TAMIYA – 1980s Buggy Box Art
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 a subject I don’t pertain to with overarching knowledge I’ll issue a quick disclaimer; I’m not an 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…
Let’s 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 aeroplanes. 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 taking 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 detailed 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 an 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 are many types and styles, but for the purpose of this post, we are going to fast forward through to December 1983…
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, the 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 hints from its animal namesake. Note here the prominent headlamps, and general all-around 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…
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 complemented 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.
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 its 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 furthermore highlight just how deep into the public 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.
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
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.
The Fox (1985)
October 1985 saw the release 2WD ‘The Fox’ with its 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.
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 you’re tempted at all, Tamiya re-released the Supershot in 2012.
The Boomerang was an affordable 4WD and thus entry point for many first time RC Buyers Slick and Simple livery nicely complimenting the wedge-like bodyshell.
The Falcon (1986)
Sporting a swooping nose cone and two-tone, flaming paint job ‘The Falcon’ was another popular animal inspired design. Renowned for its ruggedness the chassis would be reused as the basis for other subsequent designs.
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 appearing on the rear wing.
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.
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.
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 changed since from the earlier boxy look, something that gets even wilder as you’ll see further down.
Thunder Shot (1987)
Looking something like a fighter jet with its wings removed The Thundershot’s wild appearance marks the shift towards pure Sci-Fi buggies. Great logo too.
The over-engineered 4WD Avante was a technological masterpiece that very advanced for its time. As you might expect such engineering came with a high price tag, still it’s a fantastic looking vehicle.
Thunder Dragon (1988)
If you could somehow 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 strip that ran in the Manga comic ‘Coro Coro‘. Not entirely sure how but basically that’s what this quirky little character is about.
Grasshopper II (1988)
Tamiya updated there entry level buggy in August 1988 with a more streamlined shell.
Grasshopper II (1988)
The fantastically titled ‘Terra Scorcher’ was essentially the same as the 4WD Thunder Shot with a different bright blue paintjob.
The Vanquish (1988)
The attractive looking Vanquish was a slightly simplified reworking of The Avante, but with a cheaper price point.
Fire Dragon (1989)
Based on the Thunder Dragon Chassis, the Fire Dragon was the second of the ‘Coro Coro’ Buggies. Another literally out of this world design, though on closer inspection I did have to wonder where exactly the driver’s leg were? The swing arm suspension seems to take the place they should be. Hmmmmm.
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.
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.