Radio controlled cars first appeared some sixty years ago in the 1940s but the technology at the time was crude and, although cars could be run at speeds of up to 70 mph, it was only possible to run them round and round in a circle on a tether.
By the late 1960s however technology had advanced considerably and miniature solid state radio control systems became available. This meant that cars could be controlled from a control transmitter unit with remotely controlled servo-assisted steering, throttle and brakes. Radio controlled models could now be run on a race track rather than simply in a circle and the precision of control available meant that they could be run in much the same way as a real vehicle.
Despite the advances in technology during the 1960s, it was not until 1976 that the first commercially available cars were seen. Produced by Tamiya (a Japanese company with a reputation for supplying detailed plastic model kits), these early cars were very crude in mechanical terms and somewhat expensive but, nevertheless, they sold well.
Over the coming years Tamiya concentrated its attention on the mechanics of these early models and, by the mid 1980s, they were producing some extremely popular models such as the Grasshopper, Hornet, Blackfoot and Clodbuster with more powerful engines, working suspension systems and textured tyres.
This was really the start of the hobby radio controlled car as we know it today and quickly brought other producers into the market. These included Schumacher Racing (a British company which replaced the then standard solid axle with a ball differential, allowing cars to be finely tuned for different track conditions) and Associated Electrics (a California based company which introduced the model that quickly dominated the off-road racing market – the RC10 off-road electric car).
The 1980s saw a major shift away from what many described as “toy” cars towards truly precision crafted models of the very highest standards. Traditional manufacturing materials were dispensed with as were many of the established production methods. Chassis were now made from high-grade anodized aluminium alloy, which was also used in the manufacture of oil-filled, machined and tunable shock absorbers. Many components normally pressed from plastic were also replaced with high-impact nylon, including such things as suspension control arms and wheels.
Today’s interest in off-road 4 wheel drive vehicles was also sparked during the 1980s with the introduction by Schumacher of the Competition All Terrain (CAT) vehicle which won the off-road world championship in 5 out of the 10 years following its introduction.
Competition is of course the driving force behind any market today, including the market for radio controlled cars, and for several years a strong rivalry between Associated Electrics and Team Losi (founded by Gil Losi Jr., a racetrack owner from California) led to a rapid development of high quality models, both technically and in terms of the range of cars available.
Today Associate Electric and Team Losi are still major players in the market and have been joined by others such as the US-based Traxxas company and the Japanese-based company of Kyosho. As these major players continue to compete against each other, and others join the market, so the market for radio controlled cars will go from strength to strength in the years ahead.