Despite having already written about the original Taiyo Jet Hopper, plus it’s American release the Tyco/Taiyo Turbo Hopper, I also wanted to share some additional photos and clippings relating specifically to the Jet Hopper in Australia.
And since 2016 actually marks the 30th Anniversary of the release of the Jet Hopper worldwide, this seemed like the perfect excuse for one more article about this legendary R/C toy. So let’s enjoy some memories of the Jet Hopper as it was “Down Under”, here in Australia…
In late 1987 and through 1988, the top selling 1/10 scale R/C car in Australia was the “The Fox” by Tamiya. The Fox managed to sell about 20,000 units during this period, outselling the rest of Tamiya’s popular range (including The Frog and The Hornet), and easily eclipsing the sales of 1/10 scale cars from other incredible Japanese brands like Kyosho, Marui etc, along with the American company Team Associated.
But while Tamiya dominated the 1/10 scale R/C market in those days, people often ask me today “why weren’t the other brands equally popular?” (given they often had equally stunning, and in many cases faster cars for competition). The answer to that is marketing, distribution, and “being first to market”. Tamiya were the first to popularize electric R/C. They also had great distribution, marketing and spare parts support. Oh, and their cars were highly evocative, memorable and well-made.
But in truth, Tamiya did have serious sales competition in the R/C market during the second half of the 1980s. It just didn’t come from where most people assume it did.
Think again about those 20,000 Foxes that were sold in Australia during 1987/1988. Tamiya even heavily discounted around 7000 of those Fox kits for Christmas in 1987, resulting in them being sold in some very unusual places – such as Franklins and Woolworths supermarkets.
But now consider this: In 1987, Taiyo sold 150,000 units of it’s Jet Hopper R/C car in Australia. During 1986/1987, the total number of Jet Hoppers sold in Australia topped 300,000. And there can be no doubt that at least a portion of those sales also represented lost sales for Tamiya.
Tamiya may have been the kings of the 1/10 scale market in the 1980s. But the biggest threat to their dominance of R/C came not from their 1/10 scale kit rivals, but rather, from other Japanese companies like Taiyo (and Nikko, or even Radio Shack) who had specialized for many years in making solid, ready-to-run, smaller (mostly 1/14 – 1/18 scale) R/C cars that were more affordable and easier for kids to get straight outside and play with. By 1988, the impressive sales of these companies actually caused Tamiya to move into 1/14 scale ready-to-run cars themselves (see: Tamiya’s “Quick Drive” line of cars) perhaps in an effort to keep their brand visible to kids (and parents who didn’t want to build kits!).
And so, with 2016 marking 30 years since the release of the Jet Hopper, what better time to write a little more about it – this time, with a focus on those hundreds of thousands of Jet Hoppers that Australian kids found under their Christmas trees.
First, here’s the Jet Hopper as it was typically sold in Australia…
You’ll notice it was packaged virtually identically to the American release where it was sold under Tyco/Taiyo branding.
There are some slight differences between the Jet Hoppers sold in Australia and those sold elsewhere in the world. But to be honest, they are all very similar. So don’t feel too bad if you can’t find a good Australian one to buy, because the main differences between the Australian one and those sold internationally are little more than the brand on the box and a couple of decals. And possibly the front bumper.
The “Metro” brand used in Australia was a popular toy brand in Australia for a few years from the mid 1980s until the 1990s. It was a brand name marketed through retailers, but actually owned by another company called GTI (George Tauber Imports Pty Ltd), who themselves later became Playcorp. I can clearly remember seeing the “Metro” brand on a few different toys (not just R/C cars) that were sold at stores like K Mart back in the 1980s. It’s strange that the brand’s once-common blue logo appears to be largely forgotten today, and a quick google search for it seemed to turn up next to nothing (except my own website!).
The Jet Hopper was the first R/C model imported and sold by GTI under the Metro brand. The style and marketing of the product appeared to mirror (pretty much identically) the way it had been launched in the USA through Tyco – hence we got the rectangular, windowed box with the huge backing card adorned with great artwork (which almost certainly must have been illustrated by an artist from Tyco in the USA).
As mentioned earlier, the car carries the odd decal difference, and the obvious one is “Metro” on the bonnet…
It was otherwise very similar to the first variant of the American Tyco/Taiyo Turbo Hopper – in other words, it had the LED light on the bonnet, low profile front tyres, and fat spike rear tyres, and a solid front bumper (with no writing on it). Although it lacked the little antenna-tip flag they had in the USA.
Like the US release, the Australian release also came with paperwork and some bonus “witches hats” (as we call them – “traffic pylons” to the rest of you!), which was an extremely cool little accessory to throw in as it gave kids something extra to practice their driving skills with. International Jet Hoppers never came with them, and I suspect it had been the US company Tyco’s idea to include them.
One of the bits of included paperwork was a spare parts sheet. Even though the Jet Hopper was a 1/16 scale ready-to-run buggy, much smaller than a Tamiya, the creation of a line of spare parts meant it felt a lot like this little car aspired to be a larger kit-based car. It was a fantastic thing to do, and was undoubtedly responsible for some of Taiyo’s resounding success with this car – giving the toy some actual longevity that went beyond the very first accidental smack into a roadside kerb, or the first set of thoroughly bald tyres.
The novelty of this parts support lasted only a few years unfortunately, before most of the ready-to-run R/C cars on the market went back to having few (if any) spares available at all. But while it lasted, you could easily buy new sets of tyres, bumpers, and a few other things for your Jet Hopper from either your local hobby store – or even from places like Supermarkets. I can clearly remember seeing them hanging on the racks at K Mart and hobby stores.
Here’s a collection of pretty much all of the spares that were available. Note how some of the spare rear wings carried the “Turbo Hopper” decal (probably US stock shipped to Australia) while others were “Jet Hopper”…
Today of course, some of those spare parts – in particular the tyres – are rare gems for collectors and restorers.
Last but not least was the transmitter, notable in Australia again for the presence of the “Metro” decal…
So that’s a quick wrap of the (just slightly) different way in which Jet Hoppers were presented here in Australia.
If you’d like to see many more detailed photographs and analysis of the car itself, and it’s performance and features, please visit the original Taiyo Jet Hopper page, along with the Tyco/Taiyo Turbo Hopper page, where I have covered this extensively.
Let’s now look at some rare ads and images relating specifically to the Jet Hopper in Australia.
Vintage Australian Jet Hopper advertising
I can still remember the first time I ever saw a Jet Hopper. A kid off in the distance at a park, was spinning the car around and around doing burnouts on a dusty bit of road. I wanted to go over there to ask if I could “have a go”, but the other kid seemed a bit older than me and I was too shy. So I just watched from afar, wondering if I’d ever own one myself.
Today, I own more than my share of Jet Hoppers, and have probably blabbed more about them than anyone else on the Internet. So I feel like I’ve made up for those days of watching other kids “doing doughnuts” with Jet Hoppers, off in the distance.
There can be no doubt that kids Australia-wide really went nuts for the Jet Hopper when it was released – it was truly a case of “right product at the right time”. Kids were crazy about R/C as a whole in the mid 1980s, but the Jet Hopper represented a ready-to-go package of car and transmitter, combined with very Tamiya-esque looks that were quite scale-realistic. It wasn’t the first or the only ready-to-run R/C car with this combination, but it was early to market and had the right combination of features. And it’s no surprise to me that it outsold the nearest Tamiya 7-to-1, becoming one of the biggest selling toys (of any kind) in it’s day.
So let’s have a look at some Australian Jet Hopper ads. Over the years I’ve accumulated a small collection of items relating to this car, and have included them all below. If I find any more Australian ads in future, I’ll add them to this page. Broken down by store, here is everything I have to date…
Toyworld is a chain of toy stores in Australia that is still operating today, though with far fewer stores than their heyday of the 1980s.
One of the great things Toyworld did was produce the occasional sales catalogue – usually a compact, almost pocket sized booklet. These booklets are unbelievably rare today, and sought-after by a myriad of toy collectors from Barbie to Transformers. I’ve done my best over the years to keep, and buy a few of these catalogues, or otherwise obtain scans from other collectors.
Some of the following images are courtesy of another toy collector (thanks Brendan!), who very kindly donated some scans of the Jet Hopper as it appeared in a couple of his 1987 Toyworld catalogues.
To the right firstly, you can see an image I got hold of years ago, from a Toyworld catalogue in 1986.
Next, here’s one from a Toyworld catalogue from “City Toyworld”, as featured in September 1987…
And here’s one more, also from a “City Toyworld” store catalogue in November 1987…
Who else remembers those Arlec batteries? 🙂
Very similar to Toyworld (they were in fact a partner chain of stores) were ZIGZAG toy stores, which mainly seemed to exist in the states of Victoria and Queensland.
These stores were around during the 1980s but seemed to disappear in the 1990s. Like Toyworld, they stocked many of the great R/C cars of the 1980s including the Jet Hopper. I actually found the ad below in a tourist magazine while visiting Queensland way back in 1989, and kept it all these years. As you can see there’s a Jet Hopper there in the middle of the image (not to mention a Tamiya Hotshot kit as well)…
The Sydney hobby shop Hobbyco is an icon of Sydney, and Australia’s oldest surviving hobby store. It still thrives today in a beautiful mid-city location (the Queen Victoria Building) that any visitor to the city of Sydney really must visit, especially given that so few major cities in the world today still have large, functioning hobby stores in their central districts (London’s Hamley’s might be the only other example I can think of)
The store stocks a wide range of toy and hobby goods, and it’s no surprise to see that this August, 1986 advertisement for Hobbyco featured the Jet Hopper…
Grace Bros / Myer
Another popular place for toys in the 80s, before the toy industry was essentially ruined by the arrival of Toys R Us, were department stores.
In Sydney, the biggest department store was Grace Bros, while in Melbourne it was Myer. The two companies had merged and essentially become one entity by the 1980s, but continued to maintain different store names in each city for many years.
Inevitably with it’s popularity in 1986, the Jet Hopper made appearances in their advertising, such as this scene in a Myer Christmas commercial…
While at Grace Bros, the Jet Hopper regularly appeared in their glossy Christmas catalogues. Here it is in November 1986…
The following year, the Jet Hopper it had been joined by new models in the Taiyo range such as the more advanced “Bullet” 4WD, and even the Mini Hopper…
Much like in the USA, K Mart stores in Australia are a chain of budget department stores. They have been in Australia for decades and continue to thrive today, however in recent years they have begun to sell a lot of very cheap, unbranded (low quality) rubbish. If you need to buy a toaster to last you a week, and you’ve got a tenner in your pocket, K Mart is where you go.
But back in the 1980s, K Mart actually sold quite a lot of quality, branded goods, particularly toys. Their stores were much better presented (they even had inbuilt cafés called Hollies), and I remember the days when some of their toy aisles even had long glass cases filled with things like Lego town and space displays.
I also remember seeing many great R/C cars at K Mart when I was growing up – including Jet Hoppers, and even Tamiya kits. And while sadly, I don’t have a single shred of vintage K Mart catalogue print advertising to prove it, I did spot this frame of a 1980s K Mart ad on Youtube where you can see a pretty interesting shelf in the background… a shelf filled with new in box Jet Hoppers.
That’s all for now, but if and when I find any more bits and pieces related to the Jet Hopper in Australia, I will be sure to post it here.
One person has told me that he remembers a children’s show on Australian TV called The Early Bird Show, on which kids would sometimes win Jet Hoppers as prizes for various games and activities. Amazing times.
As always, happy collecting!
(Image courtesy: Jack and Brendan)