What are your Christmas R/C memories?

Tandy Christmas Sale And Gift Catalogue 1987

Tandy Christmas Sale And Gift Catalogue 1987In the spirit of the festive season, perhaps it’s time I dedicated a page to everyone else’s R/C car memories (not just mine)…

What memories do you have of receiving R/C cars (or other cool retro toys), at Christmas?

What cars did you receive (or miss out on) back in the 1970s, 80s or 90s?

And what are some of your best (and worst) memories of R/C cars around Christmas time?


There’s definitely a very strong connection between Christmas time, and R/C cars. At least, there is for me.

I think I spent just about every Christmas of the 1980s hoping to find toy cars, particularly R/C cars, under the Christmas tree. And to this day, every year, there’s often still an R/C car (or three) under the tree thanks to my very understanding wife (who also does some retro collecting of her own).

After all, Christmas itself is all about memories. Hopefully happy ones centred around family and peaceful times. And not too many involving Christmas trees being set ablaze, drunk uncles, or handbag fights between mothers-in-law.

There are also some real reasons why R/C cars have a close association with Christmas. For one, they were so expensive in the 1980s that many of us only stood a chance of our families buying them for us, at Christmas. And secondly because many of these toys were only widely available at Christmas.

Hobby City Sydney advertisement for the Tamiya Fox, December 15, 1985

A vintage newspaper ad for the Tamiya Fox at “Hobby City”, a long lost hobby store in Sydney. Published December 15, 1985.

They were certainly a huge Christmas craze in the mid-1980s, and for a while it seems R/C vehicles were among the very best-selling items available – right up there with the familiar retro stuff that the history books always bang on about, like Cabbage Patch Kids and Transformers.

I’ve shared many of my stories about R/C cars I had in the 1980s. And there are more to come. But I’d love to hear more of your stories as well!

So what are some of your favourite memories of Christmas, and the R/C cars you had (or wanted), and the tales that went with getting (or not getting) them? Perhaps you’re even getting an R/C car for Christmas this year?

(If you don’t happen to celebrate Christmas, then please feel welcome to post a non-Christmas tale of an R/C car you had back in the day.)

Please post your tales below!

To kick things off, here’s another Christmas story of mine…

Back in the 1980s, I was desperate to own a Tandy/Radio Shack 4×4 Off-Roader. I was lucky enough to get one. But the process was arduous to say the least…

After begging my parents for this car for many weeks in the lead-up to Christmas, they remained entirely coy about my chances. “We’ll see” was about the best information I could get out of them. And while deep down I knew this probably meant “yes”, there was still an element of doubt in mind, and it was keeping me on my toes.

Tandy/Radio Shack 4x4 Off-Roader in a 1988 catalogueMy father and I were close though, and he was just as keen on R/C cars as I was. I knew that if he had anything to do with it, there was a good chance there’d be an Off-Roader under the tree on Christmas morning that year. But on this occasion, even he was remaining tight-lipped – probably on specific orders from my mother.

But one day, sometime in mid-December and on a day when my mother was out of the house, I decided to confront Dad about it and see if I could get him to spill the beans.

“So, about Christmas presents…”, I began. “I know what you’re getting this year!”.

He’d been sitting reading a newspaper, ignoring (11 year old) me hanging about in the living room. But now I’d got his attention. So I pressed on with my plan.

“If you want, I could tell you what you’re getting. That is, if you’ll tell me what I’m getting?”

There was pause. Then we both laughed. And so commenced a sort of cat-and-mouse game that lasted at least an hour, or more. At first, he refused point-blank to tell me what my secret Christmas present was. But being something of a child himself, he was keen to hear what his was. And eventually I wore him down with the idea. “It’s a perfect trade!” I’d say, and at one point we were even pegging lounge cushions at each other. But we got there in the end – he was getting a fancy new german-made electric shaver. And as it turned out, I was getting the 4×4 Off Roader!

Come Christmas morning, there was no surprise as to what was under the tree for me. But I didn’t regret it one bit. The anticipation of actually knowing what was coming, in the lead up to Christmas Day, made it all worth it. And my mother (who would have immediately had us both drawn and quartered if she’d known about our secret Free Trade Agreement) was entirely unaware of what we’d done.

Then on Boxing Day, just day 2 of my ownership of this excellent little truck, I promptly mis-steered my new 4×4 while racing it along our concrete front verandah… smacking it into a pillar and breaking off one side of the rigid front bumper. I was devastated. Fortunately, Tandy Electronics actually had after-sales spare parts for their R/C cars back in those days. And despite it taking 4 whole weeks to arrive, I was able to get a replacement bumper set for my little truck (and I never broke it again). I don’t think you could even get such spares for a lot of ready-to-run R/C toys these days.

Anyway, over to you guys… what are your Christmas R/C tales?

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25 responses to “What are your Christmas R/C memories?”

  1. Dave says :

    Metro Jet Hopper (Tyco Turbo Hopper to the rest of the world ๐Ÿ˜‰ ). My parents had even bought NiCd batteries, and had them charging for 2 days prior in a 4x AA slow charger. My older brother also got one. I still have both!
    Earlier than that, I got my Nikko Mini Thunder Buggy (also still have it, while my bro got the Tandy Lambo Countach.
    Even earlier than those, was an AFX slot car track, around 1980 I’m guessing.. slot cars are still my “other” hobby, in the same miniature scale ๐Ÿ™‚

    • R/C Toy Memories says :

      So many classics in that list Dave. And the battery story is something that I am sure everyone will relate to. My first R/C car was given to me on Christmas day 1984 with alkaline batteries. They lasted 1 hour. And then I had to wait 2 whole days for my Dad to get to the nearest Tandy (when they reopened), as he insisted I needed rechargeable batteries. When he finally got them, I then discovered I had to wait another 12 hours for them to recharge overnight (as rechargeables never came charged in the packet!). So much waiting ๐Ÿ˜

  2. avasalehi says :

    Great post! Some of my best Christmas memories were from the mid 80’s getting RC cars. When I was younger, I got slot car tracks like Dave above mentioned as well. My favorite was a Tyco “Super Duper Double Looper”. I managed to find one NIB on Ebay about 6 years and just opened it for the first time last month to play with my 4 year old daughter. Amazingly it worked perfect!

    My first RC car for Christmas was a Kyosho Optima in 1985. I still remember the box looking SO AWESOME, just like the ads in the Tower Hobbies catalogs I used to memorize. I got an RC10 in 1986, this was simply the best Christmas ever! Took me a few days to build it, I remember finishing it late at night and went outside to run it. It was BLAZINGLY FAST, I can’t describe how cool that car was, it was one of the highlights of my childhood. ๐Ÿ™‚ The next year I got a Hobby Lobby Hunter, which was a 1/8th scale 4WD nitro powered buggy. This was even faster than the RC10 but came with it’s share of headaches. Still, I was completely blown away at the speed and sound of that car, it was addicting. I think those are the only three years I got RC cars for Christmas but I will always remember them fondly.

    My dad videotaped our Christmas’s back then. Here’s me getting the Optima in 1985: (skip to 28:00) https://vimeo.com/122399517

    Here’s me getting the RC10 in 1986. (skip to 37:20) https://vimeo.com/122399517

    • R/C Toy Memories says :

      I think it’d be fair to say that I’ve met very few people who had more awesome Christmas gifts in the 1980s than getting a Kyosho Optima, followed by an RC10 (over consecutive Christmases, no less). Amazing, and I can totally see why those years would be something you’d remember. You must have been the envy of your entire neighborhood!
      Those Tyco train sets were crazy-fast as well, I remember the ads on TV.

      • avasalehi says :

        I was very lucky to have giving parents, absolutely. We never got any toys or presents throughout the year but for our birthday and Christmas they really went all out.

      • R/C Toy Memories says :

        (Just fixed about 18 typos in my previous comment – Sorry about that!)
        But yes, I totally know the feeling about birthdays and christmases being the only real time for gifts. It seemed to be more the convention back then too, and maybe it even helped us grow up a little less spoiled and more appreciative of what we had. Who knows.

  3. Chris Sutton says :

    My best Christmas memory was in 85 or 86 when my parents got me a Nikko Turbo Panther. I was snooping around in their walkin wardrobe about 4 weeks before Christmas and there it was hidden amongst the shoes. At first I just checked out the box, then as time went on I opened it, then I removed it from the box to get a real good look at it. I was always so careful to put it all back exactly as I found it so suspicions weren’t raised. I loved that car and drove it every day. I recently purchased one from the US in great condition but I can’t bring myself to use it through fear of damaging it. Great memories.

    • R/C Toy Memories says :

      Chris, this is pretty much exactly the same as what I did one year, digging deep in my sister’s wardrobe ๐Ÿ˜€ She had so many clothes hanging, and piles of plastic bags (with presents, but also other stuff) piled on the floor underneath the clothes. I snuck into her room one day, and opened the wardrobe door to see what I could see. I was pretty sure she’d bought something for me and hidden it in there, and she knew I might try to find it. It took me ages, but I managed to carefully get a glimpse of a Nikko branded box inside a bag, but buried really, really deep among the other things. I was so excited. I never went as far as taking it all out to have a proper look though – well done on that score! (for not getting busted)

  4. Nathan says :

    The best Xmas I can remember was receiving a Tamiya Fox (I think 1988). It was my first 1:10 scale Tamiya car. I was SO excited during the lead up to Xmas day. We purchased it ( and a Sanwa Dash controller) about 3 weeks before Xmas which meant it was in the house unguarded during the start of the school holidays when my mum was out during the day. I was into the wardrobe where it was ‘locked away’ constantly sneaking looks.
    I remember my Mum asking the hobby store owner when we were paying for it, if I would have any difficulty assembling it, to which he replied with surety “No, he’ll be fine”. Well, in all the excitement Xmas day and Boxing day… I rushed the build…. and botched it big time. I can recall it having power to the motor but it would not go past half throttle. I think I had the steering servo setup wrong and it would only steer left. One of the shocks was oozing damper oil out. It was a real debacle.
    Luckily the very kind hobby shop owner offered to take it home and complete the build correctly. He picked it up on the first working day after the Xmas break and I didn’t get it back for a few days after that. It felt like an eternity!
    When it returned it was good to go. It had so much power compared to what I had driven previously. On one of the early runs I drove it straight into the sewer drain at the end of the street. But it survived and so began a love of everything Tamiya.

    Great memories!

    • R/C Toy Memories says :

      Fantastic story Nathan, thanks for sharing.
      “…unguarded during the start of the school holidays when my mum was out during the day. I was into the wardrobe…” – describes perfectly what was going on at my house. But getting a NIB Fox would have been something else! I think Christmas Day botched builds were pretty standard too, and those servo setups required a lot of patience (which no kid has). I remember rushing a Hornet body (trimming and painting) one Christmas morning, purely to have it ready by lunchtime to show everyone (??). But of course I didn’t mask the windows, didn’t trim it all that well, and didn’t apply the stickers properly. So it looked passable at first. But as the summer wore on, the decals got too much dirt underneath them. I always regretted it…(until years later I got another body and started again).

    • R/C Toy Memories says :

      Also, come to think of it, what a good guy the hobby shop owner was!

  5. scott says :

    Christmas in the 80’s was the best! all the best toys came outta the 80’s. I know I’m biased because I grew up then but most toys then seemed well made and well thought out as opposed to the mainstream crap there is out there today. The Radio Shack Wild Champ got me hooked and like you I next set my sights on up grading… to the 4×4 off roader which thanks to my grandfather I received that wonderful Christmas eve. What I really had my sights on was the Tamiya Midnight Pumpkin that I had been drooling over in the J.C. Penny catalog but Radio Shack was big then and people could just walk in and buy as opposed to mail order. Those Christmas memories I will never forget….. that’s why I’m trying to create these memorys for my 6 year old daughter. She has the R/C bug thanks to her dad. I started her out with an old Kyosho scorpion and she’s a pretty good driver. So this Christmas I have a brand new Tamiya Sand Rover waiting for her under the tree hoping to continue the memories of R/C and fun toys at Christmas for her and me this year.

    • R/C Toy Memories says :

      You’re so right Scott. I mean, one look at the ready-to-run R/C cars these days from craptastic brands like Fastlane and New Bright, really exposes the nonsense level of “quality” kids have to put up with.

      You’ve done the right thing though, with the reissue Scorpion and reissue Sand Rover. They are both leagues ahead of most other readily available R/C toys, and they still have a strong retro feel to them being modern reissues of classic kits. Your daughter is very lucky!

      I’ve always been envious of folks in the US too, with their memories of the Sears and JC Penney catalogues – those things were marketing magic, yet a lot of care obviously went into them. We may never see their likes again, sadly.

      • Hotrodmike says :

        Hi There RC Toy memories, I So agree with you!!I love That word,craptastic!lol,and This is So True!!lol,I went into a Toys,r,us,and a RadioShack This month just To see What They had for The holidays,and all They had was fast lane,and new bright,and They were So LAME!!cheap flimsy plastic,non functional shocks,oversized Tires That look so silly,and The most craptastic part of all,painted on images of mud,What’s That all ABOUT!?lol

      • R/C Toy Memories says :

        Completely agree Mike ๐Ÿ™‚ And yes, you’ve summed it up well – cheap plastics, hard “tyres”. Comically oversized wheels. The hobby grade R/C segment still has some decent/realistic stuff, but the toy R/C market has mostly become a parody of itself with only a handful of exceptions.

  6. Nick says :

    Hi all

    I chose and my parents bought me a remote controlled green beach buggy from Hamleys at around 1968-1970. It was one of my very best toys ever..
    But a very close second was a helicopter you could control with two little leavers that would go round and round for hours.
    Eventually when compitant enough you could pick up things with the hook underneath.
    If any one has either and is thinking of selling, perhaps you could contact me.

    Many thanks

    Nick

  7. Hotrodmike says :

    Hi There Everyone,OK,The first RadioShack RC car I owned was The Audi Quattro, I bought it myself in The Summer of 1986,and I Thought it was so cool!!and Then after That Summer I started looking at all The Awesome Tamiya RC cars,and Trucks,and remember The one That I Really wanted was The Tamiya Falcon,and I started hinting To my Dad,when we would go To The local Hobby shop,and sure enough,That Christmas,he got me my first Tamiya RC buggy,The Tamiya Falcon,and I still remember how Stoked I was,just looking at The Awesome image of The buggy on The front of The box.I remember my Dad Telling me Take your Time when putting This Together,he said you can use my Hobby paint also(My Dad was also into RC,doing Large replica airplanes,and helicopters)it Took me 4 To 5 days To assemble,and it Turned out Awesome!!i had a whole lot of Awesome FUN with That car.Then for Christmas in 1987,my Sister sent me a package,and when I opened it up,To my Awesome surprise,it was The RadioShack Golden Arrow!!SCORE!!Yes I was STOKED!and i remember That There was an issue with The radio or something like That That i could not fix myself,So at This Time I was living on my own kinda sorta at my Grandparents retreat at This resort park That was 9 miles from Town out in The woods(Washington state)and so I called up The RadioShack in Town,and They said bring it in,and we will replace it with a new one,and nothing was going To stop me from going into Town,with several inches of snow on The ground,and driving my 1966 mercury stationwagon ocean liner,lol,with no snow Tires,and winding country road,but I made it,and They got a new one in a couple of weeks,and after all These years,and having 4 To 5 different radio systems in it,i still own This This Awesome RC Car,The Golden Arrow.

  8. Nidz says :

    I was about 10 and me and my brother both god Jet Hoppers. I got the black and my brother got the Red one. Was a really awesome toy. I must have worn through a few sets of knobby tyres. Later when I was about 14. My family moved over to Hong Kong for a few years around the 89s – 90 period. I really wanted a good RC car. We went to one of the Hobby shops they had over there. They had EVERYTHING! Compated to here it was RC heaven. Wall to wall of Kyosho and Tamyia cars. I really wanted a Tamyia car. I ended up getting a Lunchbox Monster Truck. Spent a weekend building it and I played with that thing a lot. That got me really into RC cars. I then went and bought a Grasshopper and then later on a Big Wig. Ever since I’ve been into electronics and tinkering with electronic projects. I did a full restore on my Lunchbox and Big Wig and still to this day have them. I hope to pass them to my boy.

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