Popping wheelies was all the rage in the early 1980s.Popping wheelies was all the rage in the early 1980s, and this R/C Volkswagen Beetle from Radio Shack (made by Nikko) was among the cutest R/C wheelie cars.
If you were a kid back in the 1980s, you may recall that “wheelies” were, for some reason, something that a lot of vehicle toys could perform.
From the legendary Tamiya Wild Willy R/C kit, to action figure toys, right down the types of little, generic wind-up toys made in Hong Kong that you’d often find in a bucket on the counter of a toy shop, “popping wheelies” was cool.
Nikko combined this wheelie craze with the evergreen look of a compact, cartoonish yellow VW Beetle, and Tandy stores stocked this item (as always, under their own brand name) as the “Funny Beetle”, starting from Christmas 1984. Here it is in the 1985 Tandy Electronics catalogue…
It was also sometimes called the “Wheelie Beetle” in catalogues, which sounded much better. But I’ve stuck with what was written on the box for now.
I can actually recall “test-driving” one of these little beetles at Tandy back in the day, and while I eventually settled on a Jeep Renegade instead, it was hard to resist the colourful appeal of such a cute little car.
It’s quite small – just 22cm long. The box actually says “1/20” scale (although of course the proportions are somewhat exaggerated from any real vehicle).
The wheelie ability comes from its high centre of gravity and a narrow, motor-driven wheel in between the two visible rear wheels, which themselves just tuck up into the wheel arch and are only really there for balance – like training wheels on a bicycle. The front wheels are also driven, which I guess makes this a three-wheel-drive.
When driving, the car will pop wheelies on take off but can be made to settle down again – until you turn a corner too quickly. It actually does “side wheelies” as well, thanks to those rear wheels that tuck in. Whichever front wheel is closest to the direction of turn as you take a corner, will lift off the ground.
Wheelie madness for sure, and fun so long as wheelies are what you’re after. To me this behaviour was less appealing than a more versatile, normal R/C car in the long term. But I knew plenty of kids who would have loved nothing more.
The build quality of early Nikko toys was usually excellent – tyres, plastics, and an overall ‘heavy’ feel. Off-road ability was marginal – not out of the question, but clearly it was at it’s best on smooth surfaces.
I really like the exposed chrome “stinger” engine/exhaust, plus the “Volkswagen” label and genuine sponsor decals – if this toy was made today it would more than likely just use generic/fake decals.
Plus I have a real love for yellow Volkswagen Beetles for some reason – the colour and shape just go so well together.
The box also has some great product photos and action shots…
Funny Beetles aren’t common on eBay, and I’ve only seen a few over the course of many years – I guess as a result of it being a fairly short-lived model. But I also think it’s a relatively unknown toy that would delight a lot of VW collectors – if only they knew it existed.
On this page: Tandy/Radio Shack Funny Beetle (1984)
|Motor||(to be confirmed)|
|Batteries||6 x AA (Car). 1 x 9volt (Transmitter)|
Model History: Nikko Tricky Wagen (1983)
|Nikko||"Tricky Wagen"||Original release of the car from Japan. With working headlights.||Japan||1983|
|Tandy/Radio Shack||"Funny Beetle"||The release sold by Tandy/Radio Shack. It lacks working headlights.||Worldwide||1984|