Model car racing using tethers, rails and slots had been around for years, but the dream of the driver being able to steer the car remotely needed the new technology of radio control. And specifically, the technology of ‘proportional’ steering and speed control was needed to race cars remotely. How did that dream become reality? What is the true history?
As the years go by, history becomes faded. Since I was deeply involved with starting, in 1970, the first ever wide area championship – The Midwest Series – for the new hobby of Radio Controlled (RC) model car racing, I have decided to gather first hand information from back in the day. ‘Car Model’ (CM) magazine was one excellent source. CM covered all aspects of model cars – building plastic kits, collecting die cast models, racing slot cars in various scales and, when remotely controlled cars appeared on the scene, they were very involved in reporting about cars being raced by radio control. I have compiled an index of articles from ‘Car Model’ , ‘Model Car Science’ and other magazines from back in the day. You can see that index HERE. Two of the early pioneers from those articles are discussed below.
1966 Electric RC Car Pioneers
It is interesting to note that, although 1:8 scale internal combustion ‘gas’ cars (more recently called ‘nitro’ cars – a methanol fuel with nitromethane added for more power) were dominant in early racing, electric RC race cars in 1:16 and 1:18 scale were also being developed. In the March, 1967 issue of ‘Car Model’ magazine on page 27, Tom Dion wrote an article about ‘Radio Control….the newest craze in model racing!’
The entire article is reproduced HERE.
The Mysterious Italian ‘First RC Car’
As the 50th Anniversary of the Midwest Series approached, I began in 2017 researching early RC car history around the world. Many internet references had a ‘cut and paste’ version of this story:
‘Several early commercially viable RC cars were available by mid-1966, produced by the Italian company El-Gi (Elettronica Giocattoli) from Reggio Emilia. Their first model, a 1:12 Ferrari 250LM was available in the UK in December 1966, through importers Motor Books and Accessories, St. Martins, London, and early in 1967 through Atkinson’s model shop in Swansea.’
I have finally found pictures variously claimed to be the 1:12 scale Ferrari 250LM RC car by Elettronica Giocattoli. More research is needed to identify dates and details.
spento = turned off — acceso = switched on
sinstra = left — destra – right
fermo = stationary — avanti = forward
trasmettitore = transmitter
El-Gi P4 transmitter to compare to 250LM trans
June 19, 2018 – I spotted a new picture of the ElGi 250LM on Facebook a couple of days ago but no explanation accompanied it. Then today this:
Tamiyadan has just replied to a thread you have subscribed to entitled – The very first RC car? – in the Vintage Forum of R/C Tech Forums. He noted that one was for sale on eBay – it turned out to be in like new condition!
So the mystery ‘First R/C Car’ does exist but, without a verification of the release date, the ‘First’ claim is just speculation. If anyone has dated information from back in the day, I would be interested in seeing it. And, of course, since technology was making Radio Controlled cars more feasible, many people were working on the concept at the same time (see the note about Tom Dion above) so we will never be sure who was ‘First’.
March 30, 2019 – As the research continues, we are getting closer to a verified date for the release of the ElGi 250LM. The picture below is from page 36 of the New Products section of the January 1967 issue of ‘Car Model’ magazine. Clearly the 250LM had to be released in Italy in 1966 to be in this magazine. So, it certainly had to be among the first commercial RC cars.