Tamiya SRB Sand Scorcher VW Baja Bug review

Its not a bold statement to say that the Tamiya Sand Scorcher is one of the most iconic toys from the early 80's. So we thought it...

Its not a bold statement to say that the Tamiya Sand Scorcher is one of the most iconic toys from the early 80's. So we thought it would be good fun to take a closer look at this classic Tamiya.

The Sand Scorcher was only the 16th radio controlled kit released by Tamiya. (Kit no RA1016 updated to 58016). It was launched on the 15th December 1979 in Japan. It was the second kit that featured the groundbreaking SRB (Special Racing Buggy) chassis. The first kit to actually have this chassis was the Tamiya Rough Rider which was released only a few months earlier.
This was the pioneering era of the hobby, the concept of an off-road RC vehicle was still very new and Tamiya had decided to model their chassis concept on the popular Baja style buggies that could be seen on the beaches of the 70's along with tight Speedo's and big hair.

My Sand Scorcher is a runner that is over 30 years old and is a combination of the early Mk1 model and some of the later parts. Let's take a closer look.

Under the Hood!

As was matter of the course in those days Tamiya borrowed heavily from the real VW beetle inspired Baja buggies when they designed the suspension. (Well there was no RC buggies at that time so it makes sense to look at the real world designs to begin with).

The front trailing arm suspension is held on the chassis with the distinctive VW style front beams. The suspension arms are damped with two oil shocks (900 cst oil in all the shocks seems best) . The front spring is mounted on the arms and it does have a good range of articulation. There are two pegs that you can use to adjust the tension of the front spring.

The rear of the chassis has a solid metal gearbox that holds the motor. Mine is a very early Sand Scorcher and the gearbox was a tight fit for even a standard 540 motor. The motor is held in place with two internal metal pegs in the gearbox.

The peg system does not allow you to adjust the position of the motor so the only way you can change gearing is to swap the main spur gear and the pinion at the same time. With that in mind you get two sets of spurs and pinions that can give you either 6.5:1 or 9.3:1 gearing options.

The drive train of the Sand Scorcher is bombproof. Years of running and the buggy just keeps going. The rear universals are attached to a rear spool. Yep that's right this car was before ball differentials in buggies. Obviously as the SRB chassis became very popular soon many aftermarket parts appeared, in the 80's notably the Thorpe differential. Luckily Tamiya have made their own ball differential (Part no 84113). This will undoubtedly help for those who want to drive race the Scorcher on a hard surface or race it at the many Retro Race events that are being held.

The rear suspension is lower A-arm swing suspension that is damped by the narrow oil shocks. The rear end is sprung by two torsion bars that fit under the radio box. They are quite stiff, I have been told the re-release version is actually a little softer.

The radio box is a very distinctive feature of these chassis. Its lid is held down with 4 spring loaded cam-locks.  Tamiya designed this car to be a pure off-roader so they intended to make it waterproof. In reality the radio box is fine for splashes and riding along the waters edge, but it will not hold out if you submerse it. A standard 7.2v nicad or 7.4v Lipo will not fit in the radio box. You need either a Hump Pack 7.2v nicad, or a 'Shorty' lipo or even a 6.6v life battery.

With the steering servo protected from the elements inside the radio box. The steering arm reaches out with a rubber shroud and a long turnbuckle.

Here you can see the long torsion bars that act as the springs for the rear suspension.  You can also see the FRP chassis plate and the metal stiffener plate. If you look closely you will see that I have two chassis plates. This is because when doing more extreme jumps the chassis could bend. This would make it crack the radio box. So doubling up the chassis plates stiffens it up even more, despite the fact I'm older, I still like to put the Scorcher through it's paces.

The wheels are 1.5" the two piece front rims and three piece rear ones are locked together with with a range of small bolts. The font spin on bearings and the rear tyres are mounted on plates. The overall effect is great and the soft rubber flexes and wobbles to help give the Sand Scorcher a very scale look.

The iconic bodyshell is based on the Baja bugs that originated out of Southern California in the late 60's. These buggies were developed to be an inexpensive alternative to the full blown beach buggies and they have proved very popular and are still used in several Baja racing classes.

This shell has been used on a range of other Tamiyas including the Blitzer Beetle and the recently re-released Monster Beetle. It is made from hard ABS with many small parts and the detail is as you would expect, is fantastic! The shell on mine is modified with a roof scoop to match the ones that I used to see around as a lad.

To help the scale appearance there is only one bodypin at the front of the shell and the rear is held in place with a clip that attaches to the solid steel chassis roll bar.

On the beach!

Despite the fact that the Sand Scorcher looks fantastic as a display model, you really need to take it for a spin to get even more fun out of it.

I recently visited my folks so I packed the Sand Scorcher so I could revisit my youth and take it back out for a run on the beach. As the sun began to set in the evening the beach was clear so I unpacked the Sand Scorcher with my son and we took it for a spin.

With a dab of the throttle huge rooster tails appeared in the soft sand as the rear wheels dug in and the Scorcher started to move. The rear spool and the Sand Paddle tyres are ideal for this surface and the Sand Scorcher moved effortlessly over the golden surface.

Despite not having 4WD the light front end of the buggy raises on throttle to ensure that it does not dig into the sand too much, allowing for you to steer. This provides a really satisfying driving experience when bashing.

This 2WD car requires you to really balance steering and throttle to get the best out of the handling. Throwing the weight around is key to ensuring that you can dig in the front wheels and pivot the rear for a sharper turn, or blip the throttle to raise the front so the tyres do not dig in so much, calming the car down and keeping it on all 4 wheels.

The memories came flooding back and watching this timeless scale buggy skip over the beach, kicking up huge trails was a magical sight, and one that made me how I got into this hobby many years ago.

The best moment was still to come as I passed the controller to my son who obviously couldn't wait to get his hands on it.

There was no pussy footing around as he pushed the throttle to full tilt and the Scorcher roared off onto the beach. Being a young lad he instantly found the remains of a sand castle and launched the Sand Scorcher into the air. It looked fantastic as it careered through the air and then kicking up loads of sand as hit the deck and gently bounced around as it kept surging ahead.

Heading towards the harder sand along the water's edge the Scorcher looked fantastic. The low sun was glistening on the waves as it cast a long shadow into the sunset.

This was just pure fun, I would never take my racing cars anywhere near the beach, but I knew that the radio box and the sealed rear gearbox (Use a dab of silicon sealant for extra piece of mind) would keep the worst of it out.

It was a great time taking the Tamiya Sand Scorcher back out on the beach, so good infact my son made me return to the beach for a couple more evenings to grab some air and chase some seagulls, and the Tamiya Sand Scorcher as per normal just kept going.


The Sand Scorcher is a classic that appeals to a broad range of people from VW fanatics to Retro Tamiya enthusiasts. This helped it command a very high price in the second hand market and new kits would sometimes sell for over £2000.
Luckily Tamiya re-released the Sand Scorcher in 2010. The Tamiya 58452 Sand Scorcher 2010. This re-release is the same classic kit with a few small updates that make it even more robust, but it is essentially the same kit.  This has ensured that anyone can keep running these classic cars as spare parts are still easily available. Importantly many more people can get their hands on this classic kit.


The Tamiya Sand Scorcher is many things. A beautiful scale model that captures the Californian twist on the classic Volkswagen styling. The chassis is constructed from predominately metal parts that ape the real life car, which ensures that it is a satisfying and interesting build.

Importantly it is still a hoot to drive, the chassis is so different to anything out there and it provides some interesting quirks that give the Sand Scorcher bags of personality and makes it great fun to just drive around.

It's popularity has endured over nearly four decades is testament to the fact that it appeals to so many people, and given how much my son enjoyed playing with it I think it might keep that appeal for generations to come.

If you want to treat yourself to the Tamiya Sand Scorcher they are available from your local UK Tamiya Stockist. Contact http://www.hobbyco.net/ for more info.

tamiya 2993861363273335830

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