THE HISTORY OF RC CARS
The 60s (When it started)
The first remote-controlled car ever created was the nitro-powered Ferrari 250LM. It was invented by an Italian electronics company known as Elettronica Giocattoli in 1966. A year later, RC cars started being commercially produced by Mardave, a British company based in Leicester.
At the same time, other manufacturers such as Model Car Enterprises and WEN also began to make RC car kits. They were called “pan cars.” These cars were 1/8 scale and powered by 2-stroke model airplane engines. In 1968, Elettronica Giocattoli produced another model, the Ferrari P4.
The 70s (Nitro, Electric, and Off-Road)
The 70s saw the emergence of 1/8th scale nitro powered RC cars. The technology had significantly improved during this time. Nitro cars used a special blend of oils (e.g. nitrogen, methanol, lubricant).
The 70s were also the years when electric cars were introduced. These models helped to boost the popularity of the hobby. A Japanese company, Tamiya, produced its first electric on-road RC cars called the Porsche 934 in 1976. This 1/12 scale car was powered by an electric motor that sat on a pan chassis. At the same time, they also produced intricately detailed plastic kits and radio systems, which were rapidly sold. The Porsche 934 was then followed by several other models such as the Ferrari 312T, Tyrrell P34, Toyota Celica, and Lamborghini Countach. All these cars were designed to run on smooth roads.
Team Associated followed other manufacturers by releasing the RC12E electric pan car in 1978. It was a 1/12 scale RC car.
In 1979, Tamiya introduced off-road buggy cars to the hobby. These models used real suspension systems, powerful motors, textured rubber tires of various sizes and dune buggy body design to allow the cars to be driven on rough terrains. The company released two models – the Rough Rider and Sand Scorcher. The Rough Rider in particular packed a die-cast suspension system and large rubber tires. Today, these two cars can be worth thousands of dollars and are sought by many RC enthusiasts.
In the same year, the world’s first 1/18 Scale On-Road Gas Championship was held in Geneva where Phil Booth won the championship. This was also the year that marked the starting of the RC Golden Era. Off-road electric cars had caught the interests of many avid RC fans because the cars were no longer restricted to smooth, paved roads.
Other models that were popular during this off-road era were the Tamiya Frog, Hornet, Grasshopper, as well as monster truck models like Blackfoot and Clodbuster. The Golden Era continued until the early 80s.
The 80s (Fast Racing and 4WD)
The years of the 80s marked another milestone in the history of RC cars. This is the era where RC cars moved its paradigm from simply scale models to high-performance models. The popularity of RC also skyrocketed during this time.
Besides Tamiya, significant numbers of US-based companies started to emerge to produce top-performing RC cars in the 80s. American manufacturers like Associated Electronics, Traxxas, and Losi were some of them. In 1985, Tamiya introduced a 4WD buggy called the HotShot. This model was designed to survive slippery and dusty surfaces and claimed to be faster than its 2WD models. Within the next year, more powerful off-road 4WD were released, and they could reach a high speed of 40mph!
The year of 1988 witnessed the popularity burst of 4WD off-road RC cars. Some of the top 4WD manufacturers were Kyosho (Japan), Yokomo (Japan) and Schumacher Cat (Europe). In the States, Team Losi soon became one of the fiercest rivals of Team Associated in the American market. The company released its first Team Losi 2WD electric buggy, JRX-2, in 1988. Team Losi continued to produce innovative releases such as the first all-natural rubber tires, the brand-new 1/18 scale Mini-T Off-road Electric cars, and 4WD racing buggy.
Besides high-performance off-road buggy and 4WD models, the 80s also saw the emergence of 1/10 electric on-road racing cars. They were very lightweight and could circle oval racing tracks in high speed.
The 90s (Racing and Touring)
1/10 scale electric racing trucks gained its popularity. 1993 saw the transition from bashing monster trucks to fast racing truck models.
In 1994, Team Associated released its 1/10 scale gas truck called RC10GT, and Tamiya introduced TR15T. In the same year, HPI entered the RC market by releasing their very first vehicle called the Super F1. Traxxas also introduced its 2WD electric monster truck and stadium truck known as the Stampede and the Rustler.
The Touring Car Era achieved its glory in this decade. More and more hobbyists started to take an interest in touring car racing. This was the time when Tamiya’s TA01 and TA02 series became a hit. This type of RC cars is one of the fastest cars in RC and featured realistic and aerodynamic bodies. However, they come at a high price. During this era, manufacturers like Associated, Kyosho, HPI, Losi, Schumacher, Tamiya and many others had produced more than 40 different models. The touring cars continued its popularity until the 2000s.
The size of the cars also began to get smaller during this time – from 1/10-scale to 1/12 and eventually to 1/18. HPI released RS4 Mini that had helped to start the minis/micros trend. Also, in the late 90s, gas-powered cars became a hit. Tamiya, for example, released its gas RC car called TG10 Pro. In the same year, American manufacturer, Traxxas, produced its very own RTR (ready-to-run) T-Maxx nitro monster truck. This model had initiated the transition from kits to RTR.
The 2000s (RTR, Rock Crawlers, and SCT)
The 2000s was the era of rock crawlers and short course trucks. This was also the time when the RC fans started to adopt ready-to-run RC models. Plus, from 2001 until 2011, several acquisition and rebranding efforts occurred. Horizon Hobby bought Losi in 2001 and rebranded the racing team. They are now called Team Losi Racing (TLR). In 2005, Thunder Tiger of Taiwan bought Team Associated.
In the same year, the hobby witnessed a change in its radio system technology, from AM/FM to 2.4GHz. During this decade, RC manufacturers have started to use the 2.4GHz modules on their transmitter. Nomadic pioneered the 2.4GHz application, followed by another company, Spektrum.
In 2004, the followers of the hobby shifted their attention to rock crawler models. Axial released a new rock crawler kit that makes it easy for everyone to build rock crawling vehicles. The model was called AX10 Scorpion. This was the start of rock crawler trend.
Four years later, a brand new segment took its course. Traxxas released the famous Slash. It is a 2WD short course truck model that has shifted the RC trends from nitro/gas back to electric. It also put short course truck under the limelight. Numerous numbers of short course trucks were released at that time by manufacturers like Kyosho, HPI, Team Associated, Losi, Durango, and others. The models resembled the look, functions, and proportions of real racing trucks.
The most recent innovation in this field is the creation of hydrogen fuel cell hybrid, H-Cell 2.0, in 2010. It is designed to power high-grade RC models. With this hydrogen cell, RC cars can now run longer than the average runtime, up to four times!
With the advancements in technology, RC fans can expect better performance regarding speed, controls, and durability. For example, we have seen the introduction of brushless electric motors, lithium-ion batteries, and larger, more powerful engines.
A big game changer for the world of RC happened early 2018 when Hobbico filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Hobbico was the top manufacturer and distributor of hobby products. The company distributed over 150 brands of hobby products including about 30 proprietary product brands. Proprietary brands include: Axial, ARRMA, Dromida, Team Durango, dBoots, Revell, Monogram, Top Flite, Great Planes, AquaCraft Models, FlightPower, Heli-Max, SuperTigre, O’Donnell Fuel, Duratrax, RealFlight, MonoKote, Carl Goldberg Products, ElectriFly, Coverite, Dynaflite, Flyzone, MuchMore Racing, LiFeSource, Tactic, VS Tank, Estes Industries, Proto-X, TrakPower and many others.
On January 10, 2018, it was announced that Hobbico had filed for bankruptcy. Its biggest competitor, Horizon Hobby bought all Hibbico’s RC related brands, including Arrma, in what has now been tagged “the biggest RC industry buyout in history”.