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For the first 'test' of the car, I took it to a couple of local play spots, for photos and to give the car a good run. The first thing that struck me was how smooth but rapid the Mamba Max was - indeed, the first thing I had to do was tighten the rear differential as the power was a little too much for it. I wasn't sure if the Mamba Max would be as smooth as the sensored systems I'd driven, but if anything it was actually smoother!

I was using 'traditional' NiMh cells in the car and it felt good if a little skittish - the soft suspension did work fairly well on the rough and loose ground though. I switched over to the Trakpower LiPo - and the car was transformed into a raging animal - the combination of the extra voltage and power, with lighter weight cells, made the KeenHawk a missile. Too fast to control on the loose bumpy surfaces, but all the more fun because of it.
The combination of a relatively short wheelbase and rearward motor position give the KeenHawk plenty of traction off the line and make for fairly safe handling in the wide open areas.

So, is the ‘Keen Hawk’ really an ‘Indifferent Sparrow’ – or does it live up to its delusions of grandeur?  To find out, I took the car to the 2007 Batley Supercup – an indoor event with some of the top drivers in the country in attendance.

I took the TRF 501X as backup along with a new Dark Impact kit and some choice hop-ups to keep me going if the worst happened. I had a front one-way diff and slipper clutch set on the way but they didn’t turn up in time for the event.

From the first practice it was clear that, unlike running outdoors on dirt to test the car and having some fun - trying to get this car around a race track with other much more race-proven cars was not easy.  The shock absorbers were just not up to the job at all. 
The pistons as mentioned earlier are just way too soft (holes too big) and this meant that the car was not only very soft and bouncy – but there was no pack (slowing of the pistons movement due to turbulence of the fluid).
With the gearing I was running, 85t kit 0.5 module spur and 20t 48dp pinion – the car was embarrassingly loud.  The slightly odd mesh of the gears lead to a high pitched noise and made the car sound cheap and like it was about to fall apart – which of course it wasn’t.  Indeed, after a full days racing and some other practice sessions, the spur gear was only slightly worn.

For the first qualifier I added 70wt Losi oil all round and this made a huge difference but still not quite stiff enough and there was no pack, so dropping the car from a few inches would still lead to a nasty chassis-slap.   If you imagine that on the race track, then instead of landing nicely from a small jump it would bounce a little and become unstable - losing momentum and composure.

Because of the slightly bouncy suspension, the power that the Mamba Max was putting out was just making things worse, and it was a struggle to control the car.  It was quite literally too fast for the suspension to cope with.  On the slippy sections of the track I tried to put the car sideways to get it around corners but it just had none of it and usually spun or became unpredictable - the setup certainly wasn't right for the track.

I’d had enough of the kit shocks and wanted to try the Tamiya DF-03 hop-up shocks – I’d built these the night before but neglected to bring the spare pistons and a quick comparison led me to realize these were barely much different to the kit shocks in terms of pack and I would have had to put some heavy oil in just to get the correct damping.  There was little point trying to run them and I knew performance wouldn’t improve so put them to one side until I could find a setup for them.
Instead-  I dug out some Associated B4 shocks from my pitbox and installed these – the rears were slightly too short so I wound down the rod-ends a few turns to get a little droop. Now – this was much more like it.  The car was now much more planted and driveable.  Still, the setup needed some attention but at least the car would go over the bumps. This just goes to show what a difference the shocks can make.

Power is nothing without control.
The Mamba Max 5700 setup really was smooth and controllable – but the lack of slipper on the Keen Hawk really made this setup aggressive and unforgiving.   A hard pull on the trigger would rocket the car off like a missile.  Driving over some of the bumpier parts of the track whilst on-power was clearly hard on the diff(s), and by round three the rear diff felt like it had grit in there just from the amount of slipping it had done. I just seemed to be unable to stop the diff from slipping - the diff balls don't appear to be the best quality.

The faster you go the better the car needs to be – and at the speeds I was going and trying to race alongside some of the best developed chassis around, the Keen Hawk just couldn’t handle it in stock form.  The Mamba Max, though an awesome setup, was probably just too much for the Keen Hawn on a technical race track like this - at least it was on the standard car.

The Damage: After serveral runs and a couple of race meetings, the keen hawk survived quite well. I admit I gave the car a lot of abuse, jumps, tumbles and plenty of crashes and it didn't complain too much. The rear diff is a weak point, but despite what I was told about the plastic parts on that differential - they survived all the abuse that was thrown at them. In the end it was the diff balls and plates that suffered from the lack of a slipper, and by the time I'd added a slipper, it was too late - new balls and plates then.
The rear inner hinge pin mounting always looked a weak point

The last meeting for the Keen Hawk was another Batley indoor meeting - this time a reporter from the local newspaper came to do an article and she wanted to race an entire meeting - so I provided her with the Keen Hawk. Naturally I didn't let her loose with the insane power of the Mamba Max. Instead opting for the kit supplied Mabuchi 540 and a Novak ESC. This was a heck of a lot easier to drive as you'd imagine. Far from a missile, but still running the Trakpower Lipo, the car had a decent turn of speed.

The reporter managed to do the entire meeting, including her final - and only on the way home did I realise the rear of the car was in tatters. That rear gearbox hinge pin mounting had broken. The wishbones were still attached but a new gearbox and rebuild of the car would be in order - not the sort of thing you'd want to do at the track side.

Another weak point on this car, and a rather odd one, is the aerial tube. The aerial tube exits the body shell through the top of the huge air scoop - and so any roll overs bend the aerial tube against the point it exits the shell and damages it. I went through a couple of aerial tubes whilst running this car.

The DF03 / Keen Hawk is a great car in all ways as long as you don't expect too much. Even on the race track it can perform well if you get the setup tuned just right. On a short track without too many bumps to tax the suspension and wobbly shock towers, the Keen Hawk could keep up with much more expensive cars and maybe even beat some.

If you are looking for a car to win club meetings with - it's possible with the DF03 Keen Hawk, but not altogether easy. The car could really do with a few hop-ups to shine, a slipper would be my first choice, along with moving to 48dp for a wider range of easily available pinions.
Upgraded shocks are also a must have if you want to get the best from the car - the difference between the stock shocks and the Associated shocks (which were already setup well) was great. The official Tamiya hop-up shocks were a slight disappointment and had a limited range of adjustment / pistons - so were still way too soft for my liking. I've not had time to get these shocks working well, but they are super smooth and high quality items. They just need the right combination of pistons and oil is all, the Associated shocks are familiar to me which is why it was easier to get them right for the Keen Hawk.

I can't say I wasn't disappointed with the Keen Hawk, because I was - but only in so much as I had put so much hope in the car, that it could perform as well as the 501X (ok, I was dreaming!). I look at this chassis and see some missed opportunities, it's such a unique and interesting design - with many great points. But the rear inner hinge pin location is laughably poor and unbefitting of this chassis. The chassis isn't really long enough, another 10mm and this could be a lot better balanced. But ultimately some of the cars drawbacks on the race track are what add to its appeal to the masses, and surely go toward making this one of Tamiyas greatest cars.

The Keen Hawk is a great introduction to 10th off road, be it racing or 'bashing' - or any combination of the two. The chassis can take serious abuse and is safe and predictable to a point - add a few choice hop-ups and it will only get better.


Fear not - I haven't give up on the Keen Hawk / DF03 by a long way, if you want to race this interesting chassis then wait for my 'Ultimate Impact' review of the KMRC carbon fibre chassis conversion, along with plenty of great hop-ups all reviewed. Also a review of the Keen Hawk fully 'blued up' with the YEAH RACING DF03 hop ups.

Discuss the Tamiya DF03 Keen Hawk in the Forum!

Needless to say, i put a lot of effort into this review, so if you like it, let me know, thanks.


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Thanks to for supplying the Mamba Max and Trakpower LiPo for this review.

Thanks to Vicky, Paul Rotheram, Steve Curtis Rich.

This review is not helped by, supported by or endorsed by Tamiya or The Hobby Company (Tamiya UK) in any way.


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