This was Tomy’s first ever “Air Jammer” toy…
“You can run this car without a care. Cause it doesn’t run on gas, it runs on air” goes the little verse on the box.
How many toys can you name, that appear to have been marketed to court the favour of the public, following a geo-political or economic crisis?
The 1970s had seen a rise in world oil prices due to instability in the middle-east. And even though these problems had begun to subside by 1980, the great Tomy Corporation of Japan apparently felt that toys with the novel ability to run without fuel or batteries, were going to be popular…
And they were right. Although I’m not sure if they were bought by parents out of concern for youngsters learning the value of alternative fuel sources. Or if it was just a case of kids going “powered by air? cool!”. (Either way, parents would have loved the fact that they didn’t have to buy any batteries).
Personally, I have no memory of politics in the early 1980s (aside from Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke declaring a national public holiday when we won the America’s Cup yacht race). But one of my friends did have this new air-powered toy car, and we had a lot of fun pumping it up and blasting it up and down a hallway at his house!
Here’s the vintage TV commercial for it that aired on US TV:
The Air Jammer Road Rammer was the first in a series of a gorgeous little air-powered toys developed by Tomy and made in Japan. Even the box is a study in 1980s wonderfulness, covered in beautiful, large, colour photos…
This car isn’t R/C of course, and will only run in one direction – either straight or a curve (you can manually angle the front wheels). But despite these limitations, the fun is centred on the fact that it’s basically a little car with a working air-powered engine that you can even see operating as it runs.
The body is an air cannister, and when you pump the car up with the little hand pump, it zooms off releasing air via an “engine” piston that can be seen bobbing up and down (and giving off a “putt-putt-putt!” sound), and which also drives the rear wheels.
Even as I write this now, my brain is thinking “relatively limited play value” vs “air powered is so cool!”, all at the same time.
But perhaps the real attraction of these little cars was more in how a simple concept was presented in such a beautiful way. Let’s face it, this could have been a pretty dull, forgotten toy. But instead it looked like a sort of space-age moon buggy – definitely fashionable to kids in 1980. Plus the angular shape, bumper bar, roll cage, transparent working engine and air-tubes at the back all look great too. The whole thing combined into something that certainly captured my imagination as a kid.
Early versions (like the one featured on this page) have a transparent body, while later ones have an all-black opaque body.
The wheels are plastic with little rubber strips for grip, and the car also came with the decals unapplied – with directions for where to put them to decorate your buggy.
I say “buggy” but the instructions are also careful to point out that off-roading is not possible with this toy. You wouldn’t want to get sand inside those sensitive air shafts after all. Instead, it’s designed for scooting along on smooth surfaces – preferably with a friend who can help catch it, because it can really pick up speed.
There must have been some TV commercials for Air Jammers too, but I can’t seem to find any online. (If you’ve seen one anywhere, let me know).
After releasing the Road Rammer, Tomy followed it with 3 other equally cool air powered vehicles (all of which will be featured here in the future), so it’s safe to say the whole idea was a pretty good success for Tomy.
These days you can find Air Jammers on eBay and auction sites for reasonable prices in variable condition. But there are a fair few people out there who have fond memories of them and want them, so be prepared for some bidding competition.
Of the various models released, the Road Rammer is probably the most common.
|At a glance…|
|Air powered vehicle toy|