This huge, high-rise monster-rig manufactured by Nikko was about the biggest R/C toy I’d seen in the late 1980s. And it became something of an obsession for me one winter when, as a 12 year old, my local Tandy store had one left – heavily discounted in the months after Christmas.
Would I be able to convince my parents to buy it? Or would a spoiled kid I knew from school, snatch it away at the last minute?…
I’ve probably mentioned this before, but I’m not normally a huge fan of the crazy, high-rise, over-the-top monster vehicle.
These things became enormously popular in the toy sector from the mid to late 1980s, thanks to the full-sized monster truck racing scene in the USA. At first it was impressive, large-wheeled utility 4x4s like the Marui Big Bear and Tamiya Blackfoot. Tamiya then upped the ante with the even more massive Clod Buster – a colossus I had only heard about through friends. Kyosho released a truck patriotically named the “USA-1”, and other companies followed suit. While I wasn’t into them quite so much at the time (I always preferred buggies), they were undeniably impressive. And I now look back on the early monster truck era with fondness. These were highly detailed scale models inspired by real monster trucks, and they were simply designed to look great and be a lot of fun to drive.
But I barely even saw any of these hobby grade cars in the flesh when I was growing up. Unfortunately, visits to hobby stores were few and far between in my family. And there weren’t many hobby stores near my home anyway.
But by the late 1980s in Australia, the electronics retailer Tandy had expanded its franchise to nearly every major suburb and town on the Eastern half of Australia – or so it seemed. There were literally hundreds of Tandy stores around the country and that number was growing each year. Each annual Tandy catalogue seemed to boast of even more stores, and by 1989 there were at least 5 Tandy stores within 1 hour of my home. At one point, even the moderately-sized country town nearest where I lived boasted two stores – one at either end of the main street!
All of this seems like a long time ago now. Tandy in Australia later merged with rival electronics chain Dick Smith, and the Tandy brand (and many of its stores) were eventually retired. All of which is pretty mystifying to me, when you consider that tech gadgets remain popular today, and other electronics stores now seem to have filled the void left when Tandy disappeared.
But back in 1989 there was a very good chance I would pass by Tandy store shopfronts while in the car or on the bus to school, and see their range of ready-to-run R/C toys gleaming in the window, on a weekly basis. And in 1989 I became particularly obsessed with their large line-up of R/C cars – which included a new monster-beast of their own. A vehicle appropriately named the Wild Horse.
Now, the Wild Horse wasn’t even my favourite vehicle at Tandy that year. But it was undeniably impressive to behold. Boasting 7.2v battery pack power, and 4WD, and standing tall on its multi-spring suspension, it came in a huge box. And it certainly seemed to justify its AU$200 price tag. It even had fabulous box art depicting wild horses (what else?) galloping across endless plains. This was clearly a toy ready for adventure – a big, strong thoroughbred you could take anywhere…
Unfortunately, my chances of receiving a $200 toy like that for Christmas in 1989 were about zero. We were not wealthy, and even at Christmas it was rare for anyone in the family to be given gifts over the $100 mark. And I wasn’t unhappy about this – as a kid you generally tended to appreciate what you had. I didn’t have a Wild Horse, but I was having plenty of fun with the cars I did have. If we couldn’t afford the most expensive toys around, I could still look at the catalogue pictures and dream.
But then a few months later, a curious thing happened.
Tandy stores usually only stocked their R/C toys for the Christmas period, before selling any leftover stock at a discount during the post-Christmas sales. And in about May of 1990, I happened to wander into one of the two Tandy stores in the nearby town with my Dad to discover that they still had a single, solitary R/C car left – a Wild Horse. And the price had now been discounted to $140.
The salesman in the store, sensing our interest, decided to take it off the shelf and give us a quick demo of the Horse in action, flicking on the power and blasting the huge truck along the shop floor. At one point he caused it to rear up on its back wheels and do a bit of a wheelie.
To my Dad, who was just as into R/C models as I was, the Wild Horse was particularly impressive. “Gee…so much power!” I can remember him saying, as he stood watching. My father had grown up in Europe in the 1940s and 50s, in an era when many children literally made their own toys – from wood. So the mere concept of a “radio controlled car” was something he never failed to appreciate. And seeing one this large and expensive only impressed him all the more.
After we left the store that day, we drove home and talked a little about the Wild Horse on the way. How cool it was. How (relatively) cheap it was. How lucky that there was still one left in the store! And I knew he was going to bring it up with my Mum when we got home. I can remember thinking that I needed to play my cards right somehow – this toy was bigger and more expensive than any single item I had received at any previous Christmas. What chance was there that my parents might buy it in the middle of the year, for no special occasion at all?
When we got home, I remember my Mum listening to me tell the story about our visit to Tandy. And as we warmed ourselves beside the fire in our living room (it was approaching Winter in Australia), my Mum looked at my Dad to hear his side of the story.
“Is it worth it?”, she asked.
Dad considered his reply for a moment. And then (as if to avoid taking sides by saying ‘yes’ or ‘no’) merely repeated what he had said in the store earlier that afternoon…
“So much power!”, he replied.
So I was in with a chance. But they hadn’t committed to anything yet. And for all I knew, someone might walk into the store that afternoon and buy my discounted Wild Horse.
And in fact, someone I knew was planning to buy it.
A friend of my mum’s had a son who was about my age. Let’s just call this kid ‘Johnny’.
Johnny was pretty spoiled. Very spoiled actually. He was one of those kids who really seemed to have everything.
Due to our parents being friends, I had visited Johnny’s home on one occasion and inevitably seen his bedroom. I was frankly amazed at the amount of toys he had there. Every flat surface – desks, chairs etc – was piled about 1-2 feet high with loose action figures and toy cars of all sizes. I had never seen such a mess, nor a kid’s bedroom with so many toys.
He also had a Tamiya Frog, which he took delight in thrashing around the living room in front of guests, carelessly slamming it into furniture and walls at high speed. I remember watching it, feeling mildly appalled that he would destroy something so great.
Johnny also had a reputation for stealing toys. On one occasion, his family visited my house and for some strange reason, Johnny insisted on giving me a “Game & Watch” LCD game. He wanted to give it to me – for free. Of course I knew something dodgy was up, because what kid back in the 1980s would have given away something as popular and coveted as a handheld LCD game? So as much as it killed me to decline the offer, I decided to do the right thing and refuse to take it.
Later, after he and his family had gone home, I was amazed to discover that he had gone ahead and deliberately left the game in my bedroom – smuggled inside a hat. Annoyed, I told my parents about it, who gave the game back to Johnny’s parents. And of course it later turned out that Johnny had stolen the game from another kid at school and was now trying to offload it to avoid getting caught. Who knows, perhaps he even planned to tell the other kid I had stolen it?
Then one day my Mum was on the phone chatting to Johnny’s Mum, when she mentioned something about Johnny wanting to buy an R/C car at the local Tandy store. Apparently he hadn’t bought it yet, but he was planning to get it real soon. It was something called a Wild Horse.
When I heard this news, I have to admit I was pretty upset. While I had no right to expect my parents to buy the Wild Horse, it was one of the few moments when I wished things were a little different. I had never gone without the essentials in life, but there were times when you wished your family just had a little bit more cash to splurge on the occasional non-essential item. And yet, now it seemed as if another great toy would fall into the hands of someone who would never appreciate it, and who would probably wreck it within weeks.
Maybe my parents knew what I was thinking, or maybe they just took pity on me. But in a rare moment of Karma for Johnny, they decided they would splurge, and would simply find the money somehow. Knowing my heart was set on it, and also knowing what a thieving muppet Johnny was, they decided that it wouldn’t be fair to let the Wild Horse fall into his hands. So within a few hours of her chat with Johnny’s mum, my Mum rang the store and asked them to put the Wild Horse aside – for me.
To this day I still have that Wild Horse, in its box. It went on to give me countless hours of fun, driving it around my makeshift backyard racing track, over obstacles and even through snow.
The example pictured on this page is not my original. Instead it’s a very rare, brand new in box example that I was lucky enough to find in recent years. So let’s have a look at what made this toy so great…
Back in 1989, this was how it appeared in the Tandy catalogues that I would regularly pore over. I can even remember cutting some of these kinds of catalogue photos out, and pasting them into my school work books…such a nerd was I at age 12 or so, for the R/C cars at Tandy! In fact, this first image was one that I cut out of a pre-Christmas sale flyer that we received in the mail, and which I stuck in one of my school books (but later saved the clipping)…
The next two images are scanned from the 1990 annual catalogue, and a smaller pre-Christmas toy catalogue, respectively…
And here’s the Wild Horse itself…
I mentioned the Tamiya Clod Buster earlier, and if you know your Tamiya trucks you might assume that the Clod Buster’s sister-model, the Bullhead, was the inspiration for Nikko to create the Wild Horse – combining the look of a big-rig freight truck with a monster truck. But you’d be wrong. The Tamiya Bullhead was not released until late 1990 – at least a year after the Wild Horse. So once again, we might speculate whether Tamiya copied Nikko (as opposed to the other way around – which is what most people assume).
So was the Wild Horse actually the first R/C car to combine a monster truck with a semi-trailer big-rig style truck? Maybe. If you know of any similar R/C truck similar that was released earlier than 1989, let me know.
If the Wild Horse was the first, then Nikko certainly didn’t hold back with the body styling. The Wild Horse is brimming with chrome pieces and lavish body pieces – exhausts, air scoop, horns, it’s all there. There’s so much “bling” that the words “over the top” come to mind, but Nikko were definitely tapping into something they knew customers wanted in the late 1980s – bigger and more lavish looking monster trucks.
So just how big is the Wild Horse? Well it’s nowhere near the size of a Tamiya Clod Buster or other similar hobby kit trucks. But it is probably the biggest R/C truck ever manufactured by Nikko. And in 1989 it looked huge. I suppose we see a lot of larger and more agile R/C trucks in hobby stores and toy stores today – I have even seen 1/6 scale R/C toys in some instances that seem ridiculously huge. But the thing to remember is that in 1989, as far as toys were concerned, the Wild Horse was massive for its time, and at over 40cm in length it was pretty much the biggest R/C truck you could buy outside of a hobby store.
As you can see, the Wild Horse is also just as tall (if not taller) than it is wide.
This of course made for some interesting running. The car is powered by a 7.2volt battery pack, so you expect it to have some reasonable speed. But on the other hand, being so large and having such a heavy body covered in decorative chrome pieces, this is also quite a heavy vehicle.
Add to that the fact that it has a 380 size motor, and the Wild Horse does not move anywhere near as fast as a 540 motor powered 1/10 R/C truck. But that’s probably just as well. Its towering height gives it a high centre of gravity, and if you’re not careful a high speed corner may cause it to end up on its roof.
Running the Wild Horse downhill, its weight will carry it to its highest speed, and it’s still a lot of fun for a vehicle of this size. The gearbox (in “High” gear mode) tends to let the vehicle go as fast as it wants, and it will not fail to entertain as it roars down gentle hills. High gear is not ideal for steep inclines however, and if you’re going to try really rough terrain that’s where you need to flick it into “Low” via the switch underneath. From there you can enjoy plenty of torque as the truck will climb any incline you like – literally to the point where it tips over. There’s no shortage of guts in Low gear, for some more challenging off-road fun.
Suspension is purely spring-based of course, and the truck actually features twin-springs at each front wheel, with single springs at the back. The springs themselves are a little soft for the weight of the truck, and the rear shocks will sometimes “bottom-out” if you bounce the truck over rough ground, but the front holds up pretty well.
In addition, the large “Big Beast” tyres are soft and offer additional bounce but also offer plenty of grip with their lugs-and-spikes pattern. The little spikes on the tyres my original Wild Horse had were mostly worn down over the years that I ran it, but it’s hard to imagine the rest of the tread ever wearing down.
For a premium priced R/C toy, you might have expected that Nikko would have given it a Digital Proportional transmitter, but no – the Wild Horse uses the basic wheel/trigger unit that Nikko began using in the late 1980s, delivering reliable direct speed and steering. There’s no “Turbo” feature either – it’s one speed all the way. But with plenty of flicking of the trigger and wheel, you can still graduate your acceleration and steering somewhat, and being such a large and lumbering vehicle there is nothing too quick or too sharp about any of its movement. I can’t say that I ever really “missed” not having Digital Proportional on this vehicle when I played with it.
Nikko also went to quite a bit of trouble in creating logos and typeface branding for this car, and despite not having any “real world” sponsor brands, they managed to cover it with enough numbers, slogans and pictures of horses to give the whole thing a lot of unique character.
Mind you, I think the “Good-bye Asphalt!” slogan is something very much inspired by the cheeky slogans Tamiya often included on its buggies in the 1980s.
When I received my Wild Horse in 1990, I can remember that I had also had a brief stint in hospital for a minor operation, so the car also became something of a get-well gift after the operation. I was in bed for a few days, and can still remember the smell of all that brand new rubber as I opened the box and lifted it out for the first time. It was at least another week before I drove it outside, during which time my Dad had decided to create our first ever little makeshift R/C racing track in the yard. He didn’t tell me he was doing it, but I can remember him staying outside late on those winter evenings, clearing the scrub and bushes away and trying to create a good track surface. He even created a few little barrier fences and made a wooden bench for us to sit on while we drove. It was just another surprise for when I was able to take the Wild Horse outside for the first time.
When we actually took the Wild Horse racing, we also discovered that with the Wild Horse in “Low” gear it would run at practically an identical pace to a 4×4 Off Roader in “High” gear – making for some hugely entertaining backyard races. I can remember on one occasion that we were driving these two cars around and around our track for more than half an hour, and killing ourselves with laughter – because no matter what either of us did, neither car could catch and overtake the other one. They were SO closely matched.
With all of these stories, it’s clear that I have a great sentimental attachment to the big, crazy looking Tandy/Radio Shack Wild Horse.
Today, the Wild Horse seems to be quite collectible to others as well. Used examples are reasonably common, but expect to pay about $400 or so for a rare brand new example. The Wild Horse was only sold in Australia for that one Christmas (1989), so I guess in hindsight it was a relatively short lived model, and there aren’t that many examples left in great condition.
If you love monster trucks, and you appreciate the quality of 1980s Nikko releases, then the Wild Horse is a classic worthy of your collection.
On this page: Tandy/Radio Shack Wild Horse (1989)
|Motor||(to be confirmed)|
Yes (Front independent with coil springs, rear rigid axle with coil springs)
|Batteries||1 x 7.2v Battery Pack, 1 x 9v (Car). 1 x 9v (Transmitter).|
How rare is the Tandy/Radio Shack Wild Horse (1989)?