Available only in kit form less the necessary radio equipment, battery pack and charger, the Blackfoot was one of the most notable contributions to the growing radio controlled model car hobby due to its relatively inexpensive purchase cost, ease of assembly, an excellent instruction manual - Tamiya's are regarded as among the finest in the hobby industry - and wide availability of both factory and aftermarket parts to improve performance and durability as well as to simplify and expedite inevitable repairs.
Basis and variations
The model's space frame chassis was molded from ABS engineering resin and was identical other than color to the Tamiya R/C dune buggy on which the Blackfoot was based, "The Frog." The Frog's main chassis parts are grey while the Blackfoot's are bright red, presumably since the chassis was far more visible on the Blackfoot. The highly detailed styrene body was that of a Ford F-150 Stepside pickup, itself a carryover from an earlier Tamiya Ford F-150 model based on the SRB-chassis (Special Racing Buggy). Two other similar early releases were given the "monster treatment" as well. The "Monster Beetle" was topped with a replica of a Volkswagen "Baja Bug" while the "Mud Blaster" was a Subaru BRAT sport truck. Mechanically identical to the Blackfoot, the only other differences in these two models besides the bodies and body mounts were plastic wheels vacuum-plated in a golden finish, the inclusion of rubber-spiked tires for slightly improved off-road traction, a metal bracket to support the servo saver and oil-filled, coilover shock absorbers. Also, the Monster Beetle included a combined gearbox skid plate and rear bumper. The retail price of the Monster Beetle and Mud Blaster was about twenty percent higher than that of the Blackfoot, mostly due to the improved shocks. The Blackfoot's inclusion of simple coilover "shocks" less the benefit of oil dampening kept the initial cost of the kit down. Since the oil-filled units were available separately in kit form, Blackfoot owners could easily upgrade once their budget allowed.
Problems and solutions
As rugged as the Blackfoot and its variants were, the design suffered from a number of problems with its drivetrain. Its hexagonal-shaped "dogbone" axles, while allowing for an independent rear suspension, were extremely prone to wear because of the oversized wheels and tires as was the nylon and pot metal-geared differential. Interestingly, the pot metal parts generally wore out before the nylon parts did. Miniature ball bearings were an extra cost option to replace the nylon bushings packed with the model for both the transmission and wheels, but were a necessity since rapid wear of the bushings meant a complete overhaul of the transmission and partial disassembly of the rear suspension unless the kit was assembled with bearings from the outset. The expensive, heavy plastic bodies (with a replacement cost roughly half the price of an entire kit) made the model prone to rollover, eventually resulting in a badly scratched, unattractive replica. The tires themselves, even the spiked ones, were basically unsuitable for the off-road situations that the kit was intended for. Several R/C companies rose to the challenge, especially four Southern California companies: MRP, Pro-Line, Thorp Corporation and Robinson Racing. MRP specialized in heavy-duty modified parts, Pro-Line was (and is) a highly regarded manufacturer of R/C wheels, tires and bodies while Thorp and Robinson engineered expensive but rugged differentials and axles, allowing the use of much more powerful, R/C-specific motors than the Mabuchi RS-540 shipped with the kit; this motor was originally designed for use in heavy-duty computer printers. A North Royalton, Ohio-based company, Parma Corporation, made a series of replacement bodies vacuum-formed in lightweight, clear polycarbonate plastic including a direct replacement whose tooling was made from an original styrene body.
The Blackfoot today
Tamiya has marketed several updated version of the Blackfoot. The Super Blackfoot was based on the same basic space frame chassis, with the most important improvements being a better gearbox and double wishbone rear suspension with dogbone driveshafts instead of the original's vulnerable and quickly wearing ORV-type gearbox, trailing arm suspension and hex type drive shafts and sockets. The body was basically the same as that of the Blackfoot, but with a different grill design and new decals. Later, the Super Blackfoot was replaced by the King Blackfoot, this time with an improved front suspension with longer suspension arms. The styrene body for the King Blackfoot was still clearly derived from a Ford design, but no longer identified as being a Ford by Tamiya and a totally new development. Tamiya currently (2005) markets a completely updated model called the "Blackfoot Xtreme." The "Xtreme" has a totally different chassis design than previous versions, but retains the body of the King Blackfoot, just mildly modified with a hood scoop, a modernized grill and new decals. The BX is the final incarnation of the Blackfoot name. The "Xtreme" can even be modified for 4WD with the addition of a front gearbox and a second motor. As a matter of fact, Tamiya markets the 4WD "Wild Dagger", 4WD "Twin Detonator", and the 4WD "Double Blaze" all based on the same basic chassis as the "Xtreme".
The original Blackfoot is out of production, but its parts and aftermarket accessories remain popular with collectors. As for the aftermarket manufacturers, Robinson, Parma and Pro-Line are still in business producing R/C parts; MRP is focused on the production of R/C powerboats and Thorp, who had changed their focus to the production of emergency medical equipment, appear to be out of business.
In 2012 Tamiya Released a new version of the Blackfoot called the Blackfoot III, it shares no parts with the older "ORV" chassis but the body is an original reproduction with some updates.