An affordably priced little buggy with roll-cagey looks and big balloony tyres for loads of fun in the dunes. The Tandy/Radio Shack Wild Champ is well remembered.
Just about every major Japanese toy company had a crack at making R/C toys in the 1980s, and old Japanese tin-toy company Yonezawa was yet another.
Yonezawa actually made a few interesting R/C models and their little “Wild Champ” buggy reads like a miniature version of another larger buggy model they manufactured, which was sold under the Monogram brand in the US as the Monogram “Thunder” or Monogram “Tidal Wave”. Those were about 1/10 scale, while the Wild Champ is more like 1/16 scale.
The Wild Champ though is probably more widely remembered thanks to being rebranded and sold by Tandy/Radio Shack (in it’s vast array of stores), as well as thanks to it’s fairly reasonable price – which meant a few people had them. (It’s nice to see it’s already been mentioned on some other sites too).
Actually, when I say “reasonable” price – I mean “reasonable relative to others at the time”…because in fact, $69.95 in 1987 equates to about $150 today. Which is pretty expensive!
Still, I can remember looking at the Tandy catalogue image below and thinking how great this little car must be over dunes and climbing hills at “30 degree angles” thanks to those incredibly fat little tyres (this scan is from a 1987 Australian Tandy catalogue). “Pure off road exhilaration”…
Here’s another catalogue scan, also from 1987. The buggy came in two colours/frequencies, so you could buy two and race them.
You can also spot it on the cover of this Christmas flyer from 1987, in which a family has bought every single gift from Tandy…
So here it is in the flesh…
At about 1/16 scale it seems fairly small now when I look at it. But I can remember the day I first saw a 1/10 scale Tamiya Hornet and thought that was enormous and almost too big.
The fact is, smaller R/C cars like this were usually the perfect size for little kid’s imaginations…
A lot of fans of old R/C cars love the roll-cage look because it tends to add a little more realism – real off road buggies usually had roll cages, and here the little Wild Champ even has a molded seat and steering wheel inside. For it’s small size, it has quite an animated and real look about it that was bound to provide kids with loads of fun – pretending to race it in some miniature Baja 1000…
Those fat spike tyres are the thing I remember most though – they are unusually large, and made of good quality, soft rubber. The spikes on the front also make it look like it might be a 4WD – but it’s not.
Still, it has a rugged, slightly mean look about it…
Other cool little features are the “OK” headlights, and the very retro looking “Turbo” sticker at the back. “Turbo” was certainly THE buzzword for car toys in the 1980s, and here they probably just included it because of the fact there’s a 2-speed gearbox with a shift lever. So High Speed = Turbo.
The Wild Champ doesn’t actually have a “turbo” function on the radio control lever, like the Turbo Hopper did. The forward-reverse lever here just operates the car at a flat speed…
As far as speed and control is concerned though, this little car is a lot of fun to drive! The radio handset works incredibly smoothly. Normally toy grade R/C cars from the 1980s suffer some jittering and twitching as their weak radio transmissions struggle to communicate with the toy, but the little Wild Champ is one of the most stable toy grade cars I’ve ever come across. Driving it is a breeze, and it has totally enjoyable speed for a small buggy. The handset levers are also soft and easy to operate.
The steering also works independently of forward-reverse movement, and you can hear it trigger a small motor servo inside the car – all signs of an emphasis on quality toy manufacture, rather than cost-cutting. In my experience, this is true for all R/C toys manufactured by Yonezawa – they really made nice quality stuff.
Suspension on the Wild Champ is basic, but it’s OK. At the rear, it’s the typical rigid axle setup with coil springs – and that’s quite functional and bouncy.
At the front, there’s a Tamiya-style monoshock, but there’s so little swing in the front suspension arms due to the buggy’s small size, that the coil spring is only barely compressed! Still, it’s nice they went to the trouble to include something.
The large front bumper protects the buggy from impacts. Note the wording “Wave Hunter” – this was another sort of brand name that Yonezawa used on pretty much all their R/C cars, often including the Wave Hunter name on radio handsets.
Overall, the Radio Shack Wild Champ is a really cool little buggy with great retro looks, that runs really well. It’s a little surprising that Tandy only sold this car for about one year, before moving on to other models.
Wild Champs are not particularly common, nor expensive on eBay. You should find one within a few months if you start looking, and can expect to pay less than $50 for one in good condition.
But really, Yonezawa and Radio Shack got a lot of things right with this little toy. They deserve a little more attention from retro R/C toy collectors, in addition to those who remember owning one as their first buggy.
On this page: Tandy/Radio Shack Wild Champ (1987)
|Motor||(to be confirmed)|
|Suspension||Yes (Front independent with coil spring, rear rigid axle with coil springs)|
|Batteries||6 x AA (Car). 1 x 9 volt (Transmitter).|
Model History: Yonezawa Wildchamp (1986)
|Yonezawa||"Wildchamp"||Original release of the car by Yonezawa.||Japan||1986|
|ABC/Yonezawa||"Wild Champ"||ABC/Yonezawa release in USA.||USA||1987|
|Tandy/Radio Shack||"Wild Champ"||Tandy/Radio Shack release.||Worldwide||1987|
hey this site is a 39 year old rc enthusiasts dream lol lol lo i had em all hornet jet opper super sabre loads more t… top site and thanks for finding my first ever and will always be my favoitite speed buggy cheers guys… ps one thing iv always wanted to know… in stock form back in te day which was the fastest thing in a straight line… i swear blind my original hornet was un beatable on a straight road love to know ta…..
Hey Spencer. The original Tamiya Hornet was actually pretty fast – it’s relatively light weight for the time (being mostly plastic and released in 1984), and simple and direct transmission from a standard 540 motor meant it had pretty good straight line speed.
Handling was another matter though, and that’s where it lost out to other buggies like the Tamiya Frog, Kyosho Scorpion and of course, the Associated RC10.
In terms of what was truly fastest in a straight line, I think that would have changed each year during the 80s 🙂 The rate of change was fast, and cars were constantly improving.
Excellent coverage. I didn’t realize that there were people who kept these memories alive. The Wild Champ looks pretty good and solid and comparable with models today.
Here is a nice little video of this car:
I found your website and really enjoyed reading about the “wild champ”. Brought back memories as it was also my first RC car and being an RC enthusiast now at 39 years old, I ended up finding a vintage wild champ on ebay. Bought it for $25, batteries leaked so I cleaned it up and it runs and looks perfect! One thing surprised me, looking at it after 30 years, how small it is! I did think it was much bigger at 9 🙂 It is going on a shelf in the man cave. Great job with the website.
Hey Andrew – thanks for the comment (and compliments). I completely agree with you! When I was the same age, the Wild Champ seemed a lot bigger also, and now we see it was actually one of the smallest R/C buggies around at the time. Did your original one come from Tandy? The model was also sold outside Tandy stores, under plain Yonezawa branding, in other stores (I will update this page soon with the info). Sounds like you have a great man cave underway, and hope you stop by here again in future.
This one is th aero version: Yonezawa Sand Fox
That’s true. The original name of the “Sand Fox” was actually “Sand Harrier” in Japan (they changed it to “Fox” for western markets)…
There is one version in Spain by Exintronic (local retailer) :
Where can I buy 4 rubber wheels for this RC car? Thx