The original Taiyo Jet Hopper from Japan was a game-changing ready-to-run R/C toy that sold worldwide, and in the millions. It was a huge hit for Taiyo, and was possibly the most popular R/C car of the 1980s across both toy and hobby grade models.
There were also several changes to this popular buggy over the years, as Taiyo tweaked the suspension, tyres, decals and even the speed. Let’s go back to where it all began and take a look at the Taiyo Jet Hopper “Mk1” from Japan.
Between 1979 and 1985, hobby-grade R/C companies had shown that when it came to electric R/C vehicles there was a huge worldwide market for cars capable of running off-road. As each year went by, these models became more and more popular – particularly those from Japanese company Tamiya, who specialized in agile and fun off-road buggies. And with an explosion in the popularity of organized racing, off-road electric R/C cars were a huge market supported by many brands.
But at the cheaper, toy end of the market, most vehicles were still either on-road racing cars or vehicles with light off-road ability and minimal (if any) suspension.
Enter Taiyo, a company that had been producing quite small but often nice-quality R/C toys since 1975.
By copying the template of a basic but successful Tamiya buggy and pinching the use of the word “Hopper” (which Tamiya had first invented for use on their massively popular, insect-inspired “Grasshopper” 1/10 scale R/C buggy) but making everything smaller and cheaper (1/16 scale), and without the need for hours of assembly… Taiyo landed on one of the true hit toys of the decade – the Jet Hopper.
First released in Japan in 1986, the model was later revised, as well as being adjusted for release in many other countries where it was rebranded.
On this page, I’m going to talk mainly about the Taiyo Jet Hopper Mk1, Mk2 and even Mk3 – the original Jet Hoppers from Japan. I’ll compare a couple of them together to show how the toy changed from what call “Mk1” to “Mk2′. And I’ll also compare the Mk1 to the US version known as the Tyco/Taiyo Turbo Hopper.
Taiyo Jet Hopper Mk1
The main example shown on this page is a brand new, black Taiyo Jet Hopper Mk1 as sold in Japan.
“Mk1” means “Mark 1”, as in, this is the very first variant of this model ever released in the world.
(Learn more about Models, Releases and Variants)
Whenever the car was sold purely under original Taiyo branding as the “Taiyo Jet Hopper”, it came in a lovely black box with a large photo on the front (plus a racing helmet in the background) showing whichever version of the car was inside. The Jet Hopper was the first of a series of Taiyo models to be released in these stylish black boxes with large photos, throughout the mid-to-late 1980s.
So let’s start from the beginning.
The main differences between the Taiyo Jet Hopper Mk1, and all other releases and variants of the Jet Hopper, are as follow:
- Different decals.
- Front tyres are taller and fatter.
- Front suspension is shorter.
- No LED light on the bonnet.
Taiyo later changed the front tyres to be thinner – and that is what you find on the Taiyo Jet Hopper Mk2, the Tyco/Taiyo Turbo Hopper, and many other examples of these buggies found around the world.
Here is a close-up photo showing the front tyre – it has a tall side-wall and also has the words “All Weather Tyres” written on the side, the same as the rear tyres.
Another notable feature is that the Taiyo Jet Hopper Mk1 has a smaller (less wide) front bumper, with the words “Turbo System” cut out of it. This bumper also appeared on the Taiyo Jet Hopper Mk2. However, the Taiyo Jet Hopper Mk3, and the Tyco/Taiyo Turbo Hopper, and most others, all have a larger (wider) bumper with no writing at all.
Here’s a close up of the Taiyo Jet Hopper Mk1 bumper…
Now let’s move on to a couple of interesting comparisons…
Taiyo Jet Hopper Mk1 vs Taiyo Jet Hopper Mk2
Here are some photos comparing the Taiyo Jet Hopper Mk1 (left) and the Taiyo Jet Hopper Mk2 (right). Taiyo revised the Jet Hopper in a number of areas, and also changed the box photo.
First, here is the box of the Taiyo Jet Hopper Mk2, which as you can see is different to the box above of the Taiyo Jet Hopper Mk1. The most obvious difference is that quite a few decals have changed on the Mk2 – such as the stripes, the car number, the addition of “World Champion” on the rear wing, and also the clever introduction of a “25km/h” decal on the bonnet…
Now let’s look at the two buggies side by side. The Mk1 is on the left, and the Mk2 is on the right.
The main differences between them are, as I mentioned before:
- The decals are different between Mk1 and Mk2.
- The Mk1 has taller and fatter tyres, while the Mk2 has low profile front tyres.
- The Mk1 has shorter front suspension travel than the Mk2.
- The Mk1 has no LED light on the bonnet, while the Mk2 does.
From behind, we can see that the Taiyo Jet Hopper Mk1 and Mk2 are actually identical in terms of gearbox and rear suspension.
Elsewhere, the transmitter decal was changed between the Mk1 (left) and the Mk2 (right)…
Now let’s move on, and see how the American Tyco/Taiyo Turbo Hopper compares…
Taiyo Jet Hopper Mk1 vs Tyco/Taiyo Turbo Hopper
Here are some photos comparing the Taiyo Jet Hopper Mk1 (left) and the popular Tyco/Taiyo Turbo Hopper (right) as it was first sold in the USA.
The Tyco/Taiyo Turbo Hopper shown here is, itself, a “Mk1” among Tyco/Taiyo Turbo Hoppers.
Below, you can see that the Tyco/Taiyo Turbo Hopper Mk1 front wheels are much larger, with thinner tyres (same as those used on the Taiyo Jet Hopper Mk2)
Overall, you can say that the Tyco/Taiyo Turbo Hopper Mk1 was similar to the Taiyo Jet Hopper Mk2. But! Even they are not the same.
Remember that from behind, the Taiyo Jet Hopper Mk1 and Mk2 were identical. But here, we can see that the Tyco/Taiyo Turbo Hopper is different to the Taiyo Jet Hopper Mk1, because it has thicker rear shocks and larger springs…
And of course, the Tyco/Taiyo Turbo Hopper Mk1 also differs in the area of decals, because it has “Turbo Hopper” on the rear wing, among other things.
To see more photos of the Tyco/Taiyo Turbo Hopper, visit the full article.
Taiyo Jet Hopper Mk3
The Taiyo Jet Hopper Mk3 differed yet again. It had a different box image, and it’s advertised top speed was 27km/h, as opposed to 25km/h for earlier models (plus a decal on the car was also changed to reflect this). In my experience, the Mk3 is notably quick – but I have not yet confirmed it’s speed over the Mk1 and Mk2.
The Mk3 also had entirely different tyres to the Mk1 and Mk2, with low-profile block pattern front tyres and low-profile spike pattern rear tyres. The front bumper was also changed.
For an example of how it looked, here is a Taiyo Jet Hopper Mk3 that I sold a while ago (it was missing one bonnet decal, but was otherwise a decent example complete with the box).
Back to the Taiyo Jet Hopper Mk1…
Finally, here are a few more images of the Taiyo Jet Hopper Mk1…
Most Taiyo Jet Hopper (Mk1, Mk2 and Mk3) came with a manual that had a bonus set of spare steering rod clips attached as well…
The Taiyo Jet Hopper Mk1 is where it all began for this series of buggies, and was the beginning of a hugely successful R/C buggy series for Taiyo. The Mk1 is also very rare, and the one featured here is one of the only new in box examples I have ever come across.
So hopefully that gives you a good breakdown of the history of the legendary Taiyo Jet Hopper, which was a very popular toy in places like Japan and Europe, before it’s popularity was extended even further under Tyco/Taiyo branding in the USA.
The idea of a realistic, affordable, and relatively fast little R/C buggy was simply the perfect product, released at exactly the right time.
I can still remember hearing kids in the school playground talk about how cool it was that this car had “a spare tyre on the roof” as well.
Today, Jet Hoppers are one of the most collectible vintage ready-to-run R/C toys of the 1980s – even examples that don’t work at all are worth something to collectors, looking to restore their models.
The very few brand new in box examples that still survive are considered true collector’s items and usually fetch many hundreds of dollars (I have even seen one fetch over $1000 in Australia). In some cases, they are more valuable than some vintage Tamiya R/C buggy kits.
So if you still have your Jet Hopper, you might consider cleaning it up and putting it on the shelf sometime. It was a truly quintessential 80s toy, and still looks impressive and unique when on display.
On this page: Taiyo Jet Hopper (1986)
|Motor||(to be confirmed)|
|Suspension||Yes (Front independent with coil springs, rear rigid axle with coil springs)|
|Batteries||8 x AA (Car). 1 x 9volt (Transmitter)|
How rare is the Taiyo Jet Hopper (1986)?
Issues to look for: Taiyo Jet Hopper (1986)
|Is it an original, or a fake?||A fake actually exists of this car. It was released in the late 1980s and it's called the Lex Jet Hopper. It's a lot more rare than the Jet Hopper, and to be honest even if you do find one, it's pretty interesting as it's a very accurate clone made with similar materials - and even has Digital Proportional control. I never support buying retail fakes or clones or counterfeits. But once they become old, discontinued relics themselves, they become interesting novelties... |
|Items sometimes missing on this model|| |
|Other parts to check on this model|| |
Model History: Taiyo Jet Hopper (1986)
|Taiyo||"Jet Hopper"||Original release of the car by Taiyo from Japan. Box may have Japanese, French or English writing. There are three known variants:|
Mk1: Top speed 23km/h, high profile front tyres, high profile rear tyres, no LED on car, shorter front suspension.
Mk2: Top speed 25km/h, low profile front tyres, high profile rear tyres, LED on car, several decal changes, longer front suspension.
Mk3: Top speed 27km/h, block pattern front tyres, low profile rear tyres, LED on car, several more decal changes, steering operates without the need to be going forward or reverse, new front bumper.
Full details: Taiyo Jet Hopper
|Asia, Europe||1986||Mk 1... |
|Tyco / Taiyo||"Turbo Hopper"||American release under Tyco/Taiyo branding. This came in 3 variants of it's own - earlier ones with high profile rear tyres, middle ones with low profile rear tyres, and later ones had 9.6v battery, chrome wheels and “trigger” style transmitter.|
Full details: Tyco/Taiyo Turbo Hopper
|Metro / Taiyo||"Jet Hopper"||Australian release under Metro/Taiyo branding. This came in 2 variants of it's own - earlier ones with high profile rear tyres, later ones with low profile rear tyres.|
Full details: Metro/Taiyo Jet Hopper
|Dickie / Taiyo||"Jet Hopper"||German release under Dickie/Taiyo branding.||Germany||1986|