Why “sealed” vintage Tamiya kits may not be what they seem

Vintage Tamiya kit sealed in shrink-wrap

Vintage Tamiya kit sealed in shrink-wrapMost vintage Tamiya R/C kits are in boxes where you can take the lid off, see what’s inside, and enjoy looking at all the cool parts and pieces, not to mention all that great vintage blister packaging.

But some vintage kits are sealed in shrink-wrap. So if you like collecting old R/C kits, are the ones in shrink-wrap the most ‘mint’ ones? And should you pay extra for them?

Well, no. I don’t think you should. And it’s because vintage R/C kits are not the same as other sealed-in-box vintage toys.


Lots of people collect vintage toys, and it’s always nice to find and collect “new in box” vintage toys – simply because they have never been built/run/played-with, by anyone else. Nobody else has had their chocolate fingers on them. Played with them in the dust. Or enjoyed the act of putting them together.

Owning a long out-of-production vintage toy that has never fulfilled it’s life’s purpose, is actually quite a privilege. And collecting such toys is about both preserving and enjoying them for their little place in history, as well as reliving your own childhood.

New in box vintage toys are generally rare. And in some cases, extremely rare. But sometimes you can even find “sealed” vintage toys – where the packet or box has never even been opened by anyone else.

Vintage R/C kits are not like other vintage toys

But while sealed boxes and packets are great when collecting a lot of vintage toys, it’s not really the same thing when it comes to collecting vintage R/C models.

So let’s consider the difference between vintage R/C model kits (such as those from Tamiya – and I am going to use Tamiya as the main example throughout this article), and a couple of other popular vintage toys…

Vintage action figures, like this Leia Organa figure from Star Wars, are highly prized when they are still sealed. And you can easily see and verify the condition of the toy inside the packet.

Vintage action figures, like this Leia Organa figure from Star Wars, are highly prized when they are still sealed. And you can easily see and verify the condition of the toy inside the packet.

In the world of action figure collecting, the only type of “brand new” action figure, is one that is still in the packet. Action figures throughout the decades, have generally been sold in packets consisting of bubbles that have been glued to cards, making it easy to see the figure inside. So even if you never open the figure, as far as the figure itself is concerned, at least you can see the figure and see if it’s condition is ok (even if there are some minefields around the authenticity of the packaging itself). And hence, collecting sealed action vintage figures is a very popular hobby.

Another very popular toy that commands high prices on the collectibles market, is vintage Lego. Vintage Lego sets also came in sealed boxes, but the funny thing about Lego is – very little ever goes wrong with the contents inside a Lego set. Most vintage Lego set boxes did not have windows (the small sets anyway), and were glued shut. So you couldn’t see the Lego bricks themselves. But Lego sets consist only of simple, robust plastic bricks. So even though you can’t see the contents, those contents are unlikely to be flawed. And Lego’s legendary quality control also ensures that the set probably does not lack any pieces.

But in the world of collecting vintage R/C model kits, it’s a bit different. And if you buy a vintage R/C kit which is sealed in shrink-wrap, there are a number of factors that may cause the kit to not really be what it seems.

Yet despite this, you will often see sealed new-in-box vintage Tamiya kits for sale for very high prices on sites like eBay.

Vintage Lego sets are also highly prized when they are still sealed. But the contents of a Lego set are so simple, that very little can go wrong with the tough, plastic bricks inside.

Vintage Lego sets are also highly prized when they are still sealed. But the contents of a Lego set are so simple, that very little can go wrong with the tough, plastic bricks inside.

The sellers of sealed vintage R/C kits are hoping that the normal convention of “sealed” toys, in other areas of toy collecting, will heighten the value of their items.

But is this price hike valid? Should you pay extra for a sealed vintage R/C kit, over an unsealed vintage R/C kit? In my humble opinion: no.

So in the hope that this article will help a few first-time buyers out there, here are a few things you need to consider if you are thinking of buying a “sealed” vintage R/C kit…

1. Tamiya never actually sealed their kits in shrink-wrap.

As far as Tamiya is concerned, back in the 1980s, Tamiya never sealed their kits in shrink-wrap.
I repeat: In the 1980s, Tamiya never sealed their kits in shrink-wrap.

Vintage Tamiya kit sealed in shrink-wrap

So why are some 1980s Tamiya R/C kits sealed in shrink-wrap, like in the photo shown above? Who sealed them?

Well, some foreign distributors – such as MRC in the USA (who were the sole distributors for Tamiya in the USA) – shrink-wrapped Tamiya kits after they were imported from Japan.

In Australia, I remember seeing some kits sealed in shrink-wrap and bundled together with Transmitter sets, as package deals. But again, this wrapping was not done by Tamiya. Instead, it was done by the local distributor.

So, Tamiya kits were never factory shrink-wrapped by Tamiya in Japan. They literally left the Tamiya factory in normal, open boxes. Went to other countries. And in some of those countries, other companies sealed them.

For many collectors, this is enough to diminish the whole “mystique” of owning a sealed vintage Tamiya, from the point of view that there is no “factory-level authenticity” or “purity” about the contents of a sealed vintage kit, over that of an unsealed vintage kit.

But there are also some other, even more important things to consider.

2. Vintage R/C kits usually contain liquids. And they often leak over time.

Vintage R/C model kits are not like regular plastic model kits, Lego kits, Meccano kits or any other toy building kits. Because vintage R/C model kits do not just contain dry plastic and metal parts. They also contain liquids. Liquids like damper oil, and grease.

I’ve owned a lot of new in box vintage kits over the years. And I’ve seen a lot of kits where those liquids have leaked over time – inside packets, blisters etc. When they leak, they can end up spoiling other components – from rubber components, to owner’s manuals, to entire boxes. Not to mention the fact that those precious original fluids have now drained away, and the kit is no longer “complete” and ready to be built.

If you buy a vintage R/C kit which is sealed in shrink wrap, you simply have no idea what is happening to the contents inside the box. Perhaps things are leaking and slowly deteriorating over time? You won’t know until you open it and check. Or you see an oil patch on the bottom of the box.

3. Vintage R/C kits contain fragile parts, which may break during transit.

Back in the early 1990s, I purchased a new in box Tamiya Monster Beetle, from a hobby store. It wasn’t sealed, but it was old stock that the store had had for a number of years.

I didn’t check the contents of the box until I got home. And when I did, I discovered that the plastic “window glass” piece had been shattered inside the box, by other heavy parts and parts boxes that had moved around over time.

Vintage R/C model kits contain a lot of components – some of them are heavy, and others are fragile. While it is not particularly common to find broken pieces inside Tamiya kits, it is certainly not unprecedented. And since most vintage R/C kits have now been kicking around in people’s collections for around 30 years or more, a sealed vintage kit is always going to be a mystery in terms of the integrity of the contents inside.

Another thing to consider is that the blister packs inside vintage kits often deteriorate over time, particularly around heavy objects like motors. It is actually very, very common to find that the plastic blister over the motor, has cracked. It’s not a huge deal. But if you are a purist who is looking for perfect packaging, and you think you’ve found what you wanted by buying a sealed vintage kit – you are pretty much deluding yourself. Your motor blister inside the box is probably cracked, just like most others.

4. With a sealed vintage kit, you’ll never know which ‘variant’ you have.

In quite a few cases during the 1980s, Tamiya would release a model, and then a few months later make some adjustments to the kit to address a few performance issues.

In some cases these adjustments were pretty minor. In other cases, they were quite significant – altering the appearance and even the performance of the model.

For serious collectors, these variants have become known by the terms “Mk1”, “Mk2”, “Mk3” and so on. And this stuff is pretty interesting.

It’s really no discredit whether you happen to own a Mk1, Mk2 or Mk3. There’s a certain pride among collectors in having a Mk1 kit, simply because it was the first edition of that car. But remember that all vintage R/C kits are rare. Therefore, consider yourself lucky if you own any of them at all.

There are also plenty of collectors out there who have amazing collections, purely built up by restoring used models, without ever having the luxury of owning a new-in-box vintage kit.

But naturally there is a tendency for collectors of kits to want to know about the history of the model, and to see Tamiya’s design thinking – including any variations they made – when creating a model that went on to become an all-time classic.

This means that most collectors like to know whether their kits are “Mk1”, “Mk2” or “Mk3” variants. But if you buy a “sealed” vintage Tamiya kit, you will never know what you have. There is usually nothing on the box that gives it away. The only way to find out, is to open the box and look at the parts themselves.

So while it may be nice that your kit is protected in shrink wrap, ultimately, is that shrink-wrap worth more than knowing about the contents of the kit?

5. Some people may have access to shrink-wrapping machines.

Last but not least, there’s the issue that there are some people in the world who do not have your best interests at heart. Shocking, but true.

If people are regularly listing sealed vintage R/C kits on eBay for higher prices than other vintage new in box kits, it also follows that some of them may try to take advantage of the situation. It is not unthinkable that some people may simply seal kits themselves, in order to trumpet them as “sealed!” and charge a higher price.

I have no evidence that this has ever happened. But to put it another way, consider this: vintage toys are valuable, and it would be a whole lot easier to seal a few simple, square Tamiya kit boxes in a bit of loose plastic wrap, than it would be to forge thousands of old Star Wars action figures into new cards and blisters and pass them off as vintage sealed action figures.

Yet we already know the latter has actually happened. Maybe we should not assume that the former, has not.

Conclusion…

Is having a sealed kit really more fun than seeing all the great vintage blister packs found in vintage Tamiya kits?

Is having a sealed kit really more fun than seeing all the great vintage blister packs found in vintage Tamiya kits?

Collecting vintage R/C kits, just like any other vintage toy collecting, is a lot of fun. It’s also a very personal thing – and every collector tends to collect differently. So I will always be the first to tell people that they should collect whatever makes them happy.

If you want to collect vintage Tamiya R/C kits that are sealed in shrink-wrap, then go ahead. Enjoy.

But for what it’s worth, my advice is: Don’t pay more for sealed new in box vintage kits, than unsealed new in box vintage kits.

And consider the advantages of unwrapping them when you get them.

Not only do you get to enjoy looking at the lovely presentation of all the parts and blister packs. You can also verify that the contents are unbroken and unblemished by liquid spills. And you can confirm which variant they may be. All of which is more important when it comes to collecting vintage R/C models (and perhaps selling your model later, if you ever choose to do so), than the novelty of shrink-wrap.

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