Models, Releases & Variants

In the effort to keep the information on this blog organized, one of the biggest challenges is working out the different models, releases, and variants of R/C toys.

R/C Car manufacturers didn’t just release a car once, then keep selling it without changes. No, that would be too simple! Instead, they usually did most (or all) of the following things:

  • Create a Model
  • Release it
  • Change it
  • Allow other companies/distributors to license it, and release it in other markets

It’s almost impossible to detail every tiny change. But we can broadly categorize all vintage R/C cars into Models, Releases and Variants. The first step is to define what these terms mean.

Please note: This is R/C Toy Memories idea for how to define and categorize everything. It is open to debate, but has been refined using examples from both hobby and toy grade R/C models across many brands.

What is a Model?

Rule 1 – A “Model” is an R/C car from the original manufacturer, with a unique product/model number. Only manufacturers can create Models. e.g. “Taiyo Jet Hopper” is a Model. A Model can have multiple Releases.

What is a Release?

Rule 2 – A “Release” is simply a Model as sold under a particular name and brand. So “Taiyo Jet Hopper” is one Release (the Original Release). While “Tyco Turbo Hopper” is another Release (the US Release). A Release can have multiple Variants.

What is a Variant?

Rule 3 – A “Variant” is when a Release is changed (parts, decals, tyres etc), but the Release name/number and brand name are unchanged.

In the diagram example above, you can see that Model is at the top. There are three Releases. And one of the Releases has two Variants.

How to describe Variants?

As variants are typically just minor changes to the toys during their production that only collectors have noticed, they have no official name from the manufacturer. So it’s up to collectors to call them something. And there are typically two ways, depending on whether the car is kit-based, or ready-to-run.

Kit-based R/C models

When it comes to kit-based models, the terms “Early Vintage”, “Mid-Vintage” and “Late Vintage” are the best way to describe Variants in most cases. This is because kit-based models often underwent a slow drip-feed of tiny little changes to the kit, where certain parts were tweaked over time. This slow evolution and the sometimes large number of little changes that occurred, means we can usually identify early production, mid-production, and late-production changes. But in most cases, we cannot identify specific cut-off points or figure out exactly when every little change was made. So for this reason, “Early Vintage”, “Mid-Vintage” and “Late Vintage” are the best way to describe them.

Ready-to-run R/C models

For ready-to-run models, the terms “Mk1”, “Mk2”, “Mk3” can be used to describe Variants. This is because Ready-to-run models usually had specific cut-off moments where the model was changed. For example, “Tyco Turbo Hopper Mk1” and “Tyco Turbo Hopper Mk2” can be used to describe two variants of the “Tyco Turbo Hopper”.

Let’s look at some examples

To make this easier, here are some examples in detail.

1. Taiyo 4WD Big Roader

In 1985, Taiyo created an R/C truck called the 4WD Big Roader. Here it is…

Taiyo 4WD Big Roader
Image courtesy: Rayman

This was a Model invented and manufactured by Taiyo. The manufacturer’s Release is therefore simply called the “Taiyo 4WD Big Roader“.

Later, Tandy / Radio Shack licensed this car, and sold it in their stores. They changed it a bit, and changed the name to “4×4 Off-Roader”. Here it is…

Tandy/Radio Shack 4x4 Off-RoaderTandy/Radio Shack 4x4 Off-Roader

This was a different Release. It’s name is: “Tandy / Radio Shack 4×4 Off-Roader“.

A few years later again, Tandy / Radio Shack modified the 4×4 Off-Roader by giving it bigger wheels and lower profile tyres. Here is this later version…

Tandy 4x4 Off Roader Mk2

The name and brand did not change, so this was simply a Variant. It’s the “Tandy / Radio Shack 4×4 Off-Roader Mk2“.

2. Tamiya Hotshot

Let’s try an example using Tamiya. In 1985 Tamiya created the Hotshot. The Hotshot was Tamiya model #58047. Here it is…

Tamiya Hotshot

The Hotshot is a Model from Tamiya. The Hotshot was only available as one Release – the Tamiya Hotshot (ie. it was never released under any other brand or with any other name).

But in the first few months of it’s existence in 1985, the car was sold with a more fragile front bumper, plus some other changes. This early type was a Variant. In my opinion, this should be called the Early Vintage Hotshot.

Tamiya Hotshot

Image Courtesy: c_smith

Afterward, the Hotshot was changed so that the front bumper looked different and was stronger, along with a few other changes mainly near the front end. This second type was another Variant. In my opinion, this should be called the Mid-Vintage Hotshot.

Tamiya Hotshot
Image Courtesy: c_smith

Later, the Hotshot’s mechanical speed controller was also changed, so that the resistors inside the heatsinks were now molded-in, rather than being loose inside the heatsinks. This was Late Vintage Hotshot.

To my knowledge, all of the original Tamiya Hotshots in the world are one of these three variants.

In 2007 Tamiya also created a new Model of the Hotshot, with many physical changes, new packaging and most importantly a new product/model number – Tamiya model #58391. This is commonly referred to as a “re-release” of the original, but that’s really incorrect (by definition, a “re-release” is an unchanged repetition of something). It’s really a “remake” effort, resulting in a whole new Model by the manufacturer, because it has a new Tamiya model number. The remake Hotshot is the one on the right in the picture below, and came with different box art and packaging in addition to numerous physical parts and decal differences, as well as use of new materials.

Tamiya Hotshot Original vs Reissue

Hopefully this proposed system makes sense to you, as a way of organizing and defining vintage R/C cars. Particularly with respect to things like variants of releases.


  1. My father gave me a 4×4 Radio Shack Off Roader(yellow color)as a Christmas gift in December 1989. After two weeks of use, it stopped functioning. If I can remember correctly, we exchanged it for another one (blue color). After three weeks of use, it also stopped functioning. We finally decided to get a refund and we purchased a Bachman Train set. The train set still works after 25 years!

    1. Amazing to hear you had such bad luck with the 4×4 E.City. I can honestly say that my Dad bought me a Bachmann train once, and it literally stopped dead after doing a single circuit of our train layout – we returned it to the store for a $100 refund and bought a Hornby instead.

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