Another year, another batch of Tamiya R/C model remakes, as the company continues it’s policy of remixing it’s past hits and tapping into nostalgia. Tamiya have now put out remakes of nearly every popular off-road R/C model they created in the 1980s (when they were at their creative peak). This month, a remake of the Monster Beetle was announced.
The news excites many, with the argument often being that “unless Tamiya remakes a kit, I will never be able to find or afford that car”. But is that true? Because it’s actually not impossible to find original examples for similiar prices to many remakes. Look, I’ll show you…
Every time Tamiya (or one of the other surviving R/C brands of the 1980s) remakes an old toy, the remake model comes with lots of alterations when compared to the original model – some large, many small.
This is because 30 years or more have passed since the original kit was manufactured, and even though the remake is aimed at the nostalgia market, a lot has changed in the world in the last 30 years such that it is impossible to reproduce that original kit exactly the same way as it originally was.
Obviously technology has changed a lot. But in addition, R/C companies are now more corporate and streamlined in their approach, than they were in the 1980s. There are also more legal restrictions on toys and brands today than there used to be. And lastly, but perhaps most significantly, where once upon a time all R/C models were lovingly crafted by staff right at the company headquarters (in places like Japan, the USA or Germany), today practically every single R/C car on the planet is manufactured by low-paid labour in either China or a similar location with the lowest-possible manufacturing costs.
For all these reasons, today’s remakes of classic R/C kits carry a long list of alterations, tweaks and exclusions when compared to the originals. Some of these alterations are intentionally designed to fix technical issues with the original, that sometimes manifested themselves under extended running. Some are there to intentionally differentiate the remake from the original. But others are the result of legal constraints – e.g. aspects of branding, sponsorship and naming have changed. And the rest are there due to manufacturing constraints such as the use of entirely different molds and materials, often to save costs.
The alterations commonly include (but are not limited to) things like: changed body shells made from a different mold, changed transmissions and driveshafts, a different chassis, different tyres, fake sponsor decals, different box art, different suspension, different speed control, different plastic and rubber compounds throughout the kit, a change in the country of manufacture (China or The Phillipines, instead of Japan), and even sometimes a different name for the model itself.
Despite these many changes, every new remake is greeted with excitement from many people. Often because they view it as a new chance to own something they wanted in the 1980s, but believe is too hard to find otherwise.
And I do understand the excitement – up to a point. It is fun to see the appearance of old things, in stores again, albeit in a different form. Even I have walked into hobby stores and thought “hey, it’s nice to see that old kit again”. Or at least a kit that looks like the old kit anyway, even if it isn’t the same kit.
But often the celebration over a remake carries with it a belief that companies remaking kits is the only way to find or afford those models again. And that without them, the original models are too hard to find, too expensive, or only the preserve of serious collectors.
Yet this is not really true.
How hard is it to find original R/C kits and cars?
Brands like Tamiya sold literally millions upon millions of R/C cars in the 1980s – far more original kits were sold during those popular years, than the corresponding remake kits which are on sale today.
Many of those original cars are still out there. Yet none of the websites and magazines that celebrate whenever another classic kit undergoes a remake, seem to mention the fact that a remake kit is not exactly your only way to re-live a particular car.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Remakes are generally cheaper than the more collectible and rare original examples of Tamiyas. And sure, originals can be very rare. It depends on what you want.
New in box, unbuilt originals are the most rare by far. New built examples are a little more common perhaps, but still fairly rare. While used examples are actually quite numerous.
Generally speaking, toys that were made 30+ years ago (even when they were made in large quantities) are always going to require a bit more effort to find in good condition today, than simply clicking “buy now” on something which is currently in production. Finding original toys from the 1980s requires a little time, a little patience and some research. But then, the harder it is to find or own something, the more rewarding it can be when you finally get your hands on it. So, part of the fun of looking for vintage things is the ‘treasure hunt’ itself.
But the simple fact is: original cars are not impossible to find. Nor are they impossible to afford. A lot of the excitement over the remakes is (it has to be said) often spurred on by commercial hype and advertising, more than fulfilling some huge hole in the market. Remaking old products is an economical way for R/C companies to make money. And that is their primary reason for doing it.
Let’s start with the vintage thing that is the hardest to find: a new in box, unbuilt vintage kit.
If you’re really patient, you can still find original, unbuilt Tamiya kits from the 1980s, and occasionally you can even find them for a low price.
This doesn’t happen every day. It might only happen once or twice a year per model. And most original kits are priced high, because there really are not that many left and there is a lot of collector demand for them. But sometimes prices are not so high, and sometimes things do slip through the cracks. You just need to keep an eye out for “low-hanging fruit”. Sometimes you can grab something that nobody else seems to have noticed, for a lot less than it normally goes for. Often this can be due to a seller listing something with poor photos, sparse detail, or only offering to ship it within a limited area.
So let’s look at some examples in the context of the Tamiya Monster Beetle. The new Tamiya Monster Beetle remake will (according to Tamiyausa.com) retail for about US$274. And when you think about it, that’s no small amount of money in itself. In my opinion, if someone can afford to pay US$274 for a remake like that, they can also afford to look at some pretty nice condition, original examples of the Monster Beetle just as easily – provided they have the time to shop around.
While it’s true that the average price of an original Monster Beetle will be high (due to demand from collectors), here are a few examples of low-hanging fruit that came and went on eBay before the Monster Beetle underwent a remake. And hardly anybody was paying attention to them. Earlier this year I saw a brand new in box original Tamiya Monster Beetle kit sell for about US$300. I don’t have a photo of that one. But even if I search eBay completed items right now, I can randomly find another original Monster Beetle kit that sold for as little as US$385, 2 weeks ago…
Yes, this is $110 more than the upcoming remake. Admittedly, you would have needed to save up a little more of your hard earned cash to win it. But remember that this was an original kit from 1986 – the authentic 1980s toy, still unbuilt. It had all the vintage parts, decals, artwork…a true collectible. If you love the Monster Beetle, it just doesn’t get better than that.
But that was just one example. Here are some more original NIB Monster Beetles that have sold cheaply over recent years. This next one went for US$350 a few years ago…
Here’s one that sold for a stunningly low US$227 this year…
And here’s TWO (one complete, the other near complete) that sold for US$470…
There have also, in recent years, been about a dozen others on US eBay alone that have sold for between US$350 and $450.
Bargains are the exception (not the rule)
Of course, I could easily cherry-pick a long list of examples of the original Monster Beetle that have sold for US$600+ or US$800+ in recent years. And even body sets alone that have sold for US$500+. High prices are a lot more common, and the average price of any original collectible is also high. My point with this article is not to say “bargains are everywhere!”. They’re not. (That’s what makes them bargains).
My point here is merely to say that a keen-eyed, patient observer can nonetheless, find an occasional bargain on an original item. And that when I see such bargains simply come and go – often in broad daylight on eBay – I have to wonder why a ~$300 remake generates so much buzz. It amazes me that people are often not paying attention to the vintage treasures that having been coming and going on eBay, for years.
New-built original examples are of course, cheaper than unbuilt kits too. While used examples are cheaper still. And there is no shortage of used stuff at any given time. The used market is, and will always be, a buyer’s market – particularly for those who enjoy restoring things. If you really want to enjoy vintage R/C on a budget, then restoring used models to original specification, with either new or used original parts, may be your ticket. It’s a very satisfying hobby to get into, and you are giving ‘new life’ to old toys in the process.
In addition, once a remake comes out, you will often find that original examples are a little further within the reach of your wallet than they were previously. Just for a little while anyway. I am sure this will happen to the Monster Beetle too, as it has happened to every other vintage Tamiya kit. But be warned: the value of original models always bounces back after a year or so once the market settles after a remake. Original examples of any classic/popular toy will always remain strong, and increase in value over time, with mint/unbuilt examples experiencing the sharpest demand (since they are basically like gold to collectors). I can think of several vintage Tamiya R/C kits whose prices are now going from strength to strength, just a couple of years after a remake edition came out.
So by all means, buy the remake kits, build, run and enjoy them. They are plentiful and so are the spare parts. Just remember that they are new models in Tamiya’s history, and as such, contain many differences to the originals.
And don’t assume that the originals are outside your budget.
And if you’re nostalgic like me, then it doesn’t hurt to keep one last thing in mind too. And that is: you only live once. Life is short. If you’re a 1980s toy fan, you’re probably somewhere in your 30s or 40s by now. And who knows, perhaps you’ve now passed the halfway point in your life? It’s a depressing thought, but it’s probably true. If you’ve always wanted to own a particular toy, perhaps you deserve to own an original example of it? Only original 80s toys have all the quirks, charm and old-school tech of the 1980s, and in the case of R/C cars, they are also the only ones manufactured in their country of origin (e.g. Japan) rather than off-shored in China or the Philippines like everything today.
If your budget is tight, then set-up some saved searches on eBay, contact some collectors and read some forums. In a few weeks or months, you might be the proud owner of the true, original model at a price you can feel happy about. And you’ll always know “it’s an original”.