What do you get when you combine Californian Baja Buggies of the early 1980s, with an amphibian, and an old Japanese delivery truck?
Well in 1983, Tamiya got what was to become one of the greatest and most iconic R/C vehicles in history.
The first time I ever saw a Tamiya Frog, I was about 7 or 8 years old and attending an outdoor Christmas Party with my parents. The party was being held in a public park, and at one point Santa Claus arrived with small gifts for all the children who were there, most of whom were toddlers.
Being a little older than a toddler, I was hoping that the organisers (or Santa) were aware of this. And that whatever gift I received would be suited to my age. But excitement soon turned to disappointment, when I unwrapped a promisingly large present, to find an oversized plastic toy car with “friction” power – the kind suited to babies, and designed to be so large it was impossible to swallow.
To make matters worse, at the same instant I unwrapped it and saw what it was, a random group of older kids (aged 12-13 and not connected to our Christmas Party) happened to be running past in the park. They were chasing after some sort of powerful radio controlled car that was blasting leaves everywhere and was being driven by the leader among them. It was, I’m fairly certain, a Tamiya Frog. And one of the stragglers in the group (some hanger-on who was merely running behind the cool kid who owned the Frog) looked across at me holding my large, goofy plastic car, and screamed…
“This car is better than THAT!”
He was right of course. But in that moment, I wondered if my plastic car really wouldn’t fit down someone’s throat after all.
Today, nearly 40 years after that weird day at the park, I wonder where that kid ended up (a labour camp perhaps?). Or whether he ever got the chance to drive his cool friend’s Tamiya Frog…
Released in 1983, The Frog was the 41st R/C model from legendary Japanese model-maker Tamiya. Today it represents a cornerstone vehicle in an era off-road R/C in which Tamiya releases made up a significant proportion of the market. When you speak to people who remember anything at all about the R/C cars of the 1980s, almost everyone remembers The Frog.
At school back in the 1980s, The Frog was often mentioned among a shortlist of R/C car names that we all knew, much like The Hornet and The Grasshopper. But as with the Hornet and the Grasshopper, Tamiya also infused the Frog with subtle design elements that resembled the creature itself.
The very early Tamiya promotional leaflets showed photos of a Frog that was only a prototype version. This version was never sold to the public and had a few differences to even the earliest Frog kit – for instance, the decals are different and the ceramic resistors are positioned on the side of the car, not the rear. Here are two images of the prototype Frog. Notice for example, the “Frog Racing Team” decal on the side and how it has no black highlight around it. Also the “No Guts No Glory” decal on the rear wing is different to the kit.
“Early Vintage” Frog
These photos show the Frog as it actually came in kits sold to the public. To me, this is the first true Tamiya Frog. As you can see, the decals now look a bit better and more refined. The photos below show the “early vintage” Frog – because they show it with the earlier, narrower front bumper.
To me, this picture is the most iconic one…
For me, it was the stance, shape and colour that really captured my imagination, when gazing at those early Tamiya catalogue photos of the Frog.
Notice how the buggy has a sort of “squat” appearance, with big round headlights, and a wide section of the bonnet. While the rear of the car has trailing-arm suspension dampers laid horizontally, stretching to the back wheels, which are the part that extend furthest at the rear…
And now look again. That odd bonnet shape is there to give the car some girth (body), those headlights are to see where you’re going (eyes), those dampers and wheels extend toward the rear a bit like… frog’s legs. It’s not overt, but it’s there. And it’s remarkable that Tamiya ever thought such an idea would work. And yet work, it did. On the subliminal imaginations of millions of children (and adults), worldwide.
“Mid-Late Vintage” Frog
From about 1984 onwards, the Frog received the wider front bumper found on the Tamiya Hornet and Tamiya Grasshopper. So this slightly later catalogue photo shows a pretty much identical Frog, but with the wider and more reinforced front bumper.
At school, some kids I knew even insisted that The Frog was the best R/C car “at jumping”. This wasn’t specifically true, of course. Any Tamiya, or indeed buggy from any brand, could leap off a jump. But what better artwork to put on the kit box of a model called Frog, than an image of the car jumping toward you…
As with all Tamiya models released back in the 1980s, the Frog’s arrival was accompanied by some official promotional videos that were given (on tape) to many hobby shops to be played all day, and help promote the products. And many collectors today remember seeing them playing in stores, in their youth. The videos would typically be a showreel of all the models in Tamiya’s range. And each year, Tamiya would release a new showreel for their latest models, plus sometimes additional video of the models from past years. This meant that in some cases, there were two or three different videos for one particular model, and this was the case with The Frog which had three videos in total.
Some years ago I obtained what I think was the most complete collection of these videos that have been available, and from the source I divided them into clips of the individual models. The quality of this footage is old – very few original copies have been known to exist, and none of them are perfect, so the faded colour and tape glitches found in many of these videos can’t be avoided. But unlike Youtube where nobody has the videos very organized… below is an attempt to catalogue the three distinct ones that exist.
Each of these videos of The Frog features different narration, music and footage, as it was released as part of different year’s Tamiya showreel.
The Frog – Video #1 (1983)
This is the first video of The Frog, released in 1983. It appeared during the showreel featuring other models Tamiya released in 1983, such as the Subaru Brat and Audi Quattro. This is the longest of the three videos, and the footage is poor – but we’re lucky to have it anyway.
The Frog – Video #2 (early 1985)
This is the second video of The Frog, released probably in early 1985 as it appeared in a showreel that opens with a lengthy promotion of the Tamiya Hotshot.
The Frog – Video #3 (late 1985)
This is the third and final video of The Frog, released probably in late 1985 as it appeared in a showreel that also features the Tamiya Fox. This is naturally the shortest of the three videos.
Punky Brewster – “Girls Will Be Boys” (1986)
The 1980s children’s sitcom hit “Punky Brewster” was a half-hour TV series about a little girl who was abandoned (with her dog) in a supermarket by her mother, and later adopted by a kindly older gentleman named Henry. I grew up watching this show and, while it now seems incredibly cheesy and flat in the joke department, I can say with confidence that every kid my age at that time would regularly watch this show after school each day. The show was so popular that it even spawned a cartoon spinoff.
In 1986 the show did something pretty amazing as far as the R/C hobby went – it centred an entire episode around Tamiya R/C cars, with the support of MRC (US Tamiya distributor) and Tamiya themselves. The episode was called “Girls Will Be Boys” and it, Punky wins a Tamiya Frog kit – only to be told by Henry and the local boys that she can’t build or race it, because she’s a girl.
The Frog features throughout the episode (albeit with the name hidden from view on the box, and never referred to by name) – along with at least 6 or 7 other Tamiya buggies.
For vintage Tamiya fans of today, the whole thing is pretty amazing – a lost relic in so many ways, and very sentimental. But you can’t help but smile at a simpler age, when a show like this was aired on network TV, and around the world. The little R/C club reminds me a lot of the backyard races I used to have with my friends (including one girl), and my Dad.
Here’s the episode…
One edition of Tamiya News, the Japan-based monthly newsletter from Tamiya, actually mentions the episode and includes a few photos of scenes from it. You can see that here.
Tamiya Frog vintage kit
The kit box is quite large, and inside Tamiya provided the typically beautiful blister pack full of parts, plus a Frog-themed support box for the body and decals. Other parts are piled on the other side, while smaller parts can be found inside the green box.
Many have wondered over the years, why did Tamiya illustrate, build and design its decals to best suit a half-pink colour scheme? Why wasn’t the Frog… green?
Some years ago over at Tamiyaclub.com, I believe this mystery was finally answered, when an insightful comment there opened my eyes to a little known fact of the Japanese vehicle industry. The comment by Mokei Kakagu described how there had once (between the 1950s and 1960s) been a 3-wheeled, urban delivery truck called a Mazda K360. And how was this relevant? Well, it turns out these cute little trucks had: bug-eyed headlights, were colloquially known as “Frog Express” to the public, and were quite often painted pale pink on the lower half, and white on the top…
While this connection has never been definitively proven…surely it can’t just be a coincidence?
As model #41 in Tamiya’s history, The Frog was released at a turning point in the company’s R/C development. 1983 was still a very early year in electric 1/10 R/C modeling, and The Frog represents a model that was both revolutionary for it’s time, and which hints at the transitional nature of the industry at that time.
The Frog was released on 16th of December 1983 to be exact. And it was the third model from Tamiya to utilize a new chassis they referred to as the “ORV” (Off-Road Vehicle) – following the Subaru Brat (released July 1983) and the Lancia Rally (November 1983).
This new chassis type was of a plastic “space-frame” nature – an almost rib-cage like structure, fitted together in two halves, and designed to be rigid while reducing weight.
Unlike a “bathtub” style chassis whereupon everything within the car just sits safely inside a tub, the ORV chassis required all equipment within the body of the car to be affixed in unusual ways – hanging here and there inside or outside, on bridges and platforms within the chassis frame. And the overall impression is that it’s quite an unusual layout even to this day. Yet it went on to be re-used in a multitude of different Tamiya vehicles, notably several monster vehicles like the Monster Beetle.
Suspension is a double wishbone at the front, with spring loaded shocks. While the rear features trailing arm, independent suspension with oil-filled shocks. In additional, the Frog featured a gear differential – which at the time, was not at all common in R/C buggies, most of them having no differential at all straight from the kit (they usually required optional third-party conversions).
Even more amazing though, is how vehicles like the Frog (and it’s early ORV relatives) sit within the sequence of R/C models Tamiya was designing at that time. You might expect that consecutive models made by the same company and built for the same purpose, would represent a recognizable evolution from one model to the next.
But if you look purely at the “buggies” of that era – the preceding buggy from Tamiya, was the Super Champ – released almost exactly 1 year to the day before The Frog. Yet so utterly different, that it might as well have been manufactured by another company on the other side of the planet. The Super Champ and Frog share virtually nothing with one another – save for the wheels and tyres. And if anyone ever asks me “what’s the attraction of vintage R/C models?”, this is a perfect example of my answer: the sheer innovation and variety of those early years, combined with high quality, are what make them a joy to collect. No two are the same. And the ways in which all the R/C companies of the day seemed to careen from one idea to the next, often throwing the entire drawing board out the window for the next new model, is a key component of why we call it “the Golden Era” of R/C. Not because every idea was a success. But because all those ideas combined together, make for an eclectic and interesting history.
The transitional nature of the Frog’s design can also be seen in it’s mix of metal and plastic parts. Where in previous years, aluminium had featured heavily in Tamiya kits, the Frog reflected an increased use of plastics to reduce weight, while still reserving metals for a few key components here and there – steering uprights, gearbox, and so on.
Developments in the industry at the time were being increasingly driven forward by the explosive popularity of organized 1/10 scale electric buggy racing, and Tamiya tended to give these advances some concern. Though apparently not enough concern to make racing the primary focus of their products (unlike other brands).
The result of this was that each new Tamiya buggy tended to have some (modest) success in competitive racing, without ever becoming dominant on a world scale. The Frog was notable for winning the 1984 German Nationals in R/C competition, in a field that consisted mostly of Frogs – itself a sign of the car’s popularity. But all racing events in those days were still relatively new and somewhat amateur affairs, without the cost and professionalism of later years. Meanwhile, the quick advances of other companies, most notably Kyosho and Associated, meant that in pure racing terms there were plenty of other strong competitors on the market.
In 1984, one British R/C magazine cited the Frog as also being ideal for enduro events, due to the fact it’s “light weight helps increase endurance while a tough construction and quick replacement of parts keep pit stops to a minimum” (Radio Race Car, issue #22, 1984)
With it’s wide distribution and popularity with club racers, The Frog was obviously campaigned around the world in a variety of events, particularly before the Team Associated RC10 was released.
For most of us kids though, R/C models during those years were expensive, and in many case, unobtainable R/C toys in the first place – and R/C competition was confined to grainy photos in the few R/C magazines you might see at the local Newsagency. So as far as I was concerned, anyone who owned a Frog, or anyone who knew anyone who owned a Frog… was doing exceedingly well. And for many years, I didn’t even know anyone who owned a Frog. Only lots of kids who wished they did.
Besides, as I have said many times before in my articles on this website – racing and high performance (beyond backyard racing) was never really my focus either. And I dare say this was the case for the vast majority of Frog owners, and even R/C owners more generally in the early 1980s – many of whom probably enjoyed this model primarily on backyard tracks, or with friends at the park. And yet, that everyday-fun style of ownership is now precisely the type that seems to inspire the most nostalgia for classic R/C vehicles like these. From the kit-based models, to the simpler ready-to-run vehicles.
It’s the kids who got a Frog for Christmas, then raced it around their neighborhood, who today have gone on to make this the iconic, collectible and fondly remembered kit that it now is.
Following my first encounter with a Frog at a park, I don’t think I even saw another one for several years.
Until one day I visited the house of another family, whose son was around a similar age to me. This was the same kid featured in my torrid tale of buying a Tandy/Radio Shack Wild Horse – And as I mentioned there, he was sitting in his living room thrashing a Tamiya Frog around and just smacking it against the furniture, while his mum said “don’t do that” rather weakly. Why did it so often seem as though the least deserving kids in the 1980s, had all the best toys? 😀
When I finally got to own a Frog myself, I found it to be a truly exciting and fun buggy to drive.
Having already owned a Tamiya Hornet, the rear independent suspension on the Frog really gave it an advantage over the Hornet on bumpy terrain. Though in a straight line, both buggies were comparable in speed, since both came with the same motor. My other initial impression was that The Frog’s front steering geometry enabled a lot of oversteer if you wanted it. I tend to prefer oversteer to understeer on R/C models. And over the years I have always found the Frog dynamic and relatively easy to drive on a dirt track.
Visually, I’d also have to say The Frog is one of my all-time favourite R/C vehicles.
This is an R/C vehicle packed with many interesting and quirky details – from the classic slogan on the rear wing, to the beautiful three-piece spoked wheels, and the unusual suspension design. And of course, those glorious, fat rear spike tyres (originally produced for the Tamiya Super Champ).
A prominent styrol resin driver figure, “K C Daylighter” smile headlights, and careful window transparencies, rollbar highlights, and window netting decals for the window areas… help bring some significant realism to this vehicle. Painting the lexan body is actually very tricky and requires a lot of careful masking to achieve the windows, roll bars and the two-tone paint scheme. But the end result – with its extensive set of real sponsor logos to cap it all off, is pure Tamiya magic. The pink colour combination is so iconic, that green Tamiya Frogs always look wrong to me. When done right, no lexan-bodied Tamiya buggy can possibly look better than this model, in my opinion. And keep in mind I love most of them.
Back in the 1980s, the Frog was an immensely strong seller, though priced a little higher than the Hornet due to it’s slightly more sophisticated design. Nevertheless, and by all accounts, it appears to have sold so readily that it was stocked by everything from toy stores, to electronics retailers, to department stores – some of whom took out ads in major newspapers, just to promote products like The Frog (something you never see these days).
Here in Australia, we have a chain of small toy stores called Toyworld. And while any old print memorabilia related to Toyworld is now extremely hard to find, after some years of searching I did manage to find this great colour Toyworld print advertisement from 1985 – showing a Frog package, complete with the classic Acoms Techniplus radio, plus Tamiya battery and charger…
Being one of Tamiya’s true hit toys of the decade, The Frog was also used to promote Tamiya’s little-known line of souvenir items, which were mostly confined to the Japanese market.
It was also used to reinforce their “Toys, They’re Not” mantra in some of their product catalogues…
And last but not least, here’s an odd reference I found – the Sydney Morning Herald (a major Sydney newspaper) on 15th December 1985, used a picture of The Frog as part of an article about expensive Christmas Toys that year… see below.
If you love 1980s Tamiya R/C models, and you don’t already own it, The Frog is probably on your wishlist. There are very few R/C models that are as iconic as this one – both for the Tamiya brand, and for R/C history as whole.
Today, The Frog continues to experience popularity in the form of many souvenirs and spin-off products, some of which I have collected also. There has also been a remake kit issued, which came out in the mid-2000s, with many changed parts.
Needless to say, The Frog has gone on to become quite collectible as well, and prices have continued to climb over the years – particularly for new in box, or near new examples. Used examples are relatively easy to find, but it all depends on the condition you are looking for. Some spare parts, such as the original body set, are also becoming harder to find these days, even on the collector’s market. But find them you must, if you are to restore this piece of Tamiya history to catalogue standard, and in original form – a challenging, but very satisfying project.
As always, happy collecting!
Tamiya Frog (1983): At a glance
|Suspension||Yes (Front independent with coil springs, rear independent with oil dampers)|
|Digital Proportional||Yes (Transmitter purchased separately)|
|Batteries||1 x 7.2volt + optional 4 x AA (Car) |
8 x AA (Transmitter)
Tamiya Frog (1983): Issues To Look For
|Is it an original, or the remake?||Tamiya has released a remake of this car. The original model however, is generally much more valuable than the remake. If buying a used example, ask about the history of the model and whether it is 100% original or the remake, or a mix of the two. You can also check the embossed stamps on larger plastic parts to identify original parts. For more on this, see: “A detailed guide to vintage vs remake Tamiya R/C kits”|
|Items sometimes missing on this model|| |
|Other parts to check on this model|| |
Tamiya Frog (1983): Variants
Characteristics of a vintage Tamiya Frog kit from the early period of it's production run.
Characteristics of a vintage Tamiya Frog kit from the middle to late period of it's production run.
Tamiya Frog: All Models
In 2005, Tamiya produced a remake of The Frog, which is different to the original.
In 2006, Tamiya produced the Tamtech-Gear Frog which is a smaller scale and uses a completely different design.
In 2019, Tamiya produced the Comical Frog, which is a caricature style Frog.