“The Winch” by Matsushiro was a versatile, toy-grade 4WD Toyota Landcruiser of high quality and with some unique features. It was a very cool little off-roader with just about everything a kid could want in an R/C 4×4, back in the 1980s.
It’s interesting to see how off-road R/C toys evolved during the early 1980s. Prior to the explosion of open-wheeled off-road buggies, virtually every “off road” R/C toy either looked like a classic beach buggy, or it was based on one of the popular 4×4 vehicles of the day.
Matsushiro’s “The Winch” was a highly competent little 4×4 based on a Toyota Land Cruiser, that turned out to be quite a hit for the Japanese brand, and is quite sought after to this day by many of those who owned one as children.
Without any doubt, anyone who was lucky enough to have owned this car when they were growing up, would have adored it.
Matsushiro – or more specifically “K.K. Matsushiro” – was a brand making very high quality ready-to-run R/C toys from about 1980 onwards, and trying to get a foothold in the quickly expanding market. They often used the brand label “Radio Tron” on their products as well.
The company actually made a bit of a name for themselves by releasing a few R/C models with ties to some popular TV shows of the day – such as an R/C version of “KITT” from Knight Rider, along with a Ferrari Testarossa from Miami Vice, and a Ferrari from Magnum P.I. The Knight Rider model was fairly decent, while the other two were quite basic. But for sheer play value, none of them could really match an off-road model like “The Winch”.
Like most Japanese toys in the 1980s, this little Land Cruiser is made from noticably good quality plastics and rubber, and has a really nice attention to detail. It’s clearly based on a 40 series Toyota Landcruiser, but adapted somewhat for toy scale – with altered proportions. But it comes off looking pretty authentic.
But what really sets The Winch apart is it’s range of fun abilities, as well as cute scale-model looks. It’s not particularly designed for speed, but was instead an exotic toy for it’s time due it’s various functions.
Most obviously, it has a working winch built into the front bumper that you can activate via a switch at the front – just select “L” (Low), “H” (High), or “W” (Winch). In Winch mode, the car stands still and the forward/reverse lever on the transmitter will pull or release the winch cable. Low and High mode are obviously the regular driving modes.
There’s also a release button on the side of the bumper than can be used to quickly pull the winch cable out – handy when you’re out adventuring, and need to quickly hook up to another vehicle that’s sinking in sand or water (!). If your
As for the winch itself – it’s pretty strong. Strong enough to lift the weight of the car itself, or pull a Barbie Bus out of trouble!
Perhaps the next most significant feature of this car is it’s 4WD ability. Rather than just giving the impression of a 4WD by being a modeled on one, this is a true 4WD. And it came out at a time when 4WD R/C cars were few and far between.
The gearbox has a differential at the front, with a fixed drivetrain at the rear. The 4WD transmission is full-time as well (not optional).
One area that’s lacking is suspension – there isn’t any, apart from the tyres themselves. But the tyres are great – soft and good quality. And the rear axle does have a “rolling” ability to allow the rear wheels to tuck into the wheel arches, one at a time, while climbing over terrain.
In addition, you can even choose to “lock” that rolling rear axle if you want, and stop the roll altogether, thanks to a couple of little switches underneath the car. It’s little touches like this that really make The Winch awesome. You can tell that here is an R/C toy that harks from the 1980s, when companies made a real effort to keep R/C cars realistic, interesting and fun to play with – all at the same time.
Speaking of realism, The Winch has really cute scale looks. How could you go wrong with a compact little Toyota Landcruiser with paddle-tyres (with “Sand Tires Unlimited” written on them), and lots of little realistic bits – seats, dashboard, jerry can, spare tyre, headlights, grill etc?
It wouldn’t be unreasonable to suggest they copied the legendary Tamiya Wild Willy jeep based kit model in this regard. And these kinds of toys always look like they’re packed with ‘character’ – and just begging to be taken on safaris and jungle adventures, perhaps with an action figure or two on board.
Another feature is working headlights. These operate when the car is moving, and really add to the fun of seeing this car trundle along.
Note also the perfect Toyota branding on the front grill.
The box actually has some cool photos showing some of the features I’ve described so far. So here I’ve scanned them properly…
The decals are great as well, and I particularly the “4WD” on the (pretend) spare tyre.
The rear tray is where you’ll find the on/off switch, plus the usual recharging jack for charging the batteries on board.
Overall, this is definitely one of the nicest looking 4×4 toys of the 1980s.
The transmitter was also a little unusual in that the antenna initially comes with just a metal stump, to which you need to attached the springy extension aerial piece yourself. So it’s not a telescopic antenna. But it works well enough.
The car is also Digital Proportional, which again was still a pretty exotic feature in toy R/C models, when this model was released. Performance is excellent too – the car operates very smoothly, with little interference, and is a complete pleasure to drive.
I ran some straight line speed tests on it too, and the fastest speed I’ve recorded so far is 11.2km/h. Which is pretty respectable. The Winch scoots along quite nicely, although one thing I noticed was that the speed drops off whenever you flick the steering – suggesting that it draws from the same batteries for both steering and acceleration (whereas a lot of other old R/C toys use a separate battery just for steering so that acceleration isn’t affected)
These days, The Winch does come up on eBay a few times each year and as always brand new ones are near impossible to find. There is some demand out there, for this model, by both those who are looking to relive their childhood, and fans of Toyota Landcruisers.
If you like classic R/C toys, this is definitely a little piece of history that you’ll be impressed with – and even more so if you’re a Toyota Landcruiser fan.
On this page: "The Winch", by Matsushiro (1984)
|Motor||(to be confirmed)|
|Gearbox||2-speed (plus Winch ability)|
|Differential||Yes (Front only)|
|Batteries||4 x C, 1 x 9 volt (Car). 1 x 9 volt (Transmitter).|