The astonishing 1/10 scale Toyota HiLux 4WD by Nikko in 1982, was the pinnacle of Nikko’s range of R/C toys in the early 1980s. Large, realistic, and with a gearbox you could shift via the transmitter…this was a ready-to-run R/C model like nothing before it.
Quite a few of the people who’ve contacted this blog over the years, to ask about various old R/C models, have been fans of Nikko – and particularly enjoy collecting the early cars made by the Japanese company. And with good reason.
Aside from Tamiya, you could argue that between 1980 and 1985 there was no other R/C model maker (whether hobby grade or ready-to-run) that was making models that looked as realistic as those from Nikko. The company was founded in 1958 and became synonymous with ready to run R/C models from about the mid 1970s onward.
But before I heap praise on Nikko (yet again) for the kinds of toys they used to make, I’m going to take a moment to criticize the stuff they make today. Did you know that Nikko still make an R/C Toyota 4WD? Here it is.
While not a terrible toy (it does have some reasonable body detail), this sort of thing is typical of the bland format that R/C toy makers have been releasing for the past 15+ years: tiny bodies, over-sized wheels, and those awful plasticky/shiny “tyres” made from something that isn’t really rubber. I can’t get past the cartoon-ish proportions and cheap materials. But walk into any toy or department store these days, and you’ll find loads of these things.
Now, compare that to what Nikko was doing over 30 years ago. Such as their top-of-the-line model in 1982, the Toyota HiLux 4WD.
The Nikko Toyota HiLux 4WD was an R/C toy beyond the dreams of any kid alive in 1982…
At 1/10 scale and measuring about 43cm in length, the only similar product on the market was of course Tamiya’s even more impressive, leaf-sprung, 3-speed 1/10 scale Toyota 4×4 Pick Up R/C kit model, released the previous year. It was undoubtedly the thing that Nikko was trying to emulate here. Tamiya’s HiLux, along with it’s later twin brother the 4×4 Blazing Blazer, took R/C kit modeling to a new level. Nikko’s goal was apparently to produce something with similar appeal, but in ready-to-run form.
But if you think this meant Nikko produced a “cheap copy”, then think again. In 2014, we truly understand what “cheap copy” means – it’s the Chinese-made R/C toy landfill you’ll find anywhere, much of which still apes the more refined toys created by Japanese brands some 20-30 years ago. Not everything manufactured in China, is crap. But where it witlessly clones other brands, it often is. And sometimes it’s even dangerous.
Nikko emulating Tamiya, and trying to produce something similar at a lower cost back in the 1980s, was simply one legitimate toy company inspiring another – the former having the intention of releasing something a bit more “commercial”, and that would appeal to both younger kids and those not ready to spend hours assembling a complex model kit.
And while Nikko may not bother to do anything interesting anymore, between 1980 and 1990 they created some undeniable R/C toy gold. One look at the golden box of the Toyota HiLux 4WD, and you know this was a product made with a great deal of care and pride…
In fact, the box exudes ‘prestige’, and the prominent ‘Toyota’ branding even makes it seem like an official Toyota promotional release, rather than a Nikko release. I’ve no doubt Toyota would have been happy to license out the rights to their brand, for this type of result.
Nikko’s promotional materials of the early 1980s also made no secret of the fact that the Toyota HiLux 4WD was their pride and joy. Check out this great image from one of their early product catalogues, in 1983…
In Australia, it was available at some toy stores, and you can catch a glimpse of it running in this Uncle Pete’s Toys commercial…
Assuming that price of AU$189 would have been about accurate when the model was initially released in 1982, that’s like spending AU$609 in 2013 money. It goes without saying that this was a toy only the very luckiest kids had. It was about triple the price of my own off-roader at the time, the Tandy/Radio Shack Jeep Renegade.
But, with a good deal of luck and patience, I now have this brand new example to share…
Based on (I believe) a 1982 Toyota HiLux single cab + fibreglass Winnebago canopy, the real HiLux was a popular utility vehicle that led to later series for Toyota such as the HiLux Surf and the 4Runner. The HiLux series first originated well before the 1980s, and still continues to this day. But I think many will agree that 1980s HiLuxes have a certain evergreen charm – after all, this was the era when 4x4s really took off in popularity.
Nikko seems to have captured Toyota’s design perfectly too – it’s just a very well proportioned, neat, attractive, classic, 1980s off-roader. And just like the real thing, the Nikko model looks as good today as it did in 1982.
Looking at the little details like headlight lenses, grill and logos, this car represents Nikko at their very best in terms of realism.
But above all, the Nikko HiLux 4WD came with one killer feature that sets it apart from almost every other R/C toy of the 1980s, save for a few Tamiya models. And that feature is the ability to shift the car’s gears via the remote!
Yes, this beautiful big transmitter that comes with the HiLux works by offering dual-forward/reverse modes. Simply shift the forward/reverse lever left or right, to then run the car in High or Low gear. The motor-driven gear shift mechanism inside the car will click into place, and in no time your HiLux has adapted to the changing terrain ahead without the need for you to bend down, pick it up, and flick a gear-switch somewhere on the underside.
When I try to think of other R/C toys that were capable of remote gear-shifting, either during the 1980s or today, I draw almost a complete blank. I can only think of a few high-end Tamiya kit models (the aforementioned Tamiya Toyota 4×4 Pick Up and the 4×4 Blazing Blazer), plus a few others. There was one very obscure 1980s R/C toy buggy that had the ability too. But that’s it. So if any of you know of more vintage RC cars with this ability, let me know in the comments.
Remote gear-shifting clearly just wasn’t a feature that most R/C toy makers either considered possible, practical, or worth the expense. Nevertheless, the Nikko Toyota HiLux 4WD is probably the finest ready-to-run model to ever use it.
To put this into a little “growing up in the 1980s” perspective… a feature like remote gear-shifting would have seemed “beyond cool” to me and my friends at the time. It was the sort of thing you might imagine having as a kid – running around, probably making “vroom vroom” noises as you drive your little car around the yard, and imagining that it’s a real vehicle in a race or on a safari. But if I had been presented with a toy that could actually shift gears from the remote, to suit the terrain, I think I would have taken it to school and caused a crowd to form just to watch it. This was a “Rolls Royce” among R/C toys.
Aside from the High/Low gear shifting, there is still however a switch on the underside of this car that you need to flick manually – and that’s the 2WD/4WD switch. Yes, much like the Shinsei Mountain Man, the HiLux gives you the flexibility to cruise at higher speeds (2WD) or crawl with power delivered to all four wheels (4WD) – just like a real Toyota 4WD. So in effect, by combining High/Low and 2WD/4WD, you have a total of 4 different modes of driving.
But back to the transmitter again, because on top of all that, the HiLux also has the ability to turn it’s headlights on and off remotely…
Yes, on the top right of the transmitter, there’s a button that activates the headlights.
Nikko also did something a little unusual and special with the vehicle’s tyres. They’re made from the usual high quality, semi-pneumatic rubber compound. But instead of opting for an obvious and popular tyre tread and side-logo like “Goodyear”, they apparently felt it was important to keep the model as authentic as possible. Clearly they created this toy from a real vehicle prototype, and I bet the example vehicle in question happened to have “McCreary” tyres on it. McCreary is a lesser-known US tyre brand, but with a history dating back to 1915. The Nikko Toyota HiLux 4WD is possibly the only toy ever made (or at least, that I have ever seen) with scale-sized “McCreary”-branded tyres…
About the only thing the Nikko Toyota HiLux 4WD doesn’t have, is suspension.
Suspension was still a pretty unheard-of feature in ready-to-run R/C models back in the early 1980s. Even some of the hobby kit models either didn’t have it, or offered only rudimentary suspension. So taking this HiLux over rough terrain is going to lead to a fair bit of bounce, as those lovely tyres are altogether too “real” to really offer much in the way of impact absorption.
But that’s ok. At the steady and realistic speeds the HiLux moves at, you’re never going to be at risk of losing control. And let’s not forget that you’ve got 4WD too. I’ve overlooked the 4WD aspect somewhat, due to the other cool features of this model, but having any type of R/C 4WD in 1982 was an incredible novelty – only a handful existed. It’s possible that this car was Nikko’s first 4WD, although they did release a few smaller 4WDs quite quickly during the 1982-1983 period (including the Unimog).
All things considered, this is one of very few R/C vehicles from 1982 or earlier that will have a serious go at driving wherever you want it to, in an era when most R/C toys were limited to pavement or gentle, smooth dirt.
In addition, the HiLux is a high quality Digital Proportional model with an included transmitter that can only be described as “near hobby grade”.
The car is adorned with typical 1980s gradient pin-striping – a common style seen, particularly on Toyota 4x4s in that era. My Dad even had a Toyota Land Cruiser with very similar stripes to this.
There are also a few cool 3rd-party brand logos consistent with a road-registered Toyota 4WD, although it does also carry number “44” on the bonnet – suggesting Nikko wanted you to think your truck was race-ready.
Last but not least, is the ability to remove the rear canopy – great for carrying objects around, like action figures, rocks, or even your pet hamster (there’d be enough room inside for one, with the canopy on).
Needless to say, a large and realistic R/C toy of such a high calibre as this, would have opened up near limitless opportunities for play. I wish I’d had one!
Today, the Nikko Toyota HiLux 4WD is a pretty rare piece that I do not see come up for sale very often. It is also not really remembered by that many people among the general populace – no doubt because it was such a high-end item that few people could actually afford. If everyone had owned one, you can be certain they would be fetching prices of over $1000 today.
It was also available in a few releases in different markets (see the info box at the top of this page), but in my view the original release, with the basic Toyota livery, is the nicest and most realistic-looking.
In conclusion… if you’re a fan of early Nikko models, then I would rate the Toyota HiLux 4WD as the #1 most impressive R/C model by Nikko in the pre-1985 years. In fact, it’s probably the #1 ready-to-run R/C model from any maker in that era. If you ever have a chance to own one, don’t hesitate.
Update 12th July 2021 – Thanks to Luis from Brazil for this info. The Brazilian variant of this model, called the Estrela Colossus, had it’s own TV commercial. Which I’ve added below. Apparently it was released in Brazil under the Estrela branding in 1984 and discontinued as late as 1990. This commercial dates from 1989…
On this page: Nikko Toyota HiLux 4WD (1982)
|Motor||(to be confirmed)|
|Gearbox||2-Speed (Remotely Shiftable)|
|Batteries||4 x C, 4 x AA (Car). 6 x AA (Transmitter).|