Remembered as a world-beater in competitive circles, the original RC10 buggy was a kit-based model and the first off-roader created by hobby-grade R/C company Team Associated (aka ‘Associated Electrics’), an American brand looking to redefine off-road electric R/C competition racing in the early 1980s.
The RC10 achieved all that and more. But racing aside, this was a dream toy that would have made any kid the envy of all their friends – if they were lucky enough to have one.
I’m no expert in setting up or running the Team Associated RC10, nor was I ever a competitive racer in any organized racing events. And there are definitely other, more comprehensive pages on the web about the RC10, than this one. But I’d still like to talk about why it appeals to me, as someone who sees it more through a prism of “phenomenal toys of the 80s”, than from racing experience.
Like many kids growing up in the 80s with a fascination for toy cars, if I was lucky enough to even see a car like an RC10, it would probably have been high up on a hobby shop shelf – well out of my reach physically, financially, and in terms of kit-building ability. And I can still remember those hobby shop visits, when I was somewhere between 7 and 11 years of age, gazing in awe at items like this… wondering when I’d be old enough to afford or build such things.
Even though this particular R/C buggy was mostly the preserve of the dedicated R/C racing community in the 1980s, I’ve always felt that it came from an era in which most R/C cars were still being designed to appeal to anyone – from little kids staring up at them in hobby shops, to experienced scale model kit builders, to the racing pros at the track.
So first, a quick bit of R/C racing history…
In 1985, the RC10 finished first, second and third at the first ever 1/10 electric off-road World Championships, in the ‘stock’ (unmodified) category. This car was a highly competitive, well-made, and still beautiful buggy that was, to put it simply, years ahead of it’s time in competitive circles.
It was designed by Team Associated co-founder Roger Curtis with the specific aim of winning competitions, and it’s success at the track lead to growing orders that the small company struggled for several years to fulfill. You might think the “RC” in the name stands for “Radio Control”, but it actually stands for “Roger Curtis”. And his initials were carried through all the cars he designed, becoming so ubiquitous that they are still in use today even after he has retired. (For a nice overview of Roger’s career, you can’t go past this page on the Team Associated website)
What I like most about the RC10, is that it was both a racing thoroughbred and a nice scale model that looks a lot like the real VW-powered sand-rail buggies that were scooting across dunes in the USA back in the 1970s and 80s.
The world of competitive R/C racing actually began to forgo scale realism for the sake of better performance as it grew in popularity in the 1980s. Visual details like driver figures, scale window netting, headlights and so on were eventually dispatched to save weight and improve aerodynamics, as organized racing became more serious and more expensive. Sadly, this drove most R/C buggy design toward sleeker, more featureless shapes with little realism and few parallels among full scale cars.
But back in 1984 at the time of the RC10’s release, the R/C racing world was still somewhat in the middle of this transition – scale-model realism was still a little bit relevant (in the early 80s, some local racing clubs even insisted that all entrant cars must carry a driver figure on-board as this was seen as a basic requirement of miniature model car racing!).
This was also a time when Japanese company Tamiya was the most popular hobby-grade manufacturer. Their realistic models with beautiful body designs were still the favoured brand of most kids, home hobbyists, and club racers. So it’s fair to say the RC10’s scale looks were a product of an era when the general thinking was that all these cars, even the ones designed for racing, still needed to look quite real.
To quote the driver who took the RC10 to that first ever World Championship win in 1985…
Most of the cars on the market now were designed for fun or to look realistic. The RC10 was designed to look realistic, but it’s designed for racing too.
– ‘Jammin’ Jay Halsey, in 1986
Roger Curtis had even visited events for full scale off-road buggies while scoping out his engineering plans for this model, in an effort to align his design thinking with some successful applications in the real buggy racing world. And whatever insights this experience gave him, they seemed to translate very well into performance at 1/10 scale.
It’s always a bit of a treat when there’s some official promotional footage leftover from the 1980s for a particular toy – like a TV commercial or shop promo. In the case of the RC10, Team Associated actually released a 30 minute tape about the car called “The Winning Edge With RC-10’s” [sic].
Here’s the front and back of the video tape…
The film comprises technical info about the car, scenes of an RC10 scooting around a beach (set to cheesy 80s rock music of course), and then some racing tips. But it’s an absolute must-watch because it’s both pure 1980s gold, as well as the fact that all the info is presented by the key players in the RC10 story, including Roger Curtis himself.
And in the film, we learn various things such as how…
- 6 prototypes were initially made. The first of which was mostly hammered out by hand.
- The car’s transmission was kept low at the rear specifically to ensure the driveshafts weren’t angled downward when the car sits, for a more efficient transfer of power to the wheels.
- The suspension is so adjustable that as of this video, there were still aspects of adjustment that they hadn’t even explored themselves (!)
- While Roger Curtis designed the chassis, the body and wheels were whipped up by Gene Husting “to save time”.
- In the days before racing categories were officially separated into 2WD and 4WD classes, the RC10 was often raced against the new-fangled 4WD vehicles – yet would still often beat them.
Thanks to one dedicated fan, this entire rare film is on Youtube for us all to enjoy. So here’s Part 1…
And now for the actual car…
Unfortunately I don’t have a built RC10 worthy of photos just yet. But here’s my original unbuilt kit…
The kit shown here is one I found at a hobby shop in California that closed down some years ago. The owner had passed away, and a new owner was selling off all the old stock in the store. This kit had been out the back on a shelf – untouched for almost 30 years.
Since the RC10 was designed and manufactured in California, I’m not sure if I can think of a more authentic way to come across an original RC10 – still sitting in a shop in California, not too far from where it was manufactured, and not too far from the desert Baja events that inspired its design.
This kit is also what collectors call an “Edinger” version of the kit – which just means it was made when Team Associated were based at “1928 East Edinger Ave, Santa Ana. California” – their first address, which is printed on the side of the box.
As the car became a huge success, Team Associated’s production volume grew and they moved to larger premises – so their address changed to “3585 Cadillac Ave, Costa Mesa, California”. Thus kits with that address on the side are commonly referred to by fans as the “Cadillac” version.
This particular kit is actually still sealed – it’s never been opened…
The box art is really one of the great aspects of collecting old R/C cars (or any old toy really!), and in this case it could hardly be better. The RC10 box was designed by the late Chris Chan. And the car on the box is one of the original prototype RC10s. I also love the text wrapped around clear figure shots of car on the box sides. It’s all very easy to read and eye-catching – really excellent marketing.
The front photo showing the car “leaping” over dirt ground with the wheels in full spin, has become one of the most famous photographs in R/C model history. At least in my opinion.
Naturally Team Associated used it in a lot of their print ads for the car, sometimes across double page spreads like this one from a magazine in 1984… (I actually scanned this from two separate pages, and then spent a couple of hours stitching it together – so, enjoy!)…
As mentioned, the car’s body and wheels were designed by Gene Hustings, and he did a really great Tamiya-esque job with the well-proportioned body style and driver figure. The little details like headlights and window-netting give it plenty of life-like character. I also really love the orange paint scheme and simple, retro stripe pattern, and big “10” on the bonnet. This is what racing cars often looked like back then – simple, elegant racing colours and logos. None of that tacky “flame” sticker crap you see on a lot of R/C toys these days.
The original RC10 used for the box-art still exists, and fans have learned that unfortunately the rear wing is now missing from it and there are a few paint chips on it (here it is below)…
…but it still offers a nice reference because a lot of people are very keen to restore their RC10s to the exact box art look.
Another iconic element in the RC10’s construction is of course it’s gold chassis – a light, but rigid piece shaped like a bathtub and made from anodized aluminium that both aided performance and had the side effect of giving the model an expensive look. You often see the car referred to by this component alone as the “gold pan” RC10.
Also noteworthy are the equally golden shock absorbers – which were a revelation for their time.
Prior to this car, oil-filled damper shocks had been in use in 1/10 scale R/C buggies, but they were generally narrower and often had issues with leaking. The RC10 shocks were perhaps the first really professional shock absorbers on a 1/10th scale R/C model, and it was possible to tune them (with the right oil) to prevent bounce and enable the car to really hug the ground over rough terrain and jumps better than any competitor.
There’s one slight complication to collecting the RC10 however. The original kit was tweaked and modified throughout it’s production run, meaning that if you care about small details, you will find there were a large number of variations in the kit over the years from the tyres to the chassis to just about everything else.
Most of these tweaks are minor, but if you want to learn about all of them properly, look no further than this sticky thread on the RC10Talk community forum which goes into immense detail about how the kit was adjusted. There are some aspects of the car shown on the box art that are not easy to recreate precisely – even when you build the model from the original kit. For example, the chassis shown on the box is an earlier type with a lighter gold colour to it, while later in it’s production run the gold chassis ended up being a richer, deeper orange-gold.
The most annoying thing to me though, is the decals – as the original kit doesn’t even include all the ones used by the car on the box. Which was a sign that Team Associated didn’t really think anyone would obsess over the look of their box picture car that much. How little they knew!
RC10 ‘Classic’ (2013)
In 2013, Team Associated announced they would be releasing a remake of the RC10 kit and calling it the “RC10 Classic“, obviously in response to the huge nostalgia for this model.
Team Associated is now owned by Taiwanese company Thunder Tiger, and the RC10 Classic is made with mostly new molds, new tooling, new materials, and of course a mix of parts made in China vs the USA – so inevitably it has differences to the original, including the absence of that shiny “Made in America” sticker on the front of the box. But it’s nice to see that someone from the company has been up-front in helping create a list of all the differences so that people can work out how they want to approach building the new kit.
In fact, according to an interview in R/C Car Action magazine, the RC10 Classic was created with a view to:
…not devalue current collectable RC10s, and we tried to make sure that there were ways of identifying new parts from old parts.
- Tim Tunnermann, Team Associated.
Since most of the tooling used to create the original RC10 was actually lost, broken or discarded many years ago, all molded parts of the RC10 Classic had to be created with new molds, and many intentional changes were made to the parts to make it even easier to distinguish the remake from the original car and help protect the collector’s market.
One undeniably good thing about the RC10 Classic is that the decal sheet included with it is very helpful in recreating that famous box picture look. The sheet is still not 100% exact, but it does offer a number of decals that were actually never included on the original kit’s decal sheet from the 1980s. Thus, if you’re building or restoring an original, it’s worth grabbing the new RC10 Classic decal sheet – especially seeing as there was never an official original decal set that could achieve the box art look. It’s a more faithful thing to do than using some amateur repro decals, and let’s face it, Team Associated really should have provided a more complete decal sheet with the original kit in the first place.
The RC10 Classic kit has since proven to be a short-lived tribute kit, which is now becoming harder to find itself. Though of course, nowhere near as hard to find as a mint original RC10.
I’ve written a fair bit here, and yet there’s so much more that could be said about such a revered and successful R/C toy buggy, some of which I am not really qualified to blather about (since I was never a racer, and am still no expert).
But before anyone flames me for using that word “toy”, I’ll wrap-up by expressing why the RC10 is here on R/C Toy Memories in the first place… and it’s because I think the RC10 was just as a much a super cool car that any kid would have wanted to play with in the 1980s, as it was a game-changing competition machine. And I know that some lucky kids did own them purely to run for fun – whether backyard racing or chasing cats down the street. So if you did, or know anyone who did, it’d be great to hear your memories of the RC10 in the comments section below. Including whether any cats were fast enough to escape.
Another point to mention is the fact that the RC10 spawned a whole family of vehicles with the ‘RC10’ name, from special competition edition buggies, to trucks and more. Hence everyone refers to this first one as the “original RC10”. While all of the others have their fans and collectors as well, personally I feel that each successive model had a slightly less realistic look and that this left the original looking the best in the series.
Combine that with it’s historical significance, and today you have an extremely collectible R/C model which, as always, is most desired in new in box or at least mint, condition. And since demand will always be strong for such a famous model, expect the values of unbuilt original kits and mint car to continue to climb well into the future.
As always, happy collecting.
On this page: Team Associated RC10 (1984)
|Suspension||Yes (Front and rear independent with oil dampers)|
|Digital Proportional||Yes (Transmitter purchased separately)|
|Batteries||1 x 7.2volt (Car). Transmitter purchased separately.|
Variants: Team Associated RC10 (1984)
Characteristics of a vintage Team Associated RC10 kit from the early period of it's production run.
|Also known to collectors as the “Edinger” era – Earlier vintage kits are identifiable by having Team Associated’s earlier 1928 East Edinger Ave in Santa Ana California address on the box (hence the nickname). These date from 1984 – 1986. There were many other gradual changes during the Edinger era.|
Characteristics of a vintage Team Associated RC10 kit from the late period of it's production run.
|Also known to collectors as the “Cadillac” era – Later vintage kits are identifiable by having Team Associated’s later 3585 Cadillac Ave Costa Mesa California address on the box (hence the nickname). These date from 1987 onward. There were many other gradual changes during the Cadillac era.|
All Models: Team Associated RC10
In 2013, Team Associated produced a remake of the RC10, which is different to the original.