A merry retro-toy Christmas!

Kyosho Sand MasterWell it’s that time of year again. And if certain news articles are to be believed, retro toys are back in fashion and are among the most popular gifts this year!

So will you be giving – or getting – any retro style toy items? And have you been buying them in stores, or online?


Lately in Australia, there’s been a lot of talk about the plight of bricks-and-mortar retailers, and their battle to hold onto consumers who are flocking to the Internet for cheaper online-shopping in ever increasing numbers.


…it also seems that retro toys are among this year’s most popular gifts, with strong sales of Cabbage Patch Dolls, Furbies, Lego and other items. In countries like the US, UK and Australia, I’ve seen many articles talking about this fresh resurgence of interest in retro toys.

Well, I can only really speak for myself. But in my experience, it’s actually possible to draw a line between those two seemingly unrelated news items.

This Christmas, I have probably spent less money than ever in retail stores – despite the fact that I enjoy Christmas shopping. We even set ourselves a day’s worth of city shopping early in December, which resulted in us buying a few items for friends and family, but only to the tune of a couple of hundred dollars. A few CDs and a DVD or two. A book or two. And that was about it.

Yet online, we have both bought lots of things this Christmas – mainly from eBay. Several hundred dollars worth in fact. And it was pretty much the same story last year.

Except none of this has been due to cheaper prices online. It’s been due to the fact that the products available in stores just aren’t all that interesting to us. The only things we have tended to look for this year, have been nostalgic items – things we had when we were kids and would like to own again, or items that somehow tap into a certain retro appeal. Perhaps this is a function of my age group.

Generally, these types of retro items aren’t readily available from retailers, and the only place to find them is online.

You might think that there’s not much a retail store could do to draw someone like me back, and make me spend my money with them when I’m a self-confessed retro fan who is more interested in vintage things that were around in the 70s, 80s or 90s. And this is true up to a point. It seems no modern retail store is going to suddenly stock loads of cool old toys manufactured in the 1980s, just to satisfy a few nostalgia buffs.

But the fact that so many parents are buying their children familiar retro items like Furbies and Cabbage Patch Kids, suggests there is strong demand out there for all kinds of retro toys. Room enough, I think, for them to release more products that appeal to both nostalgic adults, and their children.

A lot of modern toys are just boring…

New? And yet, much uglier than the toys available 25 years ago.
New? And yet, uglier than the toys available 25 years ago. Thanks for nothing (again) Toys R Us.

For example (and to use the easiest example) – when it comes to modern R/C cars, the range of items available at places like Toys R’ Us is, in my opinion, boring.

At time of writing, Toys R’ Us pretty much only stocks two R/C brands: Fast Lane and New Bright. Both of these are fairly generic brands with a range of uninspiring cars. They have a few that look reasonable – a jeep here, a sports car there. But there’s nothing very imaginative or interesting in the range. It’s mostly just a bunch of cheap looking trucks and pickups with massive, oversized wheels. And if you picked up a Toys R’ Us catalogue from 10 years ago, it would look much the same.

Nikko too, has a somewhat mediocre line-up these days – but at least they’re better quality than Fast Lane or New Bright. Alas, Toys R Us barely even stocks Nikko anymore.

However, some toys are retro-tastic…

To prove that some new-release retro style items DO get my attention, and that I am even willing to fork over my cash when someone bothers to release something cool, look no further than the German toy company Carrera. In the last couple of years, they’ve gone a little retro and released some truly cool dune buggy style toys that I thought looked fantastic. The first was the Dune Jumper R/C buggy, complete with driver figure, old-school baja buggy headlights, and even a spare tyre on the back…

Carrera Dune Jumper

The second was a slot car set of similarly style dune buggies called the Carrera Buggy Action set, complete with ‘off-road’ track segments…

Carrera Buggy Action

As soon as I saw these, they reminded me so much of the kinds of toys that were around when I was a kid, that I absolutely had to buy both of them. What’s more, the quality and packaging of Carrera toys is really quite good.

Likewise a few years earlier, when Nintendo released the Nintendo DS dual screen handheld game. My wife ended up buying one of those to mess around with…

Nintendo DS Lite

…partly because they looked so much like an old Nintendo dual screen Game & Watch she had when she was little…

Nintendo Oil Panic

Or what about the gorgeous Ultimate Wall-E robot that came out when the film Wall-E was released? I loved the film, and we ended up buying a few Wall-E toys to have as souvenirs. The robot’s design was a perfect blend of futuristic intelligence and retro design, and it tapped into our memories of 1980s movies like Short Circuit

Ultimate Wall-E

This Christmas, I’ve also had my eye on the excellent Kyosho Sandmaster buggy, which looks a lot like the old style Baja racers of the 1960s and 1970s (it even has “1969” on the side), and I hope to pick one up soon. Well done Kyosho for coming up with such a great looking, realistic off-roader at a good price…

Kyosho Sand Master

I also noticed that Carrera have now released a rather interesting old style, authentic R/C Ferrari powerboat called the Arno XI

Carrera Arno XI

But apart from those, not much else has grabbed my attention this Christmas.

Of course, every consumer is different, and you may find other high quality, interesting toys and models at smaller toy shops. But I do think you’re less likely to find such items in the mainstream toy stores and department stores, and that’s where the problem lies. Last Christmas, I traveled to New York City and visited the famous FAO Schwarz toy store as well as the huge Toys R Us store in Times Square. Unfortunately, neither of these had either of the Carrera buggy toys I was looking for (mentioned above), so I ended up buying them online after returning home. FAO Schwarz is now owned by Toys R Us.

This year I think I’ve bought about 6 or 7 retro items online, all of which are actual vintage items (and many of them will be featured here on R/C Toy Memories in coming weeks). So that’s where our Christmas gift money has gone this year – into the pockets of private sellers on eBay who are selling cool vintage items.

If retro toys really are “back”, it seems to me that toy companies could still be doing more to tap into the demand that’s out there. And mainstream stores would do well to stock a more interesting range of items.

Besides, most kids are probably too busy playing video games anyway – so why not market more fun, physical products, to nostalgic adults?


  1. I know where you’re coming from. Its interesting to see retro toys in general making a comeback. Who thought we’d ever see Furbies again? On one hand, these toys (like the Tamiya re-releases) shows a lack of imagination. Why develop something new when something old can be drug out of the archives, tweaked and sold again? However, I think the market too must be ripe for retro (which it currently is) for this ploy to work. The times we live in have been challenging ones and retro allows us to return to simpler ones. Unfortunately, the retro-craze hasn’t hit the “toy-grade” RC market. These toys have grown steadily worse over time. Nikko, Tyco and Radio Shack vehicles from the 80’s look positively inspired compared to todays dreck. The current offerings are mere lumps of plastic to be discarded the second they break of become boring. Its doubtful any of these offerings will be sought after in the future let along even remembered when today’s youth has grown up.

    1. Agree with you Saito. Most toy RCs are not retro, however there are occasionally some decent ones – attractive and realistic and perhaps more likely to inspire young minds. But you have to go looking for them.

      Unfortunately, large store chains give it little thought. Toys R Us has the worst lineup of RC vehicles in the world – just a load of boring trucks with huge wheels, and boring ‘drift’-style street machines. Cheap, aggressive thrills, lacking in substance and nuance. As you said, they have no scale-model appeal and therefore no multi-faceted play value. They just exist to be thrashed, eaten by dogs, and then discarded.

      I guess it’s like many things in our increasingly throw-away society. It costs more to fix most appliances than simply replace them.

      Meanwhile, some small local toy stores or gadget shops might still have a great range of carefully chosen toys that have long term appeal – I can think of two places I’ve been to recently that were like this. So all is not lost, if you’re prepared to shop around and support more than just the bulk-warehouse stores.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.