As the 1990s began, Japanese toy manufacturer Taiyo was in the middle of a winning streak. And their latest sensation – the rubber tracked ‘Fast Traxx’ would go on to become one of their biggest hits.
Who knew that a toy with tank tracks could move so damn…fast?
Tanks. They may go everywhere, but they usually do so quite slowly. But what if tanks went as fast as off-road racing cars? Well, that was precisely the idea Taiyo had, as the 1980s drew to a close.
Taiyo had been a maker of tin toys in post-war Japan, first coming to prominence in the 1960s and 70s. Like so many other Japanese companies, they were gradually improving the quality of their products over time, and beginning to find customers around the world as confidence grew in the reliability of Japanese-manufactured goods.
Some early Taiyo toys are now worth a lot of money to tin-toy collectors. But for me, being a plastic-loving child of the MTV era, the most interesting part of the Taiyo story began in the mid-1970s when they first dipped their toes into the new world of R/C toys. By the mid-1980s, Taiyo was starting to experience major worldwide success with hits like the Turbo Hopper / Jet Hopper and 4×4 Off-Roader, and they were manufacturing these models both for direct sale and as custom orders for major American companies like Tyco and Radio Shack.
As the 1990s began, the collaboration between Taiyo and the US company Tyco had become particularly successful, yielding a range of colourful and creative R/C vehicles that nobody had ever seen the likes of before, and which sold particularly strongly in the USA. I don’t specifically know how much (if any) input Tyco had into these products, but they certainly seemed perfect for Tyco’s audience – young kids who craved toys that were tough and action-packed, with the odd performance gimmick thrown in.
Elsewhere, the hobby of professional R/C model racing had become a well established, competitive and expensive sport. And in a sense, Taiyo’s R/C products were the antithesis of everything that professional R/C racing stood for – instead of complex high performance kits, they were simple R/C toys that were ready to run out of the box. And while Taiyo was certainly not the only company offering such products, for a few years they were arguably the most popular.
The Fast Traxx represents one of Taiyo’s most successful releases, in a long line of eye-catching R/C products that offered straightforward thrills and spills for people in their backyards.
In the words of the company itself (translated from Japanese to English)…
Taiyo “Fast Tracks” was developed by adding a running characteristic of the tank, to the high speed. Abroad, it becomes very popular product.
And popular it certainly was.
In the book FAO Schwarz Toys For A Lifetime: Enhancing Childhood Through Play (1999), the Fast Traxx is mentioned as one of the highest selling R/C vehicles of all time.
In the USA, a lot of those sales would have come as a result of a series of glossy, excited TV commercials under Tyco’s brand, showcasing the vehicle’s action ability. Like this one…
Meanwhile in Greece, it was sold under Taiyo branding but referred to as the Turbo Traxx, with arguably an even more hectic commercial…
For the US market, Tyco actually renamed it to the lengthier “9.6v Turbo Fast Traxx”, and here’s how it was presented in a Tyco Dealer catalogue…
(Image courtesy: Tyco Bandit King)
In most countries, the toy was presented in a nice window box, and came in a variety of bright colours. Here is a brand new, original Taiyo release from Japan as an example…
I can actually remember when those frenetic commercials appeared on my TV screen in the early 1990s. It seemed as if they were advertisting some neon blur whipping up a cloud of dust. And someone was yelling at me to buy it.
But sitting still, the original Fast Traxx has real beauty to it. I must admit I’m starting get nostalgic for all those neon-coloured toys that were around in the early 1990s. Neon was all the rage for quite a few years, and the Fast Traxx came in a few different shades…
The basic proposition of the Fast Traxx is as follows: This is a brightly coloured, low-flying spaceship-lookalike with twin motors, that is bloody hard to control, but can caterpillar itself practically anywhere – over a hill, over rocks, off a jump you’ve made, through snow…
I mean, how many R/C toys did you ever see back in those days, that could run this easily through snow?
As mentioned, controlling the Fast Traxx is not for the faint-hearted. The transmitter is not the usual forward-reverse/left-right. It’s forward-reverse/forward-reverse!
Each lever simply operates the speed of the rubber track on one side, or the other. Push both, and both tracks turn at the same speed, propelling the car straight ahead. Release one, and you’ll start to take a corner. But push one lever alone when the car is standing still, and the Fast Traxx may go into a crazy 360° spin on the spot.
Needless to say, the first time you drive it, you’ll probably slam head-on into a wall or tree at some point, as the only way to prevent collisions is often to go from full forward to full reverse in a hurry.
There’s no front bumper either. But just look at that awesome stance…
Kudos to Taiyo for building these toys to last, because the gearbox had to be relatively robust to handle the kind of action shown on the commercials, without stripping itself in a hurry.
Obviously racing a Fast Traxx against another toy, around any kind of predefined course or track, is going to be a challenge. Taking corners with a Fast Traxx is a sort of imprecise process that requires accelerating both tracks and then “letting off” a little on one side to make the vehicle veer a bit left or right. How much you let off, determines the angle of the corner.
I’m sure there are some of you out there who drove Fast Traxx vehicles for long enough to become expert drivers – but it sure would have taken some practice. And as such, most of the play value in the Fast Traxx came from blasting the vehicle in whatever direction was easiest at the time, and just seeing what happened.
The twin motors (you can see a motor hidden behind each rear spring in the photo above) were an idea that had already appeared in a few other toys before the 1990s, and even a few from Taiyo. But in previous incarnations the concept had been used to simply make cars go faster.
In the case of the Fast Traxx, I think it was probably essential to dedicate an entire small motor to each side of the vehicle – as the friction caused by the amount of surface area that two large rubber tracks were continually rubbing against, might have been too much for a single small motor to handle. And Taiyo’s goal had always been to be able to put a large “21km/h!” sign on the box, so the vehicle really needed plenty of get-up-and-go.
Naturally, running two motors on a device with more friction, also results in a quicker drain to the battery. And I’ve seen some people lament the fact that their memories of the Fast Traxx were often of it running down it’s battery after a short while. But hey – wasn’t that the same for every toy in the 1980s? It certainly was when it came to R/C, as most of us were getting about 8 minutes out of our 7.2volt battery pack powered cars, and then using 12-hour trickle chargers to recharge them overnight. Oh, the waiting! You were the lucky kid if you owned a 4-hour “fast charger”.
One of the coolest aspects about the Fast Traxx for me are the little “realism” touches that Taiyo continued to add to their toys, even though some vehicles (like this) were obviously not scale models. Things like “No Step” – as if to remind a scale-sized pilot not to put weight on the presumably fibreglass “wings” of the vehicle, when entering and exiting…
And how about “Danger Intake” and “Emergency Canopy Release” (I wonder what “NCC 9015” represents? A kind of air force code?)…
It’s all sounding very much like US Air Force fighter jet parlance, and very cool when you’re 12 and building a ramp to launch your Fast Traxx into the air. But what happens when it’s time to land? Well, the Fast Traxx is one tough little tank-buggy, and does have some basic rolling-rigid axle spring suspension at the back to help it cope with bumps.
Curiously, no suspension at the front though…except some faux spring detail. But the front is also very lightweight, meaning there’s less pressure on the chassis at that end, and it generally ends up crawling over obstacles anyway. The vehicle also generates enough power to rear up on it’s haunches and do “wheelies”, further reducing downward impacts at the front end.
And another thing – the box of my Fast Traxx actually makes mention of “4WD”. Are they a true 4WD? I suppose they are. Except that there’s no gearbox at the front, and the front wheels are simply free spinners, locked into rotation by the rubber tracks. Not too different to the function of a belt driven 4×4 gearbox system. But definitely simpler.
The rubber tracks are, of course, the most essential feature of the whole design and judging from the high value of brand new spare tracks on the collector’s market these days, they are a part that eventually wears out and needs to be replaced – either due to dry rot, stretching or general wear and tear.
But most of the used examples of the Fast Traxx that you see around these days still have their tracks, and the tracks still have tread on them. With the friction and wear spread out over such a large area, rubber tracks tended to last longer than the tiny rear pin spike tyres on your average R/C buggy from the 1980s (which often wore out very quickly, particularly on concrete).
Today, as always with ready to run R/C cars, it’s pretty hard to find brand new examples of the Fast Traxx. But used examples are quite common. And there is certainly plenty of demand for them, whether in good condition, or just for parts.
After the success of the Fast Traxx, Taiyo continued the tracked concept with a range of other R/C sequels – the Mini Fast Traxx (smaller), Super Fast Traxx (larger and 7.2volt battery powered), Fast Traxx Pickup and Fast Traxx Eliminator (both featuring pickup truck style bodies), Half Traxx (a really cool combination of tracked wheels and regular wheels), and the Maxx Traxx (a bizarre vehicle for which I have no explanation!).
And what about souvenirs? Yes, there were even miniature Fast Traxx toys, like the yellow one pictured here, which is a pull-back model.
The original Fast Traxx was even re-released by Taiyo before the company shut down, and this short-lived reissue version appears to have been blue and had a different transmitter (see here).
It also inspired other companies to adapt the concept. Rival company Nikko released a pretty cool competing series called Super Belt (aka Land Shark) that came in both a Fast Traxx-esque jet fighter shape, mini size, and even truck form. And I can also remember a company called Radcon releasing it’s own high speed tracked vehicle. And there were probably others too, not to mention the usual slew of chinese knock offs (that are often around 20 years later).
It was a popular trend that Taiyo started, and which was mainly centred on the period from 1990-1995. So as the years roll by and more 1990s kids start to look back fondly on all the toys of their youth, we can expect all those vintage Fast Traxx cars to grow in stature and significance.
On this page: Taiyo Fast Traxx (1990)
|Motor||(to be confirmed)|
|Differential||Yes (independent drive via twin motors)|
|Suspension||Yes (rear only)|
|Batteries||9.6volt Battery Pack OR 8 x AA (Car). 1 x 9volt (Transmitter).|