We’d like to introduce you to Bjorn Harms. Bjorn lives in Maastricht, Netherlands, and is a veteran of the Dutch army. When government budget cuts ended his 15-year military career, he found that he had a lot more time to pursue his hobbies – PC casemodding, building very detailed Knight Industries Two Thousand replicas out of Pontiac Firebirds, and the one that really caught our attention, converting his C6 Corvette into a full-scale radio control car.
After marveling at his videos showing the ‘Vette doing burnouts and donuts, and seeing just how cleanly integrated the system was into the car’s interior, we had to reach out to Bjorn and ask him a few questions. Here’s what he had to say:
Why did you decide to turn your Corvette into a life-size remote control car? Have you done any similar projects before?
Bjorn Harms: Wow… Many reasons, really. No, I haven’t done something like this before. I did ‘try’ something like it to my old C4 Corvette, but it wasn’t anything near a success, so I dropped the idea for a while. I came up with it by watching Back to the Future when I was a kid. How cool is that! Having a FULL SIZE CAR as an RC car. Of course it has to be a cool car! Or else people get bored REAL quick!
As you may have seen from my YouTube clips, I was a big Knight Rider fan when I was a kid. I promised myself to buy a Firebird and build it as a K.I.T.T. I started working on cars and electronics when I was 19. The Internet is the best teacher, and I am not afraid to take something apart. I also broke and blew up some stuff over the years, but, that’s how you learn!
When I got older, I got more and more interested in Corvettes than K.I.T.T. replicas. Owning a K.I.T.T. replica is brutal — Too nerve-wracking! So, count those three things up with a crazy mind, and you’ll get an RC Corvette. And the other part — I love telling people my crazy ideas. But nobody believed that I could pull it off. So it became a challenge.
How long did the Corvette take, and how much money have you invested so far?
BH: Getting the “know how” to actually pull something like this off and succeed was one year. Then building the first RC unit, about two or three months. Making custom brackets to fit the motors to all the controls, also around two months. It’s a back-killer under that low dash! After that, another two months completely redesigning EVERYTHING with safe motors.
Total investment? Sadly also including parts you didn’t end up using, about $3,000 US. Just for the ones I finally used, around $1,000 US. So that’s very cheap.
What type of actuators are you using for the steering, brakes, and shifter? Did you tap into the car’s drive by wire throttle, or do you mechanically control the throttle pedal?
BH: All the controls are mechanically operated. Even the ‘turn off’ button. Only the start function is spliced in the button controls. The controllers are motors and servos, all with their own motorcontrollers.
Everything is so well hidden – how hard was it to make the actuators completely integrated into the car?
BH: Yeah, no kidding, hard! I have a REALLY small garage, so I can’t open the car doors completely. I have to bend like a pretzel to get under the dash.
Does the radio control equipment interfere with driving the car normally?
BH: No. Everything is completely shut down when I normally drive. I do take a small precaution by leaving the car radio off while on remote, since Corvettes have a reputation with radio and other electrical interference.
Did you include a “fail-safe” in case the signal from your transmitter is lost?
BH: Of course! When out of reach, the car stops. The brake activates and throttle goes back to zero. There is one fail safe integrated in the remote, and the other one spliced between the brake and receiver. I also have another, second brake connected to the brake as an absolute final failsafe. It works on different signal than the receiver.
How did you test it for the first time? Were you nervous?
BH: Yes! My first setup wasnt safe enough for ‘long’ or large demonstrations. Just brief demos. But I needed to know if this was worth ‘going for.’ Once it worked, and people started to talk whether it was real? Now I had to prove to myself that I could build a ‘safe’ working RC car. I have no PhD. So I just watched everything I could find on YouTube about 1:1 remote controlled cars and studied the clips over and over again.
If you were starting over from the beginning, what would you do differently?
BH: Not spend $2,000 on the wrong parts!
Finally, do you have plans for what your next project will be? The Corvette seems hard to top…
BH: I hope that somebody comes to me for a cool project! I would love to find a job — something — doing this. Crazy projects. Figuring stuff out
without having an ICT degree and know-how in programming. Sometimes it takes a fresh mind to see things differently. I have no clue about programming, but I can build a PC and solve problems with my eyes closed. Yet, no where in the Netherlands will they give you a technical job if you don’t have a PhD…
Coming back to your question — Have you seen the inWIN H-Tower PC case? I wanna try to build something like that! I haven’t done a transforming PC before!
Endless thanks go out to Bjorn for taking the time to talk to us. If you want to keep abreast of his latest projects, commission your own full size RC car, or maybe give a very talented problem-solver a job, you can find him on Facebook and subscribe to his YouTube channel.