A 1/12 scale R/C model from Tomy that you’ve probably never heard of before, the “Radica A Lancia Stratos” was a 70s kid’s chance to drive the legendary Stratos rally car.
It had advanced features for the time such as a working differential, working indicator lights, Digital Proportional transmitter and more.
Let’s take a look at this lost gem from Tomy.
Throughout the 1970s, the popularity of the World Rally Championship (WRC) was rapidly growing. Rally cars were becoming more sophisticated each year and where once the sport had actually been a leisurely affair involving production vehicles, by the late 1970s some cars were being designed specifically to win rally events and with ever-increasing horsepower levels.
By 1983, the World Rally Championship was entering it’s legendary “Group B” era in which regulations were eased further, allowing vehicle power to climb to spectacular levels and for the sport to briefly overtake Formula 1 in popularity. Over 1 million spectators once turned up to watch the RAC Rally in Great Britain.
Group B ended in tragedy in mid 1986 after several deaths among both spectators and competitors. Yet the era’s exotic machines and the sights and sounds of them roaring along roads packed with spectators, are remembered with both fear and awe by most today – including the drivers themselves.
I look back on the Group B era with fascination. I can still remember seeing rally highlights on TV at the time. And if the mid-1980s was a golden era of rallying, then it’s funny to think it coincided with the golden era of R/C toys – leaving us with some interesting R/C cars inspired by the vehicles of the day.
My interest in vintage rally competition isn’t limited to the cars that raced in Group B though. This is because the notion of designing exotic, powerful and unique cars just for rally events had begun some years earlier. And perhaps the best example of this was the stunning Lancia Stratos…
Conceived by famous Italian design house Bertone, the rally version of the Stratos was known as the ‘HF’ and made it’s rally debut in 1972.
The WRC regulations of the time required that a minimum of 500 standard production examples of a vehicle had to be manufactured, before a manufacturer was allowed to campaign that vehicle in the WRC. In 1976, this regulation was eased to 400 examples. And by 1983, when Group B began, it fell to just 200 cars.
The lower the production requirement, the more affordable it became to design a vehicle with an emphasis on it’s rally performance, as opposed to public road use. And the Stratos was one such vehicle. By all accounts, the Stratos was a very uncomfortable road car. But with it’s mid-engine, Ferrari powered rear-wheel drivetrain, it was a sleek, balanced and compact rally car that revolutionized the sport. It’s last rally victories came as late as 1981, 9 years after it was introduced. And it’s success might have lasted even longer were it not for Fiat (owners of Lancia from 1969) diverting investment to their newer 131 Abarth.
Nevertheless, with 3 world championships, 17 rally victories and almost a decade of competitive results, the Stratos became one of the all-time greats.
It’s also so gorgeous, you can’t help but wish you could own one. But since you never will… fortunately, the 70s/80s R/C toy boom left us with one or two really nice radio controlled models of it.
After all, this is probably why a lot of toy cars exist – to allow people who will never have the real thing, to at least own something. In fact, some of the rarest cars ever made are those that seem to have had the most toys modeled after them – the Lamborghini Cheetah springs to mind, and so does the Mercedes-Benz C111 (neither of which were ever sold to the public, yet had countless toys made after them).
The bad news though, in this particular case, is that the toy Stratos featured here is now almost as hard to find as the real Lancia Stratos…
Japanese toy company Tomy were hugely innovative in the 70s and 80s, with an eclectic range of products from mechanical LED games to air-powered cars to robots. Their products always stood out to me as beautifully made and well-presented.
The popularity of R/C meant they also made a few cars along the way at various times, culminating in competitive buggies like the Tomy Intruder series, in the early 1990s.
Way back in 1978 – a year after it’s win at the Monte Carlo rally, Tomy released a replica of the victorious “Alitalia” sponsored Stratos HF, as driven by Sando Munari. Titled the “Radica A Lancia Stratos” (with “Radica” being another of those Japanese word-combos that were all the rage in Japan at the time, this time condensing “Radio Car”), the model was ready-to-run out of the box and fairly larged at 1/12 scale.
This was a detailed and gorgeous toy, and if you were 12 years old and found one of these under your Christmas tree in 1978, then you probably died instantly of a heart attack and never even had chance to enjoy it.
After all, even Tomy were excited. The box has a great photo on the front and lots of excited Japanese text, and even some exclamation points.
We should keep in mind that back in 1978, electric R/C was very much still in it’s infancy.
The plastic kit manufacturer Tamiya was establishing a market for a range of beautiful 1/12 and 1/10 scale, electric, kit-based models of various on-road racing cars. So something like this 1/12 Stratos from Tomy was designed to be a ready-to-run alternative – with a lower barrier to entering this exciting new world of R/C toys, but still excellent quality. It was released at a time when very few other electric R/C cars of this calibre even existed. In some countries, this model was even sold with a warning sticker on the front stating that “a model control licence is required under the Wireless Telegraphy Act of 1949 – details inside”. That’s where the world was, back in 1978.
So the fact that this model was not only for sale, not only fully functional (forward/reverse, left/right), but came with a decent digital proportional radio, real working indicator lights when turning, and even a synthesized “real engine sound” via an on-board speaker, is pretty remarkable.
Despite being pre-built, it came without it’s decals applied. So a decal sheet was included in the box (much like a kit model). As you can see, I haven’t taken the plunge with the decals on this one just yet (the example featured on this page is brand new).
Here are the decals…
Note the “1977 Rallye Monte Carlo” decal. I think Tomy did pretty well in replicating the real car (seen at the top of this article).
The body is hard plastic and seems a lot like the white styrol resin bodies found in many Tamiya kits of the era. Meaning it would be easy to paint if you wanted to ensure every tiny detail not covered by the decals, was accurate.
Another thing to note is that this model is quite heavy, especially once filled with it’s 4 x C and 4 x AA batteries. The transmitter requires 8 x AA batteries, much like any hobby-grade transmitter.
And unlike the often flimsy R/C cars you find in shops these days, the plastics used here are fairly thick, plus there are some metal components – such as the huge impact bumper at the front.
As mentioned earlier, the front yellow indicator lights are fully functional. Whenever the steering is triggered, the indicators flash relative to the turn. It’s a simple trick that I’ve seen on two other premium, ready-to-run R/C cars from the early 80s, though this may be the very first to have used it.
Driving the Stratos around, it’s almost odd to see it politely “indicate” at every turn, especially when you remember how hectic the real race car was. But you can’t help but love these early ideas.
Speaking of which, the performance of this toy is about what you’d expect for it’s time. The motor is somewhere below 380 size, and this is strictly an on-road vehicle (unlike it’s inspiration) and not designed for dirt. Sadly. But very, very few electric R/C vehicles were dirt-capable in the 70s.
Speed is steady and slow, and slower (relative to scale) than the real car. But that’s totally ok. With it’s scale looks, right down to it’s Pirelli Cinturato P7 tyres, there’s still a lot to be said for the fun of having a model Stratos toy that looks this nice and actually operates.
Of course the Digital Proportional transmitter with it’s gradual (rather than direct) rate of speed and steering also helps this model achieve a certain relaxed realism, and the reception and control are actually very decent for such early radio gear.
The transmitter is a large, quasi hobby-scale style unit. It actually looks a lot like the sort of thing rival Japanese R/C toy company Taiyo were manufacturing in the 80s. And I know Taiyo and Tomy did have connections at one point… but as far I know so far, this model is purely the product of Tomy.
Also notable is the fact that while it may be slower than the 360/380 motor powered cars from Tamiya in the late 70s, it does have a working differential (which many of the others didn’t).
Speaking of those Pirelli tyres – not only do they look amazingly “scale” with all their sidewall lettering, they’re soft and grippy, and after 37 years of sitting in a box the rubber is as fresh as the day it was manufactured.
One thing that definitely dates the Tomy Radica A Lancia Stratos as being a toy from another time, is the fact that the body is held in place by little more than it’s shape and an elastic band slung across the underside and hooked over a couple of tabs (you can see it in a few of these photos).
Unbelievably, the elastic band on mine still seems to be as new as the day it was made in 1978, and hasn’t crumbled to dust.
Which brings me finally, to the matter of engine sound.
Synthesized engine sounds in R/C cars (especially in cars release from the 1990s onwards), are something I’d normally see as a gimmick for toddlers. After all, from the 1990s just about every toy – from teddy bears to board games, seemed to have electronic sound effects in it.
But the world was different in 1978, and even Teddy Ruxpin was still about 7 years away from being released. Electronic sound effects in toys were still pretty new, but an R/C car with electronic “engine sound”? That was unheard of.
Inside this Stratos there’s an on-board synth unit attempting to simulate the real Stratos’ Ferrari Dino V6 engine. After carefully removing the vintage elastic band, I lifted off the body to have a look around. This image from the owner’s manual says it all…
Expecting to find the usual exposed circuit board and a cobweb of wires, I was impressed to see the car is fitted with a sealed receiver unit and a very modular design. Each component inside actually plugs together – even the headlights.
The synthesizer unit has a large speaker, and a pickup wire that runs from the gearbox to allow it to amplify it’s sound based on the rate of rotation of the gears. In other words, you get more noise (or at least a higher pitch) the faster the car is going. You also get a ticking sound when cornering (corresponding to the flashing indicator lights).
Running it around, I’d have to say the engine sound is a fairly loose definition of what a Ferrari V6 sounds like (!). Still, this was an admirable effort from Tomy in 1978. And if you prefer to run the car without the synthesizer, then no problem – you just unplug it.
A few R/C models have been made of the Lancia Stratos HF over the years, and a couple of them are capable of off-road running.
But the only two that really look scale-accurate to me, are this model, and a 1/10 scale kit model from Nichimo (of the same 1977 Alitalia car) which was a hugely detailed kit you needed to assemble. I’ll be covering it in a future article. But if you’re looking for a working, scale Lancia Stratos to put on your shelf straight out of the box, perhaps from the era of the real car, this is the one.
The only problem you have is, where to find one. The rarity level is high on this one, so this definitely a challenge for the dedicated collector or Lancia fan.
On this page: Tomy Radica A Lancia Stratos (1978)
|Motor||(to be confirmed)|
|Batteries||4 x C, 4 x AA (Car). 8 x AA (Transmitter)|
How rare is the Tomy Radica A Lancia Stratos (1978)?
Issues to look for: Tomy Radica A Lancia Stratos (1978)
|Items sometimes missing on this model||There aren't many bits I can see that might fall off this one. But the elastic band holding the body to the chassis is probably gone from most surviving examples on the planet (except the one on this page). You might also want to check for the transmitter antenna, and the detachable internal components which are all un-pluggable.|
|Other parts to check on this model||Typically, these sorts of low on-road R/C cars with hard plastics bodies from the 70s and 80s often end up with body shell flaws, due to their hard, detailed body shells. So check for cracks in the windscreen, broken window pillars etc.|
Model History: Tomy Radica A Lancia Stratos (1978)
|Tomy||"Radica A Lancia Stratos"||Original release of the car by Tomy. This is the only known release.||Japan||1978|