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Sonic-controlled cars.

Memories of my Saturdays as a youth in the 1970s tend to revolve around riding bicycles, and watching television (Laurel & Hardy, Harold Lloyd, Swap Shop etc). Regular trips would also be made to local toy emporiums, where row upon row of Matchbox diecast cars tantalised the pocket. A short walk away was Tandy, the electronics shop where all manner of hi-fi and television equipment could be bought. It also tended to stock the latest "in" toys which, when I was 7 or 8 years of age, included remote-control cars, or to be more precise, sonic-controlled toy cars. "Radio Shack" was a common brand. Radio-control was still quite expensive, so for schoolboys of modest means, the purchase of sonic-control cars was broadly achievable (perhaps with financial assistance from an adult or two). This page will feature a number of these classic, battery-powered, toys that hark back to that era. "Click-click" every trip, to paraphrase a road safety campaign of the 1970s.

Lancia Stratos HF.

The majority of the plastic battery-propelled cars of this era I have, seem to be based on the Lancia Stratos HF. These are all toys that have
The clicker used to control the car
turned up at car boot sales and similar, I've not intentionally sought to buy any, they just appeared so to speak. What became of the actual toys I once had, I don't know, I suspect dusty bin eventually claimed them all. This Stratos, in full Marlboro livery from the days before nannying-worries about tobacco sponsorship, measures just under nine inches in length and is plastic throughout. The real car was produced from 1972 to 1974, but I suspect this children's version dates to the late-1970s. This is confirmed by the livery on the doors, for the 5th Giro D'Italia race. A "silhouette" version of a Group 5 Stratos triumphed in the 1976 Giro d'Italia Automobilistico, and the toy shown below is loosely based on this variant of the Stratos. The car bears no maker's mark, just confirmation that it was "Made in Hong Kong", the usual story for toys of this type in the '70s. As with all sonic-controlled cars, the Lancia's movement is controlled by a simple clicker device, which bears the legend "Super Control" on its orange case.
The circular receiver which obeys the clicker, or indeed anyone nearby that happens to clap loudly, is set into the car's roof as can be seen below. Alas I don't have the box for this example, but I'm sure cheap boxed versions turn up on eBay quite regularly. A handy side-effect of the car being controlled by sound, is that should it impact a table leg or section of skirting board, the "knock" should be picked up by the receiver as a request to change direction, negotiating the car away from the scene of the accident. In theory at any rate.
Sonic-controlled Lancia Stratos
Not really expecting any response, I installed a fresh set of four "AA" batteries into the car and to my amazement it still works. Control is rudimentary to say the least (we were easily pleased in the 1970s). Switch the car on, and it drives forwards. Activate the clicker and the car reverses, turning to the left simultaneously. Click again and forward progress is resumed. Many kitchen floors must have played host to endless clicks and merriment on Christmas Day, circa 1976/1977, with just such a toy. At least until the batteries cried enough.
Top-down view of the Lancia car

Lamborghini Countach LP500S.

One of the coolest supercars of the 1970s was the Lamborghini Countach, a wild-looking machine that made its debut in 1974. This yellow plaything is stickered-up as the LP500S, a version that ran from 1982 to 1985, although this toy's lack of flared arches is more reminiscent of the initial design. This too is of Hong Kong origin, and the black clicker is all but identical in design to that with the Stratos, probably pointing to both toys having been made by the same company. The Lamborghini still has its box, but even on that there is no mention of the toy's maker.
Whereas the Stratos has a receiver built flush into the roof, the Lambo makes do with a receiver mounted on a sprung aerial. Perhaps it improved reception? The box suggests a working range of approximately 16 feet.
Sadly the battery tray on the Lambo has suffered thanks to leaking batteries, so without some restoration this example is unlikely to streak across the kitchen floor anytime soon.
Lamborghini Countach plastic toy

Two Porsche 935 Turbos.

The 935 was produced by Porsche as a competition spec (Group 5) racer, based on the roadgoing 911 Turbo. It was introduced in 1976, and both of the following (un-boxed) toys are of that car, one of my favourite Porsches of all. The first is the more appealing of the pair, liveried as it is in Martini Racing colours. As with the Stratos, the receiver is built into the roof panel. I especially like the wheels on this car, the tyres also wear the Goodyear branding, while the bodyshell sports logos for Shell, Dunlop, Martini and Bilstein.
Martini Racing Porsche 935
The second 935 has a receiver similar to that fitted on the Countach, and the bodyshell bears a marked similarity to the previous 935 although isn't as nicely finished. The livery lets it down too, although at least a representation of the Porsche badge is shown on the front panel, something not included on the Martini Racing version. "Dunlop" has been replaced by "Dunlup", while "Shell" is now "SHALL". The wheels aren't as eye-pleasing, and the tyres no longer have any branding on their sidewalls. My guess is that this example is from the early 1980s, by which time radio-controlled cars were becoming much more affordable (thanks to the likes of the aforementioned Radio Shack), and as such sonic-control quickly fell out of fashion. But, as a lad, cars such as these were mighty cool toys to own, and paved the way to yet more exciting remote- and radio-controlled cars in years to come, some of which will be featured on the site soon.
Another Porsche racing car
Further examples of sonic-controlled cars will be added to this page in due course (as soon as I can find them that is).
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