I recently bought a copy of Radio Race Car magazine from 1983 on eBay, principally for the review on the Wild Willy – a scan of which you can now find in the Downloads section.

Obviously I had a read through of the rest of the magazine, and marvelled at the “low” cost of the kits and accessories in the various adverts. It’s tempting to think everything was so cheap back then and we had it so easy, but casting the rose-tinted glasses aside, I remember how low I had to save up, and how many Christmas and birthday presents had to be combined for me to afford a Grasshopper in 1985, along with an Acoms mk.III radio set, unbranded 1200mAH hump pack and slow charger.

The extra fiver it would have cost to get the obviously superior Hornet might have well have been 5000 GBP for all the chance I had of finding it. There was no money for paint, or even the twelve AA batteries needed for the radio. Bearings were available, but were typically displayed in sets of four, set on a velvet cushion, rotating on a turntable, spot lit in a glass case, unpriced* (because if you had to ask, you couldn’t afford them) so were luxury I couldn’t even think about.


The “official” UK price inflation calculator can be found at https://www.bankofengland.co.uk/monetary-policy/inflation/inflation-calculator, I entered 1983 and 2021 (the most recent year for which data is available), and set about entering some 1983 prices.

Apparently, inflation averaged 2.7% over the intervening years, meaning the cover price of the magazine -  85p – would have been 2.33 GBP in 2021, had the price simply gone up with inflation. Print magazines have gone up an awful lot more than that in that time.


GK Models (Bournemouth, in Dorset) have the whole inside front cover, quite a prestigious (and expensive) spot. In 1983 a Sand Scorcher would have cost you 63.99 GBP (175.70 GBP in 2021) and a Holiday Buggy at 36 GBP (98.94 GBP in 2021). A Blazing Blazer or Toyota 4x4 were priced at 103.20 GBP each, or 283 in 2021 money. A King Tiger Tank 119.20 GBP – or 327 GBP now. Shipping would have been an extra 2 or 3 GBP (5.50 or 8.25). I’m sure you can see that the equivalent current models – though not vintage examples – cost a lot more than their purely inflationary 2021 prices, but the DT-02 Holiday Buggy re-chassis is not that much more.

GK models have no current web presence, and although they appeared to have moved a way up the same road, Google streetview shows that those “new” premises were no longer a model shop even as far back as 2009.


jr price nostalgia 1983 GK


It’s a similar story for Stagg Models of Northampton, though they seemed to have suffered a worse fate and become an estate agent. They seem to be one of the few sectors expanding around here, along with Fried Chicken and Betting Shops :S.

There a 3-speed truck would have cost a little more, but they also list the Rough Rider and “Pickup” (not doubt the 3rd SRB, the Ford F-150 Ranger XLT) alongside the Sand Scorcher at the same price of 69.99 GBP (175.70 GBP, 2021). A Kyosho Landjump 4WD buggy was their most expensive car at 175 GBP (480.79 GBP 2021).


jr price nostalgia 1983 stagg


Finding the accidental “hunt the defunct model shop” game rather depressing, I skimmed through the rest of the magazine hoping to find a place that might still be going… luckily I found one – Howes Models in Oxford. They’re no longer in the same place, having moved from a traditional retail space to an industrial estate. According to their advert, the “new” Wild Willy would have been 62.99 GBP (172.95 GBP 2021), and the “new” Super Champ 79.99 GBP (219.63 GBP 2021) – both plus 75p (2.06 GBP 2021) post & packing.

We’re used to having “free” shipping nowadays on a lot of orders, but as you can see the price of the re-release Fighting Buggy has considerably outstripped inflation. A Wild Willy 2 might currently be around the 150 GBP mark, but it’s not really comparing like with like.


jr price nostalgia 1983 howes


As an aside, most – if not all - UK model shops of the day offered “deal” prices for most of their RC kits. These would include the cheapest possible radio, battery and slow charger – and nothing else. This race to the bottom was fuelled by consumers who thought themselves “canny” being quite prepared to go elsewhere for as little as a 50p (1.38 GBP in 2021) difference in price, not really thinking about how postage, or a small variation in the cost of something you actually needed to complete the kit – tools, paint, etc – could more than wipe that out.


Things that we almost take for granted as incidental when added to the cost of a kit are so much cheaper now, for example:

Bearings cost at least 1.60 GBP each (4.39 GBP 2021), so a full set if 14 for a Sand Scorcher “should” cost 61.46 GBP rather than the 11 GBP or less that they do now.

A basic 2-channel radio set, such as the Futaba Medallion 2-ch– which has almost has zero features by modern standards cost 37.50 GBP (or even more) in 1983, which is 102.97 GBP in 2021 money.

ESCs started at 16.95 GBP up to 39.95 GBP (47 to 110 GBP in 2021, roughly, because I’m rounding now ;)).

A motor would be 7.50 to 29.99 GBP in 1983 (20 to 82 GBP in 2021).


Conclusion: “metal kits” cost a lot more than they used to, “plastic” kits are ahead of inflation but not by much. Bearings are silly cheap compared to what they used to be. Radio gear is much better and cheaper, ESCs (for brushed motors) are half the price and much, much less fragile. You can spend as much now on brushless gear, but you should be getting a lot more for the money.

The early 1980s may be peak halcyonity for RC nostalgia, but I’d far rather it be now for the choice and availability, and even pricing, overall, than back then – at least as far as RC goes.



Written by TB member Jonny Retro

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