If there’s one type of vehicle that is the quintessential “RC car,” it’s the electric buggy. Since the boom years of the ’80s that truly put hobby-class RC on the map, the familiar open-wheel-knobby-tire-big-wing look has been the most enduring image for radio-control cars in general and particularly on the track. For as long as ROAR and IFMAR have sanctioned races (and even before), 2WD and 4WD Buggies have been the most prestigious classes and earned the most sign-ups on Sunday (perhaps with a lull during the Stadium Truck Years). As with all forms of racing in all scales, there are a few cars in particular that stand out as technological touchstones, and we’ve selected 10 to feature here. If you’re an electric off-road racer, it’s a sure bet at least one of the cars you’ve campaigned is on the list—or was inspired by one of them.
1982 – Kyosho Scorpion/Turbo Scorpion
Pre-RC10, the Scorpion was considered a thoroughbred racecar and scored a ROAR championship title in the skilled hands of Gil Losi Jr. years before there was a “Team Losi.” Unlike other models of the era that were more heavily built and carried large radio boxes, the Scorpion was relatively minimalist in design and featured the then-new innovations of oil-filled shocks and a differential. The RC10 would soon leap past the Scorpion, but as a step toward a true racing car, the Scorpion earns its place on our list.
1983 – Yokomo Dogfighter
Its monoshock front suspension, chain drive, and trailing-arm rear suspension look downright archaic today, but the Dogfighter was the first in a long and fabled bloodline of championship-winning 4WD buggies for Yokomo. In fact, when it took on that field at the very first IFMAR World Championship at the Ranch Pit Shop in Del Mar, California, it dominated and won its very first championship at the hands of Gil Losi Jr. (Yes, that Losi!). On the local racing scene, this extended trailing arm beast was the car to beat as well and put the 4WD Buggy class firmly on the map as the premier class in electric off-road.
1984 – Tamiya Grasshopper & Hornet
Although different cars and never intended as competition models, we’re putting the Grasshopper and Hornet together as they were very similar and incredibly popular, and became de facto race buggies simply because they were the cars people had. The Grasshopper and Hornet shaped RC as the first car many drivers ran at a track—and as the reason many drivers realized they really needed to get a Team Associated RC10.
1984 – Team Associated RC10
Off-road electric racing in the 1980s can be split cleanly into two eras: pre-RC10 and post-RC10. Before the RC10, there were plenty of cars offered for off-road use and many imaginative designs, but they were hardly racing cars. The cars of the time were commonly fragile, heavy, or ill-handling—sometimes all three. The RC10 changed all that, and suddenly there was a true race car on the track. Lightweight, tough, and built to perform, the gold-tub RC10 was an unstoppable force and won the first-ever IFMAR Off-Road World Championship. It quickly became Associated’s top-selling car and spawned huge aftermarket support. If you raced off-road in 1984, you had to have an RC10.
1985 – Kyosho Optima & Optima Mid
During the boom years of the ’80s and after the heyday of the Yokomo Dogfighter, it was the Kyosho Optima that carried the mantle of 4WD high performance. Initially a chain-driven, rear-motor car, the later Optima Mid established the mid-motor, belt-driven layout that would carry over to the Lazer series. Yokomo and Schumacher also offered capable competition buggies, but when it comes to mid-’80s 4WD racing, the Optima was king.
1988 – Team Losi JRX-2
Just when the RC10 seemed unbeatable, a new car began to burn up off-road tracks and sparked what has become RC’s greatest rivalry. Enter the Team Losi JRX-2 and the JRX-Pro follow-up. The design of the Losi car was as inspired as the RC10’s: It featured a graphite plate chassis; an innovative, 5-link rear suspension; a 6-gear tranny with an externally adjustable ball diff; and oil-damped shocks with bottom-loaded seal cartridges. The Losi-versus-Associated rivalry would go on to drive off-road innovation for years to come, making the JRX-2 a very important car indeed.
1994 – Team Losi XX
As the ’80s unrolled into the ’90s, Team Losi’s JRX-2 evolved into the JRX-Pro and Pro SE. Not to be outdone, the Associated RC10 also changed to reflect the needs of racers and higher performance expectations. But in 1994, Losi dropped a bombshell that rocked off-road. The Double-X was an all-new clean-sheet design that was innovative and easy to drive. It marked the debut of features that would become standards for competition buggies, including raised chassis sides, modular construction, “laydown” tranny gears, and molded shock towers. Every 2WD competition buggy on the track today owes a debt to the Double-X.
1997 – Team Losi XX-4
By the mid-’90s, 4WD buggies had fallen out of popularity for rank-and-file racers, as 2WD buggies and trucks dominated. 4WD lived on in the sedan scene, but was nearly extinct in the dirt. RC Car Action even pondered, “what happened to 4WD?” on our editorial page. Enter the Losi XX-4. With the release of Losi’s breakthrough 3-belt buggy, 4WD racing instantly became the hot class, and the XX-4 was the must-have machine—in fact, many tracks saw 4WD grids filled with nothing but X-cars. The surge in 4WD popularity soon brought along other brands (both established and new), spurring new innovation and giving us the wide variety of models we enjoy today.
2003 – Team Associated RC10B4
Associated’s RC10B2 and B3 buggies were no slouches, and each won an IFMAR Worlds title (in 1995 and ’99, respectively). But it was the B4 that became the most stalwart fixture on racetracks, with an impressive 10-year run that included five(!) consecutive Worlds wins between 2007 and 2011. And while Worlds wins are terrific, what really matters are club-racing regulars, and the B4 was an inescapable presence on tracks (and at the top of A-main results) everywhere for a full decade. Team Associated steadily revised the platform up until the B5 series arrived in 2013, but the car was largely unchanged throughout its run, which shows you just how right the Team got it in 2003.
2010 – TLR 22 Series
Although certainly an important platform and an IFMAR Worlds winner for Team Losi, we’re skipping over the Triple-X series to make room for this car: the 22. When it debuted in 2010, plastic chassis, 10mm shock bores, and rear-motor configuration were the norm and had been for more than a decade. With the 22, Team Losi threw those standards out the window. Aluminum chassis, check. Big-bore shocks, check. Mid-motor, check. (Also rear motor—you could build the car either way.) Overnight, the 22 set the template for 2WD buggies, and the cars that followed cribbed freely from the 22.
Agreed, this list could be much longer! While these 10 buggies certainly had a big impact, they are hardly the only 10 cars that shaped off-road racing. Schumacher CAT, Kyosho Ultima and Lazer, Tenth Tech Predator…the list goes on. What would you include in “10 More Cars That Shaped Off-Road Racing”? Let us know.