In my view, the quintessential Tamiya model and a true icon of the R/C hobby.
It only seems right that the first Tamiya R/C model I write about should be the Tamiya Hornet, as I really do consider it to be the most iconic of all Tamiya’s amazing R/C models over the years.
First released on the 9th of October, 1984, I suspect it went on to become Tamiya’s biggest selling R/C car ever – although I have no specific proof. Tamiya has never released any sales figures. But the impression I got growing up in Australia was that this was by far the most popular Tamiya buggy of the era. And combine that with the fact that it was available for 8 years from 1984-1992, and there’s no doubt it had an incredible sales run.
When I was about 11 or so, I had the fortune of getting my hands on my first Tamiya catalogue – a glossy, printed gallery of incredible plastic and R/C models that included a page featuring the Hornet. I must have poured over that catalogue a million times growing up, and here’s the classic product photo of the Hornet as Tamiya intended it to be…
After doing some more research over the years, I have found that Tamiya published several similar photos of the hornet – each slightly different (as you can see from the angle of the car, and the background colour), but featuring the same two example cars.
The example cars featured in every official photo appear to be “early vintage” Hornets (which makes perfect sense of course, being promotional photos). They have the black (not white) plastic wheel bearings at the wheels, which were only found in earlier Hornet kits.
Also appearing in some Tamiya catalogues, were these action photos of The Hornet…
As with all Tamiya models released back in the 1980s, the Hornet’s arrival was accompanied by some official promotional videos that were given (on VHS tape) to many hobby shops to be played all day, and help promote the products. And many collectors today remember seeing them playing in stores, in their youth. The videos would typically be a showreel of all the models in Tamiya’s range. And each year, Tamiya would release a new showreel for their latest models, plus sometimes additional video of the models from past years. This meant that in some cases, there were two or three different videos for one particular model, and this was the case with The Hornet which had two videos in total.
Some years ago I obtained what I think was the most complete collection of these videos that have been available, and from the source I divided them into clips of the individual models. The quality of this footage is old – very few original copies have been known to exist, and none of them are perfect, so the faded colour and tape glitches found in many of these videos can’t be avoided. But unlike Youtube where nobody has the videos very organized… below is an attempt to catalogue the two distinct ones that exist. Each of these videos of The Hornet feature different narration, music and footage, as they were released as part of different promotional “showreels”, released at different points in time by Tamiya.
The Hornet – Video #1 (early 1985)
The Hornet – Video #2 (late 1985)
Tamiya Hornet vintage kit
Pictured below is a vintage new in box kit of the Hornet. The kit shown here is a “late vintage” Hornet, in a nice condition box with all parts complete inside.
Yes it’s still possible to hunt down original unbuilt kits from the 1980s. Expensive though they may be, they do exist, and it’s amazing they’ve survived unbuilt over the decades, hidden in attics and the back-rooms of hobby shops around the world…
That incredible, dynamic box art of the Hornet as it leans out through a turn and kicks up dust, is actually one of my earliest Tamiya memories.
Inside the kit, the Hornet is a relatively simple model to build. It’s a 1/10 scale 2WD utilising a bathtub chassis, to which everything else connects.
Note the blister packaging – a lot of collectors love the way original Tamiya kits were presented, with big dividers covered in pictures of other cars (you could only dream of owning them all!), and blister boxes with lots of little labeled items.
Many collectors of Tamiya cars consider the first 100 Tamiya models to be a “golden era” as these were the cars released at the height of the R/C craze in the 1980s, and are now the most collectible. Among them, the Hornet was the 45th model to be released.
To me though, there’s actually another golden era within that first 100, and it consists mainly of a group of early off-road buggies that were actually inspired by animal concepts and symbolism (plus a few buggies either side of this period). Broadly, you might refer to these buggies as “character cars” due to the fact they came in eye-catching shapes, colours, and with quirky decals and unusual names.
The Hornet is of course based on the Hornet insect, most likely the European Hornet with it’s black and yellow body colouring. But somehow, Tamiya’s designers managed to incorporate subtle references beyond merely the name, and developed this car to remind you of a Hornet insect in a few different ways. Obviously there’s the black body covered in striking yellow-orange-red decals. But also note the angular profile, suspension arms, bumper bar, side nerf bars and so on…all are slender and black, similar to a set of black legs supporting a body. Even the headlights are way down the front – like a pair of eyes.
It’s quite subtle, but the result is a sort of subliminal appeal – the familiar look and colouring of an animal, combined with the name, plus the obvious, aggressive baja buggy shape. It all comes together as one perfect package that somehow was incredibly enticing to children and adults around the world.
And yet despite these aesthetic considerations the car is still 100% functional and uncompromising as an R/C model. This was the genius of Tamiya’s design work during the “character car” era. It’s something they carried across several beautiful buggies. And it’s also something that no other R/C model manufacturer was ever quite able to replicate. Often they would copy Tamiya’s ideas, but they were never quite able to copy Tamiya’s eclectic and unusual inspirations – and pull them off.
It’s no wonder Tamiya’s R/C model sales took off in the early 1980s.
I haven’t mentioned the Tamiya Grasshopper yet, but the Hornet is essentially the Grasshopper’s faster brother. The Grasshopper was released a few months earlier and I will discuss it in detail another time. But the Hornet basically uses the same chassis platform (the chassis actually has “RCC Grasshopper” stamped onto it since the Grasshopper was the first to use it) together with a range of extra features – in particular a Mabuchi 540 motor instead of the Grasshopper’s 380 motor.
It was a fairly lightweight buggy for it’s time too, and the gearbox transfers the motor power quite efficiently so that it’s main strength is straight-line speed. Handling is another matter though, and the car has a tendency to swing it’s tail about and can be a bit of a handful on a loose surface. But this just makes it all the more entertaining. Buggies that run absolutely perfectly can often be a bit boring.
I’ve always really loved Tamiya’s own descriptions of their vehicles, and here’s one of the official Hornet summaries…
Due to it’s extreme maneuverability and high speed we have named this powerful buggy the “HORNET”. With front independent suspension using a friction damper, and rolling rigid rear suspension with oil filled dampers, plus a lightweight polycarbonate body, this aggressive vehicle is aptly named.
Equipped with that polycarbonate body, tough bathtub type chassis, and big flexible front bumper, the car is as tough as they say. If you ever hear anyone complain that their Hornet broke or that this car was inherently weak, remember that there are fools in the world who will drive their R/C vehicles off the rooves of houses, or set them on fire. Under normal use, the Hornet would last a lifetime.
The rear suspension is, as they say “rigid” – there’s no independent suspension at the back. The rear dampers are some really nice, metal, oil-filled units however, that do a reasonable job.
I particularly love the wheels and tyres on this car, which are shared between it and several other Tamiya buggies. Each wheel comes in three-pieces, all joined together by little screws so they are quite elaborate. The tyres all have high side-walls – not that efficient because they aren’t as rigid during cornering as today’s low-profile tyres. But they have a lovely, scale dune-buggy look about them. And the fact they are so fat – particularly at the rear – is all part of that 70s/early 80s-philosophy where a lot of cars in various motorsport around the world (even Formula 1) were thought to perform better if they had massive, fat rear tyres.
The decals are pretty iconic too. During the 1980s, each Tamiya buggy came with a special slogan, and for the Hornet of course it’s “Anytime, Baby!”. This just added to the car’s character and even little things – like the positioning of the bonnet number “7” off a bit to one side – are just little touches to add a bit more individuality.
Of course, you could paint and decal your Hornet any way you liked, but as with all my Tamiyas I think I love the original designs too much to deviate. And this is also how the manual suggests you build and detail the model.
The Grasshopper/Hornet chassis platform with a gearbox at the back and rigid rear-axle suspension was also such an economical, robust basis for a 2WD R/C buggy that it ended up being copied over the years by dozens of other R/C car makers (both hobby and toy-grade – the Tyco Turbo Hopper is just one example), and in fact the same basic philosophy can still be seen in many R/C toys you can purchase today. So it’s impact on the toy market has been massive.
The first time I ever saw a Tamiya Hornet in action was also the first time I ever saw a Tamiya. I think I was about 8 or 9 years old and my family had been invited to some kind of dinner party at a friend’s house. The friends in question were fairly well known people in the town where I lived, so there were quite a lot of people at this party – maybe 50 or so.
While the parents mostly stayed inside, out in the backyard some of the kids (mostly boys) were busy with some kind of incredibly powerful R/C car. Being a bit younger than these other kids, all I could do was stand back and watch. The car was being launched off a ramp near the back verandah, at full speed, and landing a couple of metres away, at which point it would either flip over or continue to blast dust and dirt as it regained it’s foothold. At the time, my only R/C experiences had been Tandy/Radio Shack type models that would trundle around nice enough, but seeing this thing called a “Hornet” introduced me to a new level of excitement. There was even a sense of violence about it at first – the car seemed tough enough to take the abuse, but the sheer power of it seemed to encourage the other kids to push it to ever higher limits – a sharper ramp, a bigger run-up, and so on.
I knew this must be a really expensive toy, but I later came to realize that it was also just as much a masterpiece of engineering and design as it was a backyard weapon capable of chasing cats and being thrashed around. Perhaps it was the fact that my parents could never really afford to buy a Tamiya during the 1980s, but for whatever reason I developed something of a reverence for the Hornet – and indeed all Tamiyas.
In the late 1980s I was given my first ever Tamiya – a Hornet of course – by my sister’s fiance, and it was in pretty poor shape at the time. But it became the vehicle that opened up my world to Tamiya R/C cars. Countless afternoons after school were spent running that car around makeshift dirt tracks near my house, usually only for 10-15 minutes at a time though as that’s all a typical 1200mAH Ni-Cd battery would last for in those days. But it was just so entertaining and challenging to fling the buggy around sandy corners, and try to beat little personal-best lap times, that it will always remain one of my very favourite R/C models. I still have that old Hornet to this day.
Here in Australia, we have a chain of small toy stores called Toyworld. And while any old print memorabilia related to Toyworld is now extremely hard to find, after some years of searching I did manage to find this great colour Toyworld print advertisement from 1985 – here, showing a Hornet package, complete with the classic Acoms Techniplus radio, plus Tamiya battery and charger…
The Hornet is now a cornerstone model for any collector of vintage Tamiya R/C cars.
Used examples are still quite numerous as it was such a popular model. Original, unbuilt kits are the most highly sought-after of course, and are harder to track down. Some spare parts, such as the original body set, are also becoming harder to find these days, even on the collector’s market.
Expect to fight other collectors to get hold of a really good condition original example. But that’s because this was such a heavily played-with and loved model, by so many people around the world. As always, restoration of an original with original spare parts, is the most satisfying project if you really want to relive this classic as it was. And this is also quite an easy model to work on, so if you are just getting into vintage Tamiya – it’s a great place to start.
As always, happy collecting!
On this page: Tamiya Hornet (1984)
|Suspension||Yes (Front independent with coil springs, rear rolling rigid axle with oil dampers)|
|Digital Proportional||Yes (Transmitter purchased separately)|
|Batteries||1 x 7.2volt + optional 4 x AA (Car) |
8 x AA (Transmitter)
Issues to look for: Tamiya Hornet (1984)
|Is it an original, or the remake?||Tamiya has released a remake of this car. The original model however, is generally much more valuable than the remake. If buying a used example, ask about the history of the model and whether it is 100% original or the remake, or a mix of the two. You can also check the embossed stamps on larger plastic parts to identify original parts. For more on this, see: “A detailed guide to vintage vs remake Tamiya R/C kits”|
|Items sometimes missing on this model|| |
|Other parts to check on this model||Rear shock absorber mounts may be snapped or have hairline fractures.|
Variants: Tamiya Hornet (1984)
Characteristics of a vintage Tamiya Hornet kit from the early period of it's production run.
Characteristics of a vintage Tamiya Hornet kit from the middle period of it's production run.
Characteristics of a vintage Tamiya Hornet kit from the late period of it's production run.
All Models: Tamiya Hornet
In 2004, Tamiya produced a remake of The Hornet, which is different to the original.
In 2006, Tamiya produced the Tamtech-Gear Hornet which is a smaller scale and uses a completely different design.
In 2019, Tamiya produced the Comical Hornet, which is a caricature style Hornet.
I remember drooling over the Hornet as a kid, but it was really the Hotshot that I wanted. Having never built a Tamiya before, I am considering picking up the re-released model to get the full “kit” experience (unassembled vintage Hotshots are 3x-4x the money). I know you don’t discuss them on the site, but I was wondering if you could explain what you mean by “and in a few cases, they look truly hideous compared to the originals” — I’d like to know which re-releases to steer clear of for my first build.
Great site, by the way. Cheers!
Thanks J M!
100% of the re-releases include changes like: fake decal brands (real-world company logos are gone), ESC instead of MSC, and (usually) one or more of the following: minor changes to body, chassis, or gearbox. Keen eyes have uncovered many small things over the years.
I think that if you’re happy enough with the look of any particular re-release, then you’ll enjoy whatever you choose. In terms of the Hotshot, another change is that the iconic round silver resistors under the rear wing are non-functional (because it comes with an ESC), so they just sit there and do nothing. Also it uses the original Hotshot II’s chassis top which has a hole for easier access to the electrics inside.
For many, these are no issue. But personally, I kinda enjoy the full original build experience – warts and all. It feels more authentic when I burn my fingers on the resistors and struggle to fit all that extra wiring inside the chassis box 🙂 That’s what the Hotshot was. A product of 1985 thinking.
But overall, the re-re Hotshot doesn’t deviate too offensively from the original.
However, check out the re-re Sand Rover or Holiday Buggy and compare those to the originals. They are completely modern entry level buggies, with nothing but the old body shell on top. As such, I think they ask the modeler to appreciate them as completely different models. You would have to ask yourself how badly you want something that looks only 50% like a Sand Rover for $150 or so, when an original, used Sand Rover made in 1982 might be found for $300.
And remember also that re-releases have caused values of originals to drop quite a bit in many cases, because of the ongoing conflict and debate surrounding which items people prefer to collect and restore.
yes I like the Tamiya original kits more so then the rerelease ones
when you build a rerelease car like a hornet you cant say that you got a hornet you got to say I have a rerelease hornet stickers are different and don’t look right take the Tamiya frog same thing
when you see all the original wires and the 3 step speed controllers that’s what makes the vintage Rc car great the old style not the esc that’s for new models cars on off/road like brushless motor cars also has brake
the original car flat out in reverse then left then up again will make like a Knight Rider effect
after running both cars one after the other I still prefer the original car
I find that when you burn out the speed controller you don’t need to buy another one you just clean the copper on the 3 step speed controller then it will work again or replace the resistor
the esc not working you need a new one or need to be a pro at electronic to fix it
but still good to have the rerelease car to get the parts out to fix the vintage
lol cheap that way some of the parts tress are the same
please log what you think of the 2 different cars vintage and rerelease
all vintage Tamiya
wild willy m38
all the body sets and original speed controllers for them all
wont part with any of them
Good point there about the mechanical speed controllers. Personally I never had that much trouble running cars with them (albeit not in races), and they certainly were repairable and cheap.
Great article! You really got all the info and even the commercial in it.
I have a very roughed-up original and just bought a rerelease yesterday. I had to, I loved the dang thing so much just looking at it. I wasn’t sure I even had the old one still but found it and am going to get that working as well.
The rereleases are great if you are not a collector. It will be a lot easier getting the old Hornet going now that interest and parts have become more available do to the rereleases.
The only thing I really wanted to replace but can’t seem to find is the Parma Ford Coupe body from the 80s. It was on the April 1087 issue of RC Car Action magazine painted like the ZZ-Top car. I ended up getting a Willys and that will have to do until I find a 30s Ford Coupe.
Thanks Chris! Yes, the re-releases have certainly stirred the market up, and many are happy to have the 80% similar version. And this does have a flow-on effect for genuine original collectors too, causing original items to dip in price a bit and become more affordable – so always check prices of originals too, you may occasionally be surprised.
As for those bodies, I think I remember them. Not too sure about levels of availability on vintage Parma option parts though, someone else will know.
I spent a few hours this past weekend with my son and dug out my original Hornet and got it running. My son had a BLAST playing with it. I have a lot of find memories with that car. I have all kinds of upgrades on it and used to run it with full ball bearings and a RX540VZ Technigold motor but for some reason it had a stock 540 in it and the Technigold is in my Monster Beetle which will be the next one we get running 🙂 Anyway, I’d love to get a new body for the Hornet since the original is pretty banged up… that would be a fun project to let me son pick out the color scheme and setup the decals.
Other than the Hornet and Monster Beetle, I still have a Porsche 959, Lunchbox and believe it or not, I have a Toyota Bruiser that still runs. Throw in 3 RC10’s, a Marui Hunter and Mugen Bulldog and I had quite the collection when I was a kid. That doesn’t even count the cars that I sold over the years.
Great story, and that’s a pretty big collection you have going there – you always know someone’s quite an enthusiast when they start talking about Mugen Bulldogs and RC10s. Look out for many of those cars to appear in future posts 🙂
Yeah I was rapid for RC cars 25 to 30 years ago. I remember subscribing to “RC Car Action” magazine as a kid and spending all of my money upgrading my stuff. I used to race at the local roller skating rink and build cars for my friends for a small fee… lol. It was a lot of fun and an honest hobby. Now I get to enjoy it with my son.
I’d love to see a post on the Bulldog if you ever do it. I have never seen one in a store or in person other than mine in person even back in the day but it seems to have been relatively successful. It was an interesting and fun car but somewhat “complicated” with the 4 wheel steering, etc. I think I’ll try and get that going too. My wife isn’t going to like my eBay purchases 🙂
This website is fantastic. My parents would never buy me a Tamiya when I was a kid because they heard all the horror stories from other parents about breakages. My best mate had a Hornet and another friend had a Hot Shot. Man, I coveted those things like you wouldn’t believe. I remember the old nichrome charge leads; hooking them up to his mum’s old Corolla, and then forgetting about them. You’d come back 45 minutes later to a toasty battery! We used to try and make those things fly! One day as pretty young kids, we set off on a BMX mission to the local Hobby store at Miranda in NSW for some hot motors (about an hour’s ride). Such awesome memories. As soon as I got my first job I went straight out and bought a Stadium Blitzer. That was in 1993. I still have it, and it has had an absolute caning; along with my FRP chassis TA-02, I now have kids of my own, and my eldest just got a Mad Bull. I wanted something super robust. Dad had to get a new one too, and I picked up an M05 Mini Cooper. I’m still gonna buy me a Hornet one day…
You can still find vintage Hornets on eBay and it is one of the cars that has been rereleased so you can buy a brand new one too. They are a lot of fun and well worth the investment!!
Hi dude, I too grew up in the eighties and could never get my hands on a Tamiya and I’m with you 100% on that score.
But I think you’re being a bit harsh on re-re cars?
We had our time?, these cars bring new fans to the hobby with new memories of their own, which as you know are pure magic?
Also without the re-re’s I wouldn’t have been able to restore my monster beetle et al……..
Greedy parts sellers are charging extortionate amounts for essentially bits of plastic, I say long live Tamiya and any re-re that comes out!, it’s all good baby!
Thanks for your comment Mark 🙂 I don’t think I’m being harsh on the reissues by saying I personally don’t care for them. I’m actually happy if they’ve introduced new people to the magic of those old designs, as I do agree that they’re more fun than a lot of modern R/C stuff.
But I don’t agree when people say “I wouldn’t have been able to restore X without the re-re’s”. You would have. It just would have required more patience and to save up for a bit longer :/ But it was totally possible. The vast majority of Tamiya spares were pretty plentiful on eBay from 1998-2005 before any of the rereleases began. If they weren’t available the moment you searched, they may have required waiting for a few months to see them appear.
Since the re-releases began, a lot of people don’t seem to realize that you could be restoring or rebuilding an original for not that much more money than a reissue – and using original parts. As Tamiya101 wrote in their article…
“I appreciate that for many it’s just great to at last be able to afford NIB kits of cars they always wanted but it makes me laugh when people are talking about buying the new Bruiser kit at £500 – £700+ when that kind of money would buy you a vintage model that could be restored. Surely the vintage model is more to be proud of? I know I would be?” – Tamiya101.com
These days I’m seeing a lot of used, classic Tamiyas on eBay, in good condition with original boxes and transmitters, selling for less than the cost of many re-release kits. Surely there’s more satisfaction in owning a true original from the 1980s, than a reissue. This is a pretty standard desire among every single collecting community in the world. But I do understand that a reissue of something offers a cheaper, easier, brand new way to relive the past.
As for “greedy parts sellers charging extortionate amounts for essentially bits of plastic” – I do understand where you’re coming from. Sometimes things are overpriced out there. But the fact is that things are only “overpriced” if they’re priced far higher than any reasonable precedent. So let’s say a “bit of plastic” sells for $150 under bidding, and someone else lists an identical one for buy-it-now for $150 (or thereabouts). It’s not overpriced. That’s just the price, based on demand. Things are only worth what people are prepared to pay. I’ve personally paid as much as $400 for a single Sand Scorcher original NIP black front bumper in the past too (just so you know – I’ve put my money where my mouth is!).
And we Tamiya fans can’t really complain, you know 🙂 Collectors of first-edition books are paying tens of thousands to own the original editions of books like Harry Potter. Or how about the action figure community, where the complete original series of “12 back” Star Wars figures is worth upwards of $30,000? Or how about the rare Wonder Woman figure that’s worth over $20,000 alone? No, it’s always been pretty affordable to collect original issue Tamiya models compared to other hobbies 🙂
DOES ANYONE KNOW WHY MY HORNET WILL GO FOWARD AND BACK BUT WILL NOT STEER. WHEN POWERED UP THE WHEELS GO ALL THE WAY LEFT AND DO NOT RESPOND AT ALL TO THE REMOTE.
My guess is that the servo horn is not aligned correctly on the servo. Undo the screw holding the white servo horn. Turn the car on and the transmitter on. Make sure the transmitter steering is centred (including the steering trim lever). Position the horn back on the servo in a centred/upright position allowing for it to turn left and right. Then put the screw back in. Now it should be centred and stay centred when you turn the car on 🙂
Hey dude thanks for a ton of useful tips on the hornet. Im thinking about buying one and you gave all that i need. Thanks again for the helpful tips.
No problem, glad the site was helpful!
My second “real” RC car was the Hornet and the first one I remember building by myself. My first was the Wild Willy and I remember my dad mostly putting that together himself, I helped a little bit. (I remember stacking the two servos in the tiny radio box was tedious on the Wild Willy, even for my dad) Ah, but the Hornet was simply awesome back then. I remember falling in love with it the first time I saw an advertisement in a magazine. It was a picture of the Hornet jumping through the air, dirt flying behind it. I remember the protective balloon for the speed control was a really neat feature and also remembered it being FAST. Shockingly fast back then, certainly much faster than my Wild Willy. I never modified it except for adding foam rear tires and an aftermarket body called the Stinger, I believe. I had painted the original body just like the box and LOVED that “Anytime Baby” sticker. The original body got pretty beat up so I added the Stinger body which looked pretty cool too. I actually have a video of me driving it in the street in front of my house, somewhere around 1985. My friend is laying on the street, on his stomach filming me drive this thing around, I’ll have to dig up the video and post it online. It’s really the only video I have of me driving an RC car back then. Good times. 🙂
Supreme is coming with a new version.