The Tamiya Grasshopper RC off-road buggy may well have been your first introduction to the world of RC cars if you were a child of the eighties.
Originally released in May 1984, The Grasshopper was a huge seller for Tamiya. It was much less expensive than the Sand Scorcher and although not as quick in standard trim, still gave hours of controllable off-road fun to an RC beginner as well as an introduction to model engineering - you actually had to build and paint the thing!
Here's a great promo video for the original:
Realising the potential for "nostalgia sales", Tamiya re-released The Grasshopper in 2005 with a number of upgraded parts and subtle design changes.
The re-released kit is still in production and available here now!
- 1:10 scale model based on the sand rails and baja bug desert racers of the 1980's
- Length: 389mm, Width: 223mm, Height: 135mm, Weight: 830g
- Strong injection-moulded "bath tub" chassis keeps all the radio gear safe
- Comes with a 380 type motor but can be upgraded to a 540 motor available separately
- 2 wheel rear drive with a differential makes cornering very stable
- Rear mounted gearbox is sealed to keep the diff clean when off-road
- Friction dampers on an independent swing axle front end and rigid axle rear end
- Classic 3-piece Tamiya wheels with "The Smoothee" front tyres and "Padlatrak" rears (these were actually available for real 1:1 scale buggies at the time!)
- Tough ABS shell is supplied in white so you don't really need to paint it.
- Decals are stick on not water transfer so easy for kids to do.
So you remember the Tamiya Grasshopper from your youth with fondness and no doubt rose-tinted glasses but what is it really like to build and run?
In a word - smashing!
Building the Grasshopper
Building the kit is an absolute breeze using Tamiya's well illustrated, step by step instructions.
Work on the basis of a 5-hour build with a couple of extra hours for painting and applying decals (depending on how fussy you are about the finish).
The parts are all clearly labelled on their sprues and the injection moulding is top notch with very little swarf. You'll need a set of side cutters or strong scissors to cut the parts off the sprues and if you're being thorough, a craft knife will take off the remains of the tabs.
As with all Tamiya kits, it's well worth gathering all the parts, screws, etc. for each step before assembling that section - it makes it more obvious when you inevitably leave a screw out.
The Grasshopper has a very simple, pre-formed "bath tub" chassis - all of the suspension parts just attach to this.
Building the gearbox is fun and a great way to show youngsters how a differential works. Just be sure to use some of the supplied grease on the various pins and cogs.
Fitting the motor and gearbox is simple but beware - it is possible to attach the motor to the gearbox without the pinion meshing with the spur gear.
This is not a good thing and guess how we know...
Originally, the Grasshopper was supplied with a servo driven mechanical speed controller designed to work with Acoms radio gear.
These days, 2.4Ghz radio is standard, as is an electronic speed controller (ESC) and this is included in the kit.
Please note that the Carson speed controller in the current kit is designed to work with brushless motors and has 3 power leads.
The Grasshopper's 380 motor is brushed and so you will only use the blue and yellow leads (connect yellow to yellow and green to blue) when connecting it to the ESC.
In common with most Tamiya off-road vintage RC cars, a bit of toe-in is desirable on the front end. Toe in is where the front of the tyre is closer to the body than the rear of the tyre.
Don't go over board with this as it will make driving fast in a straight line much trickier!
The bodyshell supplied with the kit is made from a well moulded and pretty tough white ABS.
The recommended colour is white too so you can get away with not painting the body at all (of course you can paint it any colour you want!).
The driver, Mr Frank "no arms" Evans, is screwed together so you may want to fill the screw hole in the back of his helmet with epoxy before painting him and the Tamiya Acrylic paints bond beautifully to the plastic.
Another bonus with bodyshell is that it is attached to the chassis with four self tapping screws rather than the more common chassis clips. This gives a much more realistic scale look to the model even if it does make getting into the chassis a bit more time consuming.
Applying the stick on decals is a bit tricky if you want to get close to "box art" quality, but for children, these are much easier than waterslide transfers and even give you a couple of goes at getting the positioning right.
Driving the Grasshopper
The Tamiya Grasshopper always had a reputation for being very bouncy.
This has not changed.
The suspension springs are damped by friction rather than oil and when you combine this with the very tall low (no) pressure tyres you have a recipe for bump steer.
What this means in practice is that over anything other than smooth tarmac, concrete or compacted ground, the Grasshopper will be very "skittish" on the steering, requiring lots of adjustment as you increase speed.
You will find that for much of the time on a rough surface, the front tyres are not in prolonged contact with ground so you will have to correct the trajectory depending on where they land. Superb fun!
One thing to note though - the Grasshopper, despite its name, is not a great fan of grass.
Your lawn will need to be super short to run successfully - longer grass simply stifles the 380 motor and being quite light, the Grasshopper gets beached quite easily on longer tufts.
This is definitely not a speed machine and you will notice a huge difference in performance compared with modern RC buggies. It actually makes for a great trainer for children or indeed for you if you're a bit ring rusty.
The diff combined with the lower power makes cornering very easy and you would have to be very unlucky to roll one of these.
You can of course upgrade the basic kit with a faster motor, different pinion, ball-bearings, etc. in a bid for more speed and better handling but we like it just as it is.
The Tamiya Grasshopper is an easy to build, easy to drive, inexpensive way to either get back into RC cars or get a youngster interested in this great hobby.