The CAR interview: Mr Tamiya. Plus win a remote control car

Published: 24 February 2009

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It’s not often you get the chance to meet your heroes, especially those who are 75 years old, live in Japan, head up an enormously profitable business and don’t often give interviews.

Fortunately, a couple of weeks ago the planets aligned and I had the chance to meet Mr Shunsaku Tamiya, chairman of model kit manufacturer Tamiya Inc, for a feature that appears in the new, redesigned issue of CAR Magazine.

For me, Shunsaku Tamiya ranks alongside any of the world’s greatest automotive engineers and businessmen. In fact, in the story I wrote in the latest issue of CAR the only word I could use to adequately describe him was ‘commendatore’. It was an honour to meet him.

Tamiya: the roots of a remote controlled legend

The Tamiya model hobby company grew from the ashes of Shunsaku’s father’s lumber business (quite literally – the premises were destroyed by a fire in 1951). A passionate but amateur wooden model maker, young Shunsaku was initially a one-man factory – from preparing the wood to designing the instruction manuals – but he soon realised that the business would not survive unless it embraced the growing demand for plastic model kits in the late 50s.

As the business grew, Shunsaku Tamiya personally embarked on epic missions around the world in order to collect photographs and information on numerous military vehicles, aircraft and of course, automobiles.

Mr Tamiya’s exhaustive research and attention to detail paid off – by the late 60s ‘Tamiya standard’ had become the phrase used to describe the very best model kits.

The first Tamiya radio control cars

It was on one of Mr Tamiya’s research trips to the USA in the 70s that he had, for me, his biggest epiphany. Upon witnessing the Baja races of southern California, Mr Tamiya returned to the factory in Japan and tasked his radio-controlled expert, Fumito Taki, to recreate working scale models of these Baja buggies.

It was these r/c buggies – the Sand Scorcher, Grasshopper, Hot Shot, Boomerang and Avante – that I spent most of my childhood building, crashing and rebuilding again, and it was from these that I learned about the inner workings of differentials, dampers, anti-roll bars and gearboxes. It’ll be interesting to hear some of your Tamiya stories – feel free to post a comment below.

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