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1987 WC Ultima | Project | Commercial ads | Joel Johnson and Ultima racing || Ultima Series

This article is the result of quite a few years of research, and is still in progress. Everything probably started when I as a kid read the reports from the 1987 World Championships in Romsey (UK) several hundred times, and Joel Johnson was of course my idol. Already back then I tried to get as much info as possible about the equipment he used to win the Worlds. But as this was before internet, and I was living right beside the North Pole (Tromso, Norway) it wasn't easy to get any solid info besides what was written in the two RC-car magazines distributed here. Both "Radio Control Car Action" and "Radio Control Model Cars" had extensive coverage of the WC, but contradicting claims (even within the same magazine) made it hard to distinguish facts from fiction. With my renewed passion for RC-cars I continued the path I started 20 years ago, trying to nail down the facts about Joel's winning Ultima using todays tools like the web and e-mail. As I gathered more and more info about this "mystery" Ultima, it became inevitable that I had to try to build a replica. My research have brought me in contact with Joel Johnson himself, and I have been in dialogue with him about the car and the WC. Most of the hard facts in this article have been confirmed by Joel, and/or by studying the remains of the car in the hands of Daniel Rowlands, who took it upon himself to restore Joels actual Ultima. My goal is to make this article the full and correct history about Joel Johnson and his 1987 World Champs winning Ultima.



Joel "Magic" Johnson
Born in 1967

33 US National Championships
2 IFMAR World Championships
1 PROCAR World Championship


Joel "Magic" Johnson, the "pop-star" of RC
Joel Johnson was the first real "star" of RC cars, and is rated as one of the very best drivers the world has ever seen. Although winning lots of championships in a variety of classes, it was the 1987 IFMAR 2WD Off-Road World Championship that really made him shine, and gave him that"popstar" fame. Nicknamed "Magic" he drove a highly modified Ultima to win the gold for his teams (Team Trinity and Team Kyosho) in front of two other Team Kyosho drivers, Katsunori Kondo and Kris Moore. That win started a sponsorship frenzy the RC world has probably never seen again. Driving a Kyosho car, with a D&D-made (Composite Craft) Trinity chassis, JG Mfg. damper towers, Trinity motor, Tekin ESC, Futaba steering servo, Novak receiver, KO Propo transmitter, and using Trinity matched Sanyo Cadnica batteries, they all wanted a piece of the fame. Some magazines and websites have tried to discredit Kyosho for the World Champs win. Among the claims I have read is that Kyosho took Joel under their wings AFTER winning the 2WD champs, just to take advantage of him in their marketing. Joel has dismissed this to me by saying he was a FULL member of the Kyosho team, working directly with Japan in development of the cars. He also was a full member of the Trinity team. Pictures from the event backs his claims, as he is pictured in the driver's stand wearing his "Kyosho Racing Team" jacket with his name embroidered on the chest. Interrestingly enough Joel was actually only an alternate to the worlds, meaning he got his spot because another driver couldn't go.

The 1987 World Champs-winning Ultima
Taking a quick look at some very rare pictures of Joel's 1987 winning car from back then, reveals that not all the marketing made by the mentioned manufacturers were accurate or true:

And here's another pic of Joel's Worlds-winning Ultima.

.....and yet another.

Kyosho claimed he was using their Option House carbon shock towers. By looking at the pictures you can see that the shock towers used on the winning car were the John Gudvangen (JG Mfg.) fiberglass towers. Later that year, at the US nationals, I'm told he was using Trinity carbon shock towers. I have never got any confirmation about him using the Kyosho towers...... Kyosho's Option House gold shocks were used all around. These are the finest shocks ever made! The rear wheels were from a Kyosho Turbo Optima (although he also used the yellow Option House version, Kyosho claims them to be the silver Option House wheels). He was however using the Option House W-5032 dirt rear tires, and up front he was using stock Ultima tires on yellow Kyosho Tomahawk wheels. You can also see the Sanyo Cadnica batteries, even though the colour in the first pic puzzles me a bit. In fact Joel could not confirm that this pic really is of his car. He told me it looked very close, but he couldn't tell for sure. There is certainly a orange Novak NER-2S receiver, and what is supposed to be a orange Tekin ESC190 PRO speed controller. The Trinity (D&D) carbon chassis is also there. He was using the standard Ultima servo saver rack (although locked up, and using a servo mounted saver), but with the middle linkage exchanged for a ball jointed version, like on the RC10. Joel has confirmed to me that the parts were indeed from a RC10. Steering rods and upper suspension arms were however the Option House adjustable ones. The body used was the Kyosho Tomahawk body, but I'm not sure about the wing. The gears outside the gear box were made by Robinson Racing, but I'm not sure about the pinion. Kyosho claims he was using their hardened Option House pinions. The dogbones were exchanged for the Option House U-shafts. The UM-28 Motor Guard was used to protect the motor from impacts. On one point my sources disagree on what was used on the winning Ultima, and that is the differential. In the December 1987 edition of the magazine "Radio Control Car Action" an unnamed staff writer writes the following about the top three Ultimas in the article "Team Kyosho", on page 18: "All three cars used new prototype adjustable ball diffs". Then in the April 1988 issue of the same magazine, writer Fred Murphy tells a completely different story in the article "Project Ultima", on page 21: "The differential is a stock box with added ball bearings from Kyosho." Joel himself has told me he believe he was using a Thorp ball differential, but couldn't say that with 100% certainity.

Evil tounges says the Ultima won the World Champs without much Ultima left..... But to be honest, my RC10's haven't much in common with the RC10's used by Masami Hirosaka to win championships, either. It's the result of constant development, and personal preferences by the drivers. And Kyosho did release versions close to the WC Ultimas later, the "Ultima Pro" variants.

Joel Johnson on the drivers stand at the 1997 World Champs, in his "KYOSHO Racing Team" jacket.

Set up
As a set-up note I can reveal that the reason for running the batteries along the lenght of the chassis, as opposed to using "saddle packs" or the standard Ultima mounting position across the width of the chassis, was done to prevent a high degree of over-steering that plagued the car in it's standard form. It's very tight to fit the batteries in between the gear case and the steering servo. The servo had to be moved as close to the "servo saver rack" as possible, and the mounting "ears" had to be cut off. I'm not sure, but I believe the servo was secured with servo tape only. If you have studied the pictures of Joels WC Ultima carefully, you might also have noticed the missing stabilizer/sway bars. This was probably removed to give more traction when cornering, but Joel coudn't say for sure. The rear stabilizer most likely would have made the car lose grip far too easily, not a good thing on a 2WD car. The motor was a Trinity 17.5 turn triple that Trinity got express made and sent from their factory. Ernst Provetti of Trinity had this to say about the motor: "We did run a pure gold motor. We did not arrive with that motor. When I saw the layout and the lack of me it looked like an onroad track! We could use a lot more power than we could on a normal powered off road dirt track! I called Trinity and a custom wound motor was shipped that day federal express to England. At that time it was the first Triple Wind we had ever done! It was a rocket and never came out of the car!" Joel could not remember what pinion sizes he used. Mr. Provetti also has disclosed more insight into what happened "behind the scenes" at Romsey: "So many great stories from that race! Joel qualified as an "alternate" for that race! We had no illusions of doing anything there until we saw the track! The second I saw the track I knew we could win! We had run very little off-road. Everyone had written us off! At one point Joel had run about 5 charges and we were in the top 3. I asked him though why aren't you working on the car! He never touched it and everyone else was tearing the cars down every run! He said to runs pretty good and why take a chance of ruining it. Smiling face with smiling eyes. By the end of the week everyone was looking at our car! We were pitting near Cliff Lett, Associated's chief designer. He was checking Joel's car out. That was the ultimate compliment, as Lett was one of the most knowledgable set up guys ever in RC. Honestly we never even changed the shock oil and won as an "alternate" (since someone else could not go) I guarantee you this will NEVER be done again!!!!!".

Marketing claims
Looking at this ad from Kyosho, I can see a few false claims or errors. Just look at the pictures of Joel's car above, and Kat's car further down on this page. I have already mentioned that Joel used Gudvangen's fiberglass shock towers, and not the Kyosho towers. Funnily enough, the towers pictured in the Kyosho ad as UM-26 are actually the standard Ultima UM-6 aluminum towers. The UM-26's are carbon. I also mentioned the rear wheels used by Joel, and from the pics it looks like Kat was using the same type as him, and not the silver Option House wheels claimed by Kyosho. Errors, or false marketing? You decide...... Strangely enough they forgot to mention the Option House UM-28 Motor Guard seen on both Joel's and Katsunori's Ultimas.

List of equipment for the 1987 top three
According to my research, this is the equipment used by the top 3 at the 1987 IFMAR Off-Road 2WD World Championships:

1. Joel Johnson, Kyosho Ultima (Team Trinity/Team Kyosho)

-Associated RC10 antenna mount
-Associated RC10 servo saver linkage****
-Futaba FP-S32H mini servo***
-Home made fiberglass plate for the front body mount
-JG Mfg fibreglass long shock towers (very like the Trinity 8025/8026 carbon)
-Kimbrough servo saver (slightly cut)*****
-KO Propo EX-I (1985 version) transmitter
-Kyosho OT-67 Turbo Optima (white) and W-5023 (yellow) rear wheels
-Kyosho SC-26 Scorpion/Ultima front tires
-Kyosho SC-28(?) Tomahawk front wheels (yellow)**
-Kyosho SC-30 Scorpion body post (front)
-Kyosho SC-71 Tomahawk body (custom cut)*
-Kyosho UM-14 Ultima servo saver unit (locked(zip-tie)
-Kyosho Wing???*
-Kyosho Option House (1974) complete bearing set
-Kyosho Option House UM-28 motor guard (brownish)
-Kyosho Option House W-5001/W-5002 gold shocks
-Kyosho Option House W-5005 special rod set
-Kyosho Option House W-5032 rear tires
-Kyosho Option House W-5061 universal-jointed shafts
-Novak NER-2S 40MHz yellow antenna G-plug receiver
-Robinson Racing RRP-3158 (or other size) 48 pitch gears
-Tekin ESC190 PRO speed controller
-Thorp/Dirt Burners 4660 Ultima ball differential
-Trinity #6008 wing buttons (silver)
-Trinity #8028 (D&D/Composite Craft) carbon chassis
-Trinity matched Sanyo Cadnica 1200SC batteries
-Trinity Pure Gold 17.5 turn triple motor
-Yokomo (Graupner 4933/50m) Dogfighter wing mounts (bullet style)


*The body and wing looks like they were painted very hastily. Only a thin layer of paint were used, and parts of the wing were lacking paint altogether.
**I have not been able to confirm that yellow versions of these wheels were ever sold to the public. They might have been dyed.
***The S32H is the old G-plug version of the more common S132H.
****The rod itself is shorter than on the RC10.
*****The side rows of holes were cut away, only the middle one remained.

2. Katsunori Kondo, Kyosho Ultima (Team Kyosho)

-Option House UM-27 Special Chassis
-Option House UM-30 Special Radio Plate
-Option House UM-26 Tall Shock Tower set
-Option House OT-76 Hardened Final Pinion
-Option House W-5005 Special Rod Set
-Option House (1974) Complete Bearing Set
-Option House UM-28 Motor Guard
-Yellow Turbo Optima rear wheels
-Option House W-5032 Low-Profile Rear Tires-Dirt
-Stock Ultima front wheels
-Unknown front tires
-Option House W-5001/W-5002 Gold Shocks
-Option House W-5061 Universal-Jointed Shafts
-LeMans 240WS motor
-Futaba receiver
-Futaba servo
-Futaba FP-MC109 ESC
-Kyosho Tomahawk body

3. Kris Moore, Kyosho Ultima (Team Kyosho)

-Option House UM-27 Special Chassis
-Option House UM-30 Special Radio Plate
-Option House UM-26 Tall Shock Tower set
-Option House OT-76 Hardened Final Pinion
-Option House (1974) Complete Bearing Set
-Option House W-5021 Large Rear Wheels
-Option House W-5032 Low-Profile Rear Tires-Dirt
-Option House W-5001/W-5002 Gold Shocks
-Custom made hardened gears
-Novak receiver
-Novak ESC
-Airtronics 557 servo
-Twister no. 201 motor
-Matched Sanyo Cadnica batteries

If you should happen to have any more info on either Joel's,
Kat's or Kris' 1987 WC Ultimas, don't hesitate to contact me.
Please use the "Contact Me" link in the menu to the left. I'm
very interrested in more pictures of these Ultimas, especially
pictures of the Tomahawk body used by Joel.

Katsunori Kondo's 1987 World Champs Ultima

Video of 2WD A-final (leg 1) of the 1987 World Champs:

Video of 2WD A-final (leg 2) of the 1987 World Champs:

In the 1989 US Nationals Joel entered with his Ultima, but did "only" make the B-final. This picture is said to be of the Ultima he raced in the '89 NATS:

It had a few machined aluminum parts made by Tecnacraft. I will have to get a confirmation from Joel if this indeed was his car. I have read so many claims in various magazines that has turned out to be plain rubbish, so I'm not really sure on this.

Regarding to Joel himself, he raced his best off-road races in the UK, as the tracks in Britain were smoother. "I was never very good at jumping", he told me.

Here's some ad's feat. Joel from 1987, 88 & 89:

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