For newcomers to vintage Tamiya R/C cars, or people just starting to think “I used to have a Tamiya…”, hunting down and collecting the cars from the 1980s is a little trickier these days than it used to be because Tamiya has now remade many models – and the remakes are different!
So if you want to re-live your childhood with a truly original Tamiya, here are some quick buying tips.
As many people know, Tamiya was the most popular R/C car brand in the 1980s. And the 1980s was when R/C cars experienced a huge growth in popularity. Hence, Tamiya cars are highly sought after to this day.
Tamiya was such a ubiquitous brand back in those days, that their models were sold at hobby stores, toy stores, electronics stores, and even department stores and discount stores. With their superb marketing and massive parts support, Tamiya became the iconic brand that most people grew up with (if they were lucky enough to own a hobby-grade R/C toy).
But in the early 1990s when I first started collecting Tamiya cars, spare parts for the early and most popular kits were becoming hard to find, as those kits had been discontinued.
When the Internet arrived, and in particular eBay in the late 1990s, many out of stock vintage Tamiya collectibles began to change hands around the world for ever-increasing prices. It even turned out that, thanks to old leftover shop stock and treasures found in the vast mall districts of Akihabara in Japan, there were still some whole unbuilt Tamiya R/C kits out there in the world. Naturally, these began to soar in value as thousands of fans could think of nothing better than to own one of these classic kits – still in brand new shape. Either to relive the process of building it, or just display the kit with all it’s beautiful internal blister-packing (something long-gone from today’s model kits).
Seeing this popularity and seeing the value of some of these collectibles, in the early 2000s Tamiya began to remake one or two vintage Tamiya kits, in order to cash-in on everyone’s nostalgia.
In 2005 this process gathered pace as Tamiya began to remake some of their most popular off-road buggies and trucks of all time, and the process has continued to this day. To date, Tamiya has issued remakes of dozens of their most popular models.
So what are the differences between original Tamiya kits, and the remakes?
Fact: Every single Tamiya remake kit is different to the original kit.
Many people are happy to buy the remake Tamiya kits because they offer a relatively cheap way to re-live the experience of an R/C car they used to own back in the 1980s.
However, for me personally, this experience just isn’t quite the same if the product isn’t the same. And this view is shared by many collectors, in all areas of toy collecting… from Transformers to Care Bears. Most companies have launched remakes of popular vintage toys over the years. But collectors are usually driven to collect out of nostalgia and memories. So for them, it’s often important that an item is truly vintage – i.e. an example that actually sat on a toy store shelf when they were children, as opposed to something that was manufactured just last week.
It’s a bit like listening to a remix of a classic rock song, rather than listening to the original. The new version might be good – the familiar tune is there, the lyrics are there… But it just doesn’t have quite the same meaning as the original.
So if you’re just beginning your search on eBay or Google for a vintage Tamiya R/C car from the 1970s or 1980s, this article is intended to be a one-page cheat sheet to help you understand how the remake kits differ.
The main differences are of course in the cars themselves – parts, bodies, tyres, electronics etc. But before we even get into those technical differences, there are some very quick and easy ways to identify an original kit from a remake kit.
The Top Ways To Spot An Original Tamiya Kit
Before Tamiya began remaking many of their classic cars from the 1980s, the values of unbuilt kits were soaring. But after those kits were remade, naturally some people were happy to grab the cheaper remake, causing a temporary dip in demand (and value) of the original kits.
Despite this, original kits remained a lot more expensive and collectible than remake kits. Let’s take the example of a really popular model like the Tamiya Frog.
Here’s a new kit that recently* sold for AU$192.50
And here’s one that recently* sold for AU$551.65
(*Note: both of these examples were current as of 2013. Prices are likely to increase over time)
No prizes for guessing which one is the original unbuilt kit from the 1980s.
Fact: Original kits are worth at least twice the value of the remake kit. But they might be as much as 3, 4, or 5 times more expensive, depending on the model.
But what happens if someone is simply selling a remake kit for an inflated price? Well, just look a little closer at some other things, like…
2. Kit Number
Thankfully, Tamiya has a fairly well-organized numbering system for each model they have ever released, and the remakes all have different numbers to the originals.
Between 1976 and 1991, Tamiya released only 100 models. These 100 models are most commonly considered to be the bulk of the “vintage” era, and Tamiya even created a poster to celebrate them…
The models in this picture are numbers 58001 (the green Porsche 934 at the top left), to 58100 (the green Top-Force buggy at the bottom right).
To use our example of The Frog again, the original Frog is kit 58041 – in other words, the 41st R/C model ever released by Tamiya.
When Tamiya began remaking lots of cars in the mid 2000s, the remake of the Frog was kit 58354 – the 354th R/C model ever released. In the past 15 years or so, Tamiya has been swamping the market with a lot more models per year, than they used to.
Any honest seller of R/C kits will be up-front about which model number they are selling.
3. Kit Box
Another easy way to spot an original vs a remake Tamiya, is the famous kit box.
Tamiya’s iconic R/C kit box art is an enormously popular aspect of their kits – the dynamic and exciting illustrations by amazing graphic artists were excellent marketing back in the day, and they were usually the first things that inspired people to become interested in these models. Today, they even inspire some collectors to print and frame these pictures, and even empty original Tamiya kit boxes can command high prices on eBay.
When Tamiya began remaking kits, one of the big changes was the decals. The original cars had decals of real world sponsors and brands, but for the remake kits Tamiya only included fake and “made up” brands on the decals – probably to save on brand licensing costs. But not only did this affect the cars themselves, it meant Tamiya had to change all the box art to use the fake brands as well.
And it’s not just the decals – in some cases, physical aspects of the car changed, and even the entire name of the car was changed, hence these aspects needed to be reflected on the remake’s box art too. Personally, I believe that some of these changes were an intentional move by Tamiya to help distinguish the original kits from the remakes.
Here are some popular examples. The red arrows below indicate some of the larger box changes. However, there are many more small text changes around the sides of the boxes as well.
4. Kit Box Internals
A quick look inside most kits will also reveal whether they are vintage or remake.
Here’s a good photo of someone’s original Hotshot (left) and remake Hotshot (right) that I’ve pinched from the interwebs…
Vintage kits normally carry “blister packs” inside – in other words, a selection of key parts labeled and displayed under clear plastic bubbles. Collectors love this style of packaging for it’s presentation value, and because it showed the care that Tamiya (and other brands – because most of them were doing it) took in making the experience of building a vintage R/C model memorable and fun.
Remake kits normally just have cardboard boxes inside and nothing much else.
One exception to this rule is the remake of the Sand Scorcher and the Rough Rider (which Tamiya called The Buggy Champ), which do have blister packs.
In the 1970s and 1980s, toy companies were more free to use other company brands and names on their toys and products, and Tamiya really took advantage of this, covering their racing buggies in authentic brand names – all in the name of scale model realism. They were a big part of the fun of building and detailing these models.
But practically every single remake Tamiya comes with fake sponsor decals.
Tamiya tried to make these new fake logos seem like real brands by using words like “Forward”, “Brite” and “Z Point”, but these brands don’t exist in the real world. In some cases, Tamiya also included their website address as a decal – which of course, did not exist back in the 1980s.
It is generally thought that this has been done as a cost-cutting measure.
For example, here are the original, proper decals that came with the Tamiya Sand Scorcher from 1979…
And here’s the sheet of decals in the 2010 Remake Sand Scorcher, which as you can see is a much smaller collection comprised entirely of fake name brands…
6. Speed Control
Another easy thing to spot is the orange Electronic Speed Control sticker that usually appears on the front of remake kit boxes…
1980s Tamiya kits never included electronic speed controllers. Back then, these devices were expensive and few people, aside of racers, invested in them. Hence Tamiya decided to trumpet their inclusion in the remake kits.
While they do deliver better performance, part of the charm of running vintage Tamiyas comes from the technological levels of the era when they were released, and the early mechanical speed controllers included with original Tamiyas were often an integral part of how the models both looked, and worked.
7. Construction, parts, & everything else
Last but certainly not least, are the actual parts differences.
This is a huge topic with too much information to be covered here, especially since I titled this A quick guide…
But if you talk to other collectors and learn about the physical differences between original and remake Tamiyas, you will be able to spot the parts differences more easily.
Here’s one example – the original Grasshopper/Hornet chassis versus the remake version…
Don’t believe any website or person that tells you the original and remake Tamiyas are “the same” or “practically the same” as this is simply false. From body and chassis differences, to parts and gearbox differences – there are definitely differences. To use an analogy from another type of collecting – book collectors will regularly pay tens of thousands of dollars more simply to own first edition books, when they differ from second editions by only a few printed words. Compared to book collecting, the physical differences between collectibles like first and second edition Tamiyas, are quite significant (while the prices are nowhere near as astronomical).
Fact: Every single Tamiya remake has physical/parts differences, to the original.
What about when buying used / second-hand Tamiyas?
If you’re looking for a second hand Tamiya and you’d prefer to make sure it’s an original release, then be sure to ask the seller for details about the model before buying it. Many people are using remake spare parts to ‘restore’ their original cars, and while in some instances you might consider this to be fine (such as if the remake part is truly identical to the original), in other instances you will want to be aware of what people have done to their cars. Many people are going to end up having created hybrid original/remake models.
When I look at used Tamiyas on eBay, I can sometimes tell that the seller is selling a genuine relic from the 1980s by the fact that it still includes old radio gear, an original box, or other original paraphernalia like batteries, chargers, manuals and so on. Such cars often look like a time capsule that has been left untouched since about 1985 – a toy someone hasn’t used for years and has now decided to sell on eBay. These kinds of examples often represent a good opportunity to buy a “true original” car from the 1980s, because you can tell that it has been sitting in someone’s cupboard since the early days.
So are Tamiya’s remakes of old cars a good or bad thing?
Tamiya’s remakes are good for people who’d like to buy a new kit of a retro toy, at a cheaper price. For the most part, they have been met with a positive response, and are seen as an economical way to enjoy something that looks vintage.
For some collectors and fans of Tamiya who prefer the original versions, the remakes came as something of a bitter pill at first. Mainly because many had spent a lot of years (and dollars) hunting down and restoring the originals, only for remake versions to suddenly appear for sale in their thousands. That said, and with the benefit of hindsight, the remake kits have proven to contain numerous changes and differences anyway. And this has meant that the original kits remain very much their own unique beasts.
I don’t collect the remakes. But their existence in recent years has, ironically, made it a little easier (cheaper) to collect some of the originals. Each time a remake comes out, prices of original examples of that car tend to dip a little. But they inevitably climb back up again once things settle down.
Personally, while I don’t begrudge anyone enjoying the remake kits one bit, I would prefer if Tamiya concentrated on creating brand new models that appeal to retro R/C collectors rather than endlessly rehashing the glories of the past. Once they’re done remaking every past hit, they will have nothing left to remake. If consumers are willing to accept and buy kits based on 30 year old technology, why not also create some new buggies and trucks based on the same old vintage design and technology spirit? If they managed to create a few new cars that felt like “lost” 1980s designs, I would buy them in a heartbeat.
The closest thing Tamiya have ever done to something like this was probably the Ford F350 High-Lift kit (and related kits) which harked back somewhat to their early 3-Speed trucks but without being remakes. But there has been little in the way of retro buggies. Although I did enjoy their now-defunct line of Tamtech-Gear buggies. These were 1/16 scaled R/C buggies that were inspired by a few of the 1/10 scale classics. But they were completely different in parts and design to their larger siblings, and this made them feel like retro-themed tributes – yet without just being note-for-note repeats of the past. It was a way of mixing the old with something new, and they even came beautifully packaged. In the spirit of putting my money where my mouth is – I bought all 5 (Frog, Hornet, Fox, Hotshot, Rough Rider) that were based on 1980s models.
The affect on the value of original Tamiyas
Tamiyas remakes have caused dips in the values of originals – but only on those models that were actually remade. And only really for a limited period after the remake came out.
I’ll admit, I have found this annoying at times. And it’s not a matter of seeing these things as an “investment”, as it has nothing to do with investing. The simple fact is: nobody likes it when something they’ve just spent a lot of money on, undergoes a decrease in value. To phrase it another way: I could have saved money, had I started collecting my original Tamiyas a little later.
Having said all that, in the longer term, original Tamiyas do bounce back and regain their pre-remake value. We have already seen this happen with a number of kits, and in the long term I suspect original kits will only become more collectible particularly as their numbers dwindle.
I would also speculate that vintage R/C collectors are relative newbies to the notion of remakes.
In other fields of toy collecting (e.g. action figures) remakes have been around for decades – even going back to the 1980s and 1970s – and they have seen many ‘waves’ of remakes. Those collectors are so accustomed to remakes, that they’ve had a lot of time to think about the differences between them, and about what “owning an original” means to them. The end result being that first release originals have skyrocketed in value, even in cases where they differ only marginally from remakes. It’s all about having the original toy and the packaging that was actually on store shelves when you were a kid. It has got to the point where the type of glue seal affixing a toy in its packet, can mean hundreds of dollars difference in value if it proves an item was a true original. The demand for original toys is enormous, and it usually doesn’t matter if they are only slightly different to the remake examples.
For vintage R/C car collectors, remake kits are still a fairly new concept that has only been around since the early-mid 2000s, and one which – at first – seems to fulfill a need and offer the same thrill as buying an original. And for many people, they do just that. But as the existence of remakes, along with their many differences, become more common knowledge over time, those who are more deeply interested in Tamiya history from a collecting or even curating point of view will come to the conclusion that it means somewhat more to own original examples of each car. Even if they do buy some remakes as well.
There’s nothing unique about this. In every field of collecting in the world, a majority of interest always tends to be reserved for the original or “first issue”, of pretty much anything – from Posters to Pokemon.
The affect on Tamiya’s brand
Another aspect that few people talk about is – how are the remakes affecting Tamiya’s brand?
Firstly, any company that remakes it’s own classic products for quick profit, may damage their brand’s prestige and “collectability” a little bit. People like to collect things, and the culture of collecting things often relates to the satisfaction people feel when finding rare things, and owning them. It’s a fun challenge.
When items are remade, this can cloud the market. And if collectors start to feel that everything in a particular field is fair game for a remake version, they might lose some interest. The rarity of something naturally remains a bit more “pure” if companies never flood the market with similar new versions of their past classics.
Having said all that, collectors are very particular about the differences between originals and remakes. And over time, such differences become more well-known to everyone.
The demand for original examples of anything collectible, means prices for original items always remain strong. Further, the value of remake items can also increase in future years when they are inevitably discontinued as well. Such rises only make originals even more collectible.
Another possible effect of remaking items, is that their visibility in stores draws more interest from past or casual fans, and that this has a flow-on effect whereby a percentage of these additional buyers begin seeking out original vintage items as well.
To summarize, there are several competing factors at play:
- Remake kits have been popular for Tamiya. This can temporarily slow demand for originals.
- However, once the uniqueness of original items becomes more apparent, demand for them inevitably climbs back up.
- The supply of original cars left (especially new in box kits) is strictly limited to whatever is left in the world today. This number will only decline further in the years ahead.
- Remake kits will eventually climb in collectability, once they are discontinued themselves.
- Remake kits may awaken more “past fans”, who begin to seek out both remake and original items.
Please note: whilst I have talked a lot about value and so forth here, I only do so in relation to the cost of collecting, and people’s ability to afford to collect. Some people seem to get defensive about the notion of “investment” – I am personally not an investor. I do not begrudge anyone who is – people are allowed to do as they please. But this page has not been written as “investment advice”, merely from the point of view of an interested collector. However, it is impossible to discuss collecting, collectability and our ability to collect without also speculating a little about current and future rarity and value.
Country of manufacture
Another aspect to consider is that back in the 1980s, pretty much every single R/C model was manufactured in the country where the manufacturer was based. Japanese companies manufactured their models in Japan. American companies generally manufactured their models in the USA. German companies in Germany. And so on.
Today’s remake kits exist in a vastly different world. Modern Tamiya releases and remakes are now made in the Philippines (not Japan), though many of Tamiyas products are still made in Japan.
All of Kyosho’s remakes are made in Taiwan, which is at least a democracy.
The story of other brands is that most if not all are made in China.
Does this makes a difference? That’s up to you to decide. It does in the full-size automotive industry. The quality of output from factories in foreign countries cannot be controlled as tightly as many companies would like you to think. And the standard of output often varies depending on where an item was actually manufactured. When it comes to full-sized cars, even different factories within countries can have varying output to one another. There is a reason why certain factories win manufacturing plant awards, yet others do not.
When it comes to R/C models, some collectors have noticed differences in quality between Japanese-made originals, and foreign-made remakes. With that said, I think the quality of Tamiya and Kyosho remain extremely high, and these companies in particular, deserve support.
When it comes to Japan, there is also something to be said for the level of pride that Japanese companies and their staff have traditionally put into their products. I do not believe this sense of pride and purpose can be easily replicated by low-paid workers, working in offshore factories where they have little affiliation to the brands they are working for.
Another issue I have is that I refuse to support products made in mainland China, for ethical reasons. And further, if we ignore the quality debate for a moment – there will always be a certain appeal for collectors to own things that were made in their country of origin (e.g. Japan), than those manufactured somewhere else (e.g. China). This is often just part of the history and nostalgia of owning the model.
What about other brands? Will they remake their vintage kits?
Since originally writing this article, some other brands have also joined the remake bandwagon, looking to turn their own profit from the interest in vintage models. Many R/C brands of the 1980s no longer exist, or no longer have the capacity to produce R/C models. But it seems that any of the companies that are still operating today may decide to remake popular models from their past, if they feel there is a market for them.
Need more info?
Please see my follow-up article A detailed guide to Vintage vs Remake Tamiya R/C kits.