Picture it; it was 1985. Ronald Regan was President, Back to the Future topped the movie charts, and gasoline cost a whopping $1.07 per gallon. Michael Jackson and company sang “We Are The World,” and Knight Rider was a cultural icon.
Wait, were you even alive? If you weren’t, you may not remember 1985 as I do. I remember it well. Hobby-quality RC cars were gaining popularity in the U.S., and a pre-teen geeky me was staring longingly at Tamiya’s catalogue. Specifically, staring at the Tamiya Bruiser. A shiftable three speed transmission. Leaf-spring suspension. Detailed model-quality Toyota truck body, not unlike the truck Marty McFly drove before he hopped into that stupid DeLorean. Plus, a price tag many zeroes beyond what any 8-year old could ever dream to afford. I desperately wanted a Bruiser back then, and although it has taken 27 years, I can finally say I’ve built one. This is the Tamiya Bruiser, re-released after decades in retirement, and if you lived in the 80s or early 90s, this is likely your RC dream truck.
Ladder Frame Chassis
Building a rock-solid pickup truck requires a rock-solid chassis, and you won’t find a more bomb-proof RC truck chassis than the Bruiser’s all-metal ladder frame chassis. Designed much like a full-size pickup truck’s chassis, the Bruiser’s ladder frame uses two parallel metal beams attached with mutiple crossover members. The original Bruiser’s chassis was identical to the new version, minus the new Bruiser’s black finish. Once fully assembled (the frame comes partially assembled in the box for display), the ladder frame provides torsional stiffness unlike any chassis plate could. All components including the transmission and leaf-spring suspension attach to the ladder chassis with metal hardware. This is a chassis that demands thread-lock liquid, and lots of it.
Arguably the Bruiser’s most unique feature, the 3-speed transmission shifts via your input from the transmitter. Its “low” first gear setting engages full-time four-wheel drive, while second and third gears disengage four-wheel drive for rear-wheel drive only and higher top speed. Tamiya freshens up the transmission in the current Bruiser kit, with a newly designed cast housing and durable, more efficient and lightweight reinforced nylon internal gears. An updated clutch mechanism also makes for smoother shifts between gears than in the original vehicle. And unlike the original Bruiser’s starter-box sized 750 electric motor, the new Bruiser uses a more efficient, lighter weight, 540 silver can motor, thanks to the refined, lighter-weight transmission.
Detailed ABS Body
Those of you who loved the first Bruiser’s Toyota pickup truck body will fall in love all over again for the re-release. The new truck shares the same body with the original, right down to the molded interior, decal sheet and bumpers. Injection molded from white ABS model plastic, the Bruiser’s body must be sanded, primed, painted and clear-coated on the outside just like a real automobile. When properly detailed, the finished product is absolutely stunning.
Leaf Spring Suspension
Another of the Bruiser’s “wow!” features is its scale-looking leaf spring suspension. Three metal leaf springs stack together at all four corners to create the truck’s stiff but articulate suspension. Those of you accustomed to the plush, marshmallowy feel of a modern truggy’s fluid-shock damped suspension may be in for a surprise. Like a real truck, the Bruiser’s leaf spring suspension rates on the stiff side, but don’t worry—the Bruiser can climb over rough terrain with the best of ’em.
Tamiya didn’t just re-release the entire Bruiser kit and call it a day. To bring several parts up to current standards, Tamiya either re-molded several plastic parts or made new molds altogether. All new parts for the this kit include the transmission, cast steering knuckles, clutch mechanism, differentials, front/rear axle housings, and various plastic parts. The result is the same truck as the 1985 original, but with a select few modern parts that increase durability, efficiency or both. You can even add an LED light kit for the headlights and brake lights.
Est. Street Price: $799
Part Number: 58519
Wheelbase: 287mm (11.3 in.)
Width: 278mm (10.9 in.)
Length: 520mm (20.5 in.)
Weight: 4700g (10.4 lb.)
Required radio: 3-channel
Transmission: Driver shiftable 3-speed transmission
Suspension: Metal leaf spring
Chassis: Metal ladder frame
Bearings: Full metal ball bearing set
After putting in few gajillion hours building and detailing the Bruiser, you may not want to drive it at all … and that’s OK. Many Bruisers are destined for a lifetime of shelf-queen duty, but as you would probably guess, I believe every vehicle is designed to be driven. And in the case of my test Bruiser, carefully driven.
I installed a 5000mAh 6-cell battery into the Bruiser’s battery bay and took off into the wild tundra of Santa Clarita, CA. The first thing you need to know about the Bruiser is that those scale looks translate into scale performance. A speed demon, this truck is not, nor is it intended to be. In first gear with four-wheel drive fully engaged, the Bruiser creeps along slower than a walking pace, making it easy to navigate tricky terrain. You wouldn’t want to go fast when scaling a rocky incline, so the transmission’s high gear ratio (much like the ratio of a modern rock crawler) serves it well. Get into an open area, and select second and third gear. After driving the Bruiser in first gear for 15 minutes or so, second and third gears make the truck feel like it’s going 50mph. In reality, the Bruiser tops out in the high teens, which is more than enough speed for a truck this heavy and dense. It’s fast enough to enjoy, but not so fast that you get in trouble.
I was most entertained driving the Bruiser in first gear. There’s very little that can stand in the Bruiser’s way without being driven over. As you can see in the photos, this truck looks its best when creeping along like a full-size truck in a gorgeous environment. As a showpiece, the Bruiser takes first place, but in terms of pure performance, there are countless cars on the market that outperform this truck. Really, who cares? Feel like driving up a curb? Go for it. Want to tackle that huge patch of vegetation lining your driveway? Why not? Does mountain climbing in the woods tickle your fancy? The Bruiser is an RC honey badger—it just doesn’t give a flip. With a 5000mAh battery, I averaged over 20 minutes per charge, which gives the truck a long-lasting replay factor. Assuming your Bruiser isn’t a shelf queen, you’ll likely find yourself justifying yet another trip outside to drive the truck. Go for it, it can handle it. And I can guarantee you’ll have the best-looking RC car on the block.
Read the full article in the August 2012 issue of RC Car Action.