The king of the cul-de-sac
Tamiya's Blackfoot monster truck ruled over suburbia in the 1980s
If you were a kid in suburbia in the 1980s, you probably have at least a passing familiarity with the RC car craze. Even if you didn't take part in it yourself, you probably remember someone in your neighborhood who did. And starting in the fall 1986, there's a good chance that you, or someone you knew who was into RC cars, either owned or wanted a Tamiya Blackfoot.
It wasn't the first RC monster truck kit; that honor is held by the Big Bear Datsun, produced by Tokyo Marui starting in 1984. But the Big Bear, for all its cool looks and its low price, was a terribly flawed design, and while a lot were sold, a lot ended up broken and stuffed in boxes in garages (or simply thrown out) in frustration. Tamiya's reputation was already well-established by the mid-80s for producing fun, durable, high-quality models. And the Blackfoot was an instant success.
No kid could resist this image. (Courtesy of Tamiyaclub.com)
The Blackfoot, in what has become a tradition for Tamiya, is a parts-bin special. The basic chassis is their "ORV space frame" design, which first saw duty in 1983 under a Lancia Group B rally car body, followed closely by a Subaru Brat and the immensely popular Frog racing buggy. The signature Ford F-150 stepside body came from an earlier Tamiya model, and its large tires were shared with the flagship Bruiser pickup truck. This mishmash of seemingly unrelated parts just worked well, and the resulting model was more than the sum of its parts. It was quite fast for what it was, and with its 4-wheel independent suspension and fairly low center of gravity, its handling was positively racy, at least compared to the lumbering, wobbly Big Bear.
The heart of the beast: Tamiya's classic ORV space frame.
All parts-bin vehicles are a compromise to some degree, and as such, the Blackfoot was not without its flaws. The oversized tires put extra strain on the gearbox, and flexing of the side plates under load could cause the cast-aluminum differential gears to skip teeth under acceleration. (This was exacerbated by young drivers discovering that going quickly from reverse to full throttle forward would make the truck do a wheelie.) And the large tires also did no favors to the front suspension, and many front axle uprights were broken from bouncing off a curb. But a burgeoning aftermarket for hop-up parts wasted no time in offering solutions to these shortcomings, and companies like Thorp, CRP, an JG Manufacturing soon had the Blackfoot whipped into shape.
This characteristic rear-end squat is a modified Blackfoot trademark. It looked strange, but it worked.
These upgrades also gave the Blackfoot its start in racing, and before long dedicated truck categories started popping up at race tracks all over. Heavily-modified Blackfoots competed against racing buggies like the Associated RC10 equipped with "truck conversions" (not much more than special axle adapters to use Blackfoot wheels, and tall posts to mount a truck-style body). The old Blackfoot was soon outpaced on the race track, but its position as the king of the cul-de-sac bashers continued on. Tamiya produced three further editions of the Blackfoot, upgrading its Ford truck body to the current bodystyle, and also used the ORV chassis for several variants, including the Monster Beetle (with a VW baja bug body), Mud Blaster (Subaru Brat), and Bush Devil (using a body modeled on the compact Ford Ranger pickup). All were sales successes, and all are prized by Tamiya collectors today.
The legendary Monster Beetle, even more popular among collectors than the Blackfoot. (Courtesty of Tamiyaclub.com)
The Blackfoot and Monster Beetle have returned as part of Tamiya's re-release campaign, but the once-king has relinquished its title. A trio of models from Traxxas have assumed the mantle of ruler of suburban streets: the Rustler, Stampede, and Slash models are simple, affordable, durable, and also rely heavily on parts-bin engineering. They could easily be considered the spiritual successors to the old Tamiya ORV monsters.
The blue Blackfoot shown here is my own restored example, purchased about ten years ago and rebuilt from parts of two Blackfoots and a Frog. It features several subtle upgrades from stock, while retaining the original Tamiya look, feel, and function. It is the second time around for the Blackfoot and me; I received one as a gift on my 14th birthday. My original Blackfoot disappeared when I went to college. This one isn't going anwyhere.
All hail the king of the cul-de-sac.