I spotted these VHS tapes on eBay recently*, and as the price was pretty low I thought they were worth a bit of a punt. I can't prove it, but I think there's a real possibility that these are tapes prepared by the UK importer for distribution to retailers, so are as close to official Tamiya tapes as I'm ever likely to get.
Although the three tapes are all of different manufacturers and only two have Tamiya labels on them, the electric typewriter font & the reference number (CT 502 on all three tapes) are very much like those used by RIKO (Richard Kohnstam Ltd, the UK importer) in the early & mid 80s.
The image quality seems to be far too good to simply be someone's bootlegs - even taking into account the inevitable loss of quality through conversion & resizing of the versions found on the internet, the image quality may be better than those already in the wild.
n.b. this article has been sitting nearly finished on my hard drive since 2015, so add a few years to any time mentioned ;)
I started with the undated E60 tape, but it's been a long, long time since I last used a VCR (over 12 years) and although the machine itself was fine, the remote was particularly manky & the batteries had died a long time ago.
First thing I noticed was that have we been spoiled by digital sources (DVB, DVD, Blu-ray etc) the last few years - I'd kind of forgotten what video tape looks like, and watching it on a big screen really didn't help.
Faults include some artefacts at the beginning of the tape, a couple of glitches, slight tracking issues
(intermittent colour loss in a line across the top of the screen in the Porsche 959 segment and onwards), and variable quality (the Falcon advert & the first half of the Hotshot II ad are noticeably poorer than the rest of the tape).
That said, this is a pretty good example of a VHS tape, and there are almost no faults with the sound (other than the VO guy really should have done another take on every segment), and the quality whizzes all over that of the small Youtube versions you'd usually see - although that is probably down to compression rather than poorer source material. You can actually see that Tamiya originally filmed almost all of these ads with video cameras.
The next thing that struck me was how cheesy the music was, even by Tamiya as standards. The Sonic Fighter, Clod Buster, Monster Beetle, Boomerang and Lunchbox segments are particularly, um, "noteworthy" in this regard.
The full list of what appeared on this tape was:
- Sonic Fighter
- Adspec Radio Gear
- Racing Pack EX
- Super Sabre
- Midnight Pumpkin
- Williams FW11B & Lotus Honda 99T
- Toyota Celica Gr. B
- Clod Buster
- Monster Beetle
- Porsche 959
- Hotshot II
Running time was a full hour. Most of these ads I hadn't actually seen before, but the ones I had seen and the number I checked with the ones already in circulation showed there's nothing new here.
The Sonic Fighter has an official release date of the end of February 1988, so that dates the tape pretty effectively.
Next I looked at the 1986, E30 tape. Having been a bit rude about the voiceovers on the previous tape, I'm pleased to say they were much better on this one - although the music was up way too high in the mix on the first two segments.
Quality was noticeably poorer than the previous tape, but still sufficiently better than the compressed versions to tell that these ads were originally made on film (lens flare vs light burn, look & feel of the image & so on). The colour was a bit off in places (at times the Bruiser looked green instead of blue), and the Frog & Wild Willy ads were particularly ropy looking.
Full running order was:
- Wild One
- Group C cars (Toyota Toms 84C & Porsche 956)
- Wild Willy
Each segment was much shorter, and total running time was a mere 14 minutes. I've seen all of these ads before - with the exception that the Grasshopper segment had a lot of extra material on BEC, batteries, chargers & hop ups at the end.
Comparing the quality to that of the internet versions, it's a bit of a mixed bag - on some (especially the Fox one) the source material was obviously poorer, and on some probably a bit better.
This (E60) tape was a bit problematic - it looked ok but when I popped it in the VCR it refused to play and the message "er03" came up. I ejected it & a foot or two of tape followed it out of the machine. I wound it back on and tried again - no tape crinkling this time, but no joy either.
I did actually have the manual for the machine - but no error codes were listed. My VCR doesn't quite pre-date the internet, but no information was to be found there.
After a bit of Googling I found some info on transferring the spools of tape to a new case in case of the internal mechanism failing ... ignoring all that I took the cassette apart & found that a bit of the internal moulding around the spool lock mechanism had broken off entirely (possibly due to the tapes being sent loose in an oversize jiffy bag?) ... a quick dab of Dichloromethane (plastic weld) later and all was well again.
It was worth the trouble, as although most of the ads were the same as I'd just seen on the 1988 tape, quality was noticeably higher - you can actually see that the Celica ad was partly originally done on film, but mostly on video.
Added bonuses (I guess) were a segment on Tamtech cars that I hadn't seen all of before, and a still "10 years young" logo on screen for a few seconds between the 959 and the Monster Beetle ads.
Another thing to note was the frame rate - converting the videos to digital files using a cheap "EasyCAP" USB convertor and a trial version of NCH "Debut" capture software showed a steady 25fps with very few dropped frames: less than 80 in the first half hour running time of the 1987 tape, for example (after that I stopped paying attention). This tends to indicate a professionally duplicated tape, as one made on cheaper equipment might achieve only half the fps.
- Celica Gr.B
- Clod Buster
- Hotshot II
- Monster Beetle
- Tamtech cars (Porsche 962C & Lancia LC2)
- ... then a bit of silence, garbling & static, followed by most of the Boomerang ad again (?)
Even though the Tamtech section was particularly long, it doesn't seem it should add up to the full length of the tape (1 hour + 3 minutes), apparently it did.
It would be nice to transfer these to a digital format, but as they don't really add anything to the canon I don't feel there's a pressing need to do it fast :)
n.b. or at all, apparently ;) Now there’s AI video upscaling/noise reduction/enhancement, maybe it’s time to look at this again …
Written by TB member Jonny Retro