Before The Dark Times, Before The Empire
For the 2011 Nazareth Adult Soapbox Derby I wanted to design a car that people would like and made me feel heroic. So I decided I would model it after one of the most important vehicles of our nation's history: the T-65 X-wing fighter.
I scoured the web to print pictures and blueprints of X-wing Fighters. Thankfully, there is an entire nerd community dedicated to fantasizing about what makes Star Wars ships tick. So I got pics of models, blue prints, and all kinds of drawings. These would give me a reference for this year's car.
I started out using my 2010 car which was also my father's 2008 car.. I stripped it down to the studs, took a photo, and printed the photo out. Using tracing paper over the photo I fleshed out what the new car design would look like. The first thing I noticed is that it was going to be longer and wider than the frame I was using. I anticipated that the width could pose a problem with transporting it in my truck. So I came up with the idea of making the car modular and assembling it on-site before the race.
I had my heart set on a few key design features that I knew would make the car really badass: 1) I wanted a R2 droid that spun and made sounds 2) I wanted the wings to open and close. Very early on I abandoned the open/closing wing idea. I just couldn’t make it happen in the budget and time that I had. But I was pretty sure I could easily get the droid to spin and talk.
The first thing I did was frame-out the additional length to the front and rear of the car. I also had to re-shape the entire front of the car from the driver's seat forward. I re-did this twice until I got the shape I was looking for. The rear of the car was basically a hollow box where the wings mounted and the droid sat. I needed to have access to the inside of the box so I could attach and remove the wings.
R2-D69: The spinning droid was constructed of Styrofoam and painted to look like R2-D2. I used one of my daughter’s old toys to create the motion. The toy had a gear on it that spun when a button was pushed. I cut the toy in half (it was too big) and mounted the toy to the underside of the body and glued the droid head onto the gear. To control the spinning I used an old NES controller. I re-routed the toy's switch through the NES controller so when the A or B buttons were pushed the droid would spin for about 15 seconds. For audio, I downloaded some R2-D2 sound effects from a website and used Pinnacle movie studio software to string them all together into a 50 second babbling droid Mp3. I loaded this onto an iPod and connected it to a small portable speaker system that I hid inside the body of the car. This way, each time I started down the hill, I could push the NES controller button and the iPod play button to commence the droid freak-out.The wings were another tricky part. I made two sets of brackets that would hold the wings in the correct X shape and could be mounted to the sides of the car. Some drainage piping was used for the "engine" things.
Another interesting feature of the car was the nose cone. One of the rules of NASBRA is that the car needs to have a sturdy eye-hook on the front. I did not want to ruin the cool look of the nose of an X-wing so I created a nose cone that lifted up to reveal a hidden hook. The nose was made of wood and cardboard and was mounted using a small metal cabinet hinge.
There were a lot of details in the X-wing car and almost all were done on the cheap. The entire car cost under about $75. There were 7 pieces to the car that were assembled at the race site: 4 turrets, 2 wings, and one car body. During the first heat I broke
one of the car's brakepads. I must have pulled the brake lever too hard against the wheel which caused one of the wooden pads t
o break. Upon post mortem inspection of the car the next day I also noticed that the axle saddle was also cracked. I assume this occurred at the same time as the break pad damage. Pulling the brake lever too hard must have shoved the wheel (and axle) back too hard which spilt the axle saddle. Also, during my second heat (the first loser's bracket round) I collided and became entangled with another car that was shaped like a camera. Dramatically, I still managed to win that heat and move on to the next round.