With the huge popularity of 1/10 scale off road buggies in the mid-1980s, it was only a matter of time before Tandy / Radio Shack stores released something to compete (at least for the hearts and minds of children) with the popularity of brands like Tamiya and others.
And so they released their finest R/C car to date – the Golden Arrow Buggy.
In 1987, 1/10 hobby-grade R/C buggies had already been around for many years, and it had become a huge category thanks to the popularity of buggies and trucks from Tamiya, Kyosho, Associated, Marui and many others.
As the decade progressed, more and more companies attempted to take a slice of the 1/10 off-road market. And even toy-grade R/C companies like Nikko, which had been highly successful in selling smaller, cheaper, ready to run electric off-road buggies, were starting to think they could get involved in the more high-performance end of the market. At least, at the entry level.
In 1986, Nikko developed and released a 2WD, 540 motor powered buggy called the Rhino (also marketed under several other names in different countries). Later, this buggy platform was licensed and customized for Radio Shack (with a new body and name) as the Golden Arrow Buggy.
Even though the Golden Arrow was similar in general specifications to cars like the Tamiya Hornet (released 3 years earlier) it still had great appeal thanks to it’s combination of a cool name, great looks, and Radio Shack’s marketing prowess…
(Featured on this page is a mint in box, brand new Golden Arrow)
When the Golden Arrow first appeared at Tandy in 1987 for AU$329.95 (the equivalent of about AU$718 in Australia in 2012), it was by far the most expensive R/C car they had ever sold. And to any kid who used to look through the Tandy or Radio Shack catalogues at the time, it was the stuff of dreams. Here it is as it first appeared in those 1987 Australian Tandy catalogues…
And here it is in a 1988 catalogue as well…
Understandably, being their premium Christmas toy, it also appeared in some of their TV commercials, like this one from the USA…
And this one…
Of course, for a similar price you could buy a similar (and probably better) kit buggy (plus radio and battery) from a hobby shop. But there was still something exciting about the Golden Arrow. Particularly when you walked into Tandy and saw it right there – ready to go and be test-driven, on the shop floor. And with that JPS Lotus style black + gold colour scheme, it was irresistible…
I can pretty much remember the first time I saw a Golden Arrow in store. At 1/10 scale it seemed so much larger than the other R/C toys I had owned or driven at that time, and I can also remember being aware that the price was far beyond anything my parents could afford. I think I just walked past looking at it, without actually touching it.
The buggy itself is basically a fairly typically configured (for the time) 2WD, utilizing independent front suspension, rigid-axle rear suspension, a 540 Mabuchi Motor, some large balloon spike tyres at the rear and some straight ribbed ones at the front. And all powered by the ubiquitous 7.2volt battery pack.
The Tamiya Grasshopper and Hornet buggies had of course been such a massive success from 1983/1984 onwards, that their designs became the default setup for most basic 1/10 scale buggies of the era – it’s a simple, reliable, strong, and relatively fast design that has been copied a hundred times and even still lives on to this very day (in the form of many toy electric buggies and even a few of Tamiya’s current kits).
You might notice that the Tandy catalogues for the Golden Arrow often made mention of a feature called a “F.E.T. Motor Drive System”. I always wondered what this “F.E.T.” thing was as a kid. FET actually stands for “Field Effect Transistor”, and it refers to a technology designed to aid electrical conductivity that actually dates right back to 1926. My circuit board knowledge is a bit rusty, but you can geek out over it here and here if you’d like to learn more. I believe it was part of the car’s on-board electronic speed control circuitry, which, given that most hobby grade kit based cars of the time still came with mechanical speed controls, was actually a technical advantage.
Not only that, but it enabled kids to boast about their F.E.T. Motor Drive Systems in the school playground, and when you’re 10 years old that’s pretty important. And it certainly rolled off the tongue a lot easier than Tamiya’s “F.F.P.D.S.” (a long-winded suspension acronym developed for the Tamiya Super Champ).
Although when your expensive radio controlled buggy looks this good, who needs acronyms. The other kids are sure to be jealous anyway…
So how well did the Golden Arrow actually perform?
Well, it was undoubtedly the fastest and most exciting buggy available from Tandy at the time – enough to make test driving it in the small confines of the average Tandy store quite a challenge (I can even recall some staff letting customers drive any of the cars in the store except the Golden Arrow, for fear it would slam into other customer’s ankles)
And for any kid whose family was lucky enough to afford one, they’re sure to have plenty of happy memories of blasting this buggy around backyards, parks and dirt tracks.
With it’s hard plastic body, friction shocks (no oil dampers), and dedicated Nikko-designed Digital Proportional radio system, it was a little heavy. Overall performance was a bit short of the buggies from Tamiya that it desperately wanted to match, although it had no problem blowing away any Tamiya with the smaller 380 motor of course (not to mention Jet Hoppers).
The Nikko radio gear used was their standard Digital Proportional handset of the day (mated to an open circuit board inside the car – not something designed to be tinkered with), which had worked admirably on many of their previous cars. However none of Nikko’s previous Digital Proportional cars were quite as fast as this one – which meant the radio responsiveness actually felt a bit slow for the car. Driving a Golden Arrow at high speed therefore required you to be a bit mindful that it would respond to your commands a tiny fraction of a second slower than you might otherwise expect (if you’re used to fast buggies with hobby grade radios).
It’s little things like this that made the ready-to-run Golden Arrow a bit inferior to the hobby-grade buggies of the day. And it wasn’t really intended for racing anyway, given that spare parts weren’t available at retail (only via special order from Tandy). Although you could easily remove and swap things like the wheels and tyres, thanks to the use of standard hex nuts on all the hubs…
The huge front bumper is quite flexible and offers plenty of protection. And the car even came with some little plastic tools in the box for undoing these things (plus an antenna flag)…
But having just said that the Golden Arrow wasn’t really meant to be raced, being a 540 motor powered buggy there’s no doubt that more than a few Golden Arrows were taken racing back in the 1980s. After all, it was an era filled with fun, localized racing between kids in neighborhoods – rather than purely serious competition. And while competitive R/C pretty much bores me nowadays, it’s nice to hear old tales such as this quote that I stumbled upon a while ago…
The funniest thing i ever saw was 1 year after Christmas at a local indoor track I saw a kid come in with his brand new Radio Shack Golden Arrow and win a stock class oval race, man you should have heard people bashing him when he got there and bashing each other or there kids with there hobby shop cars at the end. I had to give him congrats on his victory thankfully i was running 4wd modified. (source)
Not so funny after all. Clearly, in the right hands, a Golden Arrow was in with a shot.
Looking at the car from a design standpoint, credit has to be given to Radio Shack and Nikko for coming up with a very tidy shape. While I often talk about the toys of the 1980s as if everything was peaches and cream, the reality is that there were so many R/C toys made during that era that more than a few of them were either poorly designed or downright ugly to look at.
Not so here – this is an aerodynamic, sleek off roader that still carries a nice scale realism (despite the lack of a driver figure). There’s even a hint of Formula 1 thinking in there beyond the John Player Special style black/gold – note the little wing-tips either side of the nose and between the front wheels, which were occasionally seen on 1970s F1 cars.
Much like a Tamiya, the car is also adorned with large warning stickers, to help you avoid injury…
By early 1991, the Golden Arrow had been discontinued, although some of the successive buggies at Tandy seemed to use the same chassis with different body designs.
There was also the Red Arrow (1988-1992), a similar buggy and something of a little brother to the Golden Arrow, that I will cover in a future article.
Thanks to it’s popularity back in the day, the Golden Arrow now has reasonable collectibility, as there are a fair few people with fond memories of this classic buggy.
As with all ready-to-run cars, the fact it never needed assembly meant that most of the examples manufactured were run immediately, leaving very, very few brand new ones left in the world. Used examples appear on eBay almost all the time of course, and depending on how worn out they are, they usually fetch between $50 and $200. How much could you expect to pay for a brand new one? Well if you can ever find one, it’s got to be worth at least US$500 in my opinion. My example came from an ex Radio Shack employee who had kept it in storage for about 25 years. But this is definitely a car I’ll never sell.
Also be sure to check out the Radio Shack website here as they’ve actually got the car’s original owner’s manual and exploded view diagram online.
|At a glance…|
|Digital Proportional: Yes|
|Batteries: 1 x 7.2v Battery Pack, 4 x AA (Car). 6 x AA (Transmitter)|
|Original price in Australia, back in 1987: $329.95|
|What this would equate to, in 2012 money: $718 (calculated using this)|