One of the most interesting story in Tamiya's drivers sage is the Evans' family. Never before a car was designed as a family affair.
58043 Grasshopper (1983)
Big Daddy Evans
58074 Grasshopper II (1988)
The Evans family is from Mississipi. When I got in touch with Big Daddy, I was definitely seduced by the idea to tell their story. He even offered to pay the ticket from France to meet them at their farm in Hoppertown. I declined since the expenses were covered by the Black Hole Sun website, and after a 48 hours trip, the kind farmer I had hitch-hicked from the rail station dropped me.
After throwing my old army pack and jumped from that big Ford Bronco, he left and vanished in a dust cloud. That was by the end of a hot day and I was now facing a long alley leading to a typical american midwest farm surrounded by wheatfields.
From the farm, I saw a man waving at me.
Big Daddy Evans : Hello BaraToZ, had a nice trip?
Big Daddy's calloused hand is large: I immediately feel the force of a real worker man. Plastic boots, checked shirt, old Levi’s jeans, big shoulders and about 1.90m high: quite an impressive character, but his smile and his friendly slap on my shoulder make me feel at ease right away.
Yes, thank you. Very glad to meet you!
Big Daddy Evans: Ha ha! That's nice of you, but you know, here the star has always been my son!
You both are Buggy legends! Could you tell me the Grasshoppers story?
Big Daddy Evans: Sure! That's what you came for! Let's get to the barn: my son's greasing his Grass' gears.
There is a big wooden barn behind the farm. As he widely opens the heavy door I would have had problems to slightly move, I see a dusty ground surface and two buggies standing in the middle.
I'm now facing, a Grasshopper and a Grasshopper 2, and breathing that typical oil and gasoline air mix you only smells in old garages.
OMG, I never though I would ever see this!
Big Daddy bursts out laughing and Frank Evans himself gets from under his Grass. He cleans up his hands from dirty grease and comes to me laugthing too. He's quite as tall as his father and his arms like Mike Tyson's make him look funny with his dirty blue dungarees.
What an honor! Frank, can you tell me who these machines were born? Did you know they changed many enthousiasts lives? Your race buggy was almost every beginner's favorite in Europe!
Frank: Thanks BaraToZ! You know, the story of this Buggy is quite different from any other. It started in early 80's, early 1983 in fact. I was 14 and my father had no idea for my birthday present. We were not rich but Big Daddy wanted to make me happy!
Big Daddy stays a little apart and looks at Frank with a father's proud eyes.
He went to John "Big Stock" Ron's car scrap yard (the Blackfoot driver Ramblin's father) to get an old chassis to repair. Even if John made an effort on the price, he could only come back with a 1971 Volkswagen Beetle wreck.
Quite difficult to imagine it started from that!
Frank: And yet it is! Almost thirty years ago, right here, when I discovered what was left from that Beetle, I jumped into his arms.
Big Daddy smiles.
We were no over-skilled engineers, we had no idea about chassis design, weight-power balance or whatever! We only knew that we would need to work many hours to get the buggy we were dreaming of. We know we would need to stick to simple, cheap and reliable technical solutions, like friction dampers and a rear solid axle.
We spent many nights working on it since we had our daily work in the farm. To help, my mom always prepared sandwiches and glasses of milk at night.
For the first time, after a 6 month work, we drove the car outside: it was sounding like hell. Two months later, the bodyshell was done. by the end of 1983, we made our last testing on the track and started to tune the car. I will never forget these moments.
But how comes an amateur vehicle joined Tamiya's product line-up?
Big Daddy Evans: The car was actually doing pretty well and Frank revealed to be a good driver: this is why I decided he would race the 1984 "Mississipi Buggy Champ’ Challenge". This was one of those crazy race where anything with 4 wheels could race. At the time, Tamiya's official racers were the leaders and were winning almost every race of the kind.
Nobody expect that, but despite our car flaws and quite an erractic handling on the track, Frank finished 1st in front of Sand Scorchers and Buggy Champs! Tamiya's staff was astonished!
Awesome! The starting point of an incredible story!
Frank: Yes, Tamiya's staff asked me to visit them to Japan with our prototype. They wanted to buy it for quite a big amount and use elements for new projects. We were honored by my dad made imperative that I were this car's official driver.
Their engineers finished tuning it, design a better bodyshell and fitted Sand Scorcher tires for a better grip. They called it "Grasshopper" because it was bouncing all over the track. Our technical solutions were cheap to produce so they re-used them on other projects, like Vanessa's Lunch Box for example.
Frank goes pensive, sights and blushed before going on:
As you know, I travelled worldwide for countless races and shows. I raced against almost every Tamiya vehicle, but also against competitor brands like Kyosho and Hirobo! I broke thousands of parts and repeatdly tested the rollcage on grass, pavement, peebles and jumps! In the eighties, thousands of fans could race with it due to its low pricing!
Yes, the Grasshopper is undoubtely one of Tamiya's most famous best seller ever, especially in Europe! How came the Grasshopper 2?
Big Daddy Evans: At Tamiya, they felt grateful with us so for the pleasure of racing with my son, they designed a new slightly updated version for me. But despite the improvements and the success, I could never compete with the Grasshopper's legend!
Frank starts laughing and slaps his father's shoulder.
So what's your present activity?
Big Daddy Evans: On my side, I stopped racing a few years ago and I now only drive in old car shows. Frank is still an official driver and he keeps on pleasing fans all over the world. Despite his car not being the best performer, he still makes the show and many still see him with nostalgic eyes because he's the one who made them start racing.
Thank you for these great moments and for sharing your secrets. This interview is to be published on "Black Hole Sun", the French website reference for Tamiya models.
I stayed three more days at the Evans'. I met Frank's mother who is one of the best cooker in Mississipi. Of course, we spent most of the time driving the Grasshoppers and burning rubber.
Indeed, they are not the fastest buggies, but they are wonderful, fun, simple and very reliable. Once at the commands, childhood memories came back, like a Christmas morning and a Birthday evening when, for the very first time, I was holding the wheel or pushing a stick. I can still remember my father's pride and his smile ;-)