Yellow dune buggies always look great, and the Off Road Tiger from Nikko is no exception. This was a 1/10 scale dune buggy designed for both on and off road fun, thanks to shiftable gears and lots of rugged detail.
You don’t see many old-fashioned dune buggy style toys around these days. But in the 70s and early 80s, they were everywhere and in all sizes.
From the little ‘tumble-over’ battery driven ones you’d find at markets tumbling in boxes, to the popular cartoon character ‘Speed Buggy’ (still a regular on TV during my childhood), to model kits… these beautiful, VW-based, Meyers Manx style beach vehicles were still an active cultural phenomenon.
I suppose you might still see the odd one around today. For example, a few years ago a company called ‘Excalibur’ (?) released an R/C beach buggy with two holes for holding beer cans. It was a novelty item that I once saw discussed on a breakfast TV chat show. It was quite cute, but somewhat spoilt by the beer purpose. Novelties for grown-ups are about as far as dune buggy toys go these days; the likable shape isn’t found so much in kid’s toys. Tamiya did re-release their Sand Rover model a couple of years ago, but even that was just the nice old body slapped awkwardly on a modern chassis. Not pretty.
So let’s forget about today’s sad, buggy-less society, and wind back to 1983!
Back then, R/C toy maker Nikko was quite certain that the best off-road R/C toy a kid could own was a yellow dune buggy with a multi-speed gearbox and working headlights. It’s the Nikko Off Road Tiger…
The Off Road Tiger is a 1/10 scale, toy-grade model that you’d have been very lucky to own in 1983.
It appears to have been available for a few years, until around the mid 1980s when inevitably it was superceded by faster, more agile models – most of them the “open wheeled” type of buggy.
A tiny bit of video of it running can be seen in this early TV commercial for the Australian toy store Uncle Pete’s Toys, which was a big seller of R/C toy and kits during the 1980s. It appears mid-way through the commercial…
Here’s a screenshot if you missed it…
And here’s the car itself…
At AU$168 in 1987, this was a toy grade R/C car for rich kids only. That 1987 price equates to AU$365 in 2012 money. But if you paid that price in 1983 when it was first released, it would be the same as spending AU$480 in 2012.
Underneath, it’s a 2WD vehicle with moderate off-road ability, plus a few other features that were fairly exotic for it’s time. Nikko were clearly trying to create something that would please those running it along smooth ground, while also giving them the ability to take it off road, since off-road R/C was the new craze at the time.
It’s large size and detailed hard plastic body is particularly impressive – the bright yellow colour, silver chrome air scoop and exhausts, and thick black roll cage are the things I notice first . It looks really rugged, but still classic.
The headlights molded into the bonnet are working headlights, and operate when the car is moving. There are also four additional spotlights – two on the front bumper, and two more on the roll cage, and these all come separately in the box and need to be slotted into place. So if you’re looking for one of these cars on eBay, many examples will probably be missing one of more of these pieces.
Ground clearance is a bit minimal, so any off-roading that this car was capable of was best suited to smooth dirt surfaces, pebbles, or light sand.
The Off Road Tiger also carries some pretty cool decals like “Goodyear” and even “Auto Haus” – the famous VW parts shop that started in Buena Park, California, in 1968, with it’s caricature style logo designed by the famous Dave Deal.
The tyres are also “Goodyear”. Over time it appears as though the Off Road Tiger was changed with later models having both “Bridgestone” stickers and tyres instead – probably just a case of Nikko using whatever brands would let them get away with using their logos! Anyway, the tyres are really great quality – air filled and made of heavy, grippy rubber that looks like it will last forever…
There’s nice detail inside too, and even the headlight lenses look real.
Impact protection comes from large front and rear bumpers, although I have seen a few of these models with those areas suffering cracks and breakages. The bumpers are made from a slightly flexible plastic, and they’re not brittle. But they will not withstand heavy impacts.
There’s some simple spring suspension at the front to help with ride and handling, which is a nice feature for a toy in 1983. However, there’s no suspension at the rear (pretty standard for the time) and no differential either (ditto).
Down at the back, we have a 3-speed transmission and a nifty, large gear shift lever for “L”, “M” and “H”…
When it comes to performance, I have to say this car was a slight surprise – it seems as though the included motor is a bit underpowered. Fully laden with batteries, and with it’s hard body shell and all the other body work, it’s gorgeous to look at – but quite heavy. So in High gear it starts off at a crawl and takes quite a few seconds to build up to top speed – and only on a completely smooth surface. Take it onto carpet, and High gear is barely enough to get it moving. Off road, High gear would only be usable on smooth terrain.
In addition, when you steer, it sucks power away from acceleration – a common trait with many early R/C models (even the Turbo Hopper). But combined with the too-high gearing of ‘High’ speed in this model, it’s left with barely enough power to get moving at first.
When it does reach top speed though, it moves with a satisfying and quiet glide.
So that’s where the gearbox comes in. Shift to Medium, and there’s probably 20% more pickup and go. While Low gear is realistically where all your off-roading would be done.
And really, the box says this anyway – “3 gear combinations…for different terrains!”.
I guess Low gear is what they used when creating the neat little “film strip” of action shots shown on the box…
Climbs hills, drives in rough terrain and for extra fun, can also be driven fast!
- quote on box.
I also scanned the main image, depicting the car kicking up dust (smoke?) in a remote African style wilderness… at sunset. They certainly went to a lot of trouble with box art in the old days!
Equipped with Nikko’s early, but excellent Digital Proportional radio control system (commonly found on all their best cars for a decade or more), driving this car is easy and twitch-free – the radio works very smoothly and reliably, with good range.
I should note that this model shares a lot of components with another early Nikko buggy, the Sand Eagle, and the platform on which both are based was definitely a step up (in features and ability) from the earlier Dune Buggy that they manufactured. But as with all of those models, it looks great whether gliding around on your floor or sitting on the shelf – Nikko truly made lovely, realistic R/C models in the early-to-mid 1980s.
Today, I don’t think the Nikko Off Road Tiger is very easy to find. I have not seen many come up over the years. But the few I have seen were either in Australia or in Europe, so it seems those are two of the locations where it was available. And for anyone who did have one, I bet it was an unforgettable and cool toy to own in the 1980s.
On this page: Nikko Off Road Tiger (1983)
|Motor||(to be confirmed)|
|Suspension||Yes (front only)|
|Batteries||4 x C, 4 x AA (Car). 6 x AA (Transmitter).|