The original Kyosho Scorpion was both a beautiful kit-based off-road 2WD R/C buggy based on a real-life vehicle, and a milestone in R/C racing.
Today, it’s a highly collectible and historically significant vintage R/C kit.
The year 1982 sure feels like a long time ago now. Although when I think about it in terms of famous movies, it was the year that a number of all-time classics were released – films that have stood the test of time such as The Thing, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, The Dark Crystal and Blade Runner. I still watch these films every couple of years, and they always transport me back to that era. Cool movies and cool toys – 1982 pretty much had it all!
Variants of this Release
- Early Vintage – Notable for yellow chassis tub, “Goodyear” embossed on tyres, the front tyres having a tread pattern consisting of 7 small ribs, solid silver chrome wheels, and silver shock absorbers.
- Mid Vintage – Difference: Same as Early Vintage, except the silver chrome wheels have 5 holes and the shock absorbers are now anodized in red. May also have “Sand Super” written on all tyres, and the front tyres have a tread pattern consisting of 4 larger ribs.
- Late Vintage – Difference: Same as Mid Vintage, except for a black chassis tub.
- Other notes – Certain elements of the car depicted on the box photo were never actually released into production – such as the solid white wheels.
Other Known Releases…
- Kyosho Scorpion (2014 Remake). Modern remake with new model number. Made in Taiwan (not Japan) from different molds, with many changed parts.
But if you think about it, there’s also one actual similarity between retro toys and movies – practicality and realism. Sci-fi films in 1982 were created with practical special effects – spacecraft, creatures and other fantastic images were all created using real objects, puppets and models. There was almost no CGI in those days. Everything in 80s movies had a utilitarian practicality about it, because it was built, carved and animated out of real objects. And this meant things looked and moved realistically in movies. Meanwhile, in the completely unrelated world of radio controlled model cars, there was also a utilitarian practicality about that era. R/C cars looked and moved quite realistically too. Mainly because they were based on real vehicles, and toy manufacturers felt they would not sell unless they closely resembled the real thing.
The end result is that I look back on that early 80s era with a sense that many of the things that entertained us in those days, were more interesting for their practicality and realism.
You might even draw a similar parallel today – in 2014, the boring lexan blobs that pass for a lot of the lazy R/C car model designs that we see these days, offer a parallel to the hyperactive and overblown CGI crap-fests that pass for a lot of films. Many modern R/C cars are often way too fast to seem realistic and barely even look like “cars” anymore. While modern Sci-Fi films are often way too fast and filled with unrealistic CGI creatures and robots that move too rapidly for their size.
Luckily, it’s not all bad. Occasionally we still get films like Moon in which practical miniature models are used, or even Wall-E in which CGI is used (in a good way) to depict a realistic and practical robot.
And of course, there’s nothing to stop us continuing to enjoy the classics of the past either. And that’s where the Kyosho Scorpion comes in.
In 1982, the hobby of buying and building 1/10 scale R/C kits, particularly off-road buggies, was still quite new. And many of the models being released at that time were taking their design inspiration from real, full-sized buggies and other vehicles that were being raced in the USA.
In Japan, R/C model manufacturer Kyosho had already released a number of off-road vehicles prior to 1982. But the majority of these had either been gas-powered or featured quite basic chassis designs with little (or no) suspension. And by then, rival Japanese kit maker Tamiya had become the undisputed leader of the popular 1/10 scale electric buggy category.
This category seemed to have hit the “sweet spot” with many consumers – the convenient size and clean-running characteristics of these electric models had made them popular among all ages. And this meant organized racing events were beginning to spring up all over the world as well.
But while Tamiya had entered R/C from a background in plastic model kits, Kyosho’s background was already rooted in R/C models – with an emphasis on competition racing in Japan. So it made sense for Kyosho to want to release models that were as competitive, as they were attractive.
The history of the Scorpion really begins in 1981, when a young man named Akira Kogawa landed a job with a company called Auto Model Co., which was a design house with ties to Kyosho. Akira was just 19 at the time, but already a keen racer of 1/8 scale models, and within a year he was offered the chance to lead the design of electric R/C models for Kyosho. His first creation in 1982 was an innovative snow-mobile called “The Blizzard”, and he soon followed this with the “Scorpion”. He later designed several other famous buggies for Kyosho, including the Optima. And in the 1990s he went to work for HPI, designing models like the Baja 5B (which, amazingly, still slightly echoes the Scorpion design).
Akira’s design for the Scorpion however, actually took it’s inspiration from a vehicle owned and raced in the USA by a man named Bob Rodine. Here’s Bob’s buggy, apparently dubbed the “Rodine Runner”…
Some of the Kyosho Scorpion print advertisements from when the Scorpion was released also mention the Bob Rodine buggy, such as this one…
Over 30 years later, Kyosho celebrated the 50th anniversary of their company with an interesting colour history booklet. In it, Akira Kogawa was actually interviewed and photographed with some of his early creations, and he described the Scorpion’s body as being “a Kogawa original”. Based on the photos you can see on this page, it’s pretty clear that the design was not so much a Kogawa original, as it was an original R/C car design heavily inspired by a real vehicle.
So what made the Scorpion significant?
The Kyosho Scorpion represents a high point in the effort to release models that both looked real, and offered advances in performance.
The best performing alternative 2WD kit buggies that you could buy in those days, were the Rough Rider, Sand Scorcher and Super Champ from Tamiya, the Super Trail from AYK, and the Digger from Bolink. While all are now beautiful pieces of history to collect, the Scorpion’s weight-saving chassis and long-travel suspension arms with four-wheel independent suspension – mean it is remembered for being virtually unbeatable in competition racing in it’s day.
In fact, even as late as 1985, Kyosho Scorpions were still chalking up the occasional win in competition. According to the advertisement below, Scorpions won both the stock and modified classes of the 1985 ROAR (Remotely Operated Auto Racers) Nationals event in the USA.
[Note: Kyosho models were actually imported and rebranded by a company called ‘Cox’ in the USA during the early 1980s, hence the Cox brand on this next image…]
From 1984 the most formidable 2WD vehicle for racing was the Team Associated RC10, and this was really the vehicle to beat. While in 1983 the Tamiya Frog began to offer the Scorpion some competition too, taking out some national titles such as the 1984 German Nationals (which the Scorpion had won in 1983).
Away from the world of competition though (as most people were – including myself!), an R/C kit like the Kyosho Scorpion represented a dream for the average kid with no money. Most kids probably didn’t even know this buggy existed as it was only sold at hobby stores.
Kyosho did release beautiful R/C catalogues back in those days though, and if you were lucky enough to have one, you were probably drooling over the cars they offered. So here are some official images taken from Kyosho’s brochures…
And if you did visit a hobby store in the 1980s you might have been lucky enough to see a Scorpion, high up on a shelf somewhere. Here’s an Australian hobby advertisement for the Scorpion in 1982…
Obviously if you were a kid with no money, a high performance R/C buggy like this was only going to fall into your possession if your parents were willing to fork out hundreds of dollars on the kit, radio, battery and other necessary accessories. Which is not really something my parents would have been able to do back in those days.
Despite this, over in the USA where the car was branded as the “Cox Scorpion”, it actually came pre-built in a box covered in illustrations of people driving Scorpions – which suggests a conscious effort was being made to ensure the car appealed to all buyers – not just competition racers. This was, after all, a much more innocent age of R/C models – even at the hobby grade end of things. Competition racing may have existed, but it was not as serious as today. And at all levels, R/C toys were designed to be appealing to children and adults alike.
While the Scorpion may have been available in ready-to-run form in the USA, and while I’m a great fan of ready-to-run R/C toys from all brands (not just hobby brands), when it comes to those models that were originally sold as kits – then the kit is usually the thing I prefer. Kit versions were usually the original release, and came in big, bright boxes featuring great images. Plus a kit offered you the fun of building the car yourself, cracking open all those brand new parts and seeing it come together in your own hands.
For these reasons, original vintage R/C kits are the most collectible today. Featured below is a brand new in box, original Kyosho Scorpion kit, as released in 1982…
Another great joy of many vintage kit R/C cars of course, is the nice blister display of parts inside, and the Kyosho Scorpion actually represents one of the earliest Kyosho models to feature this type of display – perhaps taking a cue from Tamiya who had made the practice standard in all their R/C kits.
Tamiya of course were the masters of marketing and were releasing beautiful models every year. The Kyosho Scorpion kit suggests Kyosho were willing to emulate Tamiya somewhat to gain some market share – fancy packaging, and a colourful, eye-catching and attractive buggy design.
However, the influences didn’t all flow in one direction. Tamiya’s most popular buggies of all time were the “animal themed” ones – you know, such as the Grasshopper, Frog, Hornet, Fox etc. But let’s consider that the first of those was released in 1983. So it seems the idea of naming R/C buggies after animals originated elsewhere. Perhaps the one of Tamiya’s most famous, “The Hornet”, was a response to Kyosho’s “Scorpion” too? After all, both animals have a sting in their tail.
Personally, my favourite aspects of the Kyosho Scorpion’s design are it’s bright yellow colour theme, realistic frame buggy appearance, and cool “Goodyear” tyres (found on earlier variants).
It should be noted too that in the early 1980s, it was apparently easier for toy and hobby companies to license real world brands, and that this became less viable as the years rolled by. Collectors of the Kyosho Scorpion will therefore be aware that the early Scorpion kits came with those lovely “Goodyear” tyres as shown on the box, but later the tyre lettering was changed to read “Sand Super” – apparently in response to a difficulty related to licensing. Naturally, those Goodyear tyres are the more sought after (and the most rare). Though any new sets of original tyres for this car are now highly prized.
Inside the box, quite a few of the parts are made from cast aluminium, as seen here.
I mentioned earlier that the car had an unusually light-weight design for it’s time.
Unlike most R/C kit models of that era, the Scorpion’s main chassis consists of simple aluminium rails connecting the front suspension to the rear gearbox. Sitting on top of this is a bright yellow tub (changed to black in some later examples) to hold all the radio gear, plus a lightweight lexan body shell that was not only a lighter body type than most other R/C buggies used at that time, but it also acts as the lid for the radio tub – saving further weight.
The motor and cast aluminium gearbox actually come preassembled in the kit too, and as with most kit buggies of the day, there is no differential (although it’s interesting to note that some ready-to-run R/C models like the Nikko Toyota HiLux 4WD and the Shinsei Mountain Man did have differential gearing by 1982)
All of this cast aluminium may seem quite heavy by the standards of modern R/C buggy kits, however it was actually very lightweight for it’s time and offered a weight saving of several hundred grams (20-25%) over the other top-level buggies. I guess a lot of that saving comes from the use of the lexan body, and the spacious design of the rail-chassis – but there are other little savings too in things like the one-piece chrome plated wheels, which were simpler and lighter than the 3-piece screwed-together wheels used by the Tamiyas of the day.
Inside the radio tub is the typical 1980s vintage equipment setup – 2 servos, with one moving the wiper arm of a mechanical speed control. Plus the receiver. And of course, the 4 x AA battery set that was used to power the receiver.
The 7.2v battery pack would fit snugly beneath the car in a separate compartment, covered by a big battery door.
Another great retro feature is the large rubber sock used to cover and protect the motor. I always love how 1980s kit buggies went to extra lengths to protect, cover, and waterproof various components. It shows a certain naivety of design (often these things were non-essential), but I now look back on it with great fondness because all those little things add enormous character to the toy. It’s what collectors call “over-engineering”.
Speaking of character though, and while I mentioned earlier that the Scorpion represented an animal-themed R/C buggy long before Tamiya had used the idea to great effect, I have to say I think it was in name only in this instance. The Scorpion is a great looking car, that’s for sure, but I’m at a loss to see how it’s shape relates to the animal. Maybe it was just about “stinging the opposition” on the track.
Nevertheless, I always find myself drawn to bright yellow cars, and in this case the combination of yellow body, yellow radio tub, and all those cool retro brand sponsors and fat tyres add up to quintessential 1980s R/C fun. It’s simple, it’s eye-catching, and it gives the car a well-proportioned and realistic scale appearance – what more could you want?
2014 Scorpion Remake
In 2014, the Scorpion underwent a remake. The 2014 remake is made from completely new molds because the original Kyosho molds were lost or destroyed many years ago. It is also made in Taiwan, China (instead of Japan like the original). In effect, it is a new model created from scratch to look like the original, without sharing any parts with it.
As such, the remake Scorpion features many physical differences – such as different shocks, tyres, decals, wider overall dimensions, different driver, no mechanical speed control, different box art… to name just a few of the changes.
As always with remakes – they offer a cheaper way to build and play with a car that looks vintage. However if you want something that actually is vintage, and to relive what it was like to build or drive the original car, there is no substitute for buying an original with all it’s quirks and charms.
There’s no doubt though that this is one of the really classic top-level buggies of the 1980s, and one of the cornerstone pieces if you’re interested in vintage Kyosho models.
When it comes to vintage R/C collecting and restoring, what could be more fun than tinkering with a high quality vintage R/C buggy that looks as great as this?
As always, happy collecting!
|At a glance…|
|Digital Proportional: Yes|
|Batteries: 1 x 7.2volt (Car). Transmitter purchased separately.|
|Original price in Australia, back in 1982: AU$159 (Kit only)|
|What this would equate to, in 2013 money: AU$512 (calculated using this)|