The Tamiya Wild One Max: Big Toys for Big Boys

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky

If you’ve been an automotive enthusiast since childhood, there’s an extremely good chance that a portion of your early life was dedicated to building Tamiya models. You may even have owned some of their RC cars, perhaps assembling or modifying one with your own children years later.

For many, Tamiya kits served as a precursor to full-size vehicle projects that would be attempted in adulthood. But things have come full circle now that The Little Car Company has built a version of the 1985 Tamiya Wild One RC off-roader capable of holding two grown adults.

While the UK-based firm normally specializes in pint-sized versions of historic racers, the Wild One Max is a full-sized model that flips the script. Rather than building smaller versions of rare vehicles that auction for millions of dollars, the business is now building a big version of an affordable remote-controlled toy just about everyone is familiar with.

The Little Car Company is primarily known for building the rich-kid equivalent of Mattel's Power Wheels. The products are beautifully detailed to match their real-world counterparts and cost as much as a real automobile. For example, the cheapest version of the Aston Martin “DB5 JUNIOR” retails for £39,000. But there’s also a “DB5 VANTAGE JUNIOR” offering superior acceleration and a top speed of 45 mph for £49,000 or the £90,000 James Bond-themed variant that comes with more driving modes, 007-related gadgetry, and more battery power.

It’s a similar story with the company’s small-scale Bugatti Type 35 and Ferrari Testa Rossa J. But the Tamiya Wild One Max is sort of the same concept in reverse.

Despite its official debut happening at the Goodwood Festival of Speed, we already know a lot about the Wild One Max. The limited-run Launch Edition will come wearing the same livery as the original 1/10th scale radio-controlled sand rail when it debuted in 1985 and will be limited to just 100 examples. However, the exterior matches modern versions of the RC kit, as the 80s version had some branding with BFGoodrich and others that had to be changed.

Pricing is said to start at £35,000 (or 41,000 euros) with the vehicle being exclusive to Europe for the time being. Eight removable battery packs, yielding a total capacity 14.4kWh, are supposed to yield 124 miles (on road) of range with base models offering a top speed of 50 mph. But those figures will come down in the dirt, with the range effectively being cut in half.

From a dimensional perspective, the Max scales about as close to the original Wild One as the manufacturer could realistically make it. It’s 141.7 inches long, 74.8 inches wide, and weighs roughly 1,100 pounds. Ground clearance is said to be just under 9.5 inches with an approach angle of 34.1 degrees, a breakover angle of 28.4 degrees, and a departure angle of 50.8 degrees.

Like the toy, the full-sized model is rear-wheel drive and is equipped with 14-inch wheels donning road-spec rubber up front. Obligatorily huge and gnarly Maxxis Bighorn off-road tires (29 inches high and 11 inches wide) with the same rim size are fitted at the back.

Later versions are said to offer a “variety in performance” once the original run has been completed. These units are also assumed to be available in some of the alternate liveries sold by Tamiya.

While the sales page of the vehicle doesn’t specify power, Car and Driver reported that the Wild One Max will boast "a single motor capable of delivering a 37-hp peak, and with a 19-hp 'continuous' rating." That makes it sound like The Little Car Company is using the beefiest motor available for its smaller "Junior" vehicles with the same 1.8-kWh batteries daisy chained together.

The setup certainly won’t make it the fastest vehicle at the dunes. But the people buying this thing are likely doing so so they can park it in a massive garage next to a shelf loaded up with vintage Tamiya models. Still, it’s street-legal in Europe (licensed as a quadricycle) and will probably crop up at eclectic car shows. It should be said that Car and Driver, along with several other outlets, reported that the buggy would boast a top speed of 62 mph (not the 50 mph outlined on the official website).

Making it street-legal also resulted in a few changes from the original RC car designed to improve the overall ownership experience. It comes with two Cobra bucket seats with four-point harnesses, a five-inch digital display, a windshield, and some wipers. The toy didn’t have any of that, nor the Max’s turn signals, Sparco steering wheel, or modern suspension setup (which features Eibach springs and Bilstein dampers).

The original Tamiya Wild One (58050) RC model was released in 1985 and became one of the brand’s most iconic radio-controlled vehicles. Your author had the extremely popular 1984 Tamiya Hornet (boasting a similar color scheme) and the less-durable Grasshopper — the latter of which was the first vehicle I ever had to “repair” after jumping it off my parent's roof.

I imagine there are scads of other automotive enthusiasts between the ages of 70 and 25 with similar stories. While Tamiya’s RC cars fell out of fashion for a time, many examples hung in there thanks to a passionate hobbyist community modifying older units with upgraded parts. Vintage models have seen a revival in recent years, with the company (and others) reissuing some of the more memorable products. Original Tamiya products in good condition are highly sought after by collectors these days. But the reproduction kits remain faithful, cost-effective alternatives that aren't terribly difficult to assemble.

Rather interestingly, the Max was supposed to mimic the RC version in this respect when first developed. The company initially sought to design a single-seat kit car customers would assemble themselves for around $9,000. The vehicle would have had a smaller 5.5-hp electric motor and a 2.0-kWh battery pack. But the combo would have only been good for 25 miles of range and a top speed of 30 mph, presumably encouraging the manufacturer to revise the concept.

Since the full-sized Tamiya Wild One Max won’t be street-legal in the United States, The Little Car Company won’t be offering the Launch Edition in North America. That might not be a major concern for someone who wasn’t in the market for an all-electric buggy retailing for more than a fully loaded Honda Accord. But there are a wealth of Americans willing to spend their money on all kinds of impractical baubles and many of them fondly remember Tamiya toys. Assuming the Launch Edition sells well, it might be wise for the manufacturer to consider selling subsequent versions of the Wild One Max on our market.

However, if you're wealthy enough to dump 40 grand on a giant RC car, you can probably figure out how to get one exported to the United States. Sales of the Max commence at midnight on July 13th and will be issued to the first 100 customers that make a 3,500-pound deposit on the company's website.

[Images: The Little Car Company; Tamiya]

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Matt Posky
Matt Posky

A staunch consumer advocate tracking industry trends and regulation. Before joining TTAC, Matt spent a decade working for marketing and research firms based in NYC. Clients included several of the world’s largest automakers, global tire brands, and aftermarket part suppliers. Dissatisfied with the corporate world and resentful of having to wear suits everyday, he pivoted to writing about cars. Since then, that man has become an ardent supporter of the right-to-repair movement, been interviewed on the auto industry by national radio broadcasts, driven more rental cars than anyone ever should, participated in amateur rallying events, and received the requisite minimum training as sanctioned by the SCCA. Handy with a wrench, Matt grew up surrounded by Detroit auto workers and managed to get a pizza delivery job before he was legally eligible. He later found himself driving box trucks through Manhattan, guaranteeing future sympathy for actual truckers. He continues to conduct research pertaining to the automotive sector as an independent contractor and has since moved back to his native Michigan, closer to where the cars are born. A contrarian, Matt claims to prefer understeer — stating that front and all-wheel drive vehicles cater best to his driving style.

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Join the conversation
  • ToolGuy ToolGuy on Jul 10, 2023

    Radio control vehicles are dramatically better than they used to be, and you don't have to spend a lot (but don't completely cheap out) -- a good break point is to look for "full proportional" controls.

    Very rough guideline: On the jungle website, for a kid, spend more like $80 and less like $40 to get something decent -- 'Ready to Race' including the radio.

    • If you can spend more, drop a few hundred (or more) on a Traxxas (replaceable parts, waterproof, brushless motors on some models, latest thing is LED lights).

    • Beyond that, you can go the 'real hobby store' route (bring money).

  • Carson D Carson D on Jul 10, 2023

    Sounds like you could build something for the same price with a seventy-year-old VW engine that's twice as fast, and more than twice as fun.

    • Matt Posky Matt Posky on Jul 11, 2023

      I imagine something like that could be done for half the price. This thing is cool but very expensive for what you're getting.

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