Perhaps the first toy R/C buggy to ever feature a transmitter lever with “Turbo” power?
The Nikko Black Fox was a popular 2WD off-roader, and one of the first of it’s kind to mimic the larger, kit buggies in ready-to-run form.
When I originally wrote about the Tyco Turbo Hopper a couple of years ago, I included the line “I can’t recall any other R/C vehicle using this gimmick [i.e. “Turbo”] prior to the Turbo Hopper.” – which was a true statement at the time.
Other Variants of this Release
Other Known Releases…
But I’ve now realized that despite popularizing the “Turbo” gimmick, Taiyo (the makers of the Turbo Hopper/Jet Hopper, and many other “turbo” marketed cars) were not the first to release a car with this feature – which captured the imaginations of swathes of kids back in the 1980s.
The Nikko Black Fox was released one year earlier than the Turbo Hopper/Jet Hopper, in 1985, and it has “turbo” too – basically a notch on the forward-reverse lever that allows you to run forward at two speeds (the higher being “turbo”). The Turbo Hopper/Jet Hopper may have ended up being the more famous toy, but it seems Nikko had already laid out the same basic template for success – with the Black Fox.
Not that Nikko wasn’t guilty of copying too – the Black Fox still owes a great debt to Tamiya. And quite frankly, just about everybody was copying everybody in some way or another!
Nevertheless, let’s give credit where it’s due because the Black Fox was a great-looking, and quick little buggy that was a whole lot cheaper in the 80s than buying something like a Hornet (plus radio). And as a result, a lot of people owned them.
Fun fact: Nikko R/C cars were particularly popular in Italy back in the 1980s, where the toy company “GiG” distributed them.
And in Italy, Nikko cars even had the occasional TV commercial, much like how Tyco would advertise RC cars on TV in the USA. Here’s a commercial featuring the Nikko line-up of buggies in about 1986 or so. And if you look closely, toward the end you will see the Black Fox sitting in the line-up of cars…
Here’s another one in which the Black Fox also makes an appearance…
Another place I spotted the Black Fox was in this Uncle Pete’s Toys commercial from Australia in 1987, where it appears for a brief moment…
(So the original price in Australia was AU$115.99)
The original box is a fairly simple affair, with a large colour photo on the front – and it features the buggy in both of the available colours (black and red). I’m not sure what Nikko were thinking by calling a car the Black Fox and then releasing a red version 🙂
But pictured here I have a brand new black Black Fox…
Just as the Jet Hopper had pinched ideas from Tamiya (including the word ‘Hopper’), the Black Fox appears to have taken influence from the Tamiya Hornet’s black + orange gradient colour-scheme.
You might also assume that the “Fox” name was also copied from the Tamiya Fox, but it probably wasn’t…the Tamiya Fox was released in late 1985, so there’s actually a possibility that Nikko used the name first (or at least, before Tamiya, as there were other cars called ‘Fox’ before both of them!).
Instead, we have a very Hornet-inspired, and beautiful little 2WD frame buggy…
This really is one of the prettiest little toy R/C cars from the 1980s, that you will ever find – glossy, bright decals, cool logos, a great name, and lots of chrome accents like the roof, headlights and suspension dampers. At 1/14 scale, Nikko produced an extremely tidy and attractive buggy suited to those who found 1/10 scale simply too big, or who were too young to go building a whole kit-based car.
Being released in 1985, and being possibly Nikko’s first ever frame-buggy style buggy (that is – a buggy with a roll cage, rear wing and bumper, as opposed to a VW-derived beach buggy), the Black Fox marks a transition point in Nikko history. Nikko hard started the 1980s by releasing beautifully realistic scale R/C models, a few of which I have profiled before such as the Unimog. By the late 1980s, Nikko was practically releasing nothing but buggies – their lineup was about 90% buggies and 10% monster trucks. Mid-way through the decade, and you can see why they would release a model like the Black Fox, with it’s combination of exciting new buggy performance, and old-school realism.
One interesting fact I’ve learned about the Black Fox is that that the vast majority of them have rear tyres that differ from those shown on the box image. The box image shows the rear tyres to have smaller, square-shaped knobs – these are the original tyre of the car, and the Black Fox shown on this page is one of those early, box-art versions. Or in other words, a Black Fox Mk1…
However, most Black Foxes actually have different tyres with a round-knobby pattern – check out the rear tyres on this Black Fox that I sold a while ago, to see what I mean. These can be considered the Black Fox Mk2.
Meanwhile, here’s the front and rear profile of the Black Fox. Much like the Hornet, the car features a bulky, fully-sealed rear gearbox to power those fat rear tyres, along with a large protective front bumper and some side nerf-bars as well, for side protection.
The front tyres are smooth with simple grooves to guide the car across sand. Like countless other buggies released over the years, the Black Fox features the same 2WD rear drive-train + rolling rigid rear axle suspension + independent front suspension setup. This versatile layout was first popularized by the Tamiya Grasshopper, and proved ideal for the kinds of smaller scale, basic buggies that Nikko wanted to produce as well.
Suspension consists of simple springs that are pretty firm, causing a bit of bounce as the car runs. But at least they’re fully functional – it wasn’t unusual for some toy buggies to include springs and yet offer little to no suspension travel at all.
But then, the Black Fox was neither the cheapest, nor most expensive R/C buggy of it’s time – it was squarely in the middle. Which means you were paying a fair bit of money, and expecting a pretty decent toy in return.
And much like the Jet Hopper, it had all the basics you needed for off-road fun – great tyres, working suspension, a couple of gears, and a decent sized motor with a bit of power. It was not as quick as a buggy powered by a 7.2v battery pack and a larger motor (such as most Tamiyas and their ilk, or any other 540-motor-powered car like the Golden Arrow). But it was just about the next best thing.
Needless to say, this made the Black Fox a very popular choice. And the basic chassis was later reworked, renamed and re-coloured for a number of different markets, as the buggy craze of the mid-1980s meant that just about every decent toy store needed to offer some mid-range, reasonably affordable, off-road R/C cars, to satisfy demand.
Over in the USA, a release of the Black Fox was called the “Lobo” (which means “Wolf”) and was sold by the Sears department store – i.e it was the Sears Lobo. Here’s one I sold a while ago.
Here are some more shots of the attractive lines and cute decals of the Black Fox…
And last but not least, here’s the evergreen Nikko “Turbo Charger” transmitter, with the nifty gear-shift style acceleration lever that I absolutely loved on my own Nikko Night Stalker when I was a kid.
The Black Fox is a classic mid-range buggy that has the looks of a Tamiya, but in a smaller package. But it’s also historically significant as one of the first toy grade frame-buggies – prior to this, most of the off-road toy options available tended to be more basic, have little or no suspension, and looked more like what you might consider a ‘beach buggy‘.
These days, Black Foxes are quite collectible and prices generally fetch between $100-$200 for examples in excellent condition. But if you see a brand new one, don’t miss the chance to buy it (as always, brand new examples are by far the hardest to find).
|At a glance…|
|Digital Proportional: No|
|Batteries: 8 x AA (Car). 1 x 9volt (Transmitter)|
|Original price in Australia back in 1985: AU$115.99|
|What this would equate to, in 2013 money: AU$306 (calculated using this)|