In the mid-late 1980s, off-road buggies were undoubtedly the most popular type of R/C car, whether hobby or toy grade. But most were the open-wheel style, and if anything toys based on Volkswagen Beetles had become less common than they had been a few years earlier.
But when I saw the Turbo Beetle appear in a 1987 Tandy Christmas sale catalogue for $119.95, it still fascinated me. VW Beetles were still cool, especially off-road ones. And I spent a good deal of my childhood wishing I had this one, based on these catalogue images…
Actual speed 18kmph!
It also appeared in the 1988 annual catalogue…
Finally just this year (as always, thanks to eBay), I managed to locate one that was still brand new and had been sitting in the closet of someone who used to work at a Radio Shack store…
The Turbo Beetle is a 1/16 scale, 2WD off-roader based on the classic baja bug style, and was manufactured by a company called Atcomi, from Japan.
In some markets, Atcomi sold this model under it’s own brand and in both red and yellow varieties. However, it reached many more people via Tandy and Radio Shack stores, who only sold it as a custom-branded Radio Shack model, in red.
As is often the case with toy R/C cars, the Turbo Beetle takes some obvious stylistic cues from various hobby-grade R/C cars of the day, and Tamiya fans will notice that it looks like a bit of a mix of the Tamiya Monster Beetle (red with roof spotlights) and the Tamiya Sand Scorcher (exposed rear VW engine, and tyres that are almost exact replicas of Tamiya’s ‘smoothee’ front and ‘padlatrak’ rear tyres).
It also copies the Tamiya Wild Willy idea of having a spring-loaded front impact bumper! Something I always thought was pretty cool (even though they copied it).
This toy was probably the best off-road VW fun you could have, for half the price of a Tamiya model in 1987.
Yet at over AU$100 back in the day, it still seemed pretty exotic and beyond my reach. So when I recently found the one featured on this page, I couldn’t wait to finally give it a quick little run to see how it performed.
Spring suspension is independent at the front and rigid-axle at the rear, which is typical for most toy R/C buggies. It also has a differential, which makes cornering easier.
With 2 gear speeds, I was surprised to find that ‘low speed’ is actually pretty fast, while ‘high speed’ is only faster if you have a large open space to allow the buggy to really pick up and stretch it’s legs. The included remote is not digital proportional, so steering and acceleration are pretty direct, requiring lots of quick flicking of the sticks to keep it headed where you want.
The ‘turbo’ in the title does refer to ‘turbo speed’ in this case too, so pushing the forward/reverse stick up all the way gives an extra boost – a gimmick widely used after the arrival of the Turbo Hopper.
I found the radio reception a little twitchy at first, but sometimes old R/C toys actually need a bit of time to ‘warm up’ electronically. After a few minutes, the buggy settled down and seemed less prone to glitches and interference.
Another small issue, but one that’s common in many toy R/C cars, is the tendency for the car to shift and not always ‘reset’ it’s front steering to run in a perfectly straight line every time. Which just adds to the challenge of running toy buggies like these. Because at high speed, this one can scoot along fairly quickly. The pace is similar to that of the Turbo Hopper, and it’s a pretty entertaining car to drive. Although so far I’ve only run mine on a smooth, clean surface – I haven’t dared take it off road (it might be the only brand new one left in the world, after all)…
While there aren’t really any real-brand sponsor logos on it, this VW buggy still has loads of cool realism and detail.
I love the fact that they went to the trouble of including a roll cage and a realistic cockpit with steering wheel, seatbelt detailing etc. The headlights and that large, chrome rear engine with twin exhausts are great as well, right down to the fan belt…
Here you can see the spring-loaded front bumper…
Overall, I would have to say that this is one of the best-looking R/C toys ever sold at Tandy. I absolutely love it.
It also happens to run on 40MHz too, making it one of those rare one-off toys that isn’t on 27MHz (and therefore, can be raced against just about any other classic R/C toy from Tandy).
Atcomi were a brand that made a few toy-grade R/C cars during the 1980s, but it seems they no longer exist having disappeared sometime in the 1990s. The Turbo Beetle was undoubtedly the coolest item I’ve seen from that brand. They later released some variations of this model too, with larger wheels and more childish, fluoro colours. But that’s just the 1990s for you. The 1980s were where toys looked the most realistic.
These days, Tandy Turbo Beetles do come up occasionally on eBay in used condition – about every 2-3 months or so. I sometimes see them sell quite cheaply too, and yet at the same time I seem to get hits on this blog from people googling for this toy almost every single day. So there seems to be demand out there. But perhaps people aren’t setting up “saved searches” on eBay like they need to be, if they want to get hold of classic rarities like this one.
At any rate, this is yet another great looking 1980s R/C baja beetle that should appeal to plenty of VW and R/C collectors, and is one of the true classics from Tandy in the 1980s.
On this page: Tandy/Radio Shack Turbo Beetle (1987)
|Motor||(to be confirmed)|
|Batteries||8 x AA (Car). 1 x 9volt (Transmitter).|
Model History: Atcomi Turbo Beetle (1986)
|Atcomi||"Turbo Beetle"||Original release of the car by Atcomi of Japan. There were red and yellow versions.||Worldwide||1986|
|Tandy/Radio Shack||"Turbo Beetle"||Tandy/Radio Shack release of this model.||Worldwide||1987|