It was the US release of the original Taiyo Jet Hopper of Japan – a popular ready-to-run R/C buggy with a spare tyre on it’s roof, which was making waves in the international toy market.
With the help of Tyco’s glossy marketing and exciting TV commercials, the US model sold in phenomenal quantities over several years from the mid to late 1980s. Let’s look back at the Turbo Hopper, it’s popularity, and even it’s distinctly American TV commercials featuring the buggies jumping along dusty country roads (set to banjo music of course!).
The Taiyo Jet Hopper was an R/C off-road buggy that looked the part, and would gladly tear across the lawn or over mum’s garden, yet could be enjoyed straight out of the box.
In 1986 it was a very popular toy in Japan, and soon caught the attention of US toy giant Tyco – who imported the buggy for release in it’s domestic market as the “Turbo Hopper” with both Tyco and Taiyo branding on the box.
The Tyco company had been founded way back in 1926 by a man named John Tyler (Tyco was formed from “Tyler Company”), as a small manufacturer of die cast model trains. The company expanded and changed hands from the 1960s onward, branching into other product areas as it went.
But by 1986 the brand was still completely new to the R/C industry, which was experiencing a boom in popularity at the time. So the Turbo Hopper became Tyco’s first foray into this market.
But while they may have been new to R/C, Tyco certainly weren’t new to toys. And they really knew how to market their products.
Thick, glossy industry catalogues, exciting box art, and inspiring TV commercials… all of these were part of the marketing that the Tyco’s new line of R/C cars received, and boy did it work. By all accounts, sales of the Turbo Hopper were huge, and within a couple of years had established Tyco as a leading player in the ready-to-run R/C toy market in the USA.
None of this would have been possible, of course, if Taiyo hadn’t “precision built” (as their logo said) such a great little buggy in the first place.
Here are some images taken from the 1987 Tyco product catalogue. The Turbo Hopper seems to have first hit the US market late in 1986, based on US department store catalogues. But Tyco’s line of R/C cars didn’t appear in their annual product catalogue until 1987, by which time they had enlisted a range of R/C vehicles (about 10 or so), all of which were manufactured by Taiyo.
The pics below show a blue print sketch, a 2-page spread showing both red and black models, and even a turbo graph comparing “normal” vs “turbo charger” – which doesn’t look at that scientific to me, but it was exactly the kind of thing that any kid at the time would have eaten up.
“As advertised on TV”…
The off-road R/C market of the time was still so young that the Turbo Hopper also featured in an article in an R/C magazine called Radio Control Car Action. You can read the article here.
Unlike in the 1990s and beyond, when R/C magazines tended to cater only to professional R/C racers, they weren’t quite so snobby in the 1980s when the hobby was still growing. So the very first issue of Radio Control Car Action is now a joy to look back upon, simply to recall how fun and accessible the hobby was – whether you had $50 to spend, or $500. There was good quality to be found at every level.
The Tyco box style also became a highly recognizable aspect of their releases: colourful window-style boxes with gorgeous artwork on a large tab at the back, slanted branding across the front, and the car name clearly printed at the bottom left. They were perfectly designed to appear as part of an ongoing “series” of models, and to make kids want to “collect them all”. They also put a lot of present-day toy packaging to shame.
Here is a new in box Tyco/Taiyo Turbo Hopper Mk1…
Even the back of the box carried some information, and in this case there was a feature breakdown, plus a series of steps showing how to get the car up and running. You’d never see something like this today.
As mentioned, the Turbo Hopper kicked off a series of exciting R/C car commercials for Tyco that many people remember to this day. Such as this one when the model was first released, showing the Turbo Hopper Mk1 which came in both red or black.
Later, both the model and commercial were updated. This commercial shows the Turbo Hopper Mk3 which came in red or white…
Aside from it’s off-road ability, one of the big draw-cards of this buggy was it’s actual “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 popularize “Turbo” as an R/C novelty, several models from Nikko (such as the Nikko Black Fox (1985)) were in fact the first to be released with the “turbo” feature. So credit for the idea probably belongs to Nikko.
Anyway, here at last is the Turbo Hopper, out of the box…
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 companies manufacturing ready-to-run R/C cars 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 on one side, and the real sponsor logos. Plus things like the “Hella” and “Daylighter” headlights.
Tyco adjusted the original Jet Hopper decal design by changing the name to “Turbo Hopper” on the rear wing of course.
The Turbo Hopper also came in two colours – red and black. Each colour operated on a different frequency, so that you could buy both and race them. Later, there was a white edition as well.
The flag on the aerial was probably an idea Tyco copied from the Tamiya Frog. The original Taiyo Jet Hopper in Japan never came with the flag, but Tyco added it for a bit of extra branding and flair…
Another thing Tyco added to the toy that was absent from the Japanese release, was the idea of a set of little plastic orange traffic cones.
These were a great accessory designed to expand the play options of the buggy, allowing you to set up obstable courses to weave around and improve your driving skills. Also included were some spare steering clips, as this was considered a potentially fragile component.
Sometime in 1987 the Turbo Hopper was changed so that it had lower-profile rear tyres on much larger rims, which is one of the things that caused me to break the model up into variants. The Mk1 has the fat rear tyres (as shown in the example on this page), while the Mk2 has the lower profile type. There was also a Mk3 type.
Another design change that occurred was the switch to “9.6volt” power. Mk1 simply required 8 x AA batteries in the car. But in order to profit from battery sales, a proprietary “battery pack” was introduced on a later variant. It was just 8 x AA rechargeable batteries joined together and sealed inside plastic with a special plug on the end that only worked with a special Tyco battery charger. But it forced consumers to buy the device’s battery and a charger from the same company, instead of just running it on regular batteries. It’s a sales tactic that continues to this day with a lot of devices, particularly mobile phones.
The box also came with a spare body clip, and of course a Tyco branded owner’s manual explaining how to operate your new model.
Obviously due to the huge sales of the Turbo Hopper by Tyco, this model remains very popular today and good condition examples are highly sought-after by collectors. Naturally they can only really be found in places like the USA and Canada. And most of the good ones are already in the hands of collectors these days.
For more about the history of this model, don’t forget to check out my article about the original Taiyo Jet Hopper.
As always, happy hunting!
On this page: Tyco/Taiyo Turbo Hopper (1986)
|Motor||(to be confirmed)|
|Suspension||Yes (Front independent with coil springs, rear rigid axle with coil springs)|
|Batteries||8 x AA (Car). 1 x 9volt (Transmitter)|
Issues to look for: Taiyo Jet Hopper (1986)
|Is it an original, or a fake?||A fake actually exists of this car. It was released in the late 1980s and it's called the Lex Jet Hopper. It's a lot more rare than the Jet Hopper, and to be honest even if you do find one, it's pretty interesting as it's a very accurate clone made with similar materials - and even has Digital Proportional control. I never support buying retail fakes or clones or counterfeits. But once they become old, discontinued relics themselves, they become interesting novelties... |
|Items sometimes missing on this model|| |
|Other parts to check on this model|| |