It’s not easy to explain the appeal of retro RC buggies. Viewed dispassionately, most ‘vintage’ models are slower both in a straight line and through the bends than modern cars.
But that hasn’t stopped Tamiya’s re-released buggy range – including such seminal ‘80s offerings as the Frog, the Hornet and the Hotshot – from attracting a cult following, even among enthusiasts well aware of each car’s respective limitations.
Fact is, re-releases sell because they remind their buyers of the simpler pleasures of their youth – and also because they’re way cooler than most modern alternatives.
Now it’s the turn of the most iconic car in radio control history, probably the best-looking, most desirable and (in original condition) valuable Tamiya of them all: the Sand Scorcher. First released in December 1979 shortly after its SRB (Special Racing Buggy) sibling the Rough Rider, it arguably inspired the whole 1980s’ R/C craze.
Only the sixteenth-ever Tamiya R/C car, The Sand Scorcher’s design was inspired by Shunsaku Tamiya’s first-hand encounter with the off-road racers of California’s Baja region in the late 1970s. True to Tamiya’s origins as a modelmaker, it’s far more of a scale replica than many of the company’s later buggies.
That’s both a huge advantage – the hard plastic bodyshell’s styling and detailing is unrivalled, the fit of each metal chassis component is exemplary – and something of a handicap. With so much metal to move, this is a heavy car, so while it sticks to the ground surprisingly well and has plenty of traction, it’s not exactly quick.
Handling’s an acquired taste, too. The carefully crafted scale suspension system, designed to accurately replicate the geometry of real 1970s Baja bugs, can introduce some wild camber changes to the rear wheels when you’re pressing on.
That, plus the fact that there’s no standard-fit differential in the gearbox, means the Sand Scorcher’s none-too-keen on rapid changes in direction.
In fact, push it too hard on tarmac or other surfaces that afford it plenty of grip, and it’s all too easy to put it on its roof. If you’re an aggressive driver, a £30 differential upgrade – which would help cure that tendency to roll – would be a wise investment.
But that’s missing the point. This isn’t a backyard basher or a competitive racer: it’s a classic, and just like a classic car, it deserves to be driven considerately.
Take your time, enjoy what it has to offer, and you’ll grow to love both the way it goes, and its ability to instantly draw a crowd wherever you drive it. Of course, that’s because it looks so much more like a real car than modern buggies, although its watertight radio box and fully enclosed motor also give it the ability to plough through puddles that would fox many a newer car.
Is that worth around £300, plus all the time it’ll take you to put the car together? Depends on your perspective. If you’re an enthusiast, you’ll be sold already – after all, £300 is about £1,200 less than it’d cost you to buy an original Sand Scorcher.
But even if you’re new to R/C, it’s worth considering an investment in this glorious blast from the past. Sure, you’ll go faster in something newer and cheaper, but what price owning a car that’s cooler than Sinatra in shades?