Essentially a Porsche 959 Paris-Dakar Rally Winner for those to whom the famous Tamiya R/C kit was but a dream… (ie. nearly everyone). The Tandy/Radio Shack Turbo Racer 27 (by Atcomi) was something of an oddity in the 80s – a ready-to-run R/C sports car model, designed to go off-road.
Part of the inspiration for starting this website 8 years ago was to highlight some of the forgotten minnows of R/C toy history. Not just the R/C cars we all remember, but also the ones we don’t. The 80s were so full of creative R/C models that were quite original for their time, that I tend to think there’s something fun about almost all of them.
In the weeks leading up to Christmas in 1988, I can clearly remember seeing a Tandy Electronics TV commercial that featured their toys for that year. In it, the Turbo Racer 27 came driving straight out of a Christmas present box – and predictably, I was entranced. I probably only saw that commercial twice. Yet little things sometimes linger in the memory. And I liked the look of that Porsche, with it’s friendly lines and wide wheels. It looked a little toy-like. Yet still seemed as though it would be capable of driving over my mother’s flower beds in a satisfying sort of way.
The thing about R/C in the 1980s was: even though it was a new toy category with thousands of different R/C car models, relatively few were generic to the point of boredom. Sure, lots of companies copied ideas from other companies (and the Turbo Racer 27 is one example). But even a lot of the copied ideas ended up with a bit of character of their own. There seemed to be a desire among R/C car and toy manufacturers, to make even the cheapest R/C models reasonably robust, and attractive in their own way.
All of the models made in the 1980s came from either Asia (though not China), Europe or America. And all were released under actual brand names. Contrast that with today, where millions of R/C cars are made (90% of them in China), and vast arrays of different models, just look identical. Many barely even have brand names, let alone model names.
My point is that despite the booming manufacture R/C models in the 1980s, the industry still had a certain soul. And even something as obviously basic and generic-sounding as a Tandy Turbo Racer 27, still seems like a class above the plastics quality and hard, plasticky tyres of the R/C landfill you find in most toy shops today.
Turbo Racer 27 was Tandy/Radio Shack’s release name of this model. It’s original name under Atcomi branding was Turbo Racer 959. Not that much different I grant you, but clearly this was modeled after the famous, world-beating Porsche 959 rally car that won the Paris-Dakar rally in 1986. Atcomi were trying to walk a fine line and avoid Porsche licensing costs while still keeping the toy familiar. Tandy/Radio Shack took it a step further, dropping “959” for “27” – a prosaic reference to the car’s 27MHz transmitter no doubt, but I suppose even less likely to appear as a blip on the radar of any Porsche copyright lawyers.
To the best of my knowledge, Atcomi were just a small Japanese company that manufactured it’s toys in (democratic) Hong Kong throughout most of the 1980s. They never produced a vast catalogue of R/C cars, and most of those they did produce were ready-to-run on-roaders. But in 1987 came the handsome, and robust Atcomi Turbo Beetle. And in 1988, their 959 reused the same rugged chassis.
At the time of it’s release, the only other off-road R/C Porsche 959 on the market was the aforementioned (and phenomenal) 1/12 scale “Porsche 959 Paris-Dakar Rally Winner” R/C kit from Tamiya. It was the very first R/C model based on the 959, and remains by far the best. But it was also phenomenally complicated and expensive, costing the equivalent in 1986 of about AU$1000 in today’s money (and today, collectors will charge each other upwards of AU$2500 just to get their hands on an unbuilt one). My parents certainly couldn’t afford anything like that in the 1980s. I had about as much chance of owning the Tamiya, as I had of flying to Mars in a solid-gold spaceship.
Incidentally, even Tamiya (who did pay licensing costs to Porsche for use of their trademark), had a curious history with the Porsche 959. Initially the Tamiya R/C kit sported the Porsche logo on it’s box. But this was later dropped (reasons unknown). There were even rumours of a fall-out between Porsche and Tamiya at one stage. Though Tamiya have continued to produce a lot of Porsche kits over the years. But I think the logo change suggests that Porsche were becoming a bit prickly where their trademarks were concerned, in the toy industry.
Some time in the late 1980s, the leading ready-to-run R/C brand, Nikko, also produced an impressive R/C Porsche 959 – largely similar in scale and proportions to Tamiya’s – just a bit less attractive. It was clearly aimed at replicating the Tamiya, for a lower price (though still costing over $100). Only thing was, it didn’t try to use the Paris-Dakar livery (coming only in either all-black, or bizarrely, a polished gold version that I’ve always felt looked a bit ridiculous).
So to the humble Atcomi, aka Tandy/Radio Shack Turbo Racer 27 … effectively third (and last) in line in the 959 toy stakes.
But low hanging fruit isn’t all bad. And with the mid-late 1980s R/C market vastly dominated by open-wheeled, R/C buggy styled off-roaders, here was a slightly comical-looking, but well-rounded 1/16 scale off-road Porsche. An off-road Porsche you say? For under $100? In 1988? As Steve Irwin might’ve said, back in his day here in Australia, “Crikey!”.
As always, my archive of ancient Tandy catalogues and flyers (some of which are quite fragile and might be the only examples of their kind left) were the other place I first saw this model as a kid.
The image above comes from the 1988 annual Tandy catalogue in Australia, where the Turbo Racer was available at Christmas (though labeled “new for 1989” to cater for post-Christmas sales). Love how they wrote “Paris/Daccau” rally – no Internet or Google Maps back in those days, but they didn’t have an atlas or a world globe for looking up the city “Dakar“?
The next image comes from a rare sale flyer, also from Christmas 1988 in Australia…
Priced somewhere in the middle of all the buggies (Tandy/Radio Shack had a buggy for every budget in the late 1980s, most of them manufactured by Nikko), the Turbo Racer 27 was affordable – but still a fairly premium item for most kids of the day. My experience was that parents didn’t tend to drop $100 on toys that often, in the days when you could buy a chocolate bar for 30 cents. (I can clearly remember going to the local Newsagency with my Dad on Sundays at around this time, and sharing a “Bounty” chocolate bar for 35 cents. I also remember him becoming annoyed when the price rose to 50 cents!).
The Turbo Racer 27 was only sold for a single, solitary year – 1988, before being replaced by more R/C buggies. Suggesting perhaps, that it was overlooked by many buyers. Or perhaps Atcomi had just disappeared by then. As they didn’t seem to last into the 1990s.
Today, the model is very hard to find in decent condition. So here’s my example which I have owned for many years.
There’s just something about the shape of the Porsche 959 that I love. All those smooth lines, but especially the wraparound rear wing that is integrated into the body.
Sure, Atcomi’s rendering of this famous vehicle is not a scale-perfect example like Tamiya’s, but nor was it intended to be. Much like Taiyo’s Lamborghini exaggerated it’s proportions for a cuter shape in R/C form, the same approach was taken here – giving the toy imaginative stature and some extra ruggedness.
For perspective, here’s the real rally Porsche 959…
So it’s fair to say, we are miles away from being a close representation of that. The real car is much longer and narrower. But at toy scale, dimensions do benefit from being exaggerated, for play value. (And here’s a bonus fun fact: Even Tamiya slightly exaggerate the dimensions of their scale-accurate plastic models sometimes, because exact scale doesn’t always quite look right in reduce scale – a phenomenon explained in Shunsaku Tamiya’s biographical book, Master Modeler).
Powered by 8 x AA batteries, and with a 2 speed gearbox, the specifications of the Turbo Racer 27 were quite competent – alright for their time. Unfortunately, unlike the Tamiya 959 (or the real Porsche), it is not 4WD though. But neither was the Nikko Porsche 959. You had to cut costs (and weight) somehow I suppose.
With that said, the 8 x AA power setup it uses, was the equivalent of many buggies (Jet Hoppers and others). So despite the car being a little heaver than some of those due to it’s large hard plastic body, it was still fairly nimble on smooth surfaces.
The decals are clearly an attempt to recreate some of the (forbidden) “Rothmans” cigarette sponsorship livery (white, red, gold and blue) of the real Porsche, without getting into trouble there either. After all, by the late 1980s, cigarette sponsorship had been banned in most children’s toys around the world.
The squat, wide stance of the car, with wheels that sit well outside the wheel arches, is probably an aspect that will least endear it to scale enthusiasts. But it was clearly an attempt to give the car some buggy-like off-road capabilities (and ruggedness), while protecting the sides of the car from impacts.
One thing I have always really liked, is the “Turbo” font and placement all over the car. Especially the asymmetrical one on the rear wing. That’s just cool, and so very 1980s.
On the bonnet, there’s even an “homage” to the Rothmans logo.
Performance wise, it’s an odd little cat. It’s not digital proportional. But the steering is servo-driven, and has a quirk where the servo keeps spinning even after it reaches maximum left or right lock. Which makes you think something is broken at first, but no… that’s just how it was designed. So it keeps making a noise as it tries to hold the steering left or right. And the steering can be a bit of workout at times, as you get used to it’s feel.
Acceleration is decent though. Response can be a little shakier than the Nikkos of the day, so I’d feel nervous driving it fast inside a house, near things like chair legs… but outside on a dusty track, I’d have had a lot of fun imagining myself in the Paris-Dakar if I had been lucky enough to own this model as a kid.
The “Turbo” on the decals and in the name aren’t there for nothing either. Atcomi was employing the entertaining turbo-notch on the transmitter, that Nikko had first popularized on the Black Fox (and which Taiyo had made even more famous in the years following) – i.e. push it up all the way, for an extra speed boost. You can probably see the “Turbo” red zone hiding at the bottom of the forward/reverse lever below…
I tend to think 1/16 scale is a little inaccurate – the car feels big enough to be about 1/14 to me.
There’s a differential at the rear too. Not something to be sniffed at in 1988, when the best-selling Jet Hoppers of the day were still burning out their rear tyres for lack of such technology (and when even Tamiya was still selling off-roader models without differentials only a few years earlier).
Shiny chrome-plated wheels adorn the four corners, molded in a style similar to the real car…
Suspension-wise, it’s got fairly firm springs all around – independent at the front, rolling-rigid-rear-axle at the back.
And for extra ruggedness, there’s even a set of springs behind the discretely shaped front bumper. As I say, it was designed with quite an admirable level of play-ability. And the plastics used feel solid, with a rubber-plastic compound used for the bumper.
The tyres are excellent – a block pattern that offers long wear, and which is made of the same quality as the best R/C tyres found in any 1980s brand. I really mean that. I’ve just never encountered this model with cracked or destroyed tyres. And that’s more than I can say for a lot of old R/C cars.
You can always tell how rugged vintage R/C cars really were, by looking at the surviving examples on the used market today. In some cases, the survivors look like lost wrecks from a war – and are good for nothing but spares, with lots of broken parts and even some plastics and rubbers that have deteriorated by themselves, with age.
That’s not the case here, as I have owned quite a few examples of this model over the years and have never seen one with broken parts, or perished tyres. The only flaw on this car tends to be scuffed decals (from rough play).
Who couldn’t love this guy?
As a piece of 1980s ready-to-run R/C nostalgia, I will always like this car. I never raced one in a backyard race against my friends and their various ready-to-run models. But I think we would have had fun if we did.
This fine example I own is going to stay on the shelf for the years to come though. What’s more, it’s really quite a rare and hard to find model in any condition. It’s been a struggle to find one as nice as this one.
So if you like toys and models of the Paris-Dakar Porsche 959, and if you can find this car, it’s actually a nice piece and a bit of forgotten toy history to boot. It’s nowhere near as hyper-realistic as Tamiya’s masterful kit model. But I’d have to say, Nikko’s rally Porsche 959 is a bit goofy looking. To be honest, I like the Atcomi design a bit better than the Nikko.
But I may also be a bit biased. Because for me, cars like this with the big “Tandy” logo also bring back so many happy memories of 1980s visits to Tandy stores here in Australia. How I miss Tandy, and miss the amazing variety, realism and ruggedness of R/C toys in those days.
As always, happy collecting!
On this page: Tandy/Radio Shack Turbo Racer 27 (1988)
|Scale||1/16 (although it seems closer to 1/14?)|
|Motor||(to be confirmed)|
|Batteries||8 x AA (Car). 1 x 9volt (Transmitter)|
How rare is the Tandy/Radio Shack Turbo Racer 27 (1988)
Issues to look for: Tandy/Radio Shack Turbo Racer 27 (1988)
|Items sometimes missing on this model||Quite a robust model that rarely seems to lose or break any body parts.|
|Other parts to check on this model||Most examples that are around these days tend to have fairly worn or scuffed decals, due to the many decals on the body and the lack of fenders and so forth.|
Model History: Atcomi Turbo Racer 959
|Atcomi||"Turbo Racer 959"||Original release of the car by Atcomi.||Worldwide||1988|
|Tandy/Radio Shack||"Turbo Racer 27"||Tandy/Radio Shack release.||Worldwide||1988|