Tandy/Radio Shack Dune Buggy (1981)

Tandy/Radio Shack Dune BuggyIn the days prior to the more typical sand-rail or baja buggy-styled R/C cars of the mid-1980s, an “off road” toy-grade R/C car tended to be more of a Meyers Manx style dune buggy design.

And for the Tandy/Radio Shack electronics store chain, the “Dune Buggy” was their top-of-the-line model way back in 1981…


The “Dune Buggy” was the first ever Digital Proportional R/C toy sold at Tandy/Radio Shack stores, and was available from 1981 – 1982.

Retailing for AU$79.95 (the equivalent of AU$266 in 2010 money), it was actually manufactured by Nikko and sold overseas under other names as well, one of which was the “Roadstar G2″ (which can still be found written on the underside of the chassis on the Tandy release).

This was, without doubt, a highly priced and exotic toy for any lucky kid to own way back in 1981.

And as was typical for the time, the box was covered in pictures of some of those lucky 1970s-style kids, fawning over this great looking toy…

Tandy/Radio Shack Dune BuggyTandy/Radio Shack Dune Buggy

Here’s a scan from the 1981 Tandy Electronics catalogue in Australia, where it was first featured…

Tandy Dune Buggy

And here it is as shown in the 1982 Tandy catalogue, this time in the more striking yellow…

Tandy Dune Buggy

As you can imagine, since it was the first Digital Proportional toy R/C model ever sold at Tandy, they wanted to trumpet this feature – hence we’ve got some “Digital PRO Portional” wording to emphasize the whiz-bang new technology :)

Despite the box showing the red model, mine is the (I think better looking) yellow version of the car…

Tandy/Radio Shack Dune Buggy

Tandy/Radio Shack Dune Buggy

As I’ve blogged about in the past, these early toy “off roaders” had relatively limited off-road ability, in spite of the ads that claimed they could traverse “rugged terrain”.

The Dune Buggy was in reality a vehicle capable of ambling along at a slow pace, mainly on smooth surfaces or very hard packed dirt, but little more than that. With no suspension, fairly low ground clearance, and tyres made of a sort of soft, squishy plastic rather than rubber, it was really only designed to entertain in an unchallenging terrain setting.

But having said that, the smooth Nikko Digital Proportional radio it came with gave it a certain slow, scale charm as it glided around on the carpet…

Tandy/Radio Shack Dune Buggy

Tandy/Radio Shack Dune Buggy

Another disadvantage was the fact that it’s drivetrain only powered one rear wheel! A pretty extraordinary weakness, but obviously designed to limit wear on the gearbox from the lack of a differential (without the expense of adding an actual differential to solve the problem).

On the plus side, the car does have a two speed gearbox for a bit of variety in torque as you drive it around. And aside of that, I would have to say it’s a really beautiful toy R/C car – a classic, simple, and nicely scale dune buggy body shape, set off with chrome lights, metal roll bars, interior, and even some nice decals like “Goodyear” and so on. It’s also about 1/10 in scale (41cm in length).

Tandy/Radio Shack Dune Buggy

Tandy/Radio Shack Dune Buggy

If this model was intended to be one of Nikko’s budget-priced answers to Tamiya’s famous Sand Rover R/C kit model, or the even earlier Kyosho Peanuts dune buggy, then I think it was at least a nice effort in the looks department. I’ve seen a lot of other dune buggy toys from the early-mid 1980s from other brands, and some of them were actually quite ugly.

Tandy/Radio Shack Dune Buggy

The transmitter is quite a nice piece too, and would later go on to be used in many other models manufactured by Nikko.

Tandy Dune Buggy

Tandy Dune Buggy

By 1983, other more capable off-road R/C toys were beginning to emerge, and the Dune Buggy was discontinued at Tandy.

These days, I’d have to say that these models are pretty hard to find, and even rarer to include the box and manual, but they do come up occasionally.

As always, demand is based on who wants one and how much they’re prepared to pay, but sellers sometimes assume they are worth hundreds of dollars when the demand level is probably more around the $50-$100 range.

Overall though, I’d have to say that this is one of my favourite R/C toys thanks to it’s good looks. And the fact it’s such an early effort to produce a responsive, premium R/C toy car, also makes it an interesting little piece of history.

For all I know, this may have been the first ever Digital Proportional model by Nikko, a company that certainly went on to far bigger things later in the 1980s.

At a glance…
Scale: 1/10
Length: 41cm
Drive: 1WD
Gearbox: 2-Speed
Differential: No
Suspension: No
Digital Proportional: Yes
Batteries: 5 x C (Car). 6 x AA (Transmitter).
Original price in Australia back in 1981: AU$79.95
What this would equate to, in 2012 money: AU$280 (calculated using this)

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3 responses to “Tandy/Radio Shack Dune Buggy (1981)”

  1. Kenneth says :

    It looks very much like the “Nikko Big Thunder G3″ but that has 2WD.
    There’s also a smaller one that looks the same,

    • rctoymemories says :

      I believe it may be quite similar to the Big Thunder :) I wonder if the Big Thunder truly drives both rear wheels.

      • rctoymemories says :

        Update – the Big Thunder G3 seems to be basically the 3rd Generation hence “G3″), when the Radio Shack Dune Buggy is 2nd Generation (hence “Roadstar G2″ writing underneath). The Big Thunder G3 is definitely 2WD.

        It also seems that Radio Shack versions of Nikko cars were very often cut-down versions – lower specs and features, than the original.

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