Not sure if I’ve mentioned this in the past, but I’m huge fan of the Paris-Dakar rally.
Back in the 1980s when I was growing up, my Dad first introduced me to the Paris-Dakar – an epic off-road race across Africa, contested by everything from bikes and 4WDs, to buggies and even trucks.
At first we only knew about the race from occasional TV or newspaper stories, as there was no extended coverage of it in Australia (and of course, there was no internet). But each year we would hear snippets about it, and we were dying to see more. One day in 1989, Dad purchased a VHS video from a thrift store that was a collection of highlights of the 1987, 1988 and 1989 races. We were in heaven. We now had over an hour’s worth of footage! And we watched this tape over and over that summer, marveling at the drama of an event in which competitors were constantly getting stranded in sand dunes, crashing, catching on fire and even becoming completely lost in the desert.
Since then, and with the arrival of the internet, I’ve collected footage, books and other information about every year of the Paris-Dakar, from it’s inception in 1979 right through to today. Currently it lives on as simply “The Dakar”, and while still organized by a consortium of largely crazy men and women from France, it no longer travels through France or even Africa anymore. Political unrest has seen it moved to South America, but it remains the world’s toughest rally.
As far as toys are concerned, as you can imagine the notion of R/C toys based on Dakar vehicles is a combination I can’t resist. As a boy, I would often pretend that the R/C cars I had were Paris-Dakar competitors, and I would drive them along the dry, sandy paths and trails of my parents’ farm – like a mini Dakar. But of the two or three R/C cars I had in those days, none of them were actually models of Paris-Dakar vehicles.
Elsewhere in the world (particularly Europe) such toys did exist though, and that brings us to this beautiful example from Joustra in France, of a Paris Dakar Toyota Land Cruiser…
This model was apparently only sold in Europe. I certainly don’t remember seeing it in Australia. (Also, the image on the box may look like a photo, but it’s actually an illustration).
At 1/10 scale, this is a large toy-grade R/C model which for it’s time was really very sophisticated. Needless to say it was expensive, and the example you see on this page is brand-new and still has the original purchase receipt in the box. The original price was apparently “131.75” (Dutch Guilder currency), when purchased from a shop called “Bart Smit” in The Netherlands, in November 1981. For some unknown reason, whoever bought didn’t end up playing with it much, and it has been dormant all these years…
Joustra is a French company that was founded in 1934 and went on to become the number 1 toy brand in Europe, thanks to it’s range of electric and mechanical toys such as cars and (oddly) toy cranes. Today, the brand lives on as part of the Heller group (a French model manufacturer), and specializes in plaster, drawing and other basic creative toys.
Sidenote: I actually had one of Joustra’s famous toy cranes as a kid, after it was passed on to me by a slightly older friend. I had seen it for sale one Christmas at K-Mart – a huge, wire-controlled, motorized crane that could swivel, and raise and lower objects from a hook. It was a bit fragile, but it was one of those toys you saw and instantly either wanted or at least respected – even though you had no idea what you would actually do with it. I think I ended up putting mine on a table in our garage (as it was too big to keep in my tiny bedroom), and used it to raise and lower lego bricks or matchbox cars. There was no real point to this game – it was more a case of “I wonder if it’s strong enough to lift this…or that!…or those!…” I can only assume the kids in France were amusing themselves in much the same way.
However in the 1980s, just about every major toy manufacturer in the world decided to cash-in on the R/C car craze, and this Paris-Dakar Toyota Land Cruiser is noteworthy as a pretty impressive (and probably first) effort from a company with little previous R/C experience.
Not only was it an early R/C toy, but it was released when the Paris-Dakar rally itself was only 3 years old, and still a few years away from the peak of it’s popularity.
I should also mention that in addition to my interest in the Paris-Dakar, my Dad and I were also big fans of Toyota Land Cruisers – in part because my parents had just bought one, and my Dad in particular was especially proud of it. This Joustra model is of a 40 series or “J40” Land Cruiser, and while Dad had an FJ62 Land Cruiser, we were well aware that both the 40 and 60 series models were regular competitors in the Paris-Dakar.
If Dad and I had actually come across this Joustra R/C Land Cruiser in the 1980s, there’s no doubt that we would have been beside ourselves!
Regardless I was still beside myself when, after a few years of searching, I found this example in mint condition.
Obviously one of this vehicle’s best features is it’s large scale and realistic hard plastic body, which is a pretty well-proportioned rendition of the classic Land Cruiser. There’s plenty of detail – dashboard, roof rack, headlights, winch etc.
The tyres on this model are pretty interesting. The vast majority of R/C toys and models ever made have rubber-like tyres, but this car has tyres that are made of a sort of hard, yet squishy, plastic type material. This is not a vehicle that travels at particularly high speed, so the lower grip afforded by this type of material is OK. And it will also probably last for a long time without degradation.
Given that it was released in 1981, it’s no surprise to find that it lacks complexities like a differential transmission. But again, this is not a vehicle designed for high speed – just slow and steady trundling over light off-road terrain. Those plasticky tyres probably end up slipping a little to compensate for the different length of wheel travel, during cornering.
There’s no suspension either and, unlike it’s full-sized counterpart, this Land Cruiser is actually limited to 2WD. There is however a 2-speed transmission on board, so you can shift down for a bit of extra torque when the going gets tough.
The other nice feature of course, is the Digital Proportional radio – a unit that performs smoothly, and adds to the slow and steady realism of the car.
Speed is, as mentioned, quite slow and the gearbox tends to give off a reasonable amount of noise too…in fact, it evens sound a bit like a real Land Cruiser! There’s a kind of torquey, noisy feel to it that reminds me of the slow churn of driving a real 4WD.
The car is covered in great sponsor logos too…
I wonder if it was modeled on a particular Paris-Dakar rally entrant? I’ve had a look through the vehicle photos on the excellent Dakar D’antan website, but I haven’t seen a particular one to match it yet.
Overall, this was a pretty amazing toy for 1981 – large, capable, responsive, and highly realistic. It’s a fair bet to say that only a few lucky children in Europe would have owned one of these, and the price tag would probably have equated to over AU$300 in today’s money.
Today, you can find examples of this model mainly on European eBay sites, and perhaps 3 or 4 examples will show up each year. It’s not common, but they do appear. Expect to pay anywhere between about $40 – $200, depending on condition, and depending on who else wants one (which might be Land Cruiser fans, Dakar fans, or just R/C fans).
|At a glance…|
|Digital Proportional: Yes|
|Batteries: 6 x C, 1x 9volt (Car). 6 x AA (Transmitter)|
|Original price in The Netherlands, back in 1981: 131.75|
|What this would equate to, in today’s money: Over $300 (estimated)|