Monday, 20 December 2010

Top Ten Tamiya RC Buggies

This is my top ten list of vintage Tamiya radio controlled buggy kits from the 1980's and 1990's.  I grew up with these kits taking up a big part of my childhood life.  Meeting up with friends for races and rebuilds we were constantly making improvements and upgrades.  My first kit was the Tamiya Falcon and I have very fond memories of it, however the front body mount snapped on its first time out and I ended up racing it without a shell from that point.  To be honest I actually preferred it that way and it was definitely quicker without the heavy hard plastic body although it took all the dirt and grit into the chassis and gave it a Wild One look.  The main reason I loved the Falcon was due to the excellent gearbox setup and bath tub chassis that took alot of abuse.  I have since restarted my Tamiya collection and now have a Grasshopper and a Fox.  My list is compiled based on build quality and appeal.

  1. Falcon
  2. Hotshot II
  3. Avante
  4. Nissan King Cab
  5. Hornet
  6. Monster Beetle
  7. Wild One
  8. Boomerang
  9. Fox
  10. Frog

1. The Falcon - Kit number 58056

Designed as an entry level kit the Falcon was an instant winner with its oil filled suspension, bathtub chassis and excellent gearbox.  It took over from the Hornet and Grasshopper models as was only a few pounds more than these models but came so much better equipped.  The main improvement over these other models was the addition of full oil filled dampers rather than just springs which made it more controllable and stopped it skipping round.  It had great handling and with its well designed gearbox would still be fully controllable when sliding around corners.  However it did have a funny wobble when going full speed reverse but with a little corrective steering adjustments would go at quite a speed.  With just the addition of a ball-race set and an upgraded motor you could get hours of fun on the tarmac or dirt.

2. The Hotshot II - Kit number 58062

A competition level four wheel drive model with several design flaws it still manages to come in second place with its super cool looks and single front sideways mounted suspension strut.  I lusted after this model kit as a kid for years until my local hobby specialist had a closing down sale and let me have their prebuilt display model for a fraction of its original price.  However it was not as much a fantasy as a nightmare once things got going.  The biggest fault with the Hotshot 2 was the design of the chassis.  Designed with two pieces the lower half contained the servos and speed control with the top of the chassis to bridge the front and rear gearboxes together and neatly position the drive shaft, brilliant until you need to make adjustments or repairs as the two parts were held together with a series of screws which would over time wear the thread in the plastic until it would no longer hold the weight of the components in the tub, usually resulting in the whole thing falling apart at top speed in the middle of the street.  But faults aside it was still one of the best and quickest kits I owned and the one I was most proud of.  The gearboxes were bullet proof and with limited space in the chassis often complimented by an electronic speed controller giving smooth acceleration with excellent traction and grip from the bobbled tyres that seemed to never wear.  This kit had exposed anti-roll bars that were protected by the super strong ABS front bumper.  Parts are still available and in demand.

3. The Avante - Kit number 58072

This kit comes in at number three primarily due to its aggressive styling and high end components including anodized suspension and flat carbon graphite chassis.  It was designed as a competition kit, not one to let the kids play with, it was accepted as a contender in official competitions straight out of the box.  However it was considered that it you could afford to buy this buggy then money wouldn't be an obstacle when it came to setting up as it had no mechanical speed controller and required an electronic speed control to get running, parts were also pricey and difficult to find as most suppliers would only order things like that expensive carbon chassis plate which although lighter than its ABS alternative would wear alot faster especially when racing over gravel or around rocky ground.  One for the connoisseur!

4. The Nissan King Cab - Kit number 58081

This kit made it to my number four as the only off road vehicle in the list that was competent  on or off road.  The reason for this is because this vehicle held something special.  Being a 4x4 off road vehicle it had little competition in the form of The Midnight Pumpkin and Vanessa's Lunch Box in the same class and price range, these two were more display pieces than racing vehicles due to the top heavy poor handling and the need for a wheelie bar to stop it tipping when moving from stationery which stopped being a fun feature very quickly.  The King Cab however managed to keep the centre of gravity lower so it could still race against buggy competitors as well as handle what ever terrain you could find to run it on.  Benefiting from a hard body shell and oil filled dampers it could handle falls and wall crashes with ease.  The kit was well designed and held its uniqueness as a 'stadium racer'.  I always loved the look of this kit and will admit it is still on my list of desired kits to one day obtain.

5. The Hornet - Kit number 58045

Designed to be an entry level model this is the kit that took Tamiya to the masses.  Boasting its simple design and construction this was the kit that every modeler wanted to have a go at.  The Hornet used the same gearbox and setup through many of the other vintage models including the Grasshopper and Midnight Pumpkin.  I loved this kit as it was the first ever Tamiya kit I laid eyes on and was revolutionary compared to the terrible pre-assembled radio controlled cars sold in places like Argos and Toys R Us. So iconic is its design and appearance that it is regularly used in reference to retro toys and nostalgic play, so much so that it was relaunched several years ago with absolutely no changes.  The rear tyres would wear the ridged bobbles down flat in a matter of minutes on the tarmac but that is when the fun began with those over inflated rear tyres spinning furiously from the transfer of that simple but very effective sealed gearbox.  Easy to convert into other models it was an instant winner still gracing lofts and garages across the country.

6. The Monster Beetle - Kit number 58060

The Tamiya Monster Beetle is a bit of a wild card.  Built on the Frog space frame chassis and with its giant gold chrome wheels and super cool retro hard plastic body shell made it very desireable despite the fact it was useless on the tarmac and not exactly the monster it appeared to be when on grass or rocky terrain.  But it was still more controllable than its cheaper variations which had no oil filled shocks and lacked the refinement of the Beetle.  And if you wanted that quicker buggy experience it would go like the clappers with a ball-race set and whipping off that heavy body shell.  So popular was this model that it inspired the QD Quick Drive range of prebuilt 1/12th versions of several Tamiya buggies.  This being the best of the bunch as it still looked the as good as its big brother even though slightly smaller and slower and using the terrible gun style controller.

7. The Wild One - Kit number 58050

The Wild One is in the list as it was one of Tamiya's transitional kits utilising components that went on to make key features for proceeding models.  The Wild One had an ugly sibling in the form of the Fast Attack Vehicle which was the same kit but with a military theme to the paint work and design.  The Fast Attack was one of those kits that was a simple design with easy access to servos and speed controller for adjustments and protection in the form of roll bars for the gearbox.  It was one of the most fun two wheel drive kits due to its low flat design and wide wheel base which meant it could perform stunts at speed which if went wrong wouldnt result in major part replacement.  I had one of these for a while which I thoroughly enjoyed although this was probably due to its similarities to the number one Falcon of my list.

8. The Boomerang - Kit number 58055

The Boomerang was designed as an entry level four wheel drive kit and was very successful as such.  I always considered this model to be a combination of the Hotshot and the Fox utilising the single front shock abosorber but benefiting of the Hotshot's four wheel drive system.  This kit was an excellent all rounder with fantastic handling as well as good speed.  I loved the styling of the body and although looking nothing like a boomerang had a fitting name still.  The only thing I actually hated about this kit was the unnecessary positioning of the motor adjustment for different pinions.  For some reason Tamiya felt the need to use five narrow and fiddley metal plates which you could pull out and change according to the size of the pinion fitted to the motor.  I spent many hours cursing as a child while studying the carpet for one of the missing parts when making adjustments.  However the beauty of this kit was once you had set it up correctly there would be little or no need to make further alterations.  The front bumper was perfect for protecting front wheels and antiroll bar assembly from wall related damage.

9. The Fox - Kit number 58051

In at number nine in my list is the Tamiya Fox.  Inspired from kits like the Boomerang this is the two wheel drive version that had excellent build quality combined with a striking design and finished off with those memorable chrome gold wheels.  I obtained one of these kits myself several years ago as a tribute to the combination of kits I have owned.  The Fox was one of the rarer models to find which is probably why I never had one at the time.  Parts and upgrades were hardly available despite using many common parts in the gearbox and suspension setup it was on par with the Hotshot.  However this was still a very desireable kit but fell into the gap between being just out of range for the kids and not quite there for dad with a higher purchase price and more complicated build guide.

10. The Frog - Kit number 58041

Hailed as being the king of the entry level models the Frog helped bridge the link from kits like the Hornet to the Monster Beetle by using key features from both but still available as an entry level model.  This is the kit that you would advance to after building a Hornet or Grasshopper, still in the same price range with a hoard of available parts and not much to modify apart from ball-race bearings the one upgrade that really made this kit fun was to fit the wider front ball joint arms and fit Monster Beetle wheels which turned this kit indestructible.  The same could be achieved between the Grasshopper and Lunchbox but when the Frog was converted into an off road monster it became special, probably due to its close relation to the Subaru Brat.

Well there is my top ten favorite Tamiya radio controlled buggy kits, many of which I have owned personally but all that I have knowledge on and a fuzzy nostalgic love for.  Tamiya reproduced several of the old classics but there are many good condition used models available on auction sites like eBay.  If you are thinking of buying one I would advise buying as a running full set up so you don't have to worry about buying things like controllers, servos, batteries and chargers.


  1. I had a Grasshopper when I was a kid, mid 80s, and my buddy had a Fox. I love Tamiya cars, nice page, it brought back a lot of memories.

  2. Very cool, fun memories seeing this. I had The Fox and the Monster Beetle. Eventually stepped it up to a Team Losi Jr.

  3. I found back my Falcon from 25 years ago in my parents house. I had it repaired, bought a new battery and charger. I'm going to ride it tomorrow with my 5 year old son. I doubt it'll give me the same thrill as it used to, but it my do so for my son.
    I've read that the old models are for sale again : the Sand Scorcher, the Avante, ... I just might buy one of them.

  4. Since having tamiya buggys throughout my child hood i jumped over to nitro cars and now im in my 30's im junping back for nostaligia i just might try and get every tamiya i ever owned grasshopper, Hornet, Fire Dragon and Bearhawk. With brushless motors nowadays I wont be dissapointed, im done with nitro they're just a pain and to expensive to run. Eightys Tamiya models just have the best look to them, the styles and detail only tamiya can do well and every model is built to last i cant wait im going to try out the newer dark impact first and see if they still make em as good as they did in the 80's if not its gonna be the bear hawk man i always had more fun with that one!

  5. Nice listing i really enjoyed your write up! ...I have just bought a Falcon tonight off an online auction here in New Zealand that appears someone had built it 20 years ago & only used it once or twice before putting it away in its box and never run it again! ??? I am real happy to have found one as that particular car is very nostalgic to me. I never had one when they were new because i was a little too young for it but my older cousin had one and it had a massive impact on me & was what started a life long passion for these models.
    I have started collecting again also and have a list of cars i want ... most of them are on your list!
    I have an Astute, Avante & now a falcon but really want King Cab, Frog, Wild One & Hornet to complete my collection.
    Its good to know there are others out there also who grew up in the 80s with these amazingly cool buggies who even as 30 somethings or older & still have a passion for the models.
    I dont know what it is about the tamiya models from the 80s but they will always be appealing to me. Most of todays RCs just dont look anywhere near as cool. Tamiya had a realism that other Brands even today dont seem to match.

    1. Did you get your Falcon? I also bought a Falcon from trade that never arrived. The vendor gave me excuse after excuse.

      Let me know

  6. Very cool, thanks for the memories.

  7. I don’t know how should I give you thanks! I am totally stunned by your article. You saved my time. Thanks a million for sharing this article.

  8. Awesome read I've been in it for the last few years oh the fun buildings Ng is the best and the hop-ups are excellent on the models awesome re-releases out now and still heaps of great vintage ones too. I Could not really afford them back Then but now i can and I have my own kids and they absolutely love them ~ Tamiya is BIGGER then ever now! Come check out some of the Tamiya groups on Facebook like : "Vintage Tamiya and other rc" or "vintage Tamiya Australia" Great pages!!!
    For the love of Japanese and other R.C.
    Peace Allan ����