The toy that first started my interest in R/C cars… the Jeep Renegade was a lovely, scale Jeep R/C model that was built to last.
Back in 1984 I was just 7 years old. And like most 7 year old boys, I was very much into toy cars.
It must have been at some point during this year that I first became aware of the existence of Radio Controlled cars – still a fairly new concept to the general public, but becoming so popular they were common Christmas stock in not just hobby and toy stores, but also department stores, electronics hobbyist chains and even occasionally supermarkets.
Tandy Electronics (known as Radio Shack in the USA) had a fast-growing chain of stores in Australia and they would offer around 15 or so different R/C vehicles each Christmas. Walk into any store and you would see them all near the entrance, sitting atop their boxes. You could even test drive them – perfect for a budding driver selecting their first set of wheels! The range was also highlighted in their catalogues, and I loved looking at all the models on offer and wondering which one would “win” (should they all be in some sort of imaginary race together). They may have only been toy-grade R/C cars, but back in those days the emphasis was still on realistic scale looks – and many of these cars were quite awe-inspiring. I wanted to own every single model at Tandy.
The Jeep Renegade (manufactured by Taiyo) was one of their premier models in 1984, retailing for AU$69.95 (quite a lot in today’s dollar values, according to the RBA Inflation Calculator). Tandy actually sold it for 2 years, 1984 and 1985.
The original model by Taiyo, under their own branding, was called the “Off Road Jeep Renegade” and actually first appeared way back in 1980 – making it one of the very earliest ready-to-run, off-road R/C models with Digital Proportional functionality. It pre-dated most of the earliest efforts by other brands like Nikko or Shinsei, and was quite simply a marvel for it’s time, in an era when barely any electric off-road R/C cars (either kit-based or ready-to-run) were available.
I only became aware of it through Tandy stores, and here it is in the 1984 Tandy Electronics catalogue…
With it’s quite large size (about 34cm in length), fairly realistic appearance, basic off-road ability and Digital Proportional controls, plus a shiftable 3-speed gearbox (via a switch in the rear tray), there was little doubt this would be the ideal garden-friendly R/C car for where I lived. And so it appeared under the tree on Christmas morning 1984, addressed to me from “Santa”. I was beside myself.
It lacked suspension and a differential, and the spare tyre at the back was unfortunately a hard plastic replica of the other four. But there was something charming about this toy’s realistic scale speed (slow) and it’s versatility. High speed was fast enough to entertain, while medium and low gave it just enough torque for small sand dunes.
The front windscreen was also fold-able, and the roll-cage with open seating meant that it was also the perfect vehicle to load full of other toys – action figures, stuffed animals, basically anyone who needed a lift through the garden or from one end of the house to the other!
Mind you, the thinner areas of black plastic were fairly brittle and you really needed to avoid hitting any objects too hard – lest the bumper or roll cage break. Parts weren’t available of course, except in the sense that it could be sent away to Tandy HQ for a 6 week repair turnaround.
All that delicate plastic however, did lend itself to a lovely level of realism – little details like dashboard meters, glove box, etc can be seen in the driver’s seat…
There’s more at the back, including a fire extinguisher. You can also see the 3 speed gear shift lever. It was pretty unusual for any R/C toy of this era to have more than 2 speed options.
The tyres and wheels are also a highlight of this vehicle, as they managed to keep them very “scale” in both appearance and size, rather making them over-sized for the sake of performance.
Another area of weakness was the gearbox, whose plastic gears were prone to wear over time – clearly the lack of a differential didn’t help.
And yet to this day, I still have my original Jeep Renegade and it still works. So that’s some testament to its staying power. Countless hours were spent paddling through sand, racing around home-made dirt tracks, and making small puddle crossings during my youth, yet it held up to more play than almost any other toy I owned.
By 1985, the model was discontinued as more agile off-road buggies began to dominate the toy R/C vehicle market.
These days, you can see Jeep Renegades occasionally come up on eBay (perhaps 2 or 3 times per year). Edit: 7/7/2018: Interest from collectors has increased somewhat over the years, and while I originally wrote here that this model could be found for $50 or thereabouts (and perhaps it still can if you’re lucky), good condition examples will comfortably fetch over AU$100 now, with mint examples ever higher.
The Jeep Renegade will be of interest to other past owners, collectors of Jeep toys and memorabilia, or just fans of those realistic hard-bodied early 1980s R/C models.
If you fit into any of those categories, then this gorgeous old model is a must-have.
Download: PDF of original Jeep Renegade Manual
On this page: Tandy/Radio Shack Jeep Renegade (1984)
|Motor||(to be confirmed)|
|Batteries||4 x C, 1 x 9v (Car). 6 x AA (Transmitter).|