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Choro-Q (チョロQ) is a series of Japanese 3–4 cm long toy cars, with coil-spring pullback motors, first made by Takara in 1978, and sold extensively in Western markets as Penny Racers.
The name comes from the Japanese word "Choro-choro" which means "dash around" and an abbreviation of "cute" which in its Japanese adaptation connotes both the aesthetic meaning and also the meaning of petite in size.
The Choro-Q car designs are largely based on illustrations by Yasuhiro Nakamura (中村安広) who also design its covers for books and videogames.
Most Choro-Q feature real rubber tires (usually with larger ones on the rear) and the characteristic coil-spring pullback motor. Also, each Choro-Q is a "cute" squeezed design caricature of the actual vehicle it represents. This type of caricature is also known as "deformed scale" as it gives the car a foreshortened or deformed appearance. What is also distinct about the cars is the slot at the rear, where a small coin can be inserted for the wheelie effect.
The toy line is highly popular and has become collectible, even outside Japan, due to its low price and its merchandising line which includes JGTC and various licensed car editions and has also spawned a series of videogames bearing the same name. The toy line has also lent its moulding to the Micro-Change and Transformers line of toys.
In addition to "Penny Racers", Choro-Q pullback cars were also marketed under the Tonka branding in the late 1980s as "Tonka Turbo Tricksters". "Penny Racers" in the US are still marketed by Funrise, but are less popular for collectors compared with their true-to-life counterparts marketed elsewhere, and versus the ones formerly sold by Tonka. "Penny Racers" tend to be garishly colored and given silly names, ignoring the actual names of the makes and models, and marketed for US children, whereas the Choro Q in the far East are made to a much higher quality standard and many are specifically designed for the adult collector, with high detail and/or tiny, incredibly detailed racing graphics and occasionally other realistic gimmicks such as fold-out headlights.
Originally produced in Japan, the manufacture subsequently has occurred variously in Taiwan, Macau and China. The models represent various makes and models of all kinds of actual cars, trucks, trains, and even planes and military and construction vehicles. There are even versions representing just about every bus and train line in Japan. Choro-Q are also produced in limited special runs for promotional purposes. Models are licensed and produced for automotive manufacturers and dealers, or as tchotchkes for marketing of other products and services. They even released a Major League Baseball line.
The first Choro-Q cars were more geared toward children, with primary colors and low detail. They have grown more sophisticated over time and now are for the most part cast in a uniform clear, colored or smoked resin plastic which is then painted, thus leaving the windshields and headlights, etc. transparent for added realism. From early on, Takara offered accessories and various spare parts and modification parts, including different motors to give a higher speed. Recently the newer Choro-Q are sold from the factory with various styles of spring-wound motors, including slow (for trucks and machinery), normal (for normal cars), and fast (for sports cars). There is even a 2-speed motor that starts out slow and then shifts to a higher gear.
Unusual Choro-Q which have the wheels and pull-back motor but are not modelled after vehicles are also common, often sold as special collectibles. This includes Choro-Q in the shape of common regional symbols such as carved wood bears of Hokkaido and popular symbols from other regions such monkeys, salmon eggs, sea urchin, etc. sold only in certain regions and marketed at local domestic tourists.
In 2013, following the example of the Tomica line with its Limited Vintage models, Takura Tomy unveiled Choro-Q Zero, a premium series of classical Japanese cars aimed at the collectors market.
The Choro-Q brand has been extended, often with a small name change which is a pun on the original name, to cover other small toys or novelties, both with and without the wheels and motor, including
- Digi-Q: Electronic remote control versions of Choro-Q cars which used infrared technology instead of radio control. These products were developed in conjunction with Konami.
- Choco-Q: Chocolate egg with a small capsule toy inside
- Puka-Q: Bath salts compressed into an egg shape, which, when dissolved in the bath, reveals a small toy inside
- Choro-Juu: ("Ju" [獣], meaning beast or monster, from 怪獣) Small monster toys which moved with a friction motor and had other gimmicks such as sparks shooting from the mouth.
- Choro-Chuu ("Chu" [虫], insect or bug, from 昆虫): Realistic plastic and rubber figures of various beetles, with wheels and a pull-back motor for movement.
- Jumbo Choro-Q: This is a large-scale version of the small toys but approximately 30 cm in length. They have the same pull-back motor gimmick and the hood also opened to reveal a storage space for standard sized Choro-Q toys.
- Q-steer: A more inexpensive infra-red remote control version of Choro-Q cars than the earlier Digi-Q, this line was first released in 2006 after the merger with TOMY and for several years became one of the best selling toy lines in Japan. They come in Normal, Tamiya Dune Buggies, Mario Kart Wii and Doraemon versions.
- CQ Motors: The most ambitious brand extension of all, this wholly owned subsidiary of Takara, founded in 2002, manufactured and sold actual single-passenger, electric automobiles modelled after the toy cars. The cars are street-legal (though not permitted on highways), require a standard driver's license for operation and have a top speed of about 50 km/h and a range of about 80 km on a single charge. Several models were sold, priced in the 1-1.5 million yen range. Although sales have been discontinued, as many as 500 were sold in all. In a country known for the prowess of its automobile industry it is remarkable that at one point, Takara, a toy company, had the highest share of electric cars on the road in Japan.
- Choro-Q Deck System (CDS): A system of special customizable Choro-Q cars and track designed for head-on crash "battle" competitions. The innovative "deck system" allows the easy swapping of the principle car components by putting each component in a card-like frame. Swappable components include the chassis-engine, front-end battering ram, outer body and special deflecting side wings. After stacking a unique combination of component cards like a deck of cards, a unique vehicle comes together which can be easily detached from the deck and put into battle on the track. The object of the competition is to design a vehicle which will knock the opponent off the track in a head-to-head crash battle.
- Choro-Q Hybrid: A newer version of the Digi-Q and Q-Steer, the Choro-Q Hybrid is available in two chassis types, Remote Type and Spring Type. The car bodies can be removed easily with a screwdriver so they can be swapped onto other chassis types or traded. They also include additional pieces that are fitted to the tyres or underside to perform special tricks, and slot car tracks to race on. The speed of the Remote Type's Dash button has vastly increased, and the Mario Kart Wii cars come with an Item Randomiser on the remote. The remote sizes have increased and the cars are charged via remote.
Dozens of Choro Q video games using the Choro-Q brand and themes have been released. These games, which have been released on many platforms, are racing genre with varying customization and RPG elements. Many of the games have been ported and translated with moderate success internationally, sometimes under the Choro-Q name, but also under other names such as Penny Racers, Gadget Racers and Road Trip.
- Official website (in Japanese)