Tamiya M05 Review

4/8/2010 by Gary Katzer

Copyright:© 2010 Horizon Hobby, Inc.

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    There are some things that just bring a smile to my face anytime I do them. One of those things is driving at the Tamiya USA test facility in California. I have not been able to go there for the last two years and it has really bummed me out. However, I recently received a box from the man in the brown truck that made it necessary to head out there. I tossed the packing material here and there until I unveiled the bounty at the bottom of the box—the M05 Mini Cooper.

    The M05 is a variation of Tamiya’s successful M03 chassis. Like that car, the M05 features a front-mounted motor, however, the servo has been relocated to the rear of the chassis. The M05 can also be built in a short, mid-, or long wheelbase configuration to accommodate your personal driving style and what body you’d like to run. With a fully charged Li-Po, I boarded the airplane and headed west to put the M05 through its paces.

Speed Specs
Vehicle: M05 Mini Cooper
Manufacturer: Tamiya
Part Number: TAM58438
Vehicle Class/Type: M-Chassis On-Road car
Target Audience: Beginner to advanced on-road racer and scale enthusiasts
Kit/RTR/BND/Race Roller: Kit

Test Items Used:
Spektrum DX3E Transmitter (SPM3160)
Spektrum S6010 Servo (SPMSS6010) 
Spektrum SR3100 DSM2 Receiver (SPMSR3100)
Tamiya S - Grip Tires (TAM53254)
Tamiya 11-Spoke 60D Wheels (TAM51394)
Tamiya Racing Spring Set (TAM53440)

Track Notes
    If I haven’t said it enough I will say it again—I love this track. It has great racing lines, awesome opportunities to pass, great bite and is located in one of the best parts of the country in Southern California. I arrived at the test facility and noticed that there was a light covering of sand, dust and pollen on the track. I knew this meant the first few runs would be rather slippery as I would have to work that clag off of the track and form a racing line. It didn’t take too long, but it was a bit of a tedious time as all I wanted to do was open the car up and turn some laps. 
Before hitting the track for the first time, I did make a few changes from the out-of-the-box configuration of the M05. The chassis comes with friction shocks and plastic bushings which both had to go. I installed the Tamiya M05 ball bearing set into the car during assembly, but I was at a loss as to what to do regarding the shocks. Luckily for me I had a Tamiya TA-05V.2 that I had installed some of Tamiya’s excellent TRF shocks onto, meaning I had a set of plastic-bodied, oil-filled shocks that I could install on the M05. With these tweaks in place, I hit the track for a day that would go by way too quickly.

Top Speed/Acceleration
    The M05 includes both a 540-J motor and an ESC which is what I used in this test. I knew that, with the length of the main straight at Tamiya USA, I’d be wishing for more motor or a bigger pinion but the overall top speed was quite good. I’ve seen some of the fastest M03 and M04 chassis ever put together run at this track and they can definitely boogie down the front stretch. The M05 wasn’t hurting for a lot of speed through the infield, however, a little more pep would have been nice. This can be done in a number of ways, most of which involve breaking the motor in through a variety of different methods. I will say, however, that the stock motor was better than other older kit motors Tamiya has included in the past. This may be due to a softer brush or better-quality magnets, but whatever it was—the car was solid. 
The transmission of the M03 is built like a tank, but it’s also a little on the heavy side. The new driveline in the M05 improves upon its predecessor’s by lightening up the differential and some other slight tweaks to the driveline. The M05 felt like it rolled through the corners with a good amount of corner speed and accelerated surprisingly well out of corners. One note is that the M05 can exhibit a bit of torque-steer when you nail the throttle from a dead stop. It wasn’t a major issue but it was noticeable.

    Out-of-the-box the M05 surprised me with how well it felt on-track. The thing I thought would most adversely affect the handling was the kit tires, however they were pretty decent. With the stock tires, inserts and springs mounted to the oil-filled shocks, I was able to get around the Tamiya USA track competently. I did have to turn my steering rate down on the DX3E a little bit to limit the overall steering throw to avoid scrubbing speed or turn-in to a corner too early. I also had to make sure that I stayed on line with this setup since, if I wandered off line the dust and dirt out there made the car feel like it was slipping and sliding.  

Now, I did have the Mini-CVA shocks on the car the entire time, but I initially filled the shocks with the oil that was included with the TA-05V.2 while using the stock M05 springs. With the stock tires, stock inserts and stock springs the car felt decent enough, however I never felt like it was really “in the track.” Much of it was due to the dust and dirt on the track I am sure, but it just felt like it wandered and that I had to chase the tail a bit. It wasn’t horrendous but I knew I could improve things with some tuning.   

Tuned-Chassis Handling
    As I mentioned in the video, I had talked with Tamiya USA’s Fred Medel about a good baseline setup to try on the M05 at the Tamiya test track. With fresh shock oil, new springs and a set of Tamiya S-Grip tires glued up, I hit the track to see what a “tuned” M05 could do. From the first squeeze of the trigger the car felt much better in terms of the side bite and forward bite on both ends of the car. I felt like I could now carve much tighter lines around the track and not worry about the rear end stepping out on me and having to chase it. 

One of the main differences between this car and, say, the M03 or M04 is that it just felt crisper than I remember those two cars being. Now much of that could be attributed to it being a freshly built car and everything being tight, I’m willing to accept that. Comparing the M05 to its predecessors, with the M03 I always fought chattering on the rear end of my car combined with a tendency to traction roll. With the M04, the rear motor setup always made getting on the power challenging as it was really easy to spin the rear tires and buzz them coming off the corner. However, the M05 just felt right and encouraged me to hustle it around the track lap after lap. It never exhibited the traction roll tendency that the M03 can have, and the front wheel drive made it easier to hammer the throttle than on the M04. I think there’s a lot of race potential to this chassis 

    The forward-mounted motor translates to a lot of weight over the front axles. This is one of the reasons why the M03 was more popular than the M04 was—because of the weight placement and what it meant to the handling of the chassis. If anything, I think the lowered motor placement and the rear-mounted servo help this car tremendously, and it’s most noticeable off power.
  Whether you’re simply letting off the gas to roll into a corner or hitting the brakes, the M05 is much better off-power than either the M03 or M04 for my driving style. The M05 is capable of going deep into the corner, nailing the brakes and making the entry to the corner. The lower CG and different servo placement also allows the M05 to do this without losing the rear end either. With both the stock setup and the tuned setup, this car felt pretty balanced off-power. 

    Much of the strength of the M05 off-power also appeared on-power. The weight over the front axle again provided a lot of mechanical grip, of course, but the overall design allows you to get on the throttle without losing the rear end. Be careful here though as that extra front bite can make it tempting to get on the power too much too soon and cause you to miss the entry to the following corner. One thing I did notice was the fact that, even without a swaybar on either end of the car, the M05 cornered flat and smooth and carried a lot of corner speed. That was rather surprising but the car just flat out works. 

Stock Electronics
    One of the unique things about the M05 is the fact that it includes not only a Type-J TCS-legal motor but an electronic speed controller too. I was actually pretty impressed with how well the stock TEU-104BK worked. It was smooth, reliable and overall a nice surprise. I did notice that the car would stutter at times when I pulled full-throttle from a dead stop. I am thinking this may have been due to the BEC voltage not being quite high enough to provide enough voltage under a high-current load to the radio system. The only time this would be a problem would be on the start of a race, and if I rolled on the throttle instead of just punching it from a dead stop it was fine. This never happened when I was actually out on the track turning laps, so I am not terribly worried about it.

    When I see tracks around the country struggling with their on-road programs it makes me quite sad. On-road racing has been on a decline over the last few years for a number of reasons—the cost associated with it, the chassis/motor/speed controller/battery-of-the-week issues that have plagued the class, and more. Off-road has been the beneficiary of this decline, specifically the short course classes. Many have asked what they can do to revitalize the on-road scene. Others have asked what they can do to create a class that captures people like the short course class on the off-road side. In my opinion the Mini, or M-Chassis class could be that class. 
  One of the greatest appeals of the short course class has been its low cost/high fun nature. That philosophy has been in place in the Tamiya Mini class since its inception. The cars are simple to build, easy to maintain and limited in terms of chassis setup options. Racing a mini is like the on-road version of short course racing— minis are easy to build, easy to maintain, most tracks maintain the stock 540 Type-J motor as the spec motor (so the speeds are kept in check) and they are simply fun to drive. I really wish more on-road chassis manufacturers would embrace this concept so we could see a resurgence in the on-road scene. 
  Speaking in terms of the M05 itself, it is a very capable contender in the M-Chassis class, whether in TCS or in weekly club racing. It does have its own quirks when it comes to the chassis and some of the included gear (Friction shocks? Really? Can we finally get oil shocks standard please?), but as long as you know that you’ll want to pick up some extra stuff when you buy the kit, it’s not too bad. I would highly recommend picking up the bearing set, a better servo saver and a set of oil-filled shocks when you buy the kit. Those items really should be included with the car itself, but when you look at the cost of the kit it would be hard to get all that in there at that price. For those looking for the ultimate M05 performance, there is also the full-blown M05 Pro which includes the above-listed items, along with some very nice performance parts too.

    In all I have to say I had a blast with the M05. I had planned on taking the 2010 TCS series off for a few different reasons but this car has me rethinking that decision. It’s a capable car that handles well, was fun to build and just brings a smile to your face when you’re driving it. The car worked very well at the Tamiya track and I think the potential for it to work on other surfaces is very high too. The S-Grip tires and red springs did help transform the car from one that was a bit skittish and edgy to one that was very capable. So what are you waiting for? The TCS season is in full swing—isn’t it time that you went out and had fun again? Then go get an M05 of your own and go have some fun!