and the Centre Of Gravity sitting in a position to offer a fun driving experience.

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Let’s face it, iid this was the most stable RC vehicle ever invented then its wouldnt mimic the trucks that compete at Monster Jam. I’ll go into this more in part 2, where I put it through its paces on various different terrains, but suffice to say, this shell will not remain immaculate, it will get thoroughly bash tested on both 2 and 3S and I will attempt my party piece, the double (or even triple) Backflip. Until then I leave you with a few more images of the pristine truck…as I eagerly charge LiPo cells and get my official Grave Digger Monster Jam T shirt on…I am so looking forward to this!

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THe Gravedigger will always be a fan favourite…it’s arguably the most iconic MT ever!

But why does this truck mean so much to me? Well, a few years ago myself and the then RRCi team worked at Monster Jam at the UK events they staged. We did the warm up for the crowd using Traxxas 1/8th RC Monster Trucks (with incidentally, the now head of Axials UK office, Andrew Rawlinson!). Hanging out with all the teams was amazing, we had a great time, even getting to sit in the Trucks and experience the practice runs and event itself right next to the track itself. We even have the blower belt from Grave Digger hanging in Speedy Steve’s garage after he broke it in the final on his very last winning run!

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I love Monster Jam because I was part of the UK events a few years back!

The driver and team of Grave Digger at that event bet me a mountain of Grave Digger goodies I couldn’t backflip the biggest gap in the stadium (well over 90 feet) in front of the very large crowd, so no pressure there then! Always up for a challenge I attempted it both days as the finale of the warm up. I would position my 6s powered truck at the far end of the stadium and drive it full speed to the take off ramp! 1st day I landed on the down ramp at an odd angle and broke an A arm and bent a shock, plus the rear of the trucks body didnt fare too well either. The second day it actually landed ‘in’ the last crushed car in a line of them just before the down ramp and disappeared completely, to a round of applause from the crowd…

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I Got My Stash Of Goodies!

Because of the sheer entertainment factor of my attempts (you could hear them all laughing from the pit area!) they gave me my goodies (plush Monster Jam trucks for kids, kids T shirts and one of my most prized possessions to this day, my GD Cap and adult T’s). I still keep in touch with some of the crew on Facebook and I know for as fact they are digging the new Axial in a big way. Oh, and there was also an incident with a certain RC truck and the shows compare…but what happens in Pride Park Derby, stays in Pride Park Derby eh Andrew!

Join me soon for part 2 when we run the rig, test its abilities to the hilt and see if I can get my backflip mojo back! Until then here’s the official Axial video of the SMT10 Grave Digger Monster Jam Truck in action…

For more on Monster Jam and the 2016/17 global tour dates click: HERE

For more on Axial Racing and the SMT10 Grave Digger click: HERE

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