Never one to miss an opportunity for "Willy" jokes, I thought I'd write up an article on the differences between the various incarnations of the Tamiya Wild Willy RC jeep.

There are 3 distinct versions of the Wild Willy:

  • Wild Willy M38 SWB (short wheelbase) - the original Wild Willy, first appearing in late November 1982. Identified principally by the front mounts of the trailing arm rear suspension (which are found halfway along the chassis) having round holes;
  • Wild Willy M38 LWB (long wheelbase). This is much more common than the SWB version. Amongst other detail changes, the rear trailing arm front pivot points are longer & have slots rather than holes. With modified motor  & gearbox mounts these increase the wheelbase by 10mm. Generally thought to be for better control, and thought to have been introduced around 1986, there's no evidence to support that & IMO it's equally likely to have just as much to do with making the parts common with the Willy's Wheeler (released August 1983). The Audi Quattro Rally (July 1983) and the Opel Ascona Rally (November 1983) use the Willy chassis with a longer central plastic tub and use different rear arm front pivots, but do use the "LWB" elongated motor/upper gearbox brackets;  
  • Wild Willy 2. This appeared in 1999 with a very similar body but a very different chassis and "All Traction" chevron type tyres. Apart from the sizes of some of the fasteners, the only holdover from the M38s was the wheelieing ability & the motor still being a 540 type. This also spawned a Wild Willy 2 Metallic Special and a Wild Willy 2 XB ("expert built", i.e. factory finished) version.

Please note the examples used for the photos here are not fresh out of the box builds, the M38s have been used, stripped, repaired & repainted; the Wild Willy 2 was built way back & not to the standard I'd do things now, and has also had LEDs fitted. Bits broken off the front winch seem to be depressingly common.

I'll cover the chassis differences (between the M38 SWB & LWB) in a later article.

Willy's Wheeler vs Wild Willy M38s

The Willy's Wheeler chassis is basically a LWB M38, but aside from some of the fasteners, there are absolutely no body parts in common. Even the Driver's helmet is different - on the Wheeler the two halves can be screwed together, on the M38 sprues, gluing is the only option.

Wild Willy M38 SWB vs Wild Willy M38 LWB

The body is identical between the wheelbase versions of the M38, with two exceptions:
The large body clips are the reverse of the norm - the "inside" extending part should have the bends & fold to accommodate the body post, not the outside as on every other Tamiya car. 
It's also possible that early examples used M2 fasteners with slotted heads rather than the compound slotted / JIS heads on later Tamiya cars.


Wild Willy 2 vs Wild Willy M38s

Let's start with the most obvious change: the grille. The Wild Willy 2 (left) was changed to three horizontal openings, whereas the original M38 has 6 vertical ones. There are also some additional moulded in details, 4 large bolt heads + 12 smaller rivets (?). Moulded in indicators/sidelights and hitch points remain unchanged, as do the separate headlight & winch mouldings - the winch even breaks in the same place :( The winch hook is not fitted according to the WW2 manual, but as it's still there on the "L" sprue, there's no reason not to use it.

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It's different on the inside too: the radiator, which was a separate moulding on the M38, is just moulded in recesses on the WW2.

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Apart from the instrument pod and 5 pointed US Army stars, pretty much all of the decals changed between the M38s and the Wild Willy 2. A visor is no longer supplied, and the drivers helmet numbers change from plain black "21" to a yellow outlined "2" in a different typeface.

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The Ace of Clubs symbols are completely omitted, and the spare wheel cover changes dramatically.

Elsewhere, all the genuine sponsor and equipment decals change to more generic names, "NOS"  becomes "N2O", "Hella" becomes "Brite Lite", the fire extinguisher label changes, even "Bell" on the driver helmet becomes "Willy", and so on.

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The serial number on the bonnet (hood) changes from 2051312 to 99027, and tyre pressures become 25 all round (rather than 30 on the rears of the M38s).

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Bonnet (hood) on the M38s (right) is flat & has a single body mount hole, WW2 has two smaller body mount holes much further back + 3 moulded in "reinforcement" ribs.

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The M38 windscreen panel has 2x 2mm holes on each end to accommodate aluminium hinges (plus slots on the ends of the C1 dashboard top panel), WW2 panel has a single 3mm hole further up & further in. The front rollcage loop on the WW2 has added extrusions near the base of the plastic portions to take 3mm screws through the windscreen panel.

 The sides of the two bodies have the same moulded on details from the middle of the rear arches back, and below the dashboard top piece. However, where the M38 has blank sides, the WW2 body has a lot of extra details including three additional grab handles.

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Underneath the fuel cell, the copyright marks are different: the WW2 body includes part numbers and the date.

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The back end of the bodies is different in three ways:
- the WW2 has "reinforcing" ribs moulded in (in the same style as the bonnet);
- the WW2 body mount holes are larger and further forward;
- the antenna hole has moved a long way back, in line with the body mount holes.

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Written by TB member Jonny Retro

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