An off-road baja bug sold at Tandy/Radio Shack stores for just one year, in the mid-late 1980s. But such an eye-catching model that it remains well-remembered.
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|
Ah, the Radio Shack Turbo Beetle. This was the last “toy-grade” RC I purchased before saving up (for a long time) for my first Tamiya, a Lunch Box. At the time I was in head over heels for the Tamiya Monster Beetle when the local Radio Shack put this little red bug in its front window. It didn’t take much for me to see the connection between it and the Monster Beetle. When it went on sale, I snatched it up. It had all the nice features “better” RC off-roaders had like full-function (hard to believe some RC cars back then only went foward and turned in one direction while in reverse), two-speed gearbox, coil spring suspension, and the all-important “turbo” gate on the transmitter. I remember the suspension being rather stiff which was common for toy-grade off roaders. As a result, the Turbo Beetle hopped and bopped its way across my rough backyard. Its top speed was quite good in high gear but soon ran out of steam in the rough stuff. Here, low gear was ideal. The Beetle was a bit different than my other buggy, a Nikko Mosquito. The Mosquito was geared lower overall and while lacking the Beetle’s top speed, it never failed to tackle rough ground even in high gear. The Beetle sat higher though and was less prone to getting hung up thanks to those larger tires. And speaking of those tires, I was quite proud to discover not only were they a copy of Tamiya sand-paddles but I could buy Tamiya spike tires for it as well. It was great just buying and being able to use a Tamiya spare part! Overall the Turbo Beetle had geat detail for a toy and was fun to look at. I still have it in my collection today.
Great story, thanks for sharing Saito!
ive got the original atcomi turbo beetle in yellow in mint condition
I have recently come across one of these in good condition. Any idea how nuch it might be worth?
If it works and has the box and everything, you might get $40-$50. Could be less or could be more, depending on how badly other people want it. As always, there are cases where things can sell for $10 or $100, it all depends on demand.
I wish I could find one of these. I had one when I was 7 and would love to have one for the memories.
They’re definitely out there. Sometimes I’ll see a couple on eBay at once, and then none for months after that. But they’re out there! Hope you find one soon.
Can anyone direct me to where I can get a controller for one of these original or aftermarket? I bought one on the cheap at a garage sale with no controller. It’s in ok shape with a light broken of the top rail and missing battery cover but I just want it for play.
Happy I came across this site as a kid growing up in late 90s and being a garage sale hound even then I played with many of the 80s toy grade rc cars. I still need to figure out what my favorite one was it met its end at the hand of a friend. Anyways any help would be great.
Hey Ryan. As always with toy-grade R/Cs, your best bet is to find another whole car, probably on eBay. If you’re lucky, you might find an auction where the car isn’t functional, but the remote is (the remotes usually work) – hence cheap.
Bought one of these from Tandy Electronics around 1988 – sticker above the rear window reads “Tandy” rather than “Radio Shack”. Ran well, but endurance on NiCds was rather disappointing, at only about six minutes, and my charger at the time took fourteen hours to charge them back up. Thing was crying out for the invention of NiMH cells.
Back in 2006 I dug my Turbo Beetle out of mothballs, put some batteries in it, and found it still worked. Loaded it up with NiMH batteries and took it with me on my tours of Queensland in 2006-2007, going as far west as Longreach and north to Cooktown. Photos are now up on my Facebook under the album “The Adventures Of Turbo Beetle – 2006-2007”
Awesome story Justin, thanks so much for sharing! I wasn’t able to find the album, but it’s great to hear you still have your original Beetle.
I found a dusry old turbo beetle today ..tossed some new batteries in and it runs good…acts funny goin foward sometime..as if loss of power but in reverse it spins the wheels…its super cool n i love it..its dingy tho lol
Can anyone assist me, I am trying to repair the original Radio Shack Turbo Beetle 8 for my grandson. It still works but he broke the antenna off of the car. I cannot see how and where to re-attach it.
Hi Alex – the first step will be to unscrew the body from the car. Once inside, you should be able to see where the antenna attaches. If most of the antenna wire is still intact, and just a small piece has broken off the bottom, then I would bend the bottom 1cm of the antenna wire into a loop, in order to fit it beneath the screw that (probably) holds it in place. Most stiff wire antennas are held in place with a single screw.
Thanks, I repaired the antenna but with fresh batteries no activity, other then the wheels twitching a bit when first turned on. I then tested the transmitter with my short wave radio, around 27 Mhz and no output. So I have to assume the transmitter is dead.
Just pulled mine down from the attic to clean up for the grandson. Does anyone have the specs on the charger?
Charles, the voltage for the charger will correspond to the total voltage of the batteries in the Beetle (8 x 1.25v = 10 volts – so you need a charger that charges 10 volts, with a plug that will fit). However a safer option is always to buy an external battery charger that can take a range of batteries (C, D, AA, 9 volt etc), and charge them all that way.
Hi there , I was lucky enough to find 2 of these for sale. 1 mint and other has broken front axle. Any idea where I could get any parts to fix it?
I just purchased one in mint brand new condition not a scratch on it dont think it was ever ran came in original box with manual
I have an Atcomi Beetle mint in the box, but it doesn’t have a transmitter. It says 27MHz on the box, but I’m not sure if it is exactly 27MHz. Could someone (with one of these Atcomi Beetle models) open up their transmitter and tell me what the exact frequency is that is written on the crystal? I would really appreciate it.
Thanks in advance.
If I was going to hazard a guess, the most common 27mhz frequencies in use for models that simply declared themselves as “27Mhz”, were generally 27.145Mhz and 27.095Mhz. Good chance it was one of those.
How much in pound sterling?