An extremely rare Volkswagen Beetle off-roader that relatively few people have seen or heard of, from the early years of the great Kyosho Corporation. So rare, that it seems only a handful of new examples still exist.
Well there’s “rare”. And then there’s R/C cars like this one.
Kyosho is an R/C brand that will need no introduction to anyone familiar with hobby grade R/C kits. But if you’re not that familiar, then the main thing you need to know is that Kyosho is a company with a long history, largely devoted to R/C racing. They were there at the dawn of R/C cars in the late 1960s and early 1970s, initially experimenting with petrol-powered vehicles, before later also joining the move into the more broadly popular electric cars. (If you want to read about this very early era, look no further than Kyosho’s own history pages for a detailed chronology).
By 1982, Kyosho had already released several electric R/C vehicles. And as was typical of this era, most of them were pretty interesting early concepts, often involving odd but fascinating ideas, created by hobbyists who were still about a decade or so away from perfecting R/C car design (from a performance standpoint).
In my view though, a perfect R/C car is actually a car packed with fun, not just performance.
The Kyosho Volkswagen Baja Bug was probably released in 1982, although I can’t say this with absolute certainty as I can’t find an official date. But it’s appearances in Kyosho catalogues suggest it was released at this time. I can say that it’s Kyosho “Kit. No. 2413”, which is not far off the model number of their earliest electric vehicle.
Basically this is a 1/10 scale hobby-grade buggy that was released a year or two after Tamiya’s famous Sand Scorcher VW off-road buggy kit, and yet was never anywhere near as popular as the Tamiya model.
By the early 1980s, Tamiya R/C cars were becoming ubiquitous in hobby shops around the world as Tamiya was the first company to really popularize kit-based electric R/C cars. Meanwhile, Kyosho were playing a bit of a catch up game of sorts, dabbling in a few entry-level type R/C cars to try to capture some of the recreational/home market, while also developing high performance racing vehicles that were destined to win at the fast-growing R/C racing competitions being set-up around the world.
But the lovely thing about the early 1980s was that every R/C maker – including Kyosho – was still in a state of flux. And there was a lot of design creativity going on as they attempted new things, never quite sure which feature or novelty would be a popular seller. This was a fun era of R/C, and there was always room for one more R/C toy based on the evergreen Volkswagen Beetle!
The Volkswagen Baja Bug is a gorgeous off-road R/C beetle, with a relatively simple overall design, but a couple of really unusual features.
It was actually the third release in a series of cars that shared the exact same chassis, but with different body shells. The first two were the Kyosho Sand Skipper (a rather odd-looking sand rail) and the Kyosho Toyota Hilux (a pickup) – you can see them both above, in the print ad on this page.
Of the three, the Volkswagen Baja Bug is certainly the most rare today, but (in my opinion) also the best looking. But then, I am biased toward Beetles!
The example shown here is a brand new in the box example – one of very few left in the world. The kit itself came partially assembled even when new. I’ve left the green protective plastic over the clear, uncut body shell for now (it would be removed if I ever decided to build it).
The car is basically comprised of a plastic chassis (two parts – a bathtub plus a lid), to which metal suspension arms and a large metal gearbox are attached.
The enclosed chassis style with rubber seals used on any openings, actually gives away a little nod to Tamiya because the Sand Scorcher bug famously had an enclosed, water-proof tub to enable the fun of water crossings. The Volkswagen Baja Bug is also clearly designed to tackle water.
The heavy, cast aluminium gearbox at the back is particularly striking, because it comes pre-assembled and completely houses the longitudinally-mounted motor (a standard 540 type) and is even embossed with the company’s name…
This large metal tail tends to give the slight impression of the exposed rear engine typically seen in 1:1 off road beetles.
But what’s really interesting is that the unit houses a working centrifugal clutch! And the kit box claims that this is the first R/C car to ever make use of such a system.
No doubt the slow pickup/engagement of the gearbox under acceleration meant that a complicated bit of miniature design like this (for 1982) fell out of favour once people began to prefer faster and faster R/C cars, able to accelerate more instantaneously. But still… it was like having an old-school, constantly variable transmission (CVT) built into a relatively heavy R/C toy. And there’s a really nice sense of realism about that.
Although I should also mention that there’s no differential. (But even the Sand Scorcher didn’t have one of those).
Another quite amazing feature of this car is the fact it’s tyres are not just the semi-pneumatic type found on practically 100% of other R/C vehicles, but they respond to their own little air-pump which can be used to inject or remove air from a sealed inner cell.
Once again, the kit box shows you how…
Presumably this was offered as a way of miniaturizing another known behaviour of 1:1 scale cars – especially those travelling through deep sand. Because traction can be improved when tackling sand dunes by letting air out of your tyres. So Kyosho decided – for the sake of awesome 1980s toy realism, to offer this exact same ability.
Another important point is that those huge tyres are involved in a lot of the car’s suspension. At the front, there is some springy-wire based suspension travel. But at the rear, the axle is completely rigid – leaving only the tyres to offer some bounce. And bounce they will, being so fat…
Here are a few other pics of items included in the kit…
I should also mention the polycarbonate body. This is one major point of difference between this model and Tamiya’s Sand Scorcher, with it’s much more highly-detailed styrol resin body shell and driver figure.
However, the Kyosho body still comes up looking quite nice for such an early polycarbonate mold, and it still carries more detail than a lot of other polycarbonate bug shells I’ve seen in more recent years. Plus, of course, it’s tougher.
A while ago, I ranted about a VW Toy book I once found, and how silly it was that the author had gone to the trouble of putting together a book like that, cataloging many cheap, novelty VW toys, while ignoring the most amazing VW toys ever made.
Well, I’d add the little-known Kyosho Volkswagen Baja Bug to the list of amazing models that should have been included, and which deserves it’s place in history. I never had one back in the day. But thanks to the Internet, we can uncover these types of gems and at least reminisce about the interesting toy era that spawned them.
I think the image below says it all – a gorgeous Baja Bug with huge retro tyres, tearing through desert sand dunes.
So where can you get one?
As I mentioned earlier, this is a very rare R/C toy. I have seen them come up on eBay occasionally over the years, but often the closest you will find is this car’s two sister models (also mentioned earlier). It certainly took me quite a while to locate mine.
Given this scarcity, how valuable is it? Well it’s hard to assess value with very few precedents. But in January 2015, one of the sister cars – the Toyota Hilux – sold for US$2750 on eBay. And it was even missing the tyre pump. Given that of the three in the series (Sand Skipper, Toyota Hilux and Baja Bug), the Baja Bug is by far the most rare in new-in-box form. I guess this gives some indication.
On this page: Kyosho Volkswagen Baja Bug (1982)
|Suspension||Yes (Front only)|
|Batteries||1 x 7.2volt, Optional 4 x AA (Car). Transmitter purchased separately.|
How rare is the Kyosho Volkswagen Baja Bug (1982)
Model History: Kyosho Volkswagen Baja Bug
|Kyosho||"Volkswagen Baja Bug"||Original release of the car from Japan.||Japan/Worldwide||1982|