In the mid-1980s, R/C cars of all kinds were experiencing a boom in sales and there was a lot of creativity and innovation as different companies rushed to capitalize on the demand.
Just as realistic off-road sand rail buggies with large rear wings and front bumpers were hugely popular, so too were monster trucks following the arrival such impressive hobby grade models as the Marui Big Bear and the Tamiya Blackfoot in about 1984. As always, toy-grade R/C manufacturers tended to follow these trends, but by as early as 1983 (before the hobby grade brands) Taiyo had released a solid little monster truck style off-roader called the Big Roader. Clearly inspired by the famous full size monster truck called Bigfoot, which was the world’s first monster truck and debuted in 1979, the Big Roader was a very faithful (though unofficial) recreation of this vehicle in 1/16 scale.
Two years later, the Big Roader model was noticed by the Tandy/Radio Shack store chain, and enlisted Taiyo to begin manufacturing a new release of it for them, which they dubbed the 4×4 Off-Roader.
Taiyo’s market reach benefited greatly from the help of Tandy/Radio Shack, and by selling the 4×4 Off-Roader throughout the USA, Canada, Europe and Australia, it went on to become the most famous incarnation of this vehicle. As they often did, Tandy/Radio Shack had the car “custom manufactured” so that it came with Radio Shack-specific body work, decals, box art and instructions. They also offered two varieties – blue or yellow, each on a different fixed frequency so that you could buy both and race them. And thus the Tandy/Radio Shack 4×4 Off-Roader was born.
This page currently features near-mint examples, in each colour…
The first time I saw one of these cars was in the image below, which is from a 1987 Tandy sale catalogue in Australia…
Obviously a popular seller, the 4×4 Off-Roader ended up having possibly the longest production run of any R/C model ever sold at Tandy. It was first sold in Australia in 1986 and 1987. Then it seemed to be dropped in 1988, only to reappear again for another 3 years from 1989 to 1991.
Here are some more scans from catalogues over that period. Such as 1988…
Over in the USA, Radio Shack featured the car in this 1985 Christmas commercial…
It also appeared in this one a couple of years later, along with the ‘Turbo Lamborghini’ and the ‘Buggy Special Turbo’…
For me personally, it wasn’t until 1989 that I was lucky enough to receive one of these trucks for Christmas. And in the weeks leading up to Christmas 1989, I visited several Tandy stores for some in-store “test driving” – which was a great feature of Tandy stores in those days. 1989 was also yet another classic year for their stores, with a great line-up of different R/C vehicles. I wanted to own them all.
I can clearly remember one of the Tandy sales staff demonstrating the power of the 4×4 Off-Roader for me one day, by driving over his feet to demonstrate it’s climbing ability. It had a real go-anywhere feel compared to almost any other R/C toy in it’s price range, at that time.
So what made this truck so special and such a popular item?
Well firstly, it was another quality toy from Taiyo, who later went on to release the very popular Jet Hopper. Well-formed, solid plastics, quality rubber tyres. It’s quite heavy with the batteries loaded, and it’s also quite a neat, stylish and realistic mini monster truck.
I had a lot of fun as a kid racing my Jeep Renegade (also manufactured by Taiyo) against my 4×4 Off-Roader, and the two were the subject of many years of ‘titanic’ backyard rallies as they were quite evenly matched in speed.
Due to it’s weight and it’s internal gearing, and those large tyres, the 4×4 Off Roader has a tendency to pick-up speed quite slowly and realistically too, with a sort of deep ‘engine noise’ due to it’s internal gearing. The gearbox has a choice of Low/High speed, and in ‘High’ the car can reach a reasonable pace for what it is. This is particularly evident downhill where the gearbox seems to ‘let it go’ almost as fast as gravity can take it. Uphill in ‘High’ gear is much more of a struggle and only steady inclines are possible.
‘Low’ gear is a whole other ball-game of course, as this offers a high-torque, go anywhere ability. These days they call it “R/C crawling”, but for a 1/16 scale R/C toy in the mid 1980s, the 4×4 was great fun to climb over small rocks, feet, and even up inclines as steep as 40 degrees. I had mine driving through thick snow on one occasion, and scooting around on a frozen road (in front of some stranded full-size vehicles which were unable to move). Fun times in winter.
Of course, receiving my first 4×4 Off-Roader on Christmas morning in 1989 was very memorable in itself, but sadly so was the moment on Boxing Day when I accidentally slammed it into a verandah post, breaking the front bumper! Snap. Luckily Tandy did offers spare parts in those days, via mail order. It took a few weeks, but I was actually able to replace my bumper with a new one.
While most of the car is quite tough and well made, the body plastic is hard and inflexible and those bumper ends are pretty vulnerable. Another thing to note is that the car is not digital proportional, and while the radio is the same excellent little unit later used on the Jet Hopper, it does require you to be applying forward or reverse at the same time as applying the steering or else the steering won’t operate. This was an early design found in a lot of 1980s toy R/C cars, but I think it was also partly why I hit that verandah post all those years ago – the car veered left at full speed when I wasn’t quite sure it would. But the more you drove, the more you perfected your technique.
I always loved the decals on this car – retro 80s pin-stripes and “Radio Shack RADIO CONTROLLED”, “Gasdruck, Stoss, Dampfer”, “Auto Sport” and so on.
You’ll also notice that the yellow vs blue versions aren’t simply a different colour – they have a different roll cage and exposed chrome engine head as well.
It should also be noted that the 4×4 Off-Roaders that were sold in 1991 had larger wheels with lower profile tyres. I consider this to be the Mk2 of the model and I think their performance was even a tiny fraction better than the Mk1, perhaps on account of wheel diameter.
But the Mk1 version with the fatter tyres (as pictured on this page) is still the more well-known and longest-selling, and probably the one most people are looking for today.
Which leads to the question of collect-ability. Over the years I have certainly seen quite a few 4×4 Off-Roaders appear on eBay. In fact, you should see one come up every other month.
But as always with ready-to-run toy R/Cs, there are very few out there in great condition (due to the fact that they were so easy to take out of the box and play with). Value really depends on condition, but mint examples of this car are easily worth into the hundreds now.
There’s no doubt that this is an extremely well-known R/C toy that was very versatile and loved by many during the late 80s and early 90s. It was undoubtedly one of my all-time Tandy R/C favourites, and is probably even one of the cars people remember the most when they think of “Tandy R/C”.
Download: Tandy/Radio Shack 4×4 Off-Roader Owner’s Manual (PDF – 5Mb)
On this page: Tandy/Radio Shack 4x4 Off-Roader (1985)
|Motor||(to be confirmed)|
|Batteries||4 x "C", 1 x "9volt" (Car). 1 x "9volt" (Transmitter).|