A radio controlled amphibious toy, modeled after a one-off concept car that looks like it came from a 1970s sci-fi movie? The Gama Sea Ranger is too cool for words. Let’s take a look at this extremely rare and unique R/C model…
In 1979, pioneering German industrial designer and futurist Luigi Colani – known for his unique design vision in fields as varied as Formula 1 cars to teapots – came up with an amphibious concept prototype vehicle called the “Sea Ranger”.
It was created for German conglomerate Thyssen (now ThyssenKrupp) and displayed at the 1980 Hanover Fair. But it never made it into production.
With it’s amphibious ability, pale green colours and lots of angular window panels, this vehicle seemed like pure 1970s science fiction. It looked like it ought to be traversing the terrain of another world – a mix of moonbase transport and deep sea exploration sub…
Based on a Mercedes Unimog chassis, some of the vehicle’s unusual features – aside from being an all-terrain vehicle and boat combined into one – were a huge radio antenna and elevated observation chair (or fishing chair?) on the roof. It is without doubt both beautiful, utilitarian and eccentric all at once. And the 10 year old in me wants to own it.
Unfortunately, the only prototype that was ever made is not for sale.
But in an inspired bit of toy design, little-known Hong Kong based toy maker Likto manufactured an impressive 1/15 scale R/C model of it, while an old German toy company called Gama (Georg Adam Mangold) branded and distributed it around Europe under it’s “Gama Tronic” line. I have no idea how famous the full scale Sea Ranger was, or whether there was enough public awareness of it to actually drive toy sales. But perhaps that was irrelevant because the toy looked cool enough to sell itself.
Which meant a few lucky 10 year olds were able to drive a Sea Ranger across miniature “alien landscapes”, even if the original Sea Ranger was retired to a museum somewhere.
Here in closer detail are those pictures from the box sides, showing the Sea Ranger in action…
The Gama Sea Ranger is a slow and fairly fragile model to drive. But it’s speed is probably quite realistic relative to the real vehicle. And it’s real charm lies in both its imaginative looks and the fact it was probably the first ever toy-grade R/C car capable of running on both land and water (even though a few hobby-grade amphibious cars had existed in the 1970s from makers like Kyosho and others).
It also has added retro appeal now of course – what once was considered cool and futuristic is now “what we thought the future looked like – back in the 1970s”.
I’m very glad to say this particular Gama Sea Ranger example is complete and “as new”…
A number of those accessories you see on the roof – the chair and the antenna with it’s various aerials, along with the rear vision mirrors, all need to be attached to the model when you take it out of the box. As you can imagine they’re quite fragile. And finding a complete Sea Ranger with all of these pieces still with it, might be difficult if you are looking to own one.
Likto clearly went to a lot of trouble to make this model as authentic as possible, by including all those little horns, lights, floats and other details…
At the rear is a twin-propellor system that responds to the radio control at the same time as you accelerate/steer. When you move forward or reverse, both propellors run. But if you also steer left or right, one or the other propellor will stop – causing the vehicle to make a left or right turn while in water. It goes slow, but it works!
When you disassemble the model, you can see a layer of waterproof rubber helping to seal the sensitive internal electronics from any risk of damage while in water.
It’s interesting to see how Colani’s own signature is also well displayed. I wonder if Luigi Colani himself ever owned one. Either way, it’s fairly unusual to have an artist or designer’s name prominently displayed on both a toy and it’s box. You certainly would be hard-pressed to find an example of it these days.
Also, to see more of Luigi Colani’s design work, be sure to visit his official design museum here – www.colani.ch
The tyres on the Sea Ranger are a good quality rubber, but like the car itself they offer very little in the way of suspension.
The car lacks any suspension at all really – there is certainly nothing at the rear, although at the front there is a bit of a bounce offered by the flexing of a servo arm when the wheels are depressed a little. But it’s quite a fragile setup that could break with rough treatment, so this is not a vehicle to tackle extreme obstacles.
The performance of the Sea Ranger is also hindered by the fact that it is 2WD (not 4WD like the real vehicle), and lacks a differential at those rear wheels.
But given it’s early date of manufacture, none of this is surprising. Barely any toy R/C cars were 4WD or had differential gearing in the very early 1980s. So it just means that the Sea Ranger is suited to only light off road duties (hard packed dirt), smooth surfaces, and of course water. It tends to scrabble for grip a little bit as it goes.
The “AUS”/”EIN” switch is simply “On/Off” in German, and there is a recharging jack on top too.
On the plus side though, the Sea Ranger does have a decent Digital Proportional control, which was a luxury for an R/C toy at that time.
This allows for steady, realistic movement – slowly easing over obstacles, or in and out of water.
Overall the Gama Sea Ranger is a truly unique 1980s R/C toy that would have been very expensive when it was released – my guess is somewhere around US$150 or more. But unfortunately I have absolutely no original price data for this one.
And what’s more, if you plan to find one today, it might become your “white whale” as they do not come up for sale very often. I never saw any Sea Rangers growing up in Australia in the 1980s, and by all accounts this model appears to have only ever been available in Europe (including the UK). So their distribution was never worldwide.
Finding one at all, let alone complete with all the accessories, is going to be quite difficult. I found this one in Germany from a collector, but I really got quite lucky.
Another interesting footnote is that the German “Dickie” company later modified the Gama Sea Ranger design and released it as the Dickie Amphy Star. This model lacks the Colani reference and authenticity to the original vehicle’s appearance, but is an updated toy with more versatile ability and it appears to have been in production until only a few years ago.
On this page: Gama/Likto Sea Ranger (1981)
|Motor||(to be confirmed)|
|Batteries||5 x C, 1 x 9 volt (Car). 8 x AA (Transmitter).|
Model History: Gama/Likto Sea Ranger (1981)
|Gama/Likto||"Sea Ranger"||Original release of the car by Gama/Likto Sea Ranger. While this car was manufactured by Likto, there is to date no evidence that it was sold under plain Likto branding.||Europe||1981|