In hobby-grade R/C, 1985 was the year when four-wheel-drive buggies hit the mainstream.
And Tamiya was quick to the market with the phenomenal, and now legendary Hotshot.
The Tamiya Hotshot is a kit-based, hobby-grade R/C buggy released by Tamiya in 1985 when the plastic model company was at the height of their powers in R/C design, and when the hobby itself was experiencing a boom in popularity.
I can’t quite recall whether the Tamiya Hotshot was the first electric 4WD buggy to be released worldwide (I think that honour belongs to the Kyosho Progress), or if it was just the first to become a huge seller. No matter, because it was certainly one of the first, and in my view it remains the most memorable.
It actually took a few years for 4WD electric buggies to arrive on the market, as electric 2WD buggies had been dominant since the 70s. It wasn’t until the mid-1980s, when R/C cars had become a more popular hobby, that model makers began to release these more expensive and better-handling 4WD vehicles.
And naturally, when these vehicles first began to appear there was initially some confusion among organized hobby R/C clubs about what to do with them, with many allowing 2WD and 4WD cars to race together. Until it became apparent that cars like the Hotshot were capable of blowing the pants off just about any 2WD and really belonged in their own racing category. And thus, a whole new R/C racing experience had been born.
But enough about racing. Because this blog is really about reliving the fun of old toys, whether they were race-winners or not.
And what a toy this was.
Suitably bright red and perfectly named, the typically supreme Tamiya box-art depicts an aggressive vehicle bursting with complexity…
Pictured here is an original, unbuilt Hotshot kit from the 1980s.
(As always, this blog won’t delve into the later re-released Hotshot kit with it’s numerous changes, omissions and upgrades – instead I’m just focusing on the original 1980s model in all it’s pure, unmodified 1980s glory!)
Growing up, I saw the Hotshot much the way that I think Tamiya had always envisaged it – as an amazing, complex 4WD buggy designed for fun. And back in 1985, if you were a kid and your parents could actually afford to buy you a Tamiya Hotshot, then I think it’s safe to say that you ruled the neighborhood – at least as far as toys were concerned.
If you visited a local hobby shop at the time, you may also have seen Tamiya’s promo video reel on a TV, with the official Hotshot action clip…
Personally, the official catalogue photo was the first image I ever saw of this car…
The Hotshot was one of several stunning models available at a time when Tamiya were arguably at their most creative, marketing a range of unique and colour-coordinated cars with fun and memorable names.
The first thing I think when I look at this car is: look at how the red body work only partially covers the car. And look at how the underlying black mechanical sub-structure seems to be protruding – almost bursting through the body shell at various places (particularly at the front and at the sides near the rear wheels).
Looking at it all those years ago as a boy, the Hotshot seemed almost impossibly complicated. Rugged, incredibly cool, with that huge 4WD logo emblazed across the rear wing. It was almost bio-mechanical in the sense that it met the eye with both smooth and rough edges – elegance and practicality combined. It was both beautiful, and clearly ready to blast across any terrain.
It’s for these types of reasons that, today, it is one of the most beloved Tamiya R/C designs ever. It has even been credited with inspiring one man to collect what is, probably, the world’s most massive private collection of R/C models (word has it that the German collector profiled on that article began his collection after first witnessing one Hotshot, then buying multiple vintage Hotshot kits, and later, buying up thousands of cars of all kinds).
Personally, I don’t think I will ever tire of looking at it.
As I grew up and my personal finances improved, it was no accident that the Hotshot was one of the first hobby-grade R/C models I sought out.
My very first Hotshot was actually found in the pre-Internet early 1990s, via a newspaper classified. One day, I saw an ad by someone who was offering to trade “R/C cars like the Hotshot, Mugen Bulldog etc for musical instruments” (believe it or not). I knew we had a couple of old guitars lying around somewhere at home, so I found those and promptly drove about 1 hour to meet with the seller, figuring I could supplement my cash by getting rid of something I didn’t need.
It’s safe to say that the guy I met was one of those people who just ‘hoard stuff’ since he had an entire house filled with junk, complimented nicely by an entire front yard filled with junk! I really wasn’t sure if he’d be interested in my guitars (or where he’d put them), but to my surprise he took them and (with a bit of cash thrown in) gave me a fairly old, beaten, but relatively complete Tamiya Hotshot.
When I got home I just sat it on the table for a while, and stared at it. It wasn’t great, but it was a start. And it was also the first time I’d actually seen one ‘in the flesh’, after years of looking at that catalogue picture above.
Years later, and thanks to eBay, I meticulously cleaned and restored it – replacing many parts with brand new, original parts found around the world. I was pretty fussy, so it ended up basically being a brand new model built from original parts, and done to absolute box art/standard specifications. As you can see below…
Technically this car is my ‘runner’, as I now own two completely unbuilt original kits as well. Except since the restoration was completed, I’ve never run it :)
One of the most amazing and iconic aspects of the Hotshot is undoubtedly it’s rear suspension system. It consists of a metal, oil-filled shock absorber and spring, mounted longitudinally behind the roof of the driver cockpit, and braced with red plastic casings.
The suspension travel of the rear wishbones needed to somehow be translated from vertical/angular movement into longitudinal movement, all due to the crazy/cool position of that shock absorber. So Tamiya built a sort of cantilever motion to enable the transfer of movement, plus an anti-roll stabilizer to brace the suspension arms and keep them grounded.
What can you say, really. Tamiya could have saved all this effort by mounting the shock a simpler way. But this was the 1980s, when toys were made amazing. For no reason other than to be amazing. Detail, realism, complexity, and innovation…all were stretched to the limit, for the sake of a more interesting finished product.
What a different mindset that was, to most of the R/C toys around today.
Down at the front, the same large shock is presented in a mono-shock layout – a design that would later be used on a few cars, and copied by many toy-grade models too.
The shock here appears to be bursting through the nose of the body, and the whole system is braced by another stabilizer bar held up by carbon fibre supports. This gives the effect of the car’s nose actually being a little higher/bigger, rather than tapering away to a point – as aerodynamics would suggest. But it’s almost like the car is so tough, it has no concern for air resistance issues.
The driver looks like he has no concern for obstacles either…
The Hotshot introduced Tamiya’s relatively hard-wearing “Oval Block” pattern tyre set as well, which would later be used by many of it’s other models. These low-profile tyres (also a new concept in 1985 as most tyres had previously been fat and balloon-like) consist of spikes and oval shapes that balance out wear and traction much better than tyres purely covered in spikes. Nikko and other toy companies would later go on to copy these tyres in smaller form.
One of the other distinctive aspects of the car are the rear ceramic resistors. All old hobby-grade buggies in the 1980s and 1990s came equipped with mechanical speed controllers, and as such they also needed a simple way to regulate the amount of power being passed from their large batteries to the motor – lest they run at full speed all the time. This power regulation is achieved by redirecting electricity through a piece of white ceramic material, which sheds the excess electricity in the form of heat.
The Hotshot uses two small, round pieces of ceramic, mounted up high beneath the rear wing, and encased in silver aluminium domes. By going to such fancy lengths, the designer of the Hotshot was clearly attempting to innovate in both form and function – the silver domes are a distinctive and noticeable part of the buggy’s overall look. And their position – exposed to airflow as the car whizzes around – also gives them the best possible chance of remaining cool.
However, you still don’t want to go touching them as they get VERY hot. Just follow the signs :)
To give you some idea of how much these were an intrinsic part of how the car looks, the later re-release version of the Hotshot came fitted with an electronic speed control negating any need for these older, mechanical components. However it still came with the silver domes (with no actual resistors inside them) and the ‘caution!’ sticker.
However, it’s just not the pure 1980s Hotshot experience unless you burn your fingertips once in a while, or see one of those resistors literally explode from heat once they’ve become old and worn out :) Running repairs are half the fun of vintage R/C toys!
Also noteworthy is the fact that the 4WD transmission of the Hotshot is achieved via a drive-shaft, unlike many other 4WD hobby-grade buggies of the day which opted for a belt or chain system. In fact, Tamiya persisted with the simpler and more durable shaft driven 4WD system throughout it’s buggy line-up, for many years.
Let’s have a look inside the original kit too, at all those dozens of blisters filled with little parts…
It’s a fun and reasonably challenging exercise to assemble an original Hotshot. But the greater the challenge, the more satisfying the end result. And while the car is complex, you can take heart from the fact that the body is relatively simple to finish – being a small, two piece polycarbonate shell, in a single colour.
So what about performance?
Well, relative to toy-grade R/C cars, performance of a hobby kit vehicle like the Hotshot is of course – outstanding. Powered by a 540 motor, the buggy will blast around at speed, just as seen in that classic Tamiya promo video.
Treated with respect, I firmly believe that any Tamiya will last for many years of play. But I’ll just mention a few common traits beyond simply saying “it’s awesome”:
- It has a tendency to understeer a bit, so keep that in mind before you find that it won’t take a turn as quickly as you expected, causing you to hit a tree!
- The radio gear is encased inside the chassis, in a fully sealed cavity, which is a pain if you need to perform maintenance on it as it means undoing 6 or so screws to open up the chassis. But that’s just a hoop you have to jump through, when running this particular classic R/C buggy.
- The front suspension arms can tend to develop cracks if you run into things, so try to avoid impacting those arms, or the front wheel.
Like many of the famous Tamiya 1/10 scale buggies, purchasing an original Hotshot on eBay these days isn’t too hard, as they were such a popular item back in the 1980s. Values tend to be somewhere between $80 and $250 for a used example, and somewhere around the $500-$600 mark if you’re keen to wait and buy an original, unbuilt kit (of which there are still a few floating around) – for that true 1980s experience :)
If you want a truly original used example for restoration, just be aware that some people are supplementing their old cars with the cheaper, commonly available re-release parts. Some of these new parts are quite different, thus affecting the originality.
In conclusion, there is so much more I could write about an incredible R/C model like the Hotshot from Tamiya. But I’ll stop here, as I’m sure I will refer to it in many other upcoming posts and topics. Hopefully you’ve found this an interesting overview of another of the truly famous releases from Tamiya, and one of the most exciting R/C models ever made.
|At a glance…|
|Digital Proportional: Yes|
|Batteries: 1 x 7.2volt (Car). Transmitter purchased separately.|