Perhaps there’s endless demand for vintage & retro R/C

The limitless nature of the Internet means the information on it has a certain immortality these days – it’s easier to find and share than at any other point in human history. Even forgotten things can go viral again in an afternoon.

But what if that immortality also translates into the longevity of fashions, trends and even hobbies like vintage R/C cars – giving everything an extended lifespan?


I joined eBay in 1999. Which means I’ve now been using it for over 20 years. A sobering thought when you consider that’s longer than the lifespans of some current singers, Formula 1 drivers or tennis players. Way to feel old!

A lot has changed over the past 20 years too. My very first eBay purchases (which were music and film posters) were paid for using Bank cheques which I nervously posted in envelopes to the sellers, placing all faith in eBay’s early “feedback” honour system (which remarkably, remains similar to this day). There was no Paypal, no buyer protection, and no online tracking in 1999. Even the notion of online banking was terrifying in those days.

Fortunately I got all my posters. And it’s interesting to note that even those first eBay purchases I made were somewhat “retro” in nature – posters of Pink Floyd and Mike Oldfield album art, along with various old movies I liked. I was thrilled at the idea that I could find such out of print rarities, somewhere in the world.

My attention soon turned to other nostalgic interests – what about old discontinued R/C cars, was anyone selling those on eBay? I had been searching for them in local newspaper classifieds since about 1993 (Sydney-siders may remember The Trading Post), with only limited success.

From the first moment I joined eBay, it was clear that this secondhand marketplace opened up not just the chance for people to sell anything to a global audience, but for buyers to find global rarities. eBay and the Internet quickly became a boon for collectors. So much so that they turned many people who weren’t collectors, into collectors.

In past articles here on R/C Toy Memories I have vented, at times, about how eBay changed over the years – even going so far as to question whether eBay was “over” for collecting back in 2014 due to it’s ridiculous fee hikes (originally 4%, later 10% + 10% on postage). But eBay has always felt like such a natural fit for the Internet and an undeniably simple but clever business model (one we all wish we were the first to think of) that even if the business disappeared one day, it would simply live on under other names.

Did you own the Puma R System computer shoes back in the 1980s? Probably not – but the Internet (and Puma) still brought them back in 2018.

What’s more, with almost a quarter of a century of Internet use now behind me, I’ve started to wonder whether anything once subject to online buzz, can ever truly be over. Sure, hype comes and goes. But is anything really forgotten? Heck, even MySpace is still running.

The Internet is an ocean, but one in which nothing takes more than a second or two to be “resurfaced” (by search) and scooped out again. And if it has value, perhaps shared. And then reshared.

Even interesting but unpopular relics thought lost from the pre-Internet days, now end up re-manufactured for a nostalgic audience – all of whom never owned the originals, but who are fascinated nonetheless. Did anyone own a pair of the bizarre and bulky, but amazing Puma R System computer sneakers back in the 1980s? Well that didn’t stop Puma creating a limited reissue of them in 2018 – upgraded of course to use Bluetooth instead of cables.

And hearing news like this really made me think about how anything can be revived and live on again. And again.

Which is both good and bad news, depending on what it is.

The bad: nothing that should end, ever ends anymore

Perhaps the limitless nature of information on the Internet, from elastic social media scroll feeds, to gossip, Twitter, etc is what gives rise to a perception in society that there should be no end to anything we like – no matter what it is. Perhaps too many now perceive endlessness, as the norm.

From entertainment, to products, to people’s own existence… There are now companies offering to store your online identity in the cloud for eternity. Or even dreaming up services where people may one day upload their own minds to the web. All so that we ourselves, can go on and on. It sounds like a Black Mirror episode (and of course, it is).

Consider TV shows. We routinely hear the term “Golden Age of TV”, and there’s no doubt the past 10-20 years has seen a boom in creativity on the small(er) screen. And yet the expectation of fans for there always to be another season also seems to hang over that creativity like a cloud. The willingness of studios to “listen to the fans” has driven many shows beyond the natural life of their stories. How often have you found that by the time you reach a 10th, 11th or 12th season, the creative well has run dry and the story has jumped the shark? For me, this has been almost every show I’ve watched in the past 10 years. It’s a long time since popular classics like Fawlty Towers had the restraint to call it quits after just 12 high quality episodes.

Concept art of Sigourney Weaver and Michael Biehn in the proposed Alien 5 sequel by Neill Blomkamp, that never took off.
Even film directors are doing it… back in 2015, director Neill Blomkamp (District 9) posted his retro Alien film concept art online, despite having no deal to actually direct a new Alien movie. He was essentially acting as fans do – hyping for more. The film ultimately never happened. But fans still talk about it, even though it was probably just another very bad idea.

Likewise, film franchises have often seen fans demand new installments, even when it’s been beyond obvious that the glories of the past can’t be repeated in the same way. Remember the days when Star Wars was a three-act trilogy with a conclusive, happy ending? Or when the lead characters in both Alien 3 (1992) and Terminator II: Judgement Day (1991) committed acts of self sacrifice in pits of molten lead? These were all intended to be franchise-ending plot developments. Was it a coincidence then, that they were all subsequently revived with more sequels and prequels from about the late 1990s onward – just as household Internet use and online demand had started to become a thing?

In the years since, Star Wars has been prequeled and sequeled to death with eight more movies (for a total of 11). Alien has had four more (for a total of 7) – with the most recent attempt ending with a tease of another sequel. While the most recent (sixth) Terminator film was summed up by respected film critic Mark Kermode with the words: “Just. Stop.”.

With only one or two exceptions, all of these retro-laden sequels have been met with derision. And yet some fans still howl for more and insist “there’s plenty they could do with the story!“. When really, there just isn’t.

And while I’m on a bit of a rant – books are not much better either. I often pick up a promising-looking fiction or science fiction novel at a bookstore, only to put it back down when I realize it’s “Book 3 of 9”. The idea that any well-rounded story should take that long to tell, is faintly absurd. Even J.R.R Tolkien had the good grace to wrap-up his most epic work in a mere trilogy. And yet, despite having had six films since 2001, The Lord of the Rings is now being turned into a multi-season TV show.

The good: neverending “retro” too?

Interest in miniaturized retro computer consoles has been strong for years, but did you hear that the Commodore 64 computer recently underwent a full-sized remake? It’s called the C64.

While film and TV have at times become a fiasco of fan-service, the Internet’s inability to let go of other pop culture relics is rather more harmless and amusing. When interests or fashions are revived or rebooted, they’re not usually part of some beloved narrative where the past can feel tarnished by clumsy new additions (as with films).

Which brings us to collectibles. And to things like the revival of vintage R/C cars, via remakes.

Consider this. When Tamiya began remaking some of it’s classic R/C cars in earnest from 2005, the very notion of a remake was new to the R/C industry. I don’t think any other R/C manufacturer had even done it before.

Today, some 15 years after the likes of The Grasshopper underwent it’s remake, guess what I can buy from Tamiya? Well, I can still buy The Grasshopper remake.

The remake of The Grasshopper kit has now been in production for triple the length of time that the original Grasshopper was in production during it’s actual heyday in the 1980s. Yep – the original Grasshopper, the thing responsible for the “nostalgia” itself – was produced for about 5 years (inclusive) from 1984 to 1988. Compared with 15 (and counting) for it’s retro remake. After it’s discontinuation in 1988, the Grasshopper was replaced by the Grasshopper II (which itself was discontinued in the 1990s). But of course, that too has now undergone a remake.

After 15 years, the remake of the Tamiya Grasshopper is still in production.

And it’s not just Tamiya of course. Retro has become such big business across almost every manufacturing industry with a whiff of nostalgia around it. From watches to computers to mobile phones to scrunchies. Whether it’s films or social media that hype these things, it all comes back to the fact that the Internet (as a carrier service) makes all this resurfacing possible. Just this week, I picked up Adidas’ recent remake of the 1992 Stefan Edberg Torsion tennis shoes I wore during my junior tennis years. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw them available. I had to have them.

In short, “retro” is a far bigger fad, which has lasted far longer, than I ever thought it would when I first started to see revival products in the late 1990s. And even though it is undoubtedly shifting toward nostalgia for the 1990s and 2000s as the population ages, I can’t help but look at the amazing longevity of the nostalgia industry as a whole – and wonder whether a rising tide of demand across all eras since the Internet was born, might continue lifting all boats indefinitely.

The remake of The Grasshopper kit has now been in production for triple the length of time that the original Grasshopper was.

These days, things come and go – and then come back again. Or they simply stay in production – for decades, far outliving the originals. It really does feel like we are in uncharted territory as to what it all means for our culture. It’s as if nostalgia is no longer just a line connecting the present to a moment in the past. But rather, something more akin to a feedback loop. Has this always been the case? Of course it is – but to a lesser degree. Fashions and trends have always fallen out of favour, before being revived later. The difference now is that nothing ever feels truly gone – it just simmers on the backburner.

If “retro” is forever, what does that mean for collectors?

Some of the most common questions that collectors of vintage R/C cars tend to ask are around rarity and value. And that’s ok – because everyone thinks, or at least wonders, about scarcity and demand. It’s all part of the treasure-hunt fun of collecting itself.

A lot of collectors and enthusiasts have expressed a view however, that when their generation is gone, the demand for old things like the vintage R/C cars from some obscure decade like the “1980s” may go with them.

I have always been skeptical of that though. As it seems to ignore the fact that plenty of goods (i.e. antiques) are very valuable today, despite there being nobody left alive who actually used them in their time.

And now we add the Internet into the mix. Prior to the Internet, if something you liked was discontinued there were far fewer ways to remember it or even see pictures of it – books? magazines? trade catalogues? I myself have written many times about growing up in the 1980s with nothing more than a few tatty old Tamiya and Tandy catalogues and magazines. I kept them carefully in a drawer as I literally believed that they contained the only photos I would ever own of those discontinued, early R/C cars.

New-built Tamiya Super Shot
A gratuitous photo of a brand new, mint vintage Tamiya Super Shot that I built a few months ago… and then drove (gently) at the track.

Yet today, everything lives on through endless websites, discussions, social media, pictures and video. Nothing disappears from view the way it used to. And people discover and rediscover it all the time. Perhaps today, a thousand new people around the world are discovering or rediscovering old toys like early R/C cars. Because after all, everything is just a Google away.

So when generations pass, the information will still be out there. And new generations will look it up, or stumble onto it, wondering what it was all about. Who would ever have dreamed after the advent of the CD, the MP3, and streaming, that quite a few of the kids born in the 1990s or 2000s would take a renewed interest in vinyl records and cassettes? I also think the CD will have it’s day again, too.

I think we’ve underestimated to some degree, the power that all of this has to perpetuate hobbies and interests, and therefore heighten demand and values. In recent months I’ve seen some vintage R/C cars that have hit pretty high sale prices that surprised me. Despite there being nothing special about the current state of our culture, or the current interest level in R/C, overall. We are not currently riding a wave of trade as the Internet spreads around the world, not has anything special happened recently in the R/C industry. Even the retro remakes of old R/C cars have been around for nearly two decades. And yet I get the sense that the vintage R/C market is…quite busy these days.

And even in my own experiences of selling (which I have done less of in the past couple of years, than previously), I feel as though most vintage things only seem to sell more quickly as the years go by. A few weeks ago I sold an original Tamiya Grasshopper kit and an original Tamiya Hornet kit – and both went for a solid (but fair) price. They also both sold within about 24hrs of being listed. Other sellers are selling higher priced examples, but I wouldn’t bet against them finding buyers too.

Recent vintage R/C prices seem strong

So here are a few interesting vintage R/C examples I have seen sell recently on eBay, with the prices in Australian dollars.

First, a NIB Nikko Hurricane that sold for AU$448. The Hurricane was a very capable 1/12 scale 4WD buggy. This price is higher than I would have guessed. I might have said AU$300 for this as an initial guess. But apparently it’s a model in demand…

Next, here’s a used Tyco 9.6v Turbo Baja Bandit with box… which skyrocketed to $834 via 45 bids. The Baja Bandit has for some years now, been one of the most popular vintage Tyco models. My estimate for this might have been AU$500. I was way off. This price is higher than I would have expected even for a NIB example, but it just shows the popularity of the old Tyco branded models…

This NIB vintage Tamiya Frog kit sold for well over AU$1000. Looks like it was a very nice kit, but this is a very strong price for the Frog. A buggy that some people once assumed had lost it’s vintage value because Tamiya had released a remake. Well, the remake Frog can still be found all over the web. And yet, vintage Frogs of all condition levels have seen growing demand over recent years…

A NIB Tamiya Wild Willy for well over AU$2000. I believe this was a short wheelbase kit (the earliest and most coveted variant of this kit), but nevertheless. I remember when these were worth just AU$1000 to collectors about 10 years ago. Now, they’re a lot more pricey…

And finally…  a NIB AYK Viper with vintage radio. Yes, I know it came with a nice NIB radio… and that the AYK Viper has been highly sought after for many years. But nearly AU$3000 under open bidding, is still such an impressive price.

These are just a handful of high watermark examples of things that have recent sold for quite a bit more than I’d have initially guessed.

So what do you think the vintage R/C market, or the market for retro stuff in general, is like these days? And what do you think will happen to it in the future? Maybe all my predictions and guesses will be completely wrong. Or, maybe Tamiya will still be manufacturing remakes even after we all die. 😀

As always, feel free to post a comment below – or on the forum.

And as always, happy collecting!

Leave a Reply

Please Login to comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.