Tamiya Mini 4wd : The Cars, The Races, The Animes.


Mini 4WD cars is one toy that has truly withstood the test of time. At its core, mini 4wd cars are simple toy cars powered by 2 AA batteries. Their operation is quite basic: you turn it on and the motor just runs at full speed without any directional controls. These cars compete on tracks which can be as simple as an oval or lavish ones with multiple loops and even jumps. While it sounds very uncomplicated, Mini 4wds have grown into a world wide sensation with an enduring and growing fan base.

Mini 4wds are also known as "Tamiya Mini 4wd" or even more simply as just "Tamiya Cars". This is due to the the fact that Tamiya is the company that single handedly propelled mini 4WDs to the state they are in right now. In fact, Tamiya has been making mini 4wd cars for 35 years now. As a company, Tamiya have been in business since 1946 and was making various hobby models since the very beginning. Their first models were made of wood and are very popular in Japan.

At the beginning of the their operation, Tamiya was better known for their radio controlled cars (RC cars). As a matter of fact, Mini 4wds began their life as nothing more than simplified and miniaturized versions of radio controlled cars. Some even say that Tamiya just wanted to reach out to the younger demographic who could not afford a full size rc cars but still wanted in on the action. As time went by, mini 4wds took on a life of their own. They are now a world wide phenomena with big and small competition popping up all over the globe. The popularity of 4wd exploded even more with the launch of animes featuring these amazing cars. Since then, the aesthetics of mini 4wd cars are more and more influenced by Japanese animes. As a matter of fact, Japanese ranks among the best in the world world at creating shows to sell products. And with 4wd and animes, they seem to have found a perfect formula.

Mini 4WD and Anime

Mini 4WDs' popularity have sky-rocketed since they have been featured as the main plot point of several animes. Below are some the of most popular ones

Bakusō Kyōdai Let's & Go!! and Mini 4wd 

A popular anime which features mini 4wd cars is Bakusō Kyōdai Let's & Go!! . Which features brother "Let's" and "Go" each with their own signature cars being the "Magnum Saber" and "Sonic Saber" respectively. The two brother aspire to be top Mini 4WD racer in the world. On their adventure, the brothers makes many friends who each have their own unique Mini 4WD cars.  Many of the cars become best seller in the real world such as Tokichi's Spin Axe, J's Proto Saber and fan favorite Takaba Ryo's Tri Dagger X. 

Story:

Although the anime doesn't officially divide the story into many parts, fans recognize that there are many story arcs. The first arc concludes after the protagonists defeats Broken Giant, Ray Singer, and Beak Spider which are popular car series in their own right.

The next arc is known as the World Grand Prix (WGP) arc and is one that many fans consider the highlight of the show. Whereas the first arc was limited to Japan, WGP is a world wide competition. The cars are from different parts of the world are each have unique and intriguing features. Even the courses in each country are riveting and impressive featuring the likes of drills and saws as obstacle which the Mini 4WD cars have to overcome. Many times the, the obstacles becomes a quite a plot device.

Even the referee has a car known as Fighter Magnum VFX which is one of the rarest and most popular car of all time.

The anime then returns for a second season with new protagonists. This time the main cars change to Max Breaker and Shadow Breaker. However, the second season was unable to rise to the same level of popularity as the first.

Dash! Yonkuro

Dash! Yonkuro was Tamiya's first attempt at creating an anime serie based on the Mini 4WD cars. In this serie, each racers will run along with their Mini 4WD car and use a hockey stick to control the car's direction as they progress through the course. That doing so in real life would be entirely impossible was never mentioned. The protagonist's name is Yonkuro and his car is called Dash-1 Emperor. True to the anime formula that started around that time, the car went through many iterations, each one with incremental upgrades. Each upgraded model was known as Super Emperor, Great Emperor and Horizon. Also following the era's anime cliche, the protagonists are a group of five youngster each with their own car which are:

  • Dash-1 Emperor (Yonkuro Hinomaru's machine)
  • Dash-2 Burning Sun (Dankuro 'Tankuro' Toda's machine)
  • Dash-3 Shooting Star (Shinkuro Minami's machine)
  • Dash-4 Cannonball (Peiji 'Punkuro' Jimi's machine)
  • Dash-5 Dancing Doll (Rinko Sumeragi's machine)

And they form a group akin to other Sentai Animes.

As mentioned above, mini 4WD cars of that era was simply miniaturized version of Tamiya's radio controlled cars lines such as the Avante, Hot Shot, Manta ray, and Boomerang. Such ethos is very apparent with mini 4wds in Dash! Yokuro.

Dash! Yonkuro is currently getting a remake. With updated aesthetics and a new art style. Many new cars from the new serie are quickly gaining popularity such as the Rise Emperor which is essentially the Horizon reborn. Other popular cars from the new serie includes: God Burning Sun, Shooting Proud Star, Canon D Ball and Dancing Divine Doll.

Collectabliitiy

Mini 4WD cars have gain a cult following since their debut 35 years ago. Of course, for something which has been running for this long, it is inevitable that some items have turned into collectible. A new Tamiya Mini 4WD retails for $8 - $25 depending on location and different markets. However, limited edition or lines that are no longer in production fetch a higher price. Some limited series fetch prices many times that of the retail price of a normal car. One of the most popular collectible lines is the Kumamon edition. Other popular version are the Miku and Faith Saber type cars which fetch a very high price. In the 80's and 90's there were even cars that are based on real life idols.

Popularity

Although some would argue that the heydays of Mini 4WD car are now in the past, many would beg to differ. These Tamiya cars still have a large group of enthusiasts all over the world particularly in Japan and Indonesia. In Thailand, it is said that is at least one circuit class track available for Mini 4WD cars to race on in every province at all times.

Tuning The Cars

Even more than assembling the cars, tuning these mini 4wd cars is the main allure of the hobby. Different tracks around the world has different characteristics and the cars needs to be tuned differently for each one. Contrary to popular belief, going as fast as possible is not the best way to go. Often times, hobbyists will spend an entire day making sure their car's speed is unmatched only to find out that it flies out of the track at the very first turn. Re-tuning the cars so that it can complete the circuit is where the second part of the fun begins. Common wisdom within the Mini 4wd community goes that the car that wins is not the fastest car but is the car that can stay on the track the whole time and goes just fast enough to be ahead of everyone else.

Different Classes of competition

Mini 4 WD cars are very famous for their competition. The types of competition will vary from place to place. Here are some of the the most common:

Open Box

Open Box competitions are among the most popular and this is probably due to their simplicity. Open box competition are simply what the name suggests, players simply opens a brand new box of car and assemble it then race it "as is". These type of competition is easy and fast but also a lot of fun. Hobby shops love to run these competition because people tend to buy many new cars when participating (and then racing them right away). Some venues allows for mixing and matching of new cars' parts whereby racers can, for example, mix parts from 3 or more boxes of cars.

Standard

A significant step up from Open Box competitions are Standard competition. These competitions are one that allows racers to use "authorized" tuning parts. Usually this means genuine "Tamiya" parts although some venues will also allow other tuning brands. These competitions are popular among beginner mini 4wd modifiers and have grown exponentially when Tamiya started introducing "Starter Packs" which sells for only around $20 to $40 but provides the vital first steps for many people just starting out.

Japan Cup

Japan Cup is the ultimate competition of Mini 4WD racing. In this class of competition, the sky is the limit. You can modify your car in any way you want as long as the car runs on 4 wheels and has a top body. Another restriction is that all modifications must be made by genuine Tamiya accessories. Cars must also always be running in 4wd mode (as opposed to 2 running on just 2 wheels made possible by taking out the central axle).

Trivia

  • The Chasis of these Mini 4WD has been improved over time and there are has been many versions. In fact, some of the older version had an innate flaw whereby the switch would sometimes slide by its self and turn the car off mid-run. This flaw was also featured in the anime as a plot point. Newer version Mini 4WD utilizes a knob-style switch which eliminates this problem.
  • In the Dash! Yonkuro anime, the protagonist has a feather forever tucked in his head band. While many would write this off as just another outlandish anime character design, the feather does come in use in the story. In one scene when when the protagonist (Yonkuro) car was about to tip over, the feature was tossed shuriken style onto the car which readjusted the weight just enough for the car to keep going and eventually win the race. 
  • The toolbox that people use to carry the tools and accessories associated with Mini 4WD cars have become quite a character themselves. Carrying one of them is almost like a declaration of being in the mini 4wd club. Many people enjoy showing off what they have in their toolbox.
  • One of the most popular tuning part are the famous black and red motors which is the very first tuning part for many. Now a days, there are many variation of these motors and older racers would find that even the "light" versions of the newer motors are much more powerful than the beloved black and red motors of yesteryear. 
  • The position of the motor of mini 4wd cars now come in three options. At the front, at the back, and relatively recently in the middle aka mid mount. The latest option comes with a different type motor with two axles.
  • The top body of the car is now a requirement when competing in official conpetitons. At first many racers see this as a hindrance as the body does nothing but add weight to their mini 4wd and thus slows it down. Over time, clever racers have turned this handicap into an advantage by making the body help with aerodynamics. Another technique commonly used is to have the top body is to have to back unattached and the front part on a rotating hinge. Having the top body this way makes it "snap" whenever the car jumps from ramps or bumps. The snap helps the car land back safely and on target. 
  • If competing in open box class, a front motor car is recommended as they will stay on tracks better on jumps with their center of gravity being forward. For Japan cup, go for cars with motor in the back as they lend better to modifications and tend to be faster.
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