Hemmings Motor News Blog Blog

Hemmings Motor News Blog

Hemmings Motor News has been around since 1954. We're proud of our heritage, but we're also more than the Hemmings full of classifieds that your father subscribed to. Aside from new editorial content every month in Hemmings, we have three monthly magazines: Hemmings Muscle Machines, Hemmings Classic Car and Hemmings Sports and Exotic Car.

While our editors traverse the country to find the best content for those magazines, we find other oddities related to the old-car hobby that we really had no place for - until now. With this blog, we're giving you a behind-the-scenes look at what we see and what we do during the course of putting out some of the finest automotive magazines you'll ever read.

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Did Ford Designers Inadvertently Invent the RC Car?

Posted February 16, 2023 5:00 AM by dstrohl
Pathfinder Tags: Ford

Who invented the radio-control (RC) car? It should be a simple question to answer, and indeed, if you plug that question into all-knowing Google, it spits back an answer: Italian electronics company Electronic Giocattoli, with a 1/12th-scale Ferrari 250LM that it offered in 1966. Case closed, move on to the next article, right? Except that's not the case at all, and the correct answer may have to do with an infamous incident of goofing off at one of America's largest carmakers.

Why RC planes before RC cars?

Curiously, RC aircraft predated RC cars in both full-scale and model formats. British drones described as Aerial Targets flew as early as 1917 while the earliest RC car, a Chandler sedan converted as a publicity stunt, drove the streets of New York City in 1925. (For what it's worth, the first documented RC watercraft was demonstrated in 1898 at Madison Square Garden by Nikola Tesla.)

In the world of scale RC aircraft, twin brothers Walt and Bill Good are widely regarded as the pioneers of the hobby after their initial test flight in 1937 and subsequent development of their Big Guff a year later. The powered scale car hobby, however, tended toward tether cars and slot cars over the next few decades just as full-size remote-controlled cars tended to follow Norman Bel Geddes's example toward roadway-embedded guidance wires.

Two major factors - one organizational, one technical - created that gulf, according to David Palmeter. The Academy of Model Aeronautics, a strong international organization dedicated to the pursuit, has been around since 1936 while the largest organizations dedicated to RC cars, ROAR and IFMAR, date only to the late Sixties and late Seventies, respectively.

"Also, flying an airplane can be done with the early RC equipment with nothing to hit - except the ground," Palmeter said. "Cars are generally run in limited space and needed quicker reacting equipment, which improved significantly with the availability of digital proportional RC in the Sixties."

Palmeter's experience bridges both the worlds of RC aircraft and RC ground vehicles. As a teen in the mid-Fifties, he had flown model airplanes with .049 and later .099-cubic-inch gas engines and, after numerous crashes, "I began to contemplate sticking closer to the ground with a gas-powered car." By the late Sixties, his sketches and dreams culminated in a 1/8-scale gas-powered RC car using a Monogram 1965 Corvette body, and he went on to get involved in ROAR and RC car racing soon after.

He stuck with the hobby, and about five years ago became increasingly curious about its roots, enough to start digging through old magazine articles and documenting his research on his website.

Read on for more...


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