With R/C still at peak popularity in 1988, Tandy/Radio Shack filled their stores with a range of off-road vehicles, and one of the very best was the Red Arrow Buggy.
A popular ‘little brother’ to their top-of-the-line Golden Arrow Buggy (manufactured by Nikko), the Red Arrow was actually manufactured by an entirely different company. And as such, gave it’s ‘sibling’ quite a run for it’s money…
While Tandy/Radio Shack’s business model of developing in-house brands and selling rebranded products from other companies eventually fell out of favour, back in the 1980s it seemed to be a successful strategy.
None of the “Radio Shack” R/C vehicles you’ve ever heard of were actually manufactured by Radio Shack themselves. Rather, all were made by established R/C toy makers from Asia such as Nikko, Taiyo, Atcomi, Daishin, Radcon and many more. The best of these tended to be the ones that were manufactured in Japan and Singapore, with a few admirable efforts from elsewhere.
Sadly, where once it seemed that the quality level of most R/C toys coming out of Japan and Singapore was so high that Radio Shack’s offerings automatically benefited from this reliable supply of products, as the years passed almost all of the high quality manufacturers disappeared, while newer products were being made at cheaper factories in mainland China. Naturally, this new supply also fed into western markets.
Few toy categories were hit worse by the manufacturing shift to China, than ready-to-run R/C cars. Where once in the 1980s, R/C toys had been a premium item with material quality and performance to justify their price, in the 1990s waning interest from consumers and a seeming oversupply of stock led to a number of good manufacturers going out of business. Couple this with the rise of China as a manufacturing base specializing in ultra-cheap technology items, and it quickly led to R/C cars being manufactured down to a price point (rather than up to any sort of respectable standard).
As I write this, you can purchase working R/C cars (made in China) in any shopping mall for as little as $10. Taking inflation into account, the 1980s equivalent of that dollar figure would have been about $4 – yet there was no such thing as a $4 R/C car back in the 1980s. The cheapest, most basic full-function model you could buy back then cost about $40 or more – roughly 10 times dearer. And this shows you how much has changed. R/C toys today are cheap, throwaway items. Yet in the 1980s, they may have cost a lot more, but they were also a far better standard and were intended to be enjoyed for years.
While it certainly wasn’t the cheapest R/C car on the market in it’s day, the Tandy/Radio Shack Red Arrow Buggy epitomized the sorts of things you could get in the late 1980s if you were willing to pay for them. In this case, a 1/10 scale, 540-powered, realistically detailed R/C buggy made from robust plastics and with proper rubber tyres.
The Red Arrow was added to the Radio Shack range in 1988, having been produced by a Taiwan-based company called Radcon (obviously a portmanteau of “Radio” and “Control”). Radcon had existed since the earlier 1980s and made quite a few R/C cars until the early 1990s when their name changed to Digitcon, before becoming one of the many casualties of the downturn in the R/C market. And despite not being based in Japan or Singapore, this was a company that produced comparable toys that are still leaps and bounds better than a lot of the base-level R/C buggy landfill you’ll find in stores today.
Radcon initially released this car under it’s own branding as the Radcon Wild Fox, but this earlier incarnation only seemed to make it as far as Europe. Once a big US firm like Radio Shack licensed the toy, it became available in retail outlets across the US, Canada, parts of Europe, and Australia, not to mention appearing in colour catalogues and TV commercials. With the name changed to Red Arrow Buggy, this powerful and versatile buggy finally made it’s way into thousands of homes around the world – particular at Christmas time.
The name “Red Arrow” had been a great idea. With Nikko already supplying Radio Shack with a top-of-the-line buggy that Radio Shack was calling the Golden Arrow Buggy, having a second model with “Arrow” in the name gave the impression the two were part of a series of top-level R/C toys. By coincidence they even had similar-looking tyres and wheels. But beyond that, they could not have been more different.
The Red Arrow’s first appearances in a Tandy catalogue here in Australia were in the lead up to Christmas back in 1988. Priced quite highly at AU$229 (though still $70 less than the Golden Arrow) it was the second most expensive vehicle in Tandy’s line-up. Here it is in the 1989 Annual Catalogue which hit Tandy stores in late ’88…
And here it is featured on the front cover of a Christmas sale catalogue in the lead up to Christmas 1988…
Back in those days, Tandy also used to issue a special kid-friendly pocket-sized toy catalogue in the lead-up to Christmas, and here is the Red Arrow in the 1988 edition of that…
For Christmas in 1989, the price of the Red Arrow was reduced to just AU$149, which I remember thinking was quite a bargain at the time – even if I still couldn’t afford it. Here it is in the 1989/1990 Annual catalogue plus the Christmas toy catalogue of 1989…
At this price, the car was obviously quite popular. And it was sometime in 1990 that, rather than just admiring the car at Christmas time, I gave it my first actual test drive at a Tandy store near my home.
Of course I already knew it was fast, being well aware that it was 540 motor powered buggy. But blasting it around inside a narrow Tandy store, I could barely avoid all the obstacles that in the way. And after a minute or so, I gave it back to the salesman, not wanting to damage anything.
Later that year, the Red Arrow was featured on the front of Tandy’s 1990/1991 Annual catalogue. By this time the Golden Arrow had actually been discontinued…
And after obviously selling well for Christmas in 1990, the Red Arrow continued on and was still available as late as Christmas 1991, as seen below…
And now for a new-in-box example of the Red Arrow itself.
As was the fashion back in those days, Radio Shack adorned the car’s box with a great illustration of the Red Arrow in flight, roaring along a desert track…
Illustrated toy box art wasn’t just the preserve of the master illustrators at Tamiya, after all. Once common practice on toy packaging, Radio Shack was a company that probably kept this tradition going longer than most, adorning many of their 1980s R/C car boxes with truly fun (and now retro) illustrated scenes of the vehicle set against beautiful landscapes or tearing up the terrain as though it were real (often with human figures in the scene).
I doubt the artists behind this work got any credit at all, so credit where it’s due – I really love Radio Shack box art illustrations.
On the side of the box, it reads:
Head for the toughest country back-roads with this rugged buggy racer! Leave the others behind in the dust with instant turbo acceleration!
Radio Shack/Tandy were never short of hyperbole for their products (in fact, I can still remember one of their tiniest and least-powerful R/C toys being described with a phrase like “take the lead on the straightaway!”). But in the case of the Red Arrow their enthusiasm was spot-on for the car, as the Red Arrow was more than capable of leaving a trail of dust in it’s wake.
Inside the box, everything came wrapped in plastic. And much like the Golden Arrow (and because this was a more serious R/C buggy that aspired to hobby grade levels) it even came with a little plastic wrench for removal of the wheels…
Once out of the box, the Red Arrow has a few superficial similarities to the Golden Arrow. But as mentioned earlier, it is an entirely unique vehicle. Large, chunky and made from somewhat roughly hewn (in places) hard plastics, and sporting an absolutely enormous front bumper, the overall impression is of a buggy that is really quite rugged in construction…
Featuring the familiar combination of fat, spike rear tyres and smooth, ribbed front tyres that had been a de-facto standard among kit-based R/C cars since the early 1980s, the Red Arrow is a somewhat angular and unusual looking car. When you consider it arrived in 1988, by which time all the sleek and spacey “aero” R/C buggies had started to appear on the market, the Red Arrow might have been better placed had it come out in 1985.
Personally, I remember loving it for it’s more realistic shape – including the fact that it was one of the few buggies left in the early 1990s that still carried this style. It even had a decent driver figure molded into the cockpit – not unlike the type found in Tamiya R/C kits. Furthermore, Radcon went to quite a bit of trouble molding a gear stick, steering wheel, as well as various readouts and instruments…
Given that the Wild Fox/Red Arrow was to be Radcon’s best-ever R/C effort before the company disappeared, I like what they achieved.
The body design is quite well-proportioned, and the lines taper sharply to the front-end giving the car a narrow front wheel track. This is of course accentuated greatly by that enormous front bumper – it’s almost as if they made the front wheel track narrow purely to ensure it was tucked away behind the bumper, for complete protection.
The bumper is made from hard but flexible plastic (like much of the car), and the feel is of rugged design. And all this hard-yet-rugged, slightly flexible plastic does make sense when you think about. Ready-to-run cars like these did not have the luxury of utilizing ultra-flexible polycarbonate bodies, as those would require painting (thus preventing the car from being ready-to-run right out of the box). So to make up for it, there had to be compromises – like impact-ready rugged plastics, or huge bumpers to protect the entire car.
From behind, the car is much wider and squat, with twin “exhausts” but no visible sign of rear suspension due to the body overhang concealing it.
Up on top, they added the somewhat unusual (for a buggy) exposed chrome engine, which is embossed as a whopping V-12, 48 Valve unit. I wonder if any real off-road buggies utilized one of these?…
Underneath, things get even more interesting – and unique.
Unlike most ready-to-run R/C cars of the era which tended to require the body to be unscrewed if you needed to fix something, the body of the Red Arrow can be removed via a pair of large sliding levers located on either side of the driver figure. Simply slide them both forward, and the body shell comes free.
It’s done this way because the batteries need to be inserted with the body off, rather than via a battery door underneath the car.
The batteries – a 7.2volt battery pack plus 4 x AA cells – are then placed into a rather complicated-but-clever battery box (for the AAs) and tray (for the 7.2v pack). And you are helped along the way by an embossed illustration showing where to move a sliding latch to allow access to each thing…
Much like a Tamiya buggy or any other 540-powered buggy of the 1980s, this tried-and-true combination of AA cells (for receiving the radio signal) and 7.2v battery pack enables you to keep control of the car even when the pack runs out.
In another interesting twist, the Red Arrow does shed the (inevitable) heat energy of the large battery via ceramic resistors – much like a Tamiya. Except in order to ensure safety, Radcon tucked those resistors under the nose of the car, beneath a cage – ensuring that nobodies fingers would ever get burnt.
Suspension is the usual combination of spring/friction dampers with independent travel at the front, and rolling rigid axle at the rear. However, the rear only features a single yellow damper. But it’s sprung stiffly enough to support the rear weight of the car without any problem. Just the usual bouncing you get from any R/C toy that lacks the full oil dampers found on the more advanced models.
A closer look at those gorgeous, fat rear tyres shows how they were (as was typical for the time) inspired by the original Tamiya Buggy Spike Tyre – with that tendency for large spikes that sat right around the curved edges of the tyre. Nothing says “80s R/C buggy” more to me, than seeing a rear tyre with the spikes protruding almost horizontally outward at the sides…
The performance of the Red Arrow has been said (by some) over the years to have been quicker than that of the Golden Arrow. Which would be funny if it were true, seeing as it was priced quite a bit cheaper. And there’s no reason why it might not be true – if the weight and drivetrain are somehow better, perhaps the Red Arrow made more efficient use of it’s Mabuchi 540 powertrain?
Personally I’ve never raced both “Arrows” at once, so I am not sure which was truly the fastest. I always found them to be quite similar in acceleration. And that alone was enough to make this buggy a bargain, offering similar performance at up to $100 less than it’s “Golden” sibling. I doubt either of them were faster than a Tamiya Hornet or Tamiya Frog, but they were certainly close at times. Please share your thoughts in the comments area if you have any interesting stories to tell, as it’s always great to hear about those childhood races along streets and in backyards.
Radio reception from the included Digital Proportional transmitter was typically quite good, and a cut above any ready-to-run R/C toy in a lower price bracket by offering a greater range.
Overall, I always found the Red Arrow to be a very solid, reliable all-round off-road buggy with some cracking speed that was in excess of both a few of the low-end Tamiya buggies (like the Grasshopper), as well as the smaller, nimble upstarts like the Jet Hopper et al.
A typical 2WD racer, it was prone to “fishtail” on loose surfaces, but that was all part of the fun of 2WD R/C back in the 80s, and it was probably a little easier to drive in some ways, than the likes of a Tamiya Hornet.
Of course, anything with a 540 motor had cracking speed back in those halcyon days of the 1980s. But as was often the case with mid-1980s R/C buggies, the Red Arrow combined raw 540 power with a truly unique and interesting body shape, rugged and practical design detail and flair, and some funky 1980s action box art. Put all those ingredients together, and you have another bona fide classic R/C buggy of the era.
Today, examples of the Red Arrow are reasonably easy to find on the collector’s market, with 2 or 3 usually being offered for sale at any given time. Of course, most of those examples are used, so mint-in-box ones are a lot harder to locate. Such is the problem with all ready-to-run R/C toys, they were just all too easy to take out of the box and play with back in the day. So 99% of them are in used condition today.
But as someone who grew up obsessing over the range of R/C cars and buggies at my local Tandy stores, the Red Arrow was certainly the stuff of dreams for me. So if you had one at the time – consider yourself very lucky indeed! I know I feel honoured to have one of the very few pristine examples now left.
As always, happy collecting.
|At a glance…|
|Digital Proportional: Yes|
|Batteries: 1 x 7.2v Battery Pack, 4 x AA (Car). 6 x AA (Transmitter)|
|Original price in Australia, back in 1988: $229.95|
|What this would equate to, in 2016 money: $503 (calculated using this)|
Model History - Radcon Wild Fox
Issues collectors should look for…
The Tandy / Radio Shack Red Arrow is relatively easy to find, but extremely hard to find in mint condition. Coming ready-to-run out of the box means most examples are well used.
In addition, while this is a fairly rugged model overall, you should check any used examples of this car for damage to the cockpit frame of this model as it has proven somewhat vulnerable to impacts and may be broken.
- Things you should always look for:
- Clean/working battery compartments free of battery residue and rust
- General wear & tear, scratches, dirt etc
- Items often missing or broken on this model:
- Cockpit frame – the pillar supports around the windscreen may have damage if the model has been flipped, on used examples.