This early, high quality R/C Chevy Blazer 4WD was a big hit in countries like the USA and the UK, and many remember it as their first R/C car. Some are willing to pay top dollar just to get their hands on one today, and with good reason – the Shinsei Mountain Man was one of the most beautiful and rugged R/C 4×4 toys of the 1980s.
There’s little doubt that of all the Japanese toy companies making R/C models in the 1980s, some were far more successful than others. In terms of kit-building and scale modelling, Tamiya stood the tallest with their massive market reach. While other kit based brands also found success through competition racing.
At the ready-to-run end of the market, Nikko and Taiyo were releasing at least a dozen new R/C toys every year throughout the 1980s, and I suspect Nikko was the most prolific of the two. But behind them, other smaller companies managed to produce some truly beautiful R/C toys, a few of which were very popular. One such company was Shinsei Kogyo Co. Ltd., from Tokyo. They also used the branding “Radio Elecon” on most of their releases.
Sadly, as far as I can tell, Shinsei no longer exists today. For many years they manufactured a range of die-cast and R/C models, and their history certainly dates from before the 1980s. But it seems as though the company disappeared at some point in the 1990s.
I want to take a moment to point out that if you google for Shinsei, and you think you’ve found their homepage at http://www.shinsei.in – that website is not the original Shinsei R/C company. For some reason, an Indian company has taken over the Shinsei name and even uses the original Japanese Shinsei logo (a cute leaping Dolphin symbol) and is now making diecast models under that name. Their website says “Shinsei Industries was founded by Mr. Vijay Kukreja on 20th March 1985. Mr. Vijay Kukreja has been in the toy field since 1965, with experience in manufacturing and retailing.” But this is not the original Shinsei Kogyo Co. of Japan who produced R/C cars in the 1980s.
Now that we’ve cleared that up, let’s look at what the real Shinsei company were capable of, as early as 1981…the Mountain Man.
The example here is brand new in box, and an original from Japan – where it was manufactured. Finding one in such condition today is virtually impossible, and it took me a long time to find this one – particularly since this is a Mk1 example.
I should point out that nowhere on this box, car, manual or transmitter is the year of manufacture actually mentioned.
So how do we know the Mountain Man dates from 1981? Well, the internet is amazing these days, and even old databases of trademarks that were filed for toys back in the 1980s, can be found online. If you visit this link you’ll see the actual trademark details of the Shinsei Mountain Man, which were “filed” in 1981. So I think we can assume for now that 1981 was the year of this model’s inception.
Given how advanced this toy was for it’s time, it couldn’t really have been released much earlier either.
In 1981, there were very few other ready-to-run R/C toys that were as sophisticated and well-made, as this car. At the beginning of the 1980s, R/C toy manufacturers were generally a long, long way behind the standard of hobby grade R/C kit manufacturers. Kit companies – like Tamiya and Kyosho already had large ranges of highly detailed model kits. But if you just wanted an R/C car that you could take straight out of the box and play with, most of the options available at the time were simple on-road sports cars, with only basic functions.
So Shinsei’s Mountain Man – a Digital Proportional 4×4 off roader that was ready straight-out-of-the-box to power through sand, scoot across the kitchen floor, and even climb over mum’s garden – was a toy with very few peers in 1981.
And the price reflects that too. The box of the example shown here still has the original price sticker on it – apparently it sold for 18,900yen. Time for some quick math: if the US Dollar was worth about 220 Japanese yen in 1981, this Mountain Man would have cost about US$95 in 1981. Which is the equivalent of about US$248 in 2014. So this was certainly an expensive toy for it’s time.
Here’s some more production images taken from the box of the car…
The Mountain Man is a 1/16 scale off-road toy of the sort of quality that could only have come from Japan in the 1980s.
This is basically a Chevrolet K5 Blazer – possibly a late 1970s, second generation model, emblazoned with cool “Turbo” stickers and built like a very respectable scale-model of the real vehicle, yet designed for real off-roading as well.
I’d have to say that for supposedly “1/16” scale, this is a pretty big car – it’s probably more like 1/14 scale (and is even a decent size for that)…
Requiring a huge and heavy 8 x “C” cell batteries in the car (more than a typical 1/10 scale Tamiya buggy), even it’s battery requirements seemed to mimic the gas-guzzling, full-sized Chevy truck. But they certainly made this quite a powerful and versatile off-roader, that was ready to go just about anywhere.
In addition to being one of the most gorgeous 4WD toy trucks of the 1980s, the Mountain Man is also a pretty interesting mix of realism and practicality that proved you didn’t need to sacrifice one for the other.
It’s funny when you look at some of the off-road R/C toys available these days with their huge, ridiculous looking wheels, made from cheap plastics and rubber. The Mountain Man has only slightly oversized wheels – but they’re highly realistic, with semi-pneumatic tyres and authentic tyre tread.
These “BF Goodrich” tyres give it attractive proportions. But Shinsei were also mindful of the fact that a perfect miniature scale model of a real 4WD vehicle would probably not be all that practical when being driven over terrain. So the Mountain Man has slightly elevated ground clearance, and a very smooth, flat underside to ensure that it can step over most ordinary sized stones and other obstacles with ease.
As you can see, the end result is a 4×4 toy that still looks real, yet has 4cm of ground clearance at it’s axles, and 6cm of clearance to it’s underside.
Numerous other realism touches helped to make this an appealing toy – from the Florida numberplate (which is even registered from 1981-1982!), to the real spare tyre and jerry can at the back, to the superb front bull-bar, headlights and grill.
Once again though, Shinsei wanted actual “play” to be a priority, and the car’s most unique feature is actually operated via a switch located on the roof. No need to pick up your Mountain Man to search for a tiny gear shift lever underneath the car somewhere… Just flick the easy roof switch to go from 2WD to 4WD, and back again.
Yes the Mountain Man was almost unique among ready-to-run toys for it’s time in offering the ability to completely disengage and reengage the front transmission. 2WD meant you could enjoy some higher speeds on easier surfaces, thanks to less transmission friction. But if the going got tough, 4WD mode would usually get you through.
The roof switch doesn’t really detract from the look of the car either, and the car’s off-road ability was a resounding success to all who had one back in the day. Despite carrying a fair amount of weight, the Mountain Man delivers quite reasonable power and speed to make this a truly entertaining and practical R/C toy.
Of course it’s not as fast as the numerous off road buggies that were released in the mid-late 1980s, but it’s easy to see why those who owned a Mountain Man grew up really loving this little car. Kids always want their R/C cars to go fast, and for such an early, vintage 4WD, this would actually have been one of the fastest toys for it’s time.
Elsewhere, I’d have to say that one of my favourite things about this car are the ‘4×4’ and ‘Turbo’ logos. It’s pure retro 4WD cool…
Even the antenna has a 4WD sticker on it…
Of course, being from 1981, the Mountain Man couldn’t come with every possible feature. Suspension is pretty basic and limited to those soft tyres…however it does have a rocking-rear-axle mechanism to allow the rear to adapt to the terrain independently of the front of the car. In lieu of any sort of spring suspension, it was great that Shinsei included this – it means the Mountain Man is a little less rigid and slightly more able to “crawl” over obstacles, while keeping the rear wheels on the ground.
The other really great thing about the Mountain Man of course, is that it’s Digital Proportional – the transmitter allows you to accelerate or steer to gradual degrees, which is an essential feature for the most realistic running. Short of owning a hobby grade kit car, owning a Digital Proportional ready-to-run toy R/C car back in 1981 was almost like owning a Rolls Royce – in a toy sense – as it was a feature reserved for only the most expensive and exotic R/C toys of the time. Even today, it’s funny to see how many R/C toys (some costing $100 or more) still don’t bother to have this feature.
In summary, the Mountain Man is probably one of the greatest R/C toys of the 1980s – realistic, well made, tough, powerful, and versatile.
I mentioned earlier that it has now become quite collectible thanks to it’s popularity back in the day. As of the time of writing, I’ve seen some examples sell for up to $500… and none of them were brand new. But the good news is they do come up for sale semi-regularly, so at least there are a few chances every year to nab one.
Also worth mentioning is the fact that Shinsei later released the Mountain Man II with heaver, lug-pattern tyres, and working roof lights. Due to it’s new name, and the fact it came from Shinsei, I consider the Mountain Man II an entirely new model. (Learn more about models, releases and variants).
Shinsei (the company) may be long gone, but their eclectic range of high-quality R/C toys during the 1980s is something I have always admired, and the Mountain Man was one of their greatest releases. A true classic, especially if you love retro 4x4s.
As always, happy collecting.
On this page: Shinsei Mountain Man (1981)
|Motor||(to be confirmed)|
|Differential||Yes (rear only)|
|Batteries||8 x C (Car). 4 x AA (Transmitter).|