A large, 1/10 scale R/C Land Rover from Japanese ready-to-run masters Matsushiro, that was an astounding R/C toy for it’s time. It was even based on a real Land Rover used by a famous Italian adventurer in 1969.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, it seemed as though 4×4 vehicles were being used in ever more exploratory ways around the world. The postwar boom in recreational vehicles, meant long-distance rallies had become popular since the 1950s and 1960s. With examples like the London to Sydney Marathon rally, or the East African Safari Rally. But in the 70s and 80s it seemed as though new frontiers were opening up, and intrepid privateers were venturing out to ever more remote wildernesses with their vehicles.
The Paris-Dakar Rally (commencing in 1979) is probably most famous for popularizing this spirit of adventure, starting out as the dream of one man, and later sending hundreds of crazy amateurs racing their vehicles across regions like Africa’s Ténéré Desert during the 1980s with nothing more than printed maps. But other events such as the Camel Trophy (commencing in 1980) focused on terrain over speed, pitting man (or woman) and 4WD machine against insane jungle, mountain and river crossings. Along some of the remotest and least car-friendly trails on Earth.
The Camel Trophy became notable for it’s rather iconic use of Land Rovers and Range Rovers. Supported by Land Rover and the Camel cigarette brand for most of it’s years (meaning all entrants were one-make, and typically adorned in Camel’s yellow livery), it became synonymous with extreme terrain.
But long before these organized group events began, a few private adventurers had begun taking matters into their own hands. One such man was an Italian photojournalist by the name of Nino Cirani. In 1959, Cirani planned his first 4×4 journey from Milan in Italy, to North Cape in Norway, in his Land Rover. This was soon followed by more epic adventures, including a 1964 south-north-east-west crossing of the entire African continent, using two Land Rovers. His motivation as always, was to capture and document the culture and landscape he saw. And probably, to be the first to do it by private 4×4.
Between 1959 and 1980, Cirani journeyed across dozens of countries and traveled over 500,000 kilometres of wilderness in his various Land Rovers. Taking the Arabic word “aziza”, meaning “nice”, Cirani nicknamed his series of cars “Aziza 1”, “Aziza 2” and “Aziza 3”. Each Land Rover was kitted out with all the equipment he needed, including a somewhat famous “air tent” on the roof for sleeping and to provide a higher perch for his photography.
Here is Nino Cirani with Aziza 3…
While Cirani’s earlier Land Rovers were a dusty grey, this bright-red third (and final) vehicle stood out sharply in the immense landscapes he traversed.
It was also the vehicle with which he undertook his greatest and most famous journey. In 1969 he embarked on a 103,000km, 11 month trek down the entire American continent from Alaska in the north, to Tierra del Fuego, an archipelago at the southernmost tip of South America. At the time it was reputedly the longest car raid ever (“raid” being that curiously French term used to denote a rally expedition).
The journey, dubbed the “Trans American Tour”, crossed The United States, Canada, Mexico, Guatemala, Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Argentina, Chile, Paraguay, and Brazil. It also reputedly set a record for the highest altitude ever achieved by a motor vehicle (at the time) when Cirani reached 5007 metres above sea level, on a trail in the Andes.
As with each journey, the livery on the side of Cirani’s Land Rover represented the specific expedition he was on – in this instance, even including a map of the journey…
Of course, any trans-American journey means crossing the famous Darién Gap, a 100km stretch of mountains and rainforest between Panama and Colombia. To this day, it’s a region considered near un-driveable, with no actual road or trail (for both political and environmental reasons). There’s a complex history around the attempts to cross it by car, with only a small number actually succeeding overland, and many attempts using rafts to carry vehicles down river as a means to avoid the terrain. It’s not clear to me how Aziza 3 ultimately made it’s traversal, but nevertheless it did complete it’s trans-American expedition. And here is a photo taken during it’s attempt at Darién Gap…
Apparently, the bright-red Aziza 3 stood out so sharply in all this remote terrain, that it could even be seen from Japan!
Well, perhaps not. But what I do know is that a couple of years after Cirani took his final adventure, the small Japanese K.K. Matsushiro R/C car company apparently decided to produce an incredibly faithful R/C model of Aziza 3 from the Trans American Tour. How they came to be aware of the expedition, one can only wonder. And their model was, in all likelihood, probably unknown to Cirani himself.
Nino Cirani passed away in 1998. And over the years (from the 1970s) several die-cast models were made of Aziza 3 by companies such as the Italian die-cast model maker BBurago. So I do wonder if Nino ever knew of Matsushiro’s 1/10 scale working radio controlled replica of his legendary 4×4…
Faithfully depicting Cirani’s Land Rover (which appears to have been either a Series II, IIa or III) and it’s “Trans American Tour” right down to sponsor “Quattroruote” (an Italian motoring magazine) and the exact number plate of the real vehicle… this beautiful early R/C model is a masterpiece of ready-to-run R/C for it’s time.
Quite simply, it was the sort of toy that in 1982 would have been enough to make a young boy faint.
After collecting and digging through dozens of old Japanese toy catalogues and booklets to find information about this car, I am only able to share just two rather pathetic catalogue or promotional images of the model from when it was first released in Japan.
To the very best of my research, it was released in Japan in 1982, and likely the same year in Europe (or more specifically, Germany). But it also appears to have come and gone from the market fairly quickly, with minimal promotion even in it’s home country. A shame, because I think it exemplifies just about everything that was wonderful about those earlier years of Japanese R/C model making.
The earliest promo image I have, is this rather plain photo from an obscure Japanese toy journal from 1982…
This next one is more interesting, and shows the car in the jungle – a lot like the real life Darién Gap photograph. This image is also what was used for the box art.
More promotional images can be found on the side of the box, such as this one showing the vehicle’s impressive climbing ability of 38°…
Retailing for 19,800 yen in Japan in 1982, this was certainly a premium toy for it’s time. Costing the equivalent of about $600-$800 in today’s money.
About 10 years ago, I decided to try to track down a new-in-box example of this incredible R/C car. Given it is rare to find in any condition, we can safely assume that only a handful still exist in the world that are new in the box. So it took several years of searching to find one. In Europe, the car was sold under Gama branding and named “Land Rover”. In Japan, it had a similar box and went by the name “Land Rover Custom”.
The example featured in this article is the Gama/Matsushiro release, as sold in Germany. New in box with all accessories. Inside the box, I still have the original price sticker of 189 Deutsche Mark.
Yes, not only did Matsushiro do a great job of reproducing the real vehicle. Their intention was to let you reproduce a little of the Nino Cirani’s actual journey as well. For included with the car, were the following accessories…
- an inflatable raft
- a water-proof Mabuchi motor for the raft
- a cardboard box with wood grain effect
- a rope netting to attach the raft to the roof
- additional plastic guards for the edges of the front bumper of the car
The Matsushiro Land Rover is actually the only R/C depiction of a Land Rover that I can recall seeing from the 1980s or earlier.
And that’s what makes this sort of thing so special to me. The fact it hails from the same era as the vehicle. It’s all very well for Chinese junk manufacturers to jump on the scale R/C bandwagon 40 years later. By contrast, there’s providence (to me) in the vintage Japanese toys that were manufactured in the actual heyday of the vehicles they’re based on. Because the toy feels a lot more connected to the real car. Since it is equally vintage.
Based on the same 1/10 chassis platform as an earlier Matsushiro vehicle (their XR-311 Super Big 8 from 1981) the Land Rover is an amazingly scale R/C model whose lengthy body is even better suited to that chassis and wheelbase. The only downside to this is it’s a 2WD Land Rover, not authentically 4WD. Though given the scarcity of 4WD vehicles in the ready-to-run R/C market of 1982 (the Nikko Toyota HiLux 4WD and the Shinsei Mountain Man were two, but most others like the Joustra Toyota Land Cruiser were also still 2WD), I think we can give Matsushiro a pass for this aspect. It was an expensive time to even be attempting to produce R/C cars this glorious. I mean, just look at it…
Unlike Nikko’s HiLux, Shinsei’s Mountain Man or Joustra’s Land Cruiser, Matsushiro’s Land Rover did however, feature both front spring suspension and soft rear tyres to try to soak up the bumps.
The spikey rear tyres may not be scale and are more buggy-like. But they probably had a better chance of crossing your own (miniature) Darién Gap, than most of the competing R/C vehicles on the market.
Other features include bright working headlights that can be switched on separately using a switch on the back door of the car. And Low/High gear options.
The number plate “SXC – 633E” can be seen below – just like on the real car.
Indeed, Cirani’s own name appears on the livery too. As does the name Aziza 3…
On the bonnet, the expedition livery appears again, together with affixed tools to help you dig your way out of trouble. Cirani, while a quiet and modest man, was reputedly very well prepared for each expedition. Even carrying a shotgun and machete on board the car – just in case of trouble!
The inflatable boat was a nice addition and is completely missing in the vast majority of used examples of this model that you will find today. Whether Cirani used a rubber dinghy just like this one, or whether it was an assumption by Matsushiro I don’t know. But I think the play options that this would offer, would have been a lot of fun as a youngster.
It’s another example of the type of quality, creative toy craft that was so common in the 1980s – realistic toys with cool options. It reminds me a lot of how the Technotoy/Nikko Alaska Polar-Expedition Mercedes Unimog came with rubber snow chains for it’s tyres. Really fun accessorizing, of realistic R/C models. The kind of thing you don’t see these days, especially in the ready-to-run R/C toy market…
The motor affixes easily to the underside of the boat. While the netting is intended to be used to strap the deflated boat and motor, to the roof rack.
The performance of the Matsushiro Land Rover is surprisingly strong too. There’s no issue with a weak motor or fragile gearbox. From my experience (because I have owned a number of used examples of this car also), the Land Rover moves at quite a click for it’s large size and significant weight. It carries 6 “C” cells in the car – effectively the same as typical kit-based Tamiya or similar, of the era.
The included digital proportional transmitter is typically smooth and glitch-free, as with all Matsushiro R/C models.
It’s a great shame that Matsushiro did not survive longer during the 1980s, given the utterly beautiful, ready-to-run R/C cars they manufactured in Japan…
As for the real Aziza 3. Well it still exists.
In the video below from 2016, two of Cirani’s former co-drivers chat about their experiences while standing with the vehicle. (You can use Youtube auto-translate to convert the subtitles to English)…
These days, Aziza 3 is proudly on display at the Turin National Automobile Museum where it sits alongside many other great machines including the Ferrari F2005 that Michael Schumacher used to win the Formula One World Championship. Aziza 3 finished it’s career with updated livery according to it’s final expedition…
If you’re a Land Rover fan, or just a vintage R/C fan in general… the Matsushiro Land Rover is a significant piece of Land Rover history rendered into a high quality R/C model that few people probably knew existed back in 1982, outside of Japan or Europe.
What with this and the Gama/Likto Sea Ranger, Gama had a real knack for distributing and promoting some amazing scale R/C toys in the early 1980s. Plus these types of vehicles might have taught kids a little something about motor vehicle history, in addition to being a lot of fun.
Needless to say, the Matsushiro Land Rover is now best to be appreciated and restored by R/C collectors and fans of historic vehicles. If you can find one.
As always, happy collecting!
On this page: Gama/Matsushiro Land Rover (1982)
|Motor||(to be confirmed)|
|Suspension||Yes (Front only)|
|Batteries||Batteries: 6 x C (Car). 6 x AA (Transmitter). 1 x AA (Boat).|
How rare is the Gama/Matsushiro Land Rover (1982)?
Issues to look for: Gama/Matsushiro Land Rover (1982)
|Items sometimes missing on this model|| |
|Other parts to check on this model|| |
Model History: Matsushiro Land Rover Custom (1982)
|Matsushiro||"Land Rover Custom"||Original release of the car by Matsushiro of Japan.||Japan||1982|
|Gama/Matsushiro||"Land Rover"||Gama/Matsushiro release in Europe.||Europe||1982|