The RC Car Story Begins in the 1960s
The first RC car was invented in 1966 by Elettronica Giocattoli. They were an Italian electronic company that created a Ferrari 250LM that was nitro-powered. The fascination with these small remote-controlled cars caught on quickly, and within one year RC cars were being produced commercially by the British company Mardave.
Other manufacturers in the 60s were thinking along the same lines. WEN and Model Car Enterprises both began marketing RC car kits. These early versions were referred to as pan cars. They were powered by the same two-stroke engines used in model airplanes and were built to a 1/8 scale.
A Decade of Advancements in the 1970s
The 1970s saw some amazing advancements. The introduction of the nitro-powered 1/8 scale cars got things started. Engines in these cars had developed from a single piston design into a double piston one. Electric RC cars were also making their debut. These cars didn’t require the special blending of oils nitro cars needed.
Tamiya introduced their first RC car in 1976. It was the Porsche 934. This one stood out because it was a 1/12 scale electric on-road version sitting on a pan chassis. Team Associated soon followed suit with the 1/12 scale RC12E electric pan RC car in 1978.
The decade ended on a high note with the introduction of off-road cars. These RC cars were designed with powerful motors, rear suspension, and rubber textured tires in various sizes. They had a dune buggy shape to their body that allowed it to easily handle rough terrain. Tamiya released two versions; the Sand Scorcher and the Rough Rider.
1979 saw the first 1/18 Scale On-Road Gas Championship. It was held in Geneva with Phil Booth as the ultimate winner. Enthusiasts refer to this year as the start of the golden era in RC cars because you no longer had to stick to the smooth paved surfaces with your vehicles.
The Golden Era Continues
The popularity of RC cars continued on into the 1980s. They advanced from simple scale models to high-performance vehicles. The popularity of the hobby increased by leaps and bounds. They were now holding the 1/12 World Championship every two years with as many as 400 racers involved.
During the 80s, several United States-based companies emerged with top performing vehicles. Among these manufacturers were Traxxas, Associated Electronics, and Losi. Associated Electronics came out with their award-winning RC10 buggy in 1984. This high-grade car included an aluminum alloy, aircraft-grade body chassis. It even had a transmission that had an adjustable ball differential.
RC cars advanced again in 1985 with the 4WD Hot Shot Buggy from Tamiya. It was made to tackle dusty and slippery surfaces and was faster than the 2WD versions. Within a year even more powerful 4WD off-road models were introduced that could reach speeds up to 40mph. What could be more fun? On-road racing cars were emerging with a 1/10 scale. These lightweight vehicles were designed to compete at high speeds on an oval track.
The rivalry between Losi and Associated went even further in 1989 when Team Associated came out with their RC10L pan car. It was perfect timing as the Pan Car On-Road Golden Era began. Kent Clausen had his claim to fame when he drove an RC10L at the speed of 57mph at the Encino Velodrome. He topped his own record with the same model in the 90s when he reached an amazing 70mph on a bicycle track.
Racing Into the 1990s
1990 was centered on speed. Enthusiasts were racing and demanding faster vehicles. The first IFMAR 1/10 Scale Electric On-Road World Championship was held in 1992 in California. Team Associated continued to manufacture their fast pan cars like the RC10LS, RC12LS, and the RC10LSO.
By 1993, RC trucks were transitioning into racing trucks rather than the monster trucks of the past. By 1994, Team Associated had introduced their gas 1/10 scale RC10GT truck as Tamiya released the TR15T. A new manufacturer called HPI came on the scene with their first RC vehicle named the Super F1. Traxxas came out with the electric 2WD Stampede monster truck and their Rustler stadium truck.
Touring cars became popular during the 1990s. The touring car was one of the RC world’s fastest cars and had realistic aerodynamic bodies. These features came with a high price tag, but this didn’t stop their popularity. The cars were getting scaled down too. The 1/18 scale was introduced and HPI’s RS4 Mini started a trend in micro/minis.
From 2000 to Now
The 2000s saw plenty of transitions. Hobbyists were turning from the small race cars to the rugged rock crawlers. Trucks were being designed for short tracks, and fans were looking for ready-to-run RC cars. Radio system technology was also changing. Manufacturers went from the traditional AM/FM to 2.4GHz. By 2004, enthusiasts changed gears and turned to the rock crawler models. Axial introduced a rock crawler kit in 2007 that made it easy for just about anyone to build their own vehicle.
Traxxas came out with their Slash four years later. It was a 2WD truck designed for short courses. RC enthusiasts were shifting from nitro/gas cars back to electric. Many other companies followed suit by releasing their own versions of the short track truck. These trucks were popular for their similarities to real racing trucks when it came to looks, proportions, and functions.