TAMIYA – 1980s Buggy Box Art

Tamiya Logo

First and foremost I set up Sci-Fi-O-Rama as a design and illustration inspiration blog, and though it’s bursting at the seams with Sci-Fi and geek related articles this really is just a flavouring.  What I’m getting at is; whilst this Tamiya post might be one of the less Sci-Fi tainted (there’s no glowing spacecraft here) it does however contain plenty of top notch retro Japanese graphic art spun back fro my favourite decade, the 1980’s.

As is customary with subject I don’t pertain to with overarching knowledge I’ll issue a quick disclaimer; I’m not a RC car aficionado nor Dirt Buggy enthusiast so we are really only skimming the surface here. What I do have though are vivid memories of these Tamiya models and the craze they stirred remember the craze they stirred through the mid to late 80’s.

Before I start I’d like to point out that it’s entirely possible that all the below renderings are the work of one (highly talented) illustrator. That person I believe is Yoshiyuki Takani, but at the moment I cannot confirm. If anyone knows more please drop me a line.

Right then, to give the article a little structure I’ve done my best to assemble the vehicles in a chronological order. Scrolling through you’ll notice I’ve chosen to focus solely on Tamiya’s 1/10th scale Radio Controlled Dirt Buggy range. Reason being is simple, not only do they look the coolest with their beautifully sculpted chassis’s and humorous, brash liveries. Look a little closer and there there’s as graphical language that totally set them apart, some truly wonderful design work that’s quite like nothing else. It’s little surprise then that they captured and enthralled a generation, at least for a little while….

Lets begin with some history first.

Tamiya’s roots date back to 1946 postwar Japan, and the city of Shizuoka. The company was founded in 1946 as Tamiya Shoji & Co by Yoshio Tamiya (15 May 1905 – 2 November 1988) and was originally in fact a sawmill a lumber supply company. Model production began in earnest in 1947 with the construction of wooden models of ships and airplanes. By 1953 Tamiya had switched all focus away from lumber sales and were focussed solely on model making, with the concept of being “easy to understand and build, even for beginners”.

By the early 60’s Tamiya had really started take off, thanks in part to the early Box art of  Shigeru Komatsuzaki. Plastic model kits of aircraft and military equipment were soon joined by highly detail reproductions of famous sports cars. Originally Tamiya packaging was designed as “compositions of achievement” or “a story contained in a picture”. This would change in 1968, super detailed scenes were dumped in favour of focusing purely on the vehicle, still painstakingly rendered but now placed on just a plain white background. It’s an iconic style that stuck.

A quick side note on the famous Tamiya Star Mark logo, first designed in 1960 by Yoshio’s son-in-law. The left, red star stands for passion and the right, blue star stands for precision.

In 1976, Tamiya entered the Radio Controlled market with their first RC model, the Porsche 934, a racing version of the 911. According to legend Tamiya actually purchased a original 911 which they promptly dismantled in order for their engineers to better under the vehicles inner workings. Attention to detail, Japanese style.

A series of both on and off road vehicles were to follow, there’s many types and styles, but for the purpose of this post we are going to fast forward through to December 1983…


Tamiya - The Frog

The Frog (1983)

Though it wasn’t their first off road RC vehicle, The Frog marked a shift in Tamiya’s design ethos. Rather than replicating real life cars  like they had with the  Sand Scorcher or Rally car copies, effort was channelled into designing bespoke dirt buggies. Essentially then, despite the kinetic realism the box art oozes with, all Buggies featured here are  1/10th Scale models of vehicles that never actually existed at full size.

The Frog also marked the start of a series of wildlife inspired designs, each buggy taking subtle styling hint’s from it’s animal namesake. Note here the prominent headlamps, and general allround slightly bulbous nature of the monocoque. Oh and by the way, KC Daylighters actually are a real product.

Any adults that once as children drooled over the thought of owning one of these 2WD classics will no doubt be pleased to learn that Tamiya recently reissued The Frog. A quick browse through Amazon, show prices starting at $150…


Tamiya - The Grasshopper

The Grasshopper (1984)

Next up we have The Grasshopper, originally released in May 1984. The namesake designed cues are obvious, sharp wedged lines cut a spindly frame that’s complimented with forceful go faster stripes.

The Grasshopper was Tamiya’s entry level model, and ran a weaker motor which could however be upgraded. Less power did however mean easier handling and longer battery life, and the buggy proved to be immensely popular. In fact today it’s seen as one of the out classics. As the cheaper option I do have hazy memories them being ridiculed, but I guess that’s just how snobby kids can be…

Once again The Grasshopper has enjoyed a re-release, with pricing starting at around the $140 mark.


Tamiya - Box Art

Tamiya - The Hornet (Detail)

The Hornet (1984)

Following on from The Grasshopper came the legendary Hornet with it’s unmistakable black and gold livery Hornet, as you can see above. With it’s high performance, durability and ease of maintenance The Hornet quickly became one Tamiya’s most popular ever models. Any of you anxious to get there hands on this slice of pure 80’s Nostalgia, will be pleased to learn it’s still available from Tamiya priced at $170 upwards.

In fact to further more highlight just how deep into the pubic psyche The Hornet has buried Tamiya (recently-ish) released a limited edition with a wild custom paint job by Japanese designer Jun Watanabe. As you can see, no expense was spared with this completely wacky and somewhat bovine take on things. It’s camp as christmas and I love it.


Tamiya The Hornet (Jun Watanabe)

For more on Watanabe’s RC design work, and misc cool shit from The Land of  The Rising Sun, check out this link: http://www.junwatanabe.jp/rc/

Also check Tamiya’s original ‘The Hornet’ promotional video


Tamiya - Hotshot

Hotshot (1985)

This was Tamiya’s first attempt at a 4WD buggy, featuring a mid mounted engine for stability. It’s not one I particularly remember, but as it spawned several successors (shown later) the Hotshot is  included for chronologic. Livery wise this tough looking little vehicle is a little bland, with small decals that applied somewhat sparingly.  Still whilst it sadly lacks a cheesy slogan, the Hotshot’s general butch presence gets a big thumbs up, in fact it almost looks like a Transformers ready to make that robotic fart noise and spring into action. I’m waffling again.

Tamiya - The Fox

The Fox (1985)

October 1985 saw the release 2WD ‘The Fox’ with it’s unfussy sweeping livery and gleaming gold wheels it is considered another design classic and is highly sought after today. Tamiya obviously took design cues from the animal counterpart giving the vehicle an elongated, slender snout and all round svelte appearance. Presumably there also must have also been some sort of tie in here with the real ‘Fox Racing‘ Team…

Nothing more to add other than I’ll have to say this is pretty much my favourite. If I had a son, this is what I’d be buying him for christmas, pretty much for me to play with.

Tamiya - Super Hotshot

Super Shot (1986)

The Super Shot was something of an evolution of the previously mentioned Hot Shot using the same chassis but alternate suspension system. There’s definitely something fairly menacing about it, especially the vehicles gaping maw, presumably great for catching pebbles in.

If your tempted at all, Tamiya re-released the Supershot in 2012.


Tamiya - The Boomerang

Boomerang (1986)

The Boomerang was an affordable 4WD entry point for many first time RC Buyers.  Slick and Simple livery nicely complimenting the wedge like bodyshell.

Tamiya - The Falcon

The Falcon (1986)

Sporting a swooping nose cone and two tone, flaming paint job ‘The Falcon’ was another popular animal inspired design. Renowned for it’s ruggedness the chassis would be reused as the basis for other subsequent designs.


Tamiya - The Bigwig

The Bigwig (1987)

With it’s bright, if slightly sickly colour scheme and aggressively postured 4WD chassis ‘The Bigwig’ was another memorable addition to the Tamiya stable. Built to commemorate Tamiya’s 10 year involvement with RC model building ‘The Bigwig’ was created by actual buggy Racing design boffin Dick Cepek, his stylised name appering on the rear wing.

Tamiya - Hot Shot II

Hot Shot II (1987)

Released two years after the original 4WD Hot Shot, this update featured numerous minor enhancements and a new Hornet-esque colour scheme.

Tamiya - Lunchbox
Vanessa’s Lunchbox (1987)

Next up we have a slight deviation away from the theme with the famous ‘Lunchbox’, a 1/12 scale RC Monster Truck. Despite relatively poor stability and handling due to the large tyres and high centre of gravity Tamiya’s ‘stunt vehicles’ were extremely popular, and none more so than the competitively priced Lunchbox.

Tamiya - SuperSabre
Super Sabre (1987)

The Super Sabre was essentially The Boomerang with red plastic parts and a new futuristic looking body shell. Interesting to note how much the styling has change since from the earlier boxy look, something that gets even wilder as you’ll see further down.


Tamiya - Thunder Shot

Thunder Shot (1987)

Looking something like a fighter jet with it’s wings removed The Thundershot’s wild appearance marks the shift towards pure Sci-Fi buggies. Great logo too.


Tamiya - Avante
Avante (1988)

The over engineered 4WD Avante was a technological masterpiece that very advanced for it’s time. As you might expect such engineering came with a high price tag, still it’s a fantastic looking vehicle.


Tamiya - Thunder Dragon

Thunder Dragon (1988)

If you could some how capture and sequester the essence of all 80’s Paleo futurism and then wickedly beat it into a space buggy styled shape you’d probably end up with something not too dissimilar to the Thunder Dragon. It’s a truly wild design, part top loading VCR, part attack drone, looking like it’s fallen to earth off the back of a passing battlecruiser.

In true wacky Japanese style the Thunder Dragon was tied into a a strip that ran in the Manga comic ‘Coro Coro‘. Not entirely sure how but basically that’s what this quirky little character is about.

Tamiya - Coro Coro


Tamiya - Grasshopper II
Grasshopper II (1988)

Tamiya updated there entry level buggy in August 1988 with a more streamlined shell.

Tamiya -  Terra Scorcher

Grasshopper II (1988)

The fantastically titled ‘Terra Scorcher’ was essentially the same as the 4WD Thunder Shot with a different bright blue paintjob.
Tamiya - Vanquish

The Vanquish (1988)

The attractive looking Vanquish was a slightly simplified reworking of the The Avante, but with a cheaper price point.


Tamiya - Fire Dragon


Fire Dragon (1989)

Based on the Thunder Dragon Chassis, the Fire Dragon was the second of the ‘Coro Coro’ Buggies. Another literally out of the this world design, though on closer inspection I did have to wonder where exactly the drivers leg were? The swing arm suspension seems to take the place they should be. Hmmmmm.

Tamiya - Egress


Egrees (1989)

We finish off with probably the best looking buggy of them all, and certainly the best tagline ‘Way Out Running!’

The Egress was a top end 4wd model that is still a much respected and sought after to this day.

I’m going to wrap up the post here, there are of course many other Tamiya Buggies, produced after these and actually a few from the 80’s managed to miss out.

Originally I’d planned this just a quick article, but the more research I did on Tamiya I realised only a comprehensive overview would suffice. I hope you’ve enjoyed it.

** Notes

For further reading on Tamiya, including details on pretty much every model and component check out the following sites:

http://www.rcscrapyard.net – massive repository of vintage RC tech, each vehicle profile comes loaded with Ebay links.

http://www.iconicrc.com – a nicely designed easy to navigate modern website, plenty of images too.

More posts soon.

15 thoughts on “TAMIYA – 1980s Buggy Box Art”

  1. Cool! I used to have a Falcon and man I loved that thing. The styling was in my opinion what a “perfect” race buggy should be. I had a hopped up motor in it and held my own against the more serious cars like the rc10. Of course I custom painted the plastic body. RC is a great hobby, and very good for young minds, learning how to troubleshoot electronics and fix stuff. Thanks for posting!

  2. Used to lust after these as a kid. Of course the box art almost always outpaced the actual car..same with those hobby models..and Atari games. Awesome!

  3. Firstly, awesome to see new posts Kie.

    Secondly… The FROG! I don’t believe it.

    When I was an apprentice electronic technician we all went out and bought ourselves the latest RC cars. I got the frog and painted it bright yellow.. We had a constant row of batteries being charged and actually made our own battery packs as we constantly ran them down. Productivity dropped dramatically!

    The factory car park was gravel so we were in heaven. Awesome fun and I learned a lot about car dynamics and suspension. God I loved that time.

    Kie, thanks man, you have brightened my day! :-)

  4. haha Cheers Wayne, glad you appreciated, took me a while getting all the models together but well worth it!

    You had the Frog? ace, I actually bought my brother the Watanabe Hornet recently as a birthday present, needless to say he was made up! we used to have them as kids….

    As for posts, yeah I would of had more done if I hadn’t of been introduced to ‘Clash of Clans’ through work! what started out as a study of UI has ended up with me spending £25 + on in app purchases. Digital Crack!

  5. Awesome. How good is Tamiya box art! I’m 31 years young and currently revisiting my love for Tamiya RC. So glad to see re- released buggies. Hope to see more high end buggies re- released.

    It’s a great time to get involved with rc with an abundance of kits and spare parts, cheap and accessible thanks to the Internet.

  6. Very nice to go over kits I looked at as a kid. I started out with the grasshopper, and had that Super shot! (many upgrades), wish I never sold them. But I have now a Watanabe Hornet, and a new 1st release Grasshopper chassis!, So it all starts again.

  7. Awesome site Kie, Started my therapy this year with the Tamiya Buggy champ, Hornet, Frog, Fox; the Supper shot is the last one on the list and my adult therapy is complete. These are the kits I didn’t have as a kid in the 80’s. Had the hotshot but sold it fast for a terra scorcher; however I have to give the supper shot a try. love the box art photos – brings back happy memories of constant daydreaming in class over those buggies in RC modeler magazine – now discontinued.

  8. Thanks for the Comment Gary… They are great things to have, I bought my brother the Wantanabe Hornet this spring. Great fun, even just to look at I reckon.


  9. Just to remind something: ‘CoroCoro’ was actually a name of a Japanese manga magazine (which its full name is CoroCoro Comic) by Shogakukan. The CoroCoro Dragon is a mascot of the CoroCoro Comic and its sister magazines.

    The reason why the Thunder Dragon itself has the CoroCoro Dragon mark is because the R/C buggy itself was featured in the manga ‘Radicon Boy’ by Kaoru Ohbayashi, which serialized on CoroCoro Comic from 1983 to 1989.

    Just my two cents.

  10. Got back into RC a couple of years back. Tamiya makes for great backyard beaters. Definitely not something you compete with, which is fine with me. I built myself a Lunch Box and then a Midnight Pumpkin and a Clodbuster for my nephews.

    I would LOVE to build each one of these (or their rereleases). Such a fun hobby.

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