For newcomers to vintage Tamiya R/C cars, or people just starting to think “I used to have a Tamiya…”, hunting down and collecting the cars from the 1980s is a little trickier these days than it used to be because Tamiya has now reissued many models – and the reissues are different!
So if you want to re-live your childhood with a truly original Tamiya, here are some quick buying tips.
As many people know, Tamiya was the most popular R/C car brand in the 1980s. And the 1980s was when R/C cars experienced a huge growth in popularity. Hence, Tamiya cars are highly sought after to this day.
Tamiya was such a ubiquitous brand back in those days, that their models were sold at hobby stores, toy stores, electronics stores, and even department stores and discount stores. With their superb marketing and massive parts support, Tamiya became the iconic brand that most people grew up with (if they were lucky enough to own a hobby-grade R/C toy).
But in the early 1990s when I first started collecting Tamiya cars, spare parts for the older, discontinued cars were becoming hard to find, as many of the early and most popular kits had been discontinued.
When the Internet arrived, and in particular eBay in the late 1990s, many out of stock vintage Tamiya collectibles began to change hands around the world for ever-increasing prices. It even turned out that, thanks to old leftover shop stock and treasures found in the vast mall districts of Akihabara in Japan, there were still some whole unbuilt Tamiya R/C kits out there in the world. Naturally, these began to soar in value as thousands of fans could think of nothing better than to own one of these classic kits – still in brand new shape. Either to relive the process of building it, or just display the kit with all it’s beautiful internal blister-packing (something long-gone from today’s model kits).
Seeing this popularity and seeing the value of some of these collectibles, in the early 2000s Tamiya began to reissue one or two vintage Tamiya kits, in order to cash-in on everyone’s nostalgia.
In 2005 this process gathered pace as Tamiya began to re-release some of their most popular off-road buggies and trucks of all time, and the process has continued to this day. To date, Tamiya has re-released dozens of their most popular models.
So what are the differences between original Tamiya kits, and the reissues?
Fact: Every single Tamiya reissue kit is different to the original kit.
Many people are happy to buy the reissued Tamiya kits because they offer a relatively cheap way to re-live the experience of an R/C car they used to own back in the 1980s.
However, for me personally, this experience just isn’t the same if the product isn’t the same. And this applies in all areas of toy collecting, from Transformers to Care Bears. Many companies have reissued popular vintage toys, but collectors are usually driven to collect by nostalgia and memories. So for them, it’s important that a vintage item is truly the same as one they owned (or wanted) when they were children.
It’s like listening to a remix of a classic rock song, instead of listening to the original. The new version might be good – the tune is the same, the lyrics are the same… But it just doesn’t have quite the same meaning as the original.
So if you’re just beginning your search on eBay or Google for a vintage Tamiya, here’s a quick cheat sheet to help you understand how the reissued kits differ.
The main differences are of course in the cars themselves – parts, bodies, tyres, electronics etc. But before you even get into those technical differences, there are some quick and easy ways to tell an original kit from a re-release kit…
(This article has been written with beginners in mind – experienced collectors will probably know all of this already)
The Top Ways To Spot An Original Tamiya Kit
Before Tamiya began reissuing many of their classic cars from the 1980s, the values of unbuilt kits were soaring. But after those kits were reissued, naturally some people were happy to settle for the cheaper new release, causing a dip in the value of the original kits.
Despite this, original kits are still a lot more expensive and collectible than reissued kits. Let’s take the example of a really popular model like the Tamiya Frog.
Here’s a new kit that recently sold for AU$192.50
And here’s one that recently sold for AU$551.65
No prizes for guessing which one is the original unbuilt kit from the 1980s.
Fact: Original kits are worth at least twice the value of the reissued kit. But they might be as much as 3, 4, or 5 times more expensive, depending on the model.
But what happens if someone is simply selling a reissued kit for an inflated price? Well, just look a little closer at some other things, like…
2. Kit Number
Thankfully, Tamiya has a fairly well-organized numbering system for each model they have ever released, and the reissued models have different numbers to the originals.
Between 1976 and 1991, Tamiya released only 100 models. These 100 models are most commonly considered to be the bulk of the “vintage” era, and Tamiya even created a poster to celebrate them…
The models in this picture are numbers 58001 (the green Porsche 934 at the top left), to 58100 (the green Top-Force buggy at the bottom right).
To use our example of The Frog again, the original Frog is kit 58041 – in other words, the 41st R/C model ever released by Tamiya.
When Tamiya began reissuing lots of cars in the mid 2000s, the reissued Frog was kit 58354 – the 354th R/C model ever released. In the past 15 years or so, Tamiya has been swamping the market with a lot more models per year, than they used to.
Any honest seller of R/C kits will be up-front about which model number they are selling.
3. Kit Box
Another easy way to spot an original vs a reissue, is the box.
Tamiya’s R/C kit box art is an enormously popular aspect of their kits – the dynamic and exciting illustrations by amazing graphic artists were excellent marketing back in the day, and they were usually the first things that inspired people to become interested in these models. Today, they even inspire some collectors to print and frame these pictures, and even empty original Tamiya kit boxes can command high prices on eBay.
When Tamiya began reissuing kits, one of the big changes was the decals. The original cars had decals of real world sponsors and brands, but for the reissue kits Tamiya only included fake and “made up” brands on the decals – probably to save on brand licensing costs. But not only did this affect the cars themselves, it meant Tamiya had to change all the box art to use the fake brands as well!
And it’s not just the decals – in some cases, physical aspects of the car changed, and even the entire name of the car was changed, hence these aspects needed to be reflected on the reissued box art too.
Here are some popular examples:
4. Kit Box Internals
A quick look inside most kits will also reveal whether they are vintage or reissue.
Here’s a good photo of someone’s original Hotshot (left) and reissue Hotshot (right) that I’ve pinched from the interwebs…
Vintage kits normally carry “blister packs” inside – in other words, a selection of key parts labeled and displayed under clear plastic bubbles. Collectors love this style of packaging for it’s presentation value, and because it showed the care that Tamiya (and other brands – because most of them were doing it) took in making the experience of building a vintage R/C model memorable and fun.
Reissue kits normally just have cardboard boxes inside and nothing much else.
One exception to this rule is the reissue of the Sand Scorcher and the Rough Rider (which Tamiya called The Buggy Champ), which do have blister packs.
As mentioned above, practically every single reissued Tamiya comes with fake sponsor decals.
Tamiya tried to make these fake logos seem like real brands by using words like “Forward”, “Brite” and “Z Point”, but these brands don’t exist in the real world. In some cases, Tamiya also included their website address as a decal – which of course, did not exist back in the 1980s.
In the 1970s and 1980s, toy companies were more free to use other company brands and names on their toys and products, and Tamiya really took advantage of this, covering their racing buggies in authentic brand names – all in the name of scale model realism.
For example, here are the original, proper decals that came with the Tamiya Sand Scorcher from 1979…
And here’s the sheet of decals in the 2010 Reissue Sand Scorcher, which as you can see is a much smaller collection comprised entirely of fake brands…
6. Speed Control
Another easy thing to spot is the orange Electronic Speed Control sticker that usually appears on the front of reissue kit boxes…
1980s Tamiya kits never included electronic speed controllers. Back then, these devices were expensive and few people, aside of racers, invested in them. Hence Tamiya decided to trumpet their inclusion in the reissues.
While they do deliver better performance, part of the charm of running vintage Tamiyas comes from the technological levels of the era when they were released, and the early mechanical speed controllers included with original Tamiyas were often an integral part of how the models both looked, and worked.
7. Construction, parts, & everything else!
Last but certainly not least, are the actual parts differences.
This is a huge topic with too much information to be covered here, especially since I titled this “a quick guide”!
But if you talk to other collectors and learn about the physical differences between original and reissue Tamiyas, you will be able to spot the parts differences more easily.
Don’t believe any website or person that tells you the original and reissue Tamiyas are “the same” or “practically the same” as this is simply rubbish. From body and chassis differences, to parts and gearbox differences – there are definitely differences. Book collectors will regularly pay tens of thousands of dollars more simply to own first edition books – when they differ from second editions by only a few printed words. Compared to book collecting, the physical differences between first and second edition Tamiyas are quite significant.
Fact: Every single Tamiya reissue has physical/parts differences, to the original.
What about when buying used / second-hand Tamiyas?
If you’re looking for a second hand Tamiya and you’d prefer to make sure it’s an original release, then be sure to ask the seller for details about the model before buying it. Many people are using reissue spare parts to restore their original cars, and while in some instances you might consider this to be fine (such as if the reissue part is identical to the original), in other instances you will want to be aware of what people have done to their cars. Many people are going to end up having created hybrid original/reissue models.
When I look at used Tamiyas on eBay, I can sometimes tell that the seller is selling a genuine relic from the 1980s by the fact that it still includes old radio gear, an original box, or other original paraphernalia like batteries, chargers, manuals and so on. Such cars often look like a time capsule that has been left untouched since about 1985 – a toy someone hasn’t used for years and has now decided to sell on eBay.
So are Tamiya’s reissues of old cars a good or bad thing?
Tamiya’s reissues are good for people who’d like to buy a new kit of a retro toy, at a cheap price.
For collectors and fans of Tamiya who want to own the original versions, the reissues are something of a bitter pill. I don’t collect the reissues, but their existence in recent years has, ironically, made it a little easier (cheaper) to collect the originals!
On the other hand, in terms of the original cars I bought before the reissues, the value of what I owned previously has declined a bit. And it’s not a matter of seeing these things as an “investment”, as it has nothing to do with investing. The simple fact is: nobody likes it when something they’ve just spent thousands of dollars on, undergoes a quick decrease in value. I could have saved myself some money, had I started collecting a little later.
The other aspect that few people talk about is – how are the reissues affecting Tamiya’s brand?
In my opinion, any company that reissues it’s own classic products for quick profit, damages their brand’s prestige and collectability. It causes collectors to lose interest – the thinking being that if everything from Tamiya is fair game to be reissued, then nothing from Tamiya will ever truly become rare and collectible. Because whichever way you look at it, collectability is closely connected with rarity. And the rarity of things naturally remains a bit more “pure” when companies don’t run around flooding the market with new versions of their past releases.
Having said all that, a lot of collectors are very particular about the differences between originals and rereleases, and this demand for originals means the prices for them remain high.
What about other 1980s hobby R/C brands like Kyosho, Associated, Marui, AYK? Will they reissue their vintage kits?
To date, I’m not aware of the other popular brands having reissued an original kit in full, and while you can never rule these things out, it seems unlikely that other popular brands will ever reissue their old cars.
AYK is a brand that no longer exists. Marui are no longer involved in R/C cars at all. Kyosho have released a few little tribute pieces for cars like the Optima and Turbo Scorpion, but that’s all. And I once heard that Kyosho no longer owns the old molds used to create their cars in the 1980s, which if true, makes reissues of those cars seem less likely.
[Edit - since originally writing this article, Team Associated (now owned by Taiwanese company Thunder Tiger) have reissued their RC10 buggy from 1984.]
All of this also means that many rare vintage models from other brands are now rivaling, and even surpassing, vintage Tamiya kits for desirability and value on the collector’s market. Which is perfectly OK in my opinion, because many of these cars were even more beautifully constructed than many of the Tamiyas, but their appeal was somewhat overlooked back in the 1980s and is only just being fully appreciated now.