SWAT HQ Salvage Yard
Ireland Autoduel Association
Arena Vehicle Design in Car Wars 1996 Edition
There have been three major articles published about arena car
design -- the two most influential written by Tim Ray. These two
articles contain most of the important aspects, however there are a
number of details which I feel are worth further discussion.
There is a tendency to choose a body type first, and then see what
can be fitted into it. A better approach might be to choose the
basic weapon systems, accessories, tires, etc., and then decide what
body to put it in.
Generally, I try to use the largest chassis that I can afford. A
larger chassis allows more spaces of weapons to be mounted per side
and divides the weight of heavy components over a greater weight per
point of armour. A larger chassis can also hold more spaces of
Smaller chassis can carry more armour and so are suitable for
rabbits, and ram cars. They are cheaper and require a smaller
engine. A sloped compact can be particularly effective.
With modern, more accurate weapons, tires are more vulnerable than
ever. Tim Ray's standard is the steelbelted solid. With only 16 DP,
they almost certainly need wheelguards which will bring the cost per
wheel up to $850 amd 152.5 lbs. A better buy in higher divisions
might be plasticores for only $150 extra each which will have 25 DP
and are fireproof to boot. (If you still want to discourage tire
shots, fireproof fake wheelguards can be useful. For those with
nerves of steel SB PRs with wheelguards are cheap, but watch out for
explosive tipped spikes.
WEAPON PLACEMENT AND CHOICE
It is difficult to disagree with Tim Ray's discussion of weapons.
One weapon which he neglects to mention, however, is the heavy MG.
the HMG only takes one space, yet holds 20 shots and with HD ammo
does 2D+1 damage. It is perfect for two turret mounting, three or
four on one side, or just to save space.
Another particularly nasty weapon is linked, bumper triggered oil
and ice dischargers on the side of your car. Bumper triggers fire
before the collision so the oil and ice will fire before the effects
of the collision occur. Any car colliding with you from the side
will get a nasty plus on the hazard they take from the collision and
there is a good chance that it will lose control if it is going too
fast. Excellent for killing those foolish enough to try to T-bone
There was a time when entering an arena without a ramplate was
nothing short of insanity. Since the rules have been changed, it is
possible to survive without one. Purely from a weight point of view,
a ramplate reduces the front armour by 33%. It reduces damage from
collisions by 29% (3.5 per die minus 1) and collisions with
ramplates by 18% (5.5 per die minus 1). So from the point of view of
surviving the collision, a car is better without a ramplate.
However, a ramplate will inflict serious damage on an opponent, so
it can be a very powerful offensive weapon, even if its defensive
value is reduced.
Finally, one largely unnoticed rules change in the Car Wars
Compendium is that spikes now do half damage to solids and
plasticores, rather than no damage.
Metal armour is past its prime. High damage new weapons easily
pierce all but the heaviest metal armour. To add insult to injury,
HESH ammunition can destroy large amounts of metal armour and can
cause internals without penetrating the metal. In order for metal to
be worth the weight it has to be thick enough to stop the average
damage from the weapon they meet most often in the division. This is
now much more difficult since duelists often take one large weapon
rather than two small linked ones.
The advantages of metal remain that it is cheap, fireproof and
resistant to collisions. Five points as an outer layer on a ramplate
work just great. Generally, if you can afford, it, plastic is a
Fireproof plastic is far too expensive. If you are worried about
fire, a fire extinguisher is often a better buy. Laser reflective
metal can be worthwhile if you have some spare money. Laser
reflective plastic is heavy and expensive. If an opponent has wasted
his/her money on a laser, you probably have enough of an edge
In my opinion, the real star of defense is component armour. Many
players regard component armour as a cheap, light supplement to
external armour. There is a tendency to component armour the
smallest components to save weight and space. To do this is to
massively underestimate the importance of component armour.
Component armour is a floating armour that protects internal
components no matter what side the damage comes from. If all the
internal components in a vehicle are component armoured, there may
be no need to use top or underbody armour. The component armour will
absorb damage from wherever it comes.
Component armour is also a protection against fire. If all the
important components are armoured, the vehicle has a certain amount
of breathing space to put out a fire. In addition, according to ADQ
X/X, a volatile weapon cannot cause a vehicle to explode as long as
it is protected by component armour. This is very useful for fire
bugs afraid of exploding.
Component armour also protects vehicles from T-bone rams. T-bone
damage is divided equally between crew, cargo and engine. Thus, the
damage is divided equally between the component armour on each, so a
ram car must do serious amounts of T-bone damage to kill a car. A
few points of rubber component armour can help the truly ram
Sloping your armour is nothing more than a big sign on your car
telling your opponents to shoot at your tires. Its fine if you have
expensive tires or the ranges in the arena are large, but otherwise
it seems like a big consumer of space.
Usually, most duelists take a single driver without much thought. It
is unusual to see a gunner. However the crew rules in ADQ 9/1 make a
second crew member more valuable. A crewmember may be driver +2
gunner +1 or vice versa. With reflex rolls set at 4, this
essentially amounts to a choice between +2 HC and +1 to hit and +1
HC and +2 to hit.
A gunner allows both +2 to hit and +2 HC, gives an extra firing
action, and provides an extra target to be hit in the crew
compartment. Gunners are free (much cheaper than a HRSWC or radial
tires) and fairly light. Their only disadvantage is that they take
Tragically, passengers are no longer allowed in AADA duels.
Unless money is a serious problem, gas power plants are the only way
to go. Generally, the best gas engine is the smallest one. Gas
engines are expensive, so a carburetor or MB carb can be a budget
saver. If acceleration is important, then use a turbocharger. If top
speed is vital use overdrive. If budget allows, a variable pitch
turbocharger will get you the lightest engine.
Tim Ray neglects trikes as a viable design strategy for the arena.
However, they have a number of features that deserve more attention.
The big advantage of trikes is in the weight and space of their
power plants. An electric trike power plant will weigh about 600 lbs
less than the one needed to power a similarly sized car. This nicely
offsets the lower weight capacity of trikes. This only applies where
cars *must* use electric power plants. If cars are allowed to use
gas power plants (as in the case in most arenas), trikes no longer
have the plant weight and space advantage.
When using a trike, just about the only type worth considering in
the mid (15-15) divisions is a reversed trike. The advantages of
reversed trikes are manifold, but include a +1 HC and the ability to
use spoilers and airdams. A trike may also use weapons from both
side arcs into the front (rear) arc together. Unfortunately, it
appears that you need a smart link ($500) to fire weapons on
different sides together and you need a non-single-weapon computer
to gain a targeting bonus.
The big disadvantage of trikes is that they only have three wheels.
If a car loses a wheel it is a serious blow. A trike that loses a
wheel is immobilised. For this reason, in my opinion, you should
always get the best tires you can possibly afford. Trike tires weigh
half the amount of car ones, and you only need three of them, so
weight isn't a problem. If you can possibly afford the $3000 for
plasticores, they are well worth the investment.
Because of their light weight and relatively large number of spaces,
trikes make excellent racing vehicles. Some AADA competitions
involve races. For example, a standard event is a race in the Double
One of the most useful accessories that an electrically powered car
can possess costs nothing and weighs nothing, but takes one space.
An empty cargo space adds a cargo compartment to a car and reduces
the chance of an internal being hit by a shot that breaches the
side, top or bottom of a car by one third. It also makes it much
easier to survive T-bone rams. The gas tank of a car with a gas
engine counts as cargo, so a gas engine car gets a cargo area
without having to waste a space. (Gas engines are far too powerful.)
It is very important to have some strategy in mind for winning an
arena event. As Tim Ray tells us, it is important to design your car
for the particular event you're entering and no other. Your car must
be designed with some strategy in mind for accumulating points
Study the points system very carefully for any arena event. If
points are allocated solely for kills then any of the aggressive
strategies can be effective. If the last survivor wins, a vulture
strategy might work better, since you want to score the odd kill,
but basically want to avoid combat.
If points are awarded for shooting targets on the walls then a
tire-shooter will have an advantage. Where jumps must be made or
checkpoints crossed, the ram-car with its speed and maneuverability
is an excellent choice. (It is rather ironic that while the AADA
complained about the excessive power of the ram-car, they hosted
events that gave it an advantage).
The important thing when entering a points event is to do the things
that score points. Autodueling is great fun with your friends at
home, but if the competition gives more points for crossing
checkpoints then killing cars, then crossing checkpoints is what you
I am no expert on each of the specific strategies (except perhaps
the tortoise, which I have been forced to play again and again
versus players with vendettas), but here are some suggestions for
some of the issues in designing them. Once again, this article is
designed to provoke comment and discussion, more than to be an
authoritative work. In each section I mention the person who first
introduced me to the strategy.
THE LION -- Tim Ray
A popular weapon with lions in all divisions is the AT gun with
APFSDS ammunition. This cheap, high damage weapon inflicts an
average of 16.5 points of damage per shot, costs only $3000 and
takes 3 spaces. It has done more to retire metal armour than any
other weapon. In the lower divisions it is cheap, and it is still
seen in the higher divisions (often linked in pairs) because nothing
else equals its damage. The main problem with the AT is that it
cannot be mounted to the side and so it is difficult to gain
advantages from maneuvering.
The blast cannon is another popular weapon for aggressive players
seen in the mid to higher divisions. The main advantage of the blast
cannon is that it can be mounted on the side of a car.
The main alternatives to a single large gun is a pair of linked
smaller ones. Smaller guns are usually better value for weight or
space. They also have a more flexible choice of ammunition. Smaller
weapons depend on your opponents not using metal armour. Against
plastic, linked smaller weapons are usually superior but they are
very weak against composite metal/plastic armour. Once must hope
that the threat of lions with ATs will keep metal armour of the
THE RAM CAR -- Phil Radley
Until recently, the ramplate was the king of of all weapons. One
could easily inflict 80+ points of damage on your opponent and take
very little damage in return. Ramming was always a risky strategy
since it involves getting very close and dangerous maneuvers and
hazards, though. These days, a ramplate does fairly little damage
but the ram car strategy is still useful in arenas that need good
handling and speed anyway.
The secret of building a dedicated ram car is to avoid using
weapons. Your money should be spent on the best tires, heavy armour,
acceleration, top speed and every other handling gadget. A dropped
weapon is something to consider to discourage tailgaters, but no
other money or space should be wasted on weapons (except perhaps a
vehicular shotgun for shooting targets on walls).
THE RABBIT/TORTOISE -- Tim Ray
The rabbit is similar to the ram car in construction, but its main
tactics in the arena are to run away from other duelists and to
cross checkpoints. The tortoise is a car that is very heavily
armoured in order to make it almost impervious to attack and tends
to move quite fast to avoid being hit. It is often used by players
who are especially targeted by other players because of their
reputation for being the best.
THE TIRE SHOOTER
A tire shooter needs very accurate weapons, so only those weapons
that hit on a six are really contenders. In the lower divisions the
FT and HDFT are excellent. As the budget goes up, HT ammo is added
to the flamethrowers. In the mid divisions the Vulcan MG is good,
but heavy, and in big budget land the laser guided RL is the weapon
The main difference between shooting tires and shooting armour is
that you don't need to worry about metal, so linked weapons are just
as good as a single large one. Furthermore, the only fireproof tires
you will ever encounter are plasticores, which are quite rare even
in the higher divisions.
THE FIRE BUG
Given that metal armour is going out of fashion and the enormous
space and weight advantages of gas engines, the fire bug is a very
viable design strategy. Plastic armour just cries out to be set on
fire and gas engines reduce the effects of fire extinguishers and
If you are trying to defend against fire bugs, component armour is
useful, but there is no substitute for a fire extinguisher.
Fireproof is too expensive. Metal armour will get you killed by
someone with a big gun.
Published by David Gregg, July 22, 1996.
Reprinted by the Seattle
Washington Autoduel Team, March 08, 1998.
Updated March 31, 2015.
Original URL: http://arrakis.ucd.ie/~greggd/IADA.html
Original URL: http://arrakis.ucd.ie/~greggd/cardesign.html