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What were your earliest childhood impressions of R/C?

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Much as the title says - what's the earliest experience you ever had with R/C? Not just what you owned, but maybe it was something you saw from a distance, or heard from a friend at school.

Back in the era to which this website is devoted - the 1980s (and a bit before, and a bit after)... R/C cars were a relatively new phenomenon. A gimmick. A craze. As recently as 1977, ready to run electric examples were still basically unavailable in mainstream retail stores. It wasn't until right at the end of the 1970s, that the first very basic ready to run R/C toys of any kind began to appear.

Unless you were involved or had access to the hobby grade stuff (which had been kicking around for a decade or so, but were mostly the less consumer-friendly petrol powered models), you barely knew what an R/C car was at that time. So when electric R/C truly hit the mainstream in the 1980s and began to appear everywhere, it was truly a craze.

The very, very earliest memory I have is of being at a public park with my parents, aged about 5, and seeing R/C aeroplanes being flown. I was captivated. Another similar time I saw R/C boats racing up and down a river beside a public park, and that was even more exciting. We were eating hot chips by the river watching them for quite a while. See "toys that move by themselves" was I think, really what first draws little kids to the idea.

At school in the 1980s, some kids began to talk about "Radio Control" and "Remote Control", and some would say their cousin/friend/uncle owned this or that. There was a lot of boasting going on. I distinctly remember some kids talking about "The Frog" and saying it could "jump"... which was pure hyperbole among 10-year-olds. But who was I to argue? These cars sounded incredible, and incredibly expensive. And incredibly out of my reach.

The first time I ever truly laid eyes properly on R/C cars was in about 1983, by which time electronics stores like Tandy had a gorgeous range of Japanese made R/C models they had commissioned from the likes of some of the great ready-to-run manufacturers of the day, like Nikko, Daishin, Taiyo and Atcomi. I knew nothing about anything. All I saw were large toy cars that could race or trek across dirt, that were based on the real thing - Jeeps, Porsches, Dune Buggies and more. I was enthralled more than with any other toy on the market. Transformers? Lego? I liked them. But boy did they seem basic, compared to the sophistication of a real working model.

These were the days of limited access and knowledge of what was even out there - especially if you were just a little kid with no means, and no money. There was no internet, and I knew of no magazines. Nothing was on TV about these toys really - except the occasional blink-and-you'll-miss-it 30 second TV commercial.

We received a free sale flyer in the mail for Tandy Electronics at Christmas in 1984, and I was so enthralled by the pictures in it, that I nearly wore it out. But I kept it all my childhood and all my life. And to this day I still have that exact, worn out flyer, in my archive...

So what were your very, very earliest impressions, memories and images of anything to do with R/C? 🙂

Interesting topic. It's hard to say, really, because interest in RC models was just sort of a natural extension of everything else. I've been a car guy since I was a toddler, and my dad was a mechanical engineer who designed earthmoving equipment for Caterpillar, and my grandpa was a private pilot and inventor who worked for a bunch of different companies, including Cessna. Add to that all my dad's friends who were into classic sports cars or muscle cars, and an uncle with a massive HO scale train set and Aurora slot car track, and I have been around motorized things my whole life. It would have been more surprising if I didn't latch on to RC models.

The earliest ones I can remember seeing were airplanes, and the whole idea amazed me. It was like taking one of my 99-cent balsa wood gliders, adding an engine to it in place of the rubber band, and being able to fly it around, instead of just letting it go and watching it bank hard left into the neighbor's fence. We used to watch a local RC airplane club fly their planes in the field behind our house. One day, one of the pilots showed up with a model of a VW Baja bug (which I now know must have been a Sand Scorcher) and I was amazed. I hadn't thought that the same idea of controlling a model remotely could apply to a car. I mean, airplanes were cool and all, but cars... I was hooked.

Now, this was 1979-80 or so, which means I was 6 or 7 years old. There was no way I was going to get something like that, but for my next birthday, I did get my own RC car (of sorts), a little hot rod, with Spider-Man driving. It was one of those "goes forward, push the button and it reverses and turns left" things. I lost interest in it pretty quickly, but I still stared at the Sears and Radio Shack catalogs that showed all the "real" RC cars, and gazed longingly at the big boxes on the high shelves in the hobby shops.

Two years later, in 1982, I finally got one: a little Radio Shack (Tandy) Lamborghini. It was silver, and one-wheel-drive (only the left rear wheel was powered; I guess a differential was too much to ask). It was full-function but not proportional, but I could still actually drive it around (and even do donuts on the kitchen floor). I drove that little Lamborghini all over the house, the driveway, the back patio... but I was frustrated that it couldn't go off road.

But that summer, my dad and I dove headfirst into the worlds of control-line airplanes and model rockets, and Cox .049 engines and Estes rocket igniters replaced RC cars in my imagination for a few years. I still built tons of model cars, but my models in motion were all flying machines.

But I always did still want a "true" RC car, so I spent the entire summer of 1986 mowing lawns and painting fences and walking dogs and whatever else I could find to save up, and by August I was able to buy myself a Grasshopper, an Airtronics 2-stick radio, a basic hump-back battery, and a mechanical fast charger (DC only, I had to hook it up to the lawn mower battery to charge, and then recharge the lawn mower). And the rest, as they say, is history.

I've literally been captivated by wheeled vehicles since birth. I know why now, but it always puzzled my parents. Virtually every toy I asked for had to be a vehicle (my first love being big rigs). I drew nothing but vehicles constantly as well. Like Mark, RC was just a natural extension of that.

Fortunately, I have a pretty rock-solid memory of past things and can remember my "first" RC vehicle. I say "first" because it wasn't the first I sought out and bought with my own earned money (a Nikko Fiero). My mother was getting some dental work done and with me being very young at the time, my grandmother offer to babysit.  She took me to Toys R Us to kill time. I wandered about looking for trucks as was usual for me. In one aisle I found a couple of trucks, a car carrier called the "Road King" and a tractor trailer of a Toy R Us truck. The Road King was deemed too pricey but grandma happily bought the tractor trailer for me. I really didn't understand they were RC as it was '80 or '81 and I was pretty young. I think my father enjoyed driving it around more than I did, as I was still at the age where I crawled around pushing my Tonka's and Buddy-Ls making truck noises.

Beyond that, my grandfather was an avid wooden ship modeler and took me to hobby shops very early on. I remember seeing the early Tamiya kits up on a high shelf behind the glass counter. I also clearly recall being riveted to the TV (also behind the counter) playing endless loops of those classic Tamiya promos. Strangely, the hobby shop owner's voice sounded much like the guy doing the voice overs (without the odd pauses and disjointed script reading, lol) Later on, the excitement of off road action was brought to every kid by those fabulous Tyco Turbo Hopper commercials.

I started to get into RC cars in the mid 90s. (I was born in 87)

My fondest memories were the Tyco RC/Radioshack commercials showcasing all the cool cars they had to offer. I dont recall ever seeing commercials for Nikko. Anyways I was fortunate enough to receive 1-2 rc cars every year for my birthday and Christmas. The whole 1990s for me is very nostalgic and the rc cars of the time hold a special place in my heart. I had a variety of models from the various toy grade manufacturers, here is a list on the top of my head:

1. Tyco Rebound 6.0

2. Tyco Fast Traxx 9.6v

3. Nikko Predator

4. Nikko Flashback

5. Radioshack Tempest

I had so much fun with these models. Each had their own unique characteristics.

We had a small rc car club in elementary, a few had some hobby grade models like the Tamiya buggies but most of us had toy grade RCs.

Also not a physical RC but on a related note, I had a Sega Dreamcast and the only game I really played on it so much was Revolt. If anyone remembers or has played this game, you know how good it is.

 

 

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Quote from Jeremiah Munoz on May 14, 2019, 11:55 am

I started to get into RC cars in the mid 90s. (I was born in 87)

My fondest memories were the Tyco RC/Radioshack commercials showcasing all the cool cars they had to offer. I dont recall ever seeing commercials for Nikko. Anyways I was fortunate enough to receive 1-2 rc cars every year for my birthday and Christmas. The whole 1990s for me is very nostalgic and the rc cars of the time hold a special place in my heart. I had a variety of models from the various toy grade manufacturers, here is a list on the top of my head:

1. Tyco Rebound 6.0

2. Tyco Fast Traxx 9.6v

3. Nikko Predator

4. Nikko Flashback

5. Radioshack Tempest

I had so much fun with these models. Each had their own unique characteristics.

We had a small rc car club in elementary, a few had some hobby grade models like the Tamiya buggies but most of us had toy grade RCs.

Also not a physical RC but on a related note, I had a Sega Dreamcast and the only game I really played on it so much was Revolt. If anyone remembers or has played this game, you know how good it is.

Great list, and it's also really cool to hear such nostalgia for those RTR models that weren't Tamiya etc.

Those video games...I never had them 😛 Found out many years later that there were several games on different platforms around the late 80s/early 90s, some even featuring car pictures on the cover that totally plagiarized from Tamiya.

 

Quote from Saito on May 2, 2019, 9:52 am

Beyond that, my grandfather was an avid wooden ship modeler and took me to hobby shops very early on. I remember seeing the early Tamiya kits up on a high shelf behind the glass counter. I also clearly recall being riveted to the TV (also behind the counter) playing endless loops of those classic Tamiya promos. Strangely, the hobby shop owner's voice sounded much like the guy doing the voice overs (without the odd pauses and disjointed script reading, lol) Later on, the excitement of off road action was brought to every kid by those fabulous Tyco Turbo Hopper commercials.

Don't you just wish we could go back to those times (those early, fading memories of hobby stores) and revisit those places - and take proper notice of what was actually there.

My earliest hobby store memories are glimpses and fragments... I was obsessed with all the little train set cars made by companies like Wiking (Germany) which were available for $5 each or more, and I remember those sitting on the shelf as I tried to convince my father to buy just one of them. 😀

In hindsight, my first impression was that there was a much bigger world out there. I lived in the country, and we had one tv channel. Dad bought me a Tamiya Hornet that had been already built by one of his engineering buddies. It came with photocopies of the guide books (which I much later realized were colorful glossy productions) and I fantasized about going to Japan and standing on an elevated platform to race my car and have pit stops!

I was in awe, but felt out of my depth when it came to keeping it maintained. My friends Dad earned more money so he had a Falcon, which was the top car to have. We had loads of space in our town, with spare allotments next to our houses that we built huge dirt tracks on (for our bmx’s mainly) with jumps and water traps, trying our best to emulate what we saw in those copied guide books.

Unfortunately the main problem at the time was that NiCad batteries would last all of 10 minutes at best, and the msc would often stick and my beloved and expensive Hornet would go zooming into the distance until it met with some tall grass or a large concrete drain pipe. We had to charge the R/C battery from a car battery with the supplied crocodile clamps, making sure not to reverse the polarity and fry our batteries!

It all seems trivial now but as an 8 year old these things required adult help, and adults were often in short supply as they were usually working, so we played with our cars less and less. Eventually after a few years other things became more interesting, and I think the Hornet ended up being sold or given away-I’m still not sure! So this memory compelled me years later to find an original and do all the things that before seemed such a chore.

So I bought a vintage one and had a great time building it myself from scratch and running it to its potential. The smell of the tires, the oil and the distinctive sound of the steering servos brought back the romantic ideas of my childhood. The 1980’s is very popular now, but I feel glad I can share with my kids a real physical connection to that time, where we thought the future was hover boards, space travel and holograms!😆

The pic is Christmas Day 1986 taking the Hornet for its maiden run. I hadn’t applied the decals yet, and the tail fin seems to be omitted for some reason. My sister is very jealous of my fancy gift-and it seems like my Dad did most of the driving that day!

Thanks for reading and looking forward to other stories.

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Christmas Day, 1986, eh? Well, as you were doing that, on the other side of the world, just outside Chicago, I had just spent the day installing a bunch of hop-up parts for my Grasshopper, including bearings, new tires on shiny chrome wheels, and a 540 motor. It was nearly dark, and hovering around 0 degrees F (not nearly as nice weather in Chicago at Christmas), but I wanted to hurry up and get at least one run in before dinner.

I charged up my new Tamiya 1200 "Racing Pack" (the new, flat stick-style, which my friends and I were convinced were somehow faster than the hump packs) and went outside, my mother compainign that I hadn't taken gloves. I put the Grasshopper down, and "floored it." It shot down the driveway much faster than I was expecting, faster than it ever had with the little 380. Before I could blink, It had run straight into a plastic flowerpot full of frozen dirt. The Grasshopper's bumper poked a hole in the flowerpot, and one of my shiny new chrome wheels shattered into a thousand pieces. The bearings were still in the hub, and the tire was still on the rim, but the spokes between were just gone.

I brought the car back in and my dad said "That was fast."

"Faster than I expected," I said, and held up the broken wheel.

My mom was upset, but my dad just laughed. I put the new front tire back on one of the old white wheels, and the car stayed that way for the rest of the time I had it: three chrome wheels and one white one on the left front.

Great story Mark! In country Queensland it’s often 40 deg Celsius at Christmas. People still dress up in Santa suits and put fake snow everywhere though...

Those hump batteries were weird alright.

 

Bit random but instead of starting a new thread where this woudn't be related, anyone remember for a brief time they brought back the Tyco Fast Traxx? It was blue and sold from Japan.  By the time I heard news of it, they were no longer available. You know what would would make for an interesting modern day RC model is to bring back the Fast Traxx but with a brushless motor/lipo battery. Couple that with a stick transmitter and it would make for such a fun and different experience.

 

 

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I do remember that the Fast Traxx was brought back - in blue, as in your pic above. As you say, it wasn't sold for very long and didn't seem to be available worldwide. I'm surprised another, modern equivalent doesn't exist (unless it does? I haven't really looked).

There are still a fair few original Fast Traxx floating around the online markets though, for those looking for one (even in NIB condition). Moreso than a lot of other vintage models.

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