Tamiya Wild One Max review: Childhood dream comes true with life-size RC car

Relive memories from the '80s with this creation from The Little Car Company

Were you also crazy about radio-controlled cars as a child? Prepare to reinvigorate the eight-year-old in you: meet the Tamiya Wild One Max, reborn as an electric off-road buggy, but life-size. Oh guys, this is going to be fun. It almost sounds like a riddle when you think about it: one of the most prolific automakers on the planet doesn't actually have one real car.

It has reproduced some of the most iconic shapes, created its own concepts, ridden the waves of fashion and technology over its 77 years of existence and is responsible for more fun than can be measured. Tamiya is a legendary car builder in a small, quiet way. A car manufacturer that only makes toys.

But if you were to describe Tamiya's products as 'just toys' you would be missing the point (at scale, that is). To find out what makes these plastic and metal collections so irresistible, we need to know where it all started. So, here's a bit of history of the Art of Small Things.

The story behind Tamiya

The man to whom we owe everything, Yoshio Tamiya, founded the company of the same name in Oshika, Shizuoka City, Japan in 1946. At the time it was a carpentry shop and sawmill called Tamiya Shoji & Co which at some point in 1948 started making wooden model cars as a side source of income.

However, the 'by-catch' soon appeared to transcend that role. Less than five years later, the sawmill closed and Tamiya specialized in making wooden models, surviving through the 1950s. It would not be until 1960 that the world would see their first model made entirely of plastic, maximizing the advantages offered by that new material: a Yamato warship, scale 1:800.

'The Max really has the proportions and appearance of the toy variant'

Two years later came the first motorized model, a Panther tank in scale 1:35. These were small steps on the way to giant leaps. And so it went on – Tamiya improved production processes little by little, innovating and creating more and more little pieces of perfection.

And then, in 1976, Tamiya created a 1:12 scale Porsche 934 Kremer Turbo, making radio-controlled cars a thing and securing its own place in the Gallery of the Immortals. If names like Sand Scorcher, Wild Willy, Avante, Hornet, Luchbox, Rough Rider or Wild One mean anything to you, then you are a Tamiya kid.

Why toys are so important to humans

A Tamiya is 'just a toy' in the sense that a bank vault is 'just a piece of metal'. Because playing can be very serious, and it opens all kinds of doors. Playing is learning, experimenting, interaction. The first step is usually something like Lego or Duplo.

Watch a toddler messing around with colorful blocks and you'll see, in real time, an unformed engineering brain fueled by the knowledge of how physical objects relate to each other. What fits where and with what, how exactly could this Thing work with that Thing. But there comes a point where more is needed – and that's the point where Tamiya appears on the horizon.

What does Tamiya do differently than other RC companies?

Sure, there are plenty of manufacturers of radio-controlled scale models, but few have such a magical resonance with people of a certain age. It is a company with a catalog that became a bible, with products that took on an almost religious meaning.

Flipping through those glossy pages full of random – and sometimes brilliant – creations of real and not-so-real cars became a hobby in itself, and they were all the more fun for not being static objects. They moved. They were exciting and a little bit dangerous. You were in control.

But more than that: a Tamiya required – and still requires – an investment. Both physically and emotionally. You will have to pay to play, in terms of time, effort and money. A Tamiya forces you to understand it before you destroy it by making it jump off a wall. They say.

You should treat a Tamiya like a real car

Dampers must be filled with oil, springs must be installed, the steering must be aligned. Electric motors must be connected, receivers synchronized. And then there is the proto-paint shop, where poorly applied stickers and spray can accidents live on in many garages as silhouettes on the wall, surrounded by splashes of paint.

This is the prototype - the real street-legal car will still have to have fenders over the wheels Photo: © TopGear / Lee Brimble

Upgrades and customizations are not only encouraged, but almost mandatory. The set-up becomes important, the balance and finesse of the handling are all part of the story. And it's all, more or less, exactly how a real car works.

There are hordes of very serious engineers and industrial designers who owe their formative years to the side hustle of a Japanese woodworker. 'But toys', then. Toys that entertain, inspire and educate. And as you read on, you'll see the latest culmination of what 'inspired by Tamiya' can lead to these days…

On to the stuff we came here for

The saying goes that children never really grow up, only their toys get bigger. It's just not always meant literally. Yet that is exactly what happened here. This is the Tamiya Wild One Max from the Little Car Company: a street-legal two-person version of the legendary radio-controlled car from 1985. Except that it is a) not radio-controlled and b) not a car.

It is clearly a clone of the famous Tamiya Wild One, but placed on a solid space frame on which two people can sit - relatively - comfortably. It meets the requirements of a 'four-wheeled electric vehicle' that also apply to, for example, the Opel Rocks and Citroën Ami, and is equipped with a laundry list of excellent parts.

The seats and four-point belts come from Cobra, the springs from Eibach and the adjustable dampers from Bilstein. The tires are from Maxxis, Würth's 5-inch digital display. All the buttons and switches inside are marine grade, which means you can easily put the garden hose on what they call an interior, if necessary. To make it easier to get in and out, the handlebars can be clicked off. It even has a huge metal cotter pin that holds the plastic on the front together. For that alone it is worth a gold Attention to Detail medal.

Specifications of the real Tamiya Wild One Max

But even better, it has a 14.4-kWh battery pack divided into eight removable briefcase-sized sections, which can be charged individually or as a whole with a separate charging pack.

The rear-mounted engine delivers 40 hp to the rear wheels, good for a top speed of 100 km/h and a range of about 200 kilometers on normal roads (if you take it easy) or 110 kilometers off-road (if you have fun). ). And that's the point here – he's not serious and not particularly fast. What it is: a grin from ear to ear on wheels.

It certainly wasn't just cobbled together either; the neatly welded frame is probably stronger than that of a real beach buggy from the 80s. In any case, it is not advisable to drive into something hard: the seat belts will give you bruises that you will never get from a scale model, and the consequences are of a more permanent nature.

But the fun part is that the Max really has the proportions and looks of the toy version. And it comes with a real, life-size sheet of stickers, which only opens up more possibilities for a wild custom livery.

How much does such an off-roader cost?

Of course, it can also be decently constructed, for the 40,000 euros (without taxes and transport costs) that the Launch Edition must cost, even if the first 100 cars are equipped with nice extras such as a carbon fiber dashboard and a limited edition version of the original little Wild One.

On the other hand, the builder, the Little Car Company, has built a name for itself as a maker of small but highly refined reincarnations of classics – you may remember their little Aston DB5 or Bugatti Type 35, or the 'Testarossa J version of the Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa – and those things cost almost three times as much as the Wild One Max. And you can't even take it out on the street. Which almost makes this seem like a bargain… Almost.

Not just any toy

In a while there will be a cheaper version, probably without some of the things that make it street legal, like the lights, wipers and license plates and the like. And it will be just as much fun if you have access to some terrain to romp around in.

But the dream feels most complete when you go to the pub or to the office pretending to be Ray Lynch (the half-plastic man who was in the original Wild One). Then all the daydreams from your youth have become reality at once. All we need now is an Avante with that central driving position and a large wing on the back that says 'Being Nuts is Neat!' stands. No, you don't have to be ashamed of that at all. After all, it's 'just a toy'.