Perhaps no other platform has been as responsible for bringing people into RC cars and trucks as the Tamiya Frog. The Frog’s chassis was spun off and tweaked for other cars such as the Hornet, Grasshopper and the Blackfoot. Back in the mid-80’s this was the platform to have. Despite some issues with the drivetrain the Frog was wildly popular due to its great looks and, at the time, good handling.
Fast-forward nearly 30-years and the Frog is back after a hiatus. Re-released by Tamiya, it has seen a number of updates to the handling and durability while still retaining the overall “Frog-Experience.” I recently had a chance to put one of these classics together and relive what it was like in those early days of off-road racing.
Part Number: TAM58354
Vehicle Class/Type: 2WD “Dune Buggy”
Target Audience: Classic RC Enthusiasts and Tamiya Fans
Kit/RTR/BND/Race Roller: Kit (As Tested)
Test Items Used:
Spektrum DX3E Transmitter (SPM3160)
Spektrum S6010 Servo (SPMSS6010)
Spektrum SR300 Receiver (SPMSR300)
Dynamite 5300mAh 2S Li-Po Battery Pack (DYN5360D)
I have to admit I was a bit nervous to drive the Frog. I mean this is a piece of our history and, while I came into the hobby a few years later than when it was in its prime, I still have mad respect for what this car represented. While many didn’t realize what this car really helped to bring to the table, the benefit of time helps provide some perspective. Throughout the build and preparation, the one thing that kept popping into my head was just how cool it was that I, some 30-years after its original release, had the opportunity to build a brand-new Frog. Like the dozens of other Tamiya vehicles I have built over the years the build process was very enjoyable and quite a fun experience. If you’d like to check out the build process we actually streamed it live in 2-parts on our Ustream page. You can find Part 1 and Part 2 at the links below.
I should have known better. When building the Frog I had expected the speed and acceleration to be quite lacking due to the closed endbell motor. I’ve run these motors in everything from F1s, minis and 4WD sedans and they’ve all been relatively quick straight from the box. Why I didn’t draw that conclusion with the Frog I don’t know, but I was blown away at how snappy and fast the Frog was with the kit motor. I think I expected the drivetrain to be heavy or inefficient, but the Frog did not disappoint in the horsepower department.
Much like the motor, the handling pleasantly surprised me. I’ll be realistic here first of all. Can the Frog hold a candle to the performance-orientated 2WD machines that are out here now? No, but that’s totally not the intent behind the Frog Re-Release. The reason this car has been brought back is to help relive that nostalgia that many yearn for. As such, the Frog does amazingly well for a (nearly) 30-year old design.
With the kit setup, the Frog has a major tendency to understeer. Much of that is due to the limited front suspension movement, but a lot more is due to the fact that the tires are designed for looks and durability with performance not a major impact player. When you adjust your driving style to what the Frog is willing to give you, it is totally possible to run some good lines and get a rhythm going around a track. The best analogy I can make to the handling of the Frog is that it felt a lot like the current generation of Short Course Trucks when using the kit tires. You’ll need to back the corner up a few feet to get a good entry to the turn, wait for the car to rotate and, when it does, feather the throttle mid-corner-out while the tires scratch for traction. It sounds complicated, but it was so much fun to do and I loved every lap.
Compared with the super-sticky rubber compounds we use today in the 2WD buggy class, the Frog features relatively hard-compound tires that don’t provide nearly the same grip. As such I did need to drive the car differently. Off-power the Frog had a considerable amount of understeer, something that was not totally unexpected. .As mentioned in the handling overview, the Frog didn’t have the initial turn-in that I have grown accustomed to, however, simply backing up the corner a few feet and not charging into the corner so deep allowed me to take a pretty good line around the track. The only time the chassis felt loose off-power was if I hit the brakes too hard coming into the turns.
You know those harder front tires I’ve talked about? Yeah, they have a matching pair of cousins on the rear of the Frog and they have some really tall pins on them. Surprisingly they actually had a good amount of grip on-power. Sure, we’re talking about a car powered by a silver can Johnson-type motor, but there was plenty of power on-board to light the rear tires up if I got on the gas hard out of the corner. I did have to feather the throttle mid-corner-out to make sure I didn’t spin the car around on-power. Again, this reminded me a lot of driving a Short Course Truck with kit tires. I don’t want to say that it was hard or even bad, it was just different. Again, it was a lot of fun to have a car that you actually had to drive.
Next to the speed and acceleration, the jumping characteristics of the Frog were the most surprising to me. This car actually jumps really, really well! It responded to throttle and brake input exactly like the way that the latest generation of buggies jumps. The only bummer was that, depending on how I attacked the back-side of a jump, if I got too nose-down, the front bumper would dig-in to the ground and cause the car to tumble. I now understand why we have short bumpers and skid plates on 2WD buggies!
If there was one word I could use to describe the Frog Re-Release it would be crazyfununexpectedperformancefastwildnostalgicawesomeness. Ok, so I didn’t do so well in using one-word thing there, but I don’t think you could really pin the Frog Re-Release down to just one word. I had so much fun driving this car, and not just because of the nostalgia; not just because of the speed; not just because of the styling; not just because of the performance. It was because of all of those things and more. As a self-proclaimed Tamiya fan, there are certain vehicles that I wasn’t around for or have simply never been able to own, and for this reason I am stoked that Tamiya has re-released many of their classic kits. For me, I still think there’s a Clod Buster or a Subaru Brat out there somewhere with my name on it. If they’re anything like the Frog Re-Release, I know I’ll be holding yet more pieces of RC history in my hands.