The Mysterious 1966 Italian 250 LM ‘First RC Car

Having been deeply involved with the dawn of the Radio Controlled Car hobby in the 1960’s, I decided, as the 50th Anniversary of my involvement approached in 2017,  to research early RC car history around the world. It proved to be a great nostalgia trip, but also, a sometimes confusing journey through the muck of internet misinformation.  The Mysterious 1966 Italian ‘First RC Car’ was a great example. The stranger the story got, the more determined I became to document, yes –  DOCUMENT, the facts.

Round One – Many internet references had a ‘cut and paste’ version of this statement, apparently from Wikipedia at the time, but no one had a picture:

“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 was  a 1:12 Ferrari 250LM”.

Round Two – With so many sites declaring this as a fact, surely at least one of them, or maybe the Wikipedia author, had a picture of such an important car! I searched deep and wide in some old magazines and on the internet . Eventually, I  found one internet site that had a picture  of a Ferrari 250 LM model –  but it was a 1:32 scale SLOT CAR (note that it is sitting on a slot track)-

– it was, actually, a 1:32 scale Flyslot car!

The same web site also had the following misinformation:
“It started in the UK..”- Wrong
“….(the 250 LM) was-nitro powered.” – Wrong

 Round Three Does this ‘First RC car’ really exist? Why are there no pictures?  I dug deeper……
Finally, maybe it does exist! A person on a Ferrari Forum posted for me this advertising art renderings of the 1:12 scale Ferrari 250 LM RC car by Elettronica Giocattoli. More research was needed to find actual pictures and to identify production dates and details to see if was really ‘The First’.

Round Four – An actual photo! A Facebook Rock Crawler page was, ironically, the first place I found a small photograph of what was identified by the person that posted it as the actual 1:12 scale Ferrari 250 LM RC car by Elettronica Giocattoli (ElGi) – with the transmitter and box in the background, I was convinced this was the real thing.

Also a good example of the strangeness when seeking the facts. Rock crawling? Just gotta look everywhere…..

Round Four.5 – General information

This transmitter was from a different Ferrari RC car but from Elettronica Giocattoli and it did reference the 250 LM.

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

Round Five – This is the first reference photo that I could find that identified the 1:12 scale ElGi (ElleGi) Ferrari 250 LM. They apparently produced these cars in powered versions, with and without radio control. Incidentally, the  two cars on the right are 250 LM types but the car on the left is incorrectly identified; it is actually a Ferrari 250 P5 and is 1:10 scale, not 1:12. A good illustration of the hazards of history research!

Round 6 – Big News!

June 19, 2018 – I spotted a new picture of the ElGi 250LM on Facebook  but no explanation accompanied it. Then this breakthrough email from R/C Tech Forums:
“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’.

Round Seven – 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.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 1967-01CarModelProdAnn-JAN-67-035a.jpg

Round Eight – The Date Verified!

Opening a discussion on the Ferrari Chat Forum – 
in the Models sections got me to a June 1966 issue of the Italian magazine ‘Quattroruote’. On page 195 was an article about the mysterious Radio Controlled 250LM. Since it was a fully functional model with working, if somewhat simple, non-proportional, electronics and with a highly tooled plastic body, it must have been in development since 1965. From my research, that is certainly a very early production radio controlled car.

The Article in Italian, then English

The Article in Google English with My Editing

Will the “miniatures” circulate with the “big ones” on the streets?

No wonder, one day or another, in the midst of the chaotic traffic of our cities, we saw a red Ferrari 250 Le Mans, about thirty centimeters long, traveling alone, slipping between one wheel and another of normal cars, stopping and restart at a traffic light. We said ‘30 centimeters about’, something that is little more than a car radio. In our world so full of technical prodigies, it would not be surprising for this. In fact, that mysterious object could be the model that an Italian factory – the El-Gi – has launched it recently to the delight of fans of moving models. This is precisely the Ferrari ‘250 Le Mans’, a rather unusual construction, not so much because it moves by itself, but because its movements are radio-controlled. No wires, no guides, therefore, but only an impertinent machine that goes for a walk far and wide, obeying only the impulses that come to it via radio.

A tiny prismatic box, with a telescopic antenna and transmitter, and the brain of the building. There are four keys: the first, at the top (Off-On), functions as a simple switch to start the transmitter; the other three are operational: the one immediately below (Stop-Forward) controls the movement of the car, the other two keys (Left) – (Right) allow you to steer the car, left or right.

The model is therefore equipped with three radio channels.

We come to the technical data of the Ferrari El-Gi. Its speed, with charged batteries, is about 60 meters per minute, which means 3.6 kilometers per hour! … Two 9 V batteries are needed for the power supply for the receiver-transmitter system and 6 1.5V batteries for the powertrain, that is, the two electric motors trimmed on board: one for traction, the other for power steering. The transmitter has a maximum range of 20 meters: beyond this range, the model evades the radio control and continues its march without being able to obey the commands, in the direction established by the last radio pulse. Constituted in 1/12 scale, the Ferrari El-Gi has a plastic bodywork, unbreakable and particularly impact resistant, which is held together by life and can be dismantled in various parts, so as to make every organ of the car accessible. The front hood can be opened. Cost, with remote control and without batteries, 28,000 lire, and is accompanied by a guarantee coupon. To operate it, just supply it with batteries, which can be found in stores of electric-collectible items: after which the model is ready for use.

Driving the Ferrari El-Gi is not difficult, and it is quite fun: you need to do a little hand to get the maximum performance and driving satisfaction. The right and left curves are obtained, as we said, by pressing on the respective buttons. Their effect is to move the front wheels proportionally to the time that these buttons are pressed: therefore, to obtain slight movements one has to act with small strokes; for tight curves, on the other hand, it is necessary to press fully and longer. With the wheels fully steered, a special circuit provides for the stop: it is therefore not necessary to insist on pressing to keep the maximum slack. So here is a miniature car that lends itself very well for skills competitions and small-scale gymkhana.

Its speed (3.6 km / h), which translated into real measurements would correspond to 43.2 kilometers per hour, is certainly not worthy of a Ferrari ‘250’: It is necessary, however: to note that a truer speed, that is higher (easily obtainable by upgrading the traction motor) would jeopardize the precious model and compromise its driving, which, all things considered, is the fun it can offer.

The aesthetics of the model is discreet: the line is good, not very pleasant but the color is mixed and the finishes are not very accurate. However, these are details to which an enthusiast can remedy by means of some retouching. Of the same model, El-Gi also put on the market an assembly box with all the parts for the construction, excluding the transceiver apparatus. This version without radio control, specially made for collectors, costs 6,950 lire.

Something wrong? No, little Ferrari just needs to “fill up” on batteries!

Round Nine – And then – a major score!  The car is mine and the date verified!

On March 19, 2022, I found this actual, low mile, ElGi Ferrari – the real thing on eBay! Like any good Ferrari, it was dear but by March 28 it was finally mine. It even included paperwork to identify the sale date to the original owner as October 14, 1966! More later (it may be a runner!)