First introduced in September 2002, ZipZaps were an instant success and one of the most popular gifts of the holiday season in North America, with RadioShack stores often selling out of the starter kits. They are referred to as "micro R/C" due to their diminutive size. At 1/64 scale, ZipZaps are only slightly larger than popular diecast toy cars such as Hot Wheels and Matchbox.
ZipZaps are unique among toy-style micro R/C vehicles in that they can be customized much like large R/C models. Each partially assembled ZipZap kit includes a preassembled chassis with built-in nickel metal hydride rechargeable batteries on which the gears, tires and hubcaps can be changed for better appearance and performance. Five motors and three gear ratios are offered, ranging from the 16,000 rpm stock unit to the high-speed 34,000 rpm "NX." Gear ratios are 12:1 "stock," 9.86:1 "performance" and 8.25:1 "turbo." Tracking is adjusted via a wheel alignment lever underneath the vehicles themselves. The vehicle's onboard battery is charged by snapping the entire car onto the top of the transmitter. Full charge is accomplished in about 40 to 60 seconds with run times averaging five minutes. Neither steering nor throttle are proportional on the base cars and monster trucks, with both functions either full on or full off. Steering is accomplished via a clever electromagnetic setup which pulls the steering knuckles from one side to the other based on transmitter input. The SE series adds semi-proportional, two-speed throttle and fully proportional rack-and-pinion steering.
Further customizing options come from the variety of body shells which snap on over the top of the chassis, allowing the ZipZap to take on the appearance of any number of popular cars including the Chevrolet Corvette, Audi TT, Ford GT, Ford Mustang, Hummer H1 and Mercedes-Benz SL. "Past and present" two-packs of body shells are sold as well, depiciting early and late versions of sports cars and musclecars. Motion picture vehicles were represented by the Ford Gran Torino from Starsky & Hutch and the tuned imports from 2 Fast 2 Furious. RadioShack is currently marketing a replica of Herbie that ties in with the Disney Studios 2005 release of Herbie: Fully Loaded. Priced at less than US$20, "Herbie" comes packed with the 21,500 rpm "performance" motor and 9.86:1 gearing. A series of monster trucks based on a larger chassis with larger tires, larger motors and four-wheel-drive is available as well. Scale detail on the bodies is quite good, with prototypical tampo decals and trim. However, some compromise to proportion was made for the different bodies to fit on the one chassis.
ZipZaps operate on one of two frequencies, namely 27 MHz and 49 MHz, so no more than two people can reliably race their ZipZaps. The SE series and monster trucks feature working headlights and taillights while the SE adds electronically selectable multiple frequencies within the 27 MHz and 49 MHz bands for up to six racers. Motors, tires and wheel covers are interchangeable between regular ZipZaps and the SE series.
The popularity of ZipZaps waned somewhat in 2004 with RadioShack's introduction of XMODS, though they remain a popular item. At 1/28 scale, XMODS are considerably larger. Like ZipZaps, XMODS offer the opportunity for customizing both appearance and performance potential.