My History With RCs (Part 1)

My history with RC cars and trucks can be counted in decades, back to the early days of our hobby. The cars and trucks I’ve owned in the past vary wildly. In the beginning, my fleet included vehicles from store brand, “toy-grade” cars to early, hobby-grade electric off-road buggies and monster trucks. I’ve owned electric and nitro-powered RCs. And they’ve ranged from 1/32 scale up to 1/8th scale in size.

With the site being new, I wanted to share some of my history in the hobby and thought that I’d do it by talking about some of my favorite RCs from the past. And, since we’re talking about 40 years of RCs, I’ll be doing this as a series of articles. I want to give each vehicle it’s due instead of trying to squeeze it all into one post. (and I’d like you to read it without getting bored.) With all that out of the way, we’ll start at the beginning, all the way back in 1979.

Tamiya Sand Scorcher

1979 Tamiya Sand Scorcher Baja Buggy
Tamiya Sand Scorcher (1979)

The Tamiya Sand Scorcher was a 1/10th-scale electric radio controlled car kit released by Japanese model manufacturer Tamiya Corporation. First introduced on December 15, 1979, its high level of detail and realism make it one of the most sought-after vintage R/C models today.

Topped with a highly detailed plastic replica of a Volkswagen Baja Bug, the Sand Scorcher shared many parts with an earlier car, the “Rough Rider”. Released a little over a month apart, both cars were constructed from components that were mostly metal, rather than plastic. Though heavy, this meant the Sand Scorcher was extremely rugged.

Adding to the model’s detail was its suspension system, which was closely patterned after that of a full-scale Volkswagen. All onboard electronics were protected by a water-resistant clear plastic case, meaning the car could be driven through water without damage – a feat very few modern R/C vehicles could perform until recent years.

Tamiya released a 30th Anniversary edition of the Sand Scorcher in March 2010, with only slight modifications to the original design including some die-cast parts and an ESC in place of the mechanical speed controller.

Fun note! The Tamiya Sand Scorcher appears in the 1986 Australian film “Malcolm“, an award-winning comedy about a socially awkward young man living in Melbourne who becomes involved in a series of robberies, and who also happens to have a keen interest in hobbies.

In one scene in the film, Malcolm uses his Sand Scorcher to fetch bottles of milk from a nearby convenience store, without leaving the comfort of his home. (That would be an amazing idea, today, in the times of Covid-19!) In another scene, he attaches a trailer, camera, and a gun to the car, and by remotely controlling the car via the camera, uses it to hold up two security guards at a bank and steal a bag full of money.

Radio Shack Golden Arrow

Radio Shack Golden Arrow
Radio Shack Golden Arrow Buggy

In 1987, 1/10th scale hobby-grade R/C buggies had already been around for many years, and it had become a huge category thanks to the popularity of buggies and trucks from Tamiya, Kyosho, Associated, and many others.

In 1986, Nikko developed and released a 2WD, 540 motor powered buggy called the Rhino (also marketed under several other names in different countries). Later, this buggy platform was licensed and customized for Radio Shack (with a new body and name) as the Golden Arrow Buggy.

The buggy itself is basically a fairly typically configured (for the time) 2WD, utilizing independent front suspension, rigid-axle rear suspension, a 540 Mabuchi Motor, some large balloon spike tires at the rear and some straight ribbed tires at the front. And all powered by the ubiquitous 7.2volt battery pack.

Even though the Golden Arrow was similar in general specifications to cars like the Tamiya Hornet (released 3 years earlier) it still had great appeal thanks to its combination of a cool name, great looks, and Radio Shack’s marketing prowess.

The Golden Arrow was nearly my last RC

The Golden Arrow was one of the very first RCs I personally owned, and it was almost my last. My Grandmother was kind enough to buy the Golden Arrow for me as a birthday gift. I was a very curious child and wanted to know how everything in the world worked, including the shiny new RC my grandmother spent her hard-earned cash on.

I proceeded to dismantle the entire car and broke it as far down as I could. I got in way over my head and realized that I probably made a bad choice when I decided to “see how RCs work”. Of course, it would take me three or four times as long to put it all back together than it did to break it down (Especially at the age of 10). I decided to stash it all in a shopping bag and hide it. I’d work on it every weekend, when I visited, and no one would be any the wiser to what I had done.

Naturally, my grandmother discovered the bag full of parts I hid in her hallway closet and just about had a heart attack. She swore I’d never be getting another RC car, if I wasn’t able to fix it, and she was convinced there was no way in hell I’d be able to put it back together. (It was humpty Dumpty all over again) Thankfully, I somehow managed to put the car back together and, when I turned it on, it actually worked! My Grandmother was shocked, I avoided being punished, and I was able to continue enjoying the RC hobby. Win, win, win!

Nikko Black Fox

Nikko Black Fox
Nikko Black Fox Frame Buggy

The Nikko Black Fox was a frame-buggy (that is – a buggy with a roll cage, nerf bars, rear wing, and bumper, as opposed to a VW-derived beach buggy) released in 1985. It was one of a handful of RC vehicles at the time to have a so-called “turbo” function. The Turbo function was basically a notch on the forward-reverse stick that allows you to run forward at two speeds (the higher being “turbo”).

The front tires are smooth with simple grooves to guide the car across the sand. Like countless other buggies released over the years, the Black Fox features the same 2WD rear drive-train, rolling rigid rear axle suspension, and independent front suspension setup. This versatile layout was first popularized by the Tamiya Grasshopper and proved ideal for the kinds of smaller scale, basic buggies that Nikko wanted to produce as well.

The Black Fox was one of the sharpest looking R/C cars from the 1980s – glossy paint, bright decals, cool logos, a catchy and memorable name, and lots of chrome accents like the roof, headlights, and suspension dampers. At 1/14th scale, Nikko produced an extremely tidy and attractive buggy suited to those who were too young (like me) to go building an entire kit-based car.

The Black Fox was a great-looking, and quick little buggy, that was a lot cheaper in the 80s than buying something like a Hornet (plus radio). As a result, a lot of people owned them. Including myself. And despite being one of the “cheaper” RC cars I owned when I was a child, memories of my time running it around the neighborhood are still vivid in my mind.

And that concludes the first article sharing my history with our hobby. I hope it was an enjoyable read and, perhaps, you may have owned one of these vehicles. If you did, I’d love to hear about it in the comments below!

Next time, I’ll discuss a few more of the RCs from my past, including the Tamiya Lunchbox, HPI Proceed, and Associated RC10GT. Until then, take care and stay safe out there!

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I’ve been involved in the RC hobby since the late 1970s. The focus of Crow City RC is the budget-minded hobbyist. Everything mentioned has your wallet in mind as I strive to find the best quality parts, tools, and accessories available at reasonable prices. It is possible to have a blast with RC vehicles without also going bankrupt.
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