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.
|At a glance…|
|Scale: 1/16 (approx)|
|Digital Proportional: No|
|Batteries: 6 x AA (Car). 1 x 9 volt (Transmitter)|
|Original price in Australia, back in 1987: AU$69.95|
|What this would equate to, in 2012 money: AU$152 (calculated using this)|