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Stompers: The Ultimate 1980s Off-Road Toy Trucks

These tiny battery-powered trucks embodied the monster truck madness of the early 1980s. And they were awesome.

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I have little recollection of playing with Stompers as a child. I blame my older brother, who modified the tiny off-roaders to run on more powerful 9-volt batteries instead of a single AA cell. That required cutting up the truck bodies, which didn't bother me back then because a big battery protruding from a toy truck was the six-year-old equivalent of having a blower poking through the hood.

A Blast From the Past

Welcome back to Toys of Yesteryear, where we rediscover the cool car toys that occupied our youth. It was a time before instant smartphone access to automotive videos. The best racing game was an eight-bit rendering of Fuji Speedway on Pole Position. Playing with toy cars was largely a hands-on experience, one we revisit here to preserve this slice of automotive history.

After being hidden for decades in a large cardboard box, I found not one but two Stompers playsets from my childhood still in their original packaging. Hoping to uncover a trove of Stomper trucks inside, I was greeted by just five vehicles. Actually only three, since two were knockoffs from other brands - specifically Rough Riders and Soma.

While I hold no memories of playing with Stompers, I do recall owning them. And I distinctly remember having more than three trucks. The rest apparently fell victim to my brother's quest for more power, which is unfortunate since some used Stompers now sell for hundreds of dollars. Find one new in the original packaging and it could fetch over $1,000. So yes, I'm a bit miffed in retrospect.

Off-Road Toy Craze

Produced by Schaper Toys, the first Stompers arrived in 1980 coinciding with the monster truck madness sweeping the nation. These were toy trucks that could propel themselves across dirt, rocks, grass, and yes, there were all kinds of playsets for indoor off-road fun.

Faster Stomper II models landed in 1983 with two speed settings and a neutral gear to simply push them around. Various playsets appeared on the scene, the lineup grew to include different body styles from pickup trucks to 6x6 semis, and spinoff Stompers ranged from much larger trucks to top fuel dragsters bearing little resemblance to the originals.

And of course many knockoff brands tried horning in on Stompers’ success. Rough Riders was likely the largest competitor, resulting in some legal skirmishes. But seemingly as quickly as Stompers took off, their popularity dropped off. Tyco acquired Schaper Toys in 1986 and produced some Stompers into the 1990s. However the fad essentially died along with ‘80s, whether due to more advanced RC vehicles, video games, or the internet.

Hands-On Stompers Fun

The Stompers formula was simple: take a small electric motor, mount it in a plastic chassis with gears powering four oversized tires, and design body shells to snap on top. A small bulb at the front nested into a clear housing to emulate headlights, while an on/off switch brought everything to life. Stompers were slow (even the 2-speed Stomper IIs) with non-turning front wheels, meaning they would just keep going until hitting an obstacle or their battery died.

Various playsets offered 180-degree corners to “steer” Stompers around plastic tracks full of bumps and hurdles to challenge the trucks’ 4WD capabilities. It may sound mundane by 2023 standards, but 40 years ago this was nirvana for kids.

Or at least I assume it was. As mentioned, I hold no memories of actually playing with Stompers. Yet I do remember getting the Stompers Earthquake Alley playset for Christmas, so I must have been ecstatic. That set remains sealed in its original packaging, along with another playset called Tumbleweed Trail. Toy collectors covet boxes, and these are in decent shape given their age.

The playsets themselves are also decently preserved. One corner piece has a broken guide that I've already glued back together. Unsure if all parts are present, I found a bag filled with various fasteners, fake rocks, and other components. I even discovered a small orange cone of unknown origin, but it looks cool so into the set it goes. With enough pieces assembled, I set up a sizeable track in my basement playground to relive the Stompers experience.

Restoring the Stompers Fleet

In terms of actual Stomper trucks, I have an old boxy Ford Ranger, an equally boxy Chevy Scottsdale pickup, and an unlikely modern classic - an AMC Eagle SX4. The Ford and AMC sport second-gen Stomper II chassis, while the Chevy retains an original first-gen body. However only two of the three function presently. One chassis is missing its motor and gears, likely sacrificed for my brother’s electrical experiments.

The two imposters are a Rough Riders semi and a Toyota SR5 from Soma. Oddly the Toyota shell fits a Stomper chassis, but to keep focused on the genuine article, we’ll set those aside. Not that it matters since neither work anyway.

And frankly, the real Stompers don’t run so great either. They sprang to life with ample vigor despite 40 years of dormancy. Yet tackling the Earthquake Alley track proved an insurmountable challenge, with the Ranger and Eagle struggling to ascend even small hills and fake rocks. Ironically the only surfaces they could climb (recklessly at that) were the vertical track walls, usually rolling themselves over like Mustangs fleeing a cars and coffee event. Perhaps this futility explains why I hold no fond childhood Stomper memories.

In theory, two linked corners should’ve allowed largely autonomous off-road bliss with the occasional reset after a mishap. Instead after an hour of nostalgic play testing, I was unable to log even one clean lap. Methinks the 40 year-old rubber tires lack their original grip, except on smooth plastic walls evidently.

Preserving Stompers History

I’ve already mentioned repairing the track and mending the Ranger body. So rehabilitation efforts are underway and pitching this set won’t happen. Surfing the web revealed considerable nostalgia still exists for Stompers, with a similar blue Ranger selling on eBay for $100 and old loose Stompers commanding over $500. One auction featured collector's cases housing two untouched first-gen Stompers on their cards, garnering $1,281.

The verdict then is to restore and preserve. However unlike my Super Spin CarNetwork timeout, please retry

22 Ara 2023 - 16:38 - Classic Cars

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