The hobby of building radio-controlled cars, planes and boats has been around for decades. Some RC buffs collect vintage vehicles and others prefer new-school RC cars. You can explore the history of RC racing, building, modifying and collecting regardless of whether you are new to the hobby or an RC enthusiast from way back.
Remote control cars were born in the 1960s. Pioneers made 1/8th scale cars using two-stroke model airplane engines. Then in about 1967, companies such as Model Car Enterprises, WEN and Dynamic Models started to produce RC car kits.
In the 1970s, the aforementioned companies began to produce RC cars such as the Scorpion, Delta Dash II and the MCE.
These cars were powered by internal combustion engines mounted on aluminum frames that enabled them to reach unprecedented speeds. These engines used a blended fuel comprised of nitrogen, methanol and lubricant. Manufacturers began building cars powered by electricity in 1974.
RC cars in the '70s were built to be operated on smooth surfaces, such as parking lots and basketball courts. The release of the Tamiya Rough Rider in 1979 brought a new element to the hobby. With a die-cast suspension system and big rubber tires, the Rough Rider had the ability to handle off-road conditions and drive over mud, dirt, rocks and water.
These off-road vehicles could be driven almost anywhere, from backyards to sandy beaches to softball fields, and word of this development spread like wildfire throughout the community of RC enthusiasts, igniting what would become the RC rage of the 1980s.
With the advent of 1/10th scale off-road RC vehicles in the 1980s, the popularity of the hobby expanded so rapidly that it was labeled a fad or whimsical trend.
What had started out as the hobby of essentially making model vehicles come to life became a competitive sporting event like small-scale NASCAR or Grand Prix races. In this decade of decadence, RC world championships sprung to life, including the International Federation of Model Auto Racing (IFMAR) 1/10th Scale Electric Off-Road World Championship that began in 1985.
This was also the year that Tamiya introduced the first truly 4-wheel-drive off-road racing vehicle, which it called the HotShot. This RC car could reach much higher speeds than its 2-wheel-drive predecessors, especially in dusty and slippery conditions.
By 1988, 4-wheel-drive off-road RC vehicles exploded in popularity among hobbyists, racers and the general public. This was also the year in which 1/10th scale electric on-road racing cars emerged on the scene. These lightweight cars utilized an amazing power-to-weight ratio that propelled them to speeds in excess of 40mph.
As is often the case with vehicles built primarily for racing, the unquenchable thirst for faster speeds took over the hobby. When any one aspect of a sport is singled out to such a disproportionate degree, inevitable downsides tend to emerge.
In this case, the downside for RC cars in the '90s was that the materials used to make them go faster – including the batteries, motors, tires and so forth – as well as the cars themselves, became more advanced. This led to price increases that essentially pushed the average person on the street out of the hobby in favor of those involved in competitive racing. So, in order to make racing more accessible and fun for the general public, parking lot races were organized during this decade.
What Does the Future Hold for RC Cars?
Interest in RC cars is currently dwindling; however, there will probably always be at least a segment of the population that enjoys the hobby. As long as there is a demand for RC vehicles, there will be hobby shops and online remote control car retailers around to provide the supply to meet that demand.
One step that would increase interest in the hobby would be organizing free, non-competitive racing events so that anyone who wants to participate can experience the fun of RC racing.