Tyco/Taiyo Turbo Hopper (1986)
The Tyco/Taiyo Turbo Hopper was a game-changing R/C toy buggy in the mid 1980s that sold in truly phenomenal quantities. This article is about the Tyco release which also had Taiyo branding, and which followed the earlier Taiyo Jet Hopper.
Between 1979 and 1985, hobby-grade R/C companies had shown that when it came to electric R/C vehicles there was a huge worldwide market for cars capable of running off-road. As each year went by, these models became more and more popular – particularly those from Japanese company Tamiya, who specialized in agile and fun off-road buggies. And with an explosion in the popularity of organised racing, off-road electric R/C cars were a huge market supported by many brands.
- Tyco/Taiyo Turbo Hopper
- Year: 1986
- Made in: Japan
- Release: Tyco (USA)
- Variant: Mk1
Other Variants of this Release
Other Known Releases…
- Taiyo Jet Hopper (Japan/World) [Original Release]
- Dickie/Taiyo Jet Hopper (Europe)
- Metro/Taiyo Jet Hopper (Australia)
But at the cheaper, toy end of the market, most vehicles were still either on-road racing cars or vehicles with light off-road ability and minimal (if any) suspension.
Enter Taiyo, a company that had been producing quite small but often nice-quality R/C toys since 1975.
By copying the template of a basic but successful Tamiya buggy and pinching the use of the word “Hopper” (which Tamiya had first invented for use on their massively popular, insect-inspired “Grasshopper” 1/10 scale R/C buggy) but making everything smaller and cheaper (1/16 scale), and without the need for hours of assembly… Taiyo landed on one of the true hit toys of the decade – the Taiyo Jet Hopper.
Here was an R/C buggy that looked the part, would gladly tear across the lawn or over mum’s garden, yet could be enjoyed straight out of the box. It was very popular and soon caught the attention of US toy giant Tyco – who licensed the buggy for release as the Tyco/Taiyo Turbo Hopper the following year.
This article details the Tyco/Taiyo Turbo Hopper “Mk1”, or in other words, the first edition Turbo Hopper sold by the Tyco brand in 1986. As with all Tyco R/C cars, the box carries both Tyco and Taiyo branding – Tyco is more prominent, while Taiyo is mentioned somewhere at the bottom with the words “Precision built by Taiyo”. I’ve chosen to refer to both brands in the title of the car, with the most prominent one first.
Mk1 simply means “Mark 1” and it is not an official name – just something I made up. But it is a good way for us to try to distinguish the first variant from later variants. Because just as the Tyco/Taiyo Turbo Hopper was a little bit different to the Taiyo Jet Hopper, the Tyco/Taiyo Turbo Hopper also evolved slightly during it’s production run – for example, the rear tyres were originally being quite fat, but later changed to thinner and more low-profile tyres with different tread.
The cars with the low-profile rear tyres are best referred to as the Tyco/Taiyo Turbo Hopper Mk2.
(To learn more about the breakdown of Models, Releases and Variants, please read this page)
US toy company Tyco was new to R/C in 1986, but they weren’t new to toys. So they really knew how to market their products. The Tyco box style became a recognizable staple of all their R/C cars: colourful window-style boxes with cool artwork on a large tab at the back, and the car name clearly printed beneath the front window. Just as you can see here on this brand new in box, red Tyco/Taiyo Turbo Hopper Mk1…
The Tyco/Taiyo Turbo Hopper Mk1 was in fact the first ever R/C model sold under the Tyco brand. With the backing of a large American toy company like Tyco, the buggy was featured in some great TV commercials too, like this one…
Aside from it’s off-road ability, one of the big draw-cards was clearly the “Turbo” function – found by pushing the forward/reverse lever on the transmitter past a little notch and all the way up for maximum speed.
To just about any kid growing up in the 1980s, it was simply genius. “Turbo” was one of the biggest buzz-words in full scale motorsport and sports cars during the decade, and the notion of having your own little turbo function in a toy car meant this was a sure-winner for so many kids.
However it should be noted that despite the fact that Taiyo did a lot to popularise “Turbo” as an R/C novelty, another big seller, the Nikko Black Fox (1985), also had the “turbo” feature and was released before the Jet Hopper / Turbo Hopper – so let’s give credit to Nikko.
All of this appeal added up to enormous sales. In the smaller market of Australia, the buggy arrived as another release – the “Metro Jet Hopper”, and 130,000 units were sold in 1986 and a further 150,000 were sold in 1987. Just imagine what the sales figures were like in much bigger markets like the USA.
The huge success spawned numerous other models over many years – such as a smaller model called the “Mini Hopper”, an even smaller one called the “Micro Hopper”, and a slot car set called “Racin’ Hoppers“. Later there were even more models in the “Hopper” series.
Having been released in 1986 means there was a great attention to detail and realism in this model. The hobby grade R/C market (lead by Tamiya, Kyosho, Marui, Associated etc) was still turning out amazing, realistic-looking R/C buggies at this time, complete with roll-cages and window-netting. And so the toy market naturally copied what was popular.
Some of the great aspects for me are the real spare rubber wheel/tyre on the roof, the window cage/netting, and the real sponsor logos, plus things like the “Hella” and “Daylighter” headlights.
There were originally two colours available in the Turbo Hopper Mk1 – red and black. Later there were also some white editions, but these were not the Mk1 variant, but later variants.
Each colour operated on a different frequency, so that you could buy both and race them.
The flag on the aerial was probably an idea copied from the Tamiya Frog (some of the decals are also Frog-inspired). While those excellent fat rear tyres are like perfect miniature replicas of the rear tyres found on the Tamiya Super Champ, Tamiya Frog and Tamiya Hornet.
As mentioned before, the rear tyres are important to note – because only the Mk1 release of the Turbo Hopper (which is pictured here) had these fat ones. Sometime in 1986 or soon after, the Tyco/Taiyo release was changed and looked identical EXCEPT for having low-profile rear tyres on much larger white rims. So if you’re wondering if you have a truly original Turbo Hopper, the first thing to check is those rear tyres.
To sum it up again:
Tyco/Taiyo Turbo Hopper Mk1 = fat rear tyres.
Tyco/Taiyo Turbo Hopper Mk2 = low profile rear tyres.
Another design change that occurred was the switch to “9.6volt” power. The original release model simply required 8 x AA batteries in the car. But Taiyo must have wanted to profit from battery sales so they introduced their own proprietary “battery pack” (just 8 x AA rechargeable batteries joined together and sealed inside plastic) with a special plug on the end that only worked with a Tyco battery charger. And later models of the Turbo Hopper (and other cars) all use this 9.6volt pack system.
Suspension was simple and bouncy – just coil springs all round. But this was still enough to be better than pretty much any other toy R/C car on the market at the time. And together with some OK ground clearance it was enough for the ‘Hopper to scoot over most simple obstacles.
There was also a two-speed gearbox for some extra torque when you needed it. However, it had a fixed drivetrain with no differential – making it great for skids and burnouts on a dirt surface, but probably causing some gearbox wear over time. It also lacked the Digital Proportional control that some other toys had.
As for other weaknesses – the headlights on the body are often missing on used models due to the car being quick enough to roll over, particularly when turning sharply at high speed on hard/grippy surfaces. While the steering arms and little plastic “connectors” were a particularly thin and vulnerable part during collisions – so much so that spares of these were made available. Some releases even included the spare connectors in the box.
Yes, believe it or not, spare parts were readily available for this car – even at the supermarkets and toy stores where it was often sold. Tyres, bodies and other breakable parts were all sold separately. Which was another great aspect that helped elevate it above most of the other R/C toys on the market. In fact, I even found some of these spare parts among old hobby shop stock as recently as just a few years ago.
The box also came with a spare body clip, along with some great little orange corner pylons – a nice bonus to help expand the play options.
Obviously due to the huge sales of the Turbo Hopper by Tyco, this version remains very popular today and good condition examples are highly sought-after by collectors.
– Sadly after more than 30 years of producing R/C toys, the Taiyo brand no longer exists and was liquidated sometime around 2011 or so. The official Taiyo website is no longer online.
– Some of the information on this page comes from an interesting document I found online – an old legal document outlining a case between Taiyo and Playcorp. Search the document here for the word “Hopper” to jump to the interesting bits.
Living in Australia, I remember seeing a lot of Metro Jet Hoppers (the Australian release) around when I was a kid, and even seeing them for sale at K-Mart.
Performance-wise, the car was quick enough to be quite exciting and spray a little dirt as it went, so there’s no doubt it became a quintessential 1980s R/C toy that a lot of kids either had – or wished they had.
These days, due to being such a famous R/C toy and the fact that most surviving examples are broken or show lots of wear, the Turbo Hopper can be quite valuable. Due to increasing levels of interest, prices have increased over the years.
As always, happy hunting!
|At a glance…|
|Digital Proportional: No|
|Batteries: 8 x AA (Car). 1 x 9volt (Transmitter)|
|Original price in Australia back in 1986: About AU$90|
|What this would equate to, in 2012 money: AU$212 (calculated using this)|