History - Early Commercial Products
Several early commercially viable RC cars were available by mid-1966, produced by the Italian company El-Gi (Elettronica Giocattoli) from Reggio Emilia. Their first model, a 1:12 Ferrari 250LM was available in the UK in December 1966, through importers Motor Books and Accessories, St. Martins, London, and early in 1967 through Atkinson's model shop in Swansea. This model was followed by El-Gi's 1:10 Ferrari P4, first shown at the Milan Toy Fair in early 1968. R/C cars became possible around this time solely because of the development of 'proportional' radio control. Previously all radio was of the 'bang/bang' variety, i.e. steering was either left, center, or right and speed was either stop or go. This was usable for aircraft or boats but not for cars.
In the mid-late 1960s a British company, Mardave, based in Leicester, began to produce commercially viable RC Cars. Their first cars were nitro- or gas-powered cars sold in the local area in the early 1970s.
In the early 1970s several commercial products were created by small firms in the US. Most of these companies began as slot car companies and with the wane in popularity of that genre moved into the R/C field. Among these were Associated Electrics, Thorp, Dynamic, Taurus, Delta, and Scorpion. These early kits were 1/8 scale nitro-powered (then called gas) aluminum flat pan cars powered by a .21 or smaller engine. The bodies for these cars were made of polycarbonate (the most popular made of Lexan). The most popular engine was the K&B Veco McCoy. The primary sanctioning body for races for these cars was Remotely Operated Auto Racers (ROAR). In 1973-74, Jerobee, a company based in Washington State, created their 1/12 nitro car using a Cox .049 engine. Several aftermarket companies created parts for this car including clear Lexan bodies, heat sinks, and larger fuel tanks. This scale evolved into 1/12 scale electric racing when Associated Electrics created the RC12E in 1976-77. Jerobee became Jomac and created their own electric kit called the Lightning 2000 that won the "ROAR" National Championships in 1981& 82 for 6-Cell Modified and 82 the 6-Cell Production classes. The Lightning 2000 was designed by Don McKay and Jon Congdon.
By the late 1970s, interests in 1/12 scale electric racing began to grow as 1/8 scale IC racers, the sole racing category at the time, needing to race throughout the winter as an alternative to their impractical IC cars began to race 1/12 cars, therefore a winter national series was developed. As a result, the series grew into popularity as a large number of scratchbuilt cars started to appear in these meetings. Again, electric r/c cars were enabled by one revolutionary development, that of the nicad rechargeable battery. Prior to the mid 70's,batteries were either heavy lead acid or expensive throw away dry cells. In 1976, the Japanese firm Tamiya, which was renowned for their intricately detailed plastic model kits, released a series of elegant and highly detailed, but mechanically simple electric on-road car models that were sold as "suitable for radio control". Although rather expensive to purchase, the kits and radio systems sold rapidly. Tamiya soon began to produce more purpose-built remote-controlled model cars, and were the first to release off-road buggies featuring real suspension systems. It was this progression toward the off-road class that brought about much of the hobby's popularity, as it meant radio-controlled cars were no longer restricted to bitumen and smooth surfaces, but could be driven virtually anywhere. The first true Tamiya off road vehicles were the Sand Scorcher and the Rough Rider, both released in 1979, and both based on realistic dune buggy designs. Tamiya continued to produce off road vehicles in increasing numbers, featuring working suspensions, more powerful motors, textured off-road rubber tires and various stylized "dune buggy" bodies. They also produced trucks, such as the Toyota HiLux Pickup, that featured realistic 3 speed gearboxes and leaf-spring suspension systems. All of these models were realistic, durable, easy to assemble, capable of being modified, and simple to repair. They were so popular that they could be credited with launching a boom in radio-controlled model cars in the early to mid 1980s, and provided the basis for today's radio-controlled car market. Popular Tamiya models included the Grasshopper and the Hornet dune buggies as well as the Blackfoot and Clodbuster monster truck models. The earliest Tamiya models, particularly the early off roaders, are now highly sought after by vintage R/C collectors and can fetch prices of up to US$3000 on internet auction sites if still in mint, unbuilt form. Acknowledging their continued popularity, several of the early kits have even been re-released by Tamiya during 2005–2007, with a few alterations.
A British firm, Schumacher Racing, was the first to develop an adjustable ball differential in 1980, which allowed nearly infinite tuning for various track conditions. At the time the majority of on-road cars had a solid axle, while off-road cars generally had a gear-type differential. Team Associated followed suit with the introduction of the RC100 1/8 scale gas on-road car, RC12 1/12 scale on-road electric car, and RC10 1/10 scale off-road electric racing buggy in 1984 (see below). Team Losi followed with the introduction of the JRX2 in 1988.