Tamiya Operations

Tamiya Plastic Model Co. – back in the 1980s

Tamiya OperationsDuring the 1980s, the great Tamiya Plastic Model Company’s colourful annual product catalogues pretty much left everyone in the West desperate to own their products. It was truly a golden era for Tamiya.

Thanks to a little-known book from 1990 called “Tamiya Operations”, here are a few additional, rarely-seen images of Tamiya’s R/C toy production during that time. Plus a short video documentary.

Just about everyone who owned a Tamiya R/C car in the 1980s was influenced in some way by Tamiya’s marketing. Each year, the Japanese model maker would release various full colour product catalogues and guides filled with glossy, professional photos of their models and products. The accompanying text spoke with reverence for both the real world inspirations for their kits, and the level of patience and dedication that had gone into producing such precise scale models.

In reality, the pictures in those catalogues spoke for themselves, and the text was almost unnecessary. Anyone looking at the level of dedication that had gone into creating a mere Tamiya catalogue would have been under no illusions about the maniacal level of precision in the company’s output. Things like: photos of plastic models sitting on tables that looked exactly like full-sized cars sitting on showroom floors… (some of my school friends at the time were completely convinced the photos weren’t of toys, but real vehicles!). Or what about the dozens of photos of tiny R/C spare parts sets with all the screws and washers lined up in perfect rows? Perfect. Rows.

I think I own most of those old catalogues, and some of them also have the occasional behind-the-scenes photo of an event or function where some of their famous models were being displayed.

But there’s one very rare book from that era called “Tamiya Operations” which focuses more specifically on the company’s methods, processes and achievements.

Tamiya Operations

In it, you can find a few additional images from those days of the 1980s when some of the classic R/C models that we now consider to be “vintage collectibles” were still brand new products being developed and presented to the rest of the world.

There are many pictures in the book, but I have focused on those that feature glimpses of the R/C models of the day. As mentioned, all of these images date from 1990, or earlier.  Some are undoubtedly from the mid 1980s.

In this first image, Mr Shunsaku Tamiya (Tamiya’s CEO throughout it’s most successful years from the 1970s to the 2000s), is seen below (left) in discussion with Hiroyuki Kawakami (a Japanese TV news anchor) discussing the hobby industry in general. The classic Tamiya Thundershot (one of their newer models at the time) sits on the table. In the background, we also see the classic Tamiya Clod Buster monster truck…

Tamiya Operations

The next photo is taken from a toy and hobby trade show in the USA.

At the lower left of the photo you can see the Tamiya Monster Beetle and the Tamiya Porsche 959 on display, which were both released in 1986 – suggesting that this photo is from around that time, or perhaps within a year or two later.

Update 12th October 2016: In identifying which hobby show this photo is actually from, reader John believes it was “one of the first iHobby Expos held at the Donald E Stevens Convention center in Rosemont, IL”. As John explains:

The show, which just ended last year due to attendance decline (see their website) started around 85-86, was advertised in the newspaper and was the single largest hobby show in the WORLD. Living 20 mins. away from it, I attended it just about every year for decades. In the early years, the show was so massive, that for some it would take two days to view it. Tamiya and Kyosho were some of the largest vendors. One year, they had flown in probably 25-30 employees from Japan and set up a large carpeted off road track. They were selling raffle tickets and if your number was called, you came up and got to Race a Clod Buster QD (Quick Drive) – there were about 5-6 people lucky racers. If you won the race, the gave you one new in the box. This had to of been around 90 or 91. I can go on and on about this show, but that was one of the highlights I remember.

Tamiya Operations

The next two images also date from about the same era, judging from the models and kit boxes visible. Such as the large Tamiya Toyota 4×4 Pickup Bruiser. These photos are both from a similar Toy Fair, in Germany…

Tamiya Operations Tamiya Operations

This next image is quite interesting. It shows a range of classic Tamiya R/C cars being displayed and discussed as part of a Japanese TV program called “Tamiya R/C Car Grand Prix” which aired on Japanese TV for many years.

Tamiya Operations

And finally, here is an image showing an illustrator while actually working on the classic box art image of the Tamiya Porsche 959 (released in 1986) – one of the most amazing R/C model kits they have ever produced.

Tamiya Operations

After looking through the Tamiya Operations book, I was also reminded of some old footage of Tamiya’s production and design work.

Back in the 1980s and early 1990s, hobby stores would often have a TV running somewhere in the store that would be playing a VHS tape filled with Tamiya promotional clips about the various products on offer.

About 20 years ago, I had the fortune of obtaining one of those old VHS tapes, and it included the following 15 minute documentary piece about the Tamiya company, focusing in particular on it’s production and design standards. The film dates from about 1991 or so, and the footage covers both plastic model and R/C car kit production.

So here it is, taken from my own VHS tape. Enjoy.



  1. In that photo from the USA toy/hobby fair, you can also notice the TAMTECH kits, the first two of which came out here in the USA around the end of 1986

  2. That Tamiya video was so interesting to watch. Thank you for sharing that with us. I did not realise the level sophistication Tamiya implemented in their production way back then. Even by todays standards it is highly impressive. It make me wonder how far they have advanced since then.

    Another excellent article. 🙂

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