The Big Trak programmable tank was the most fun remote control toy our boys ever owned, and it also outlasted all the rest despite lots of use. You can still occasionally find a working one on eBay.
The top of the tank has a flat keypad. It is hard to tell that in the picture that I was able to get permission to use, but it’s in that recessed rectangle. You needed to figure out how to program the tank to navigate a course ahead. You would enter a number of units to go forward or backward, right and left turns, and even pauses. You could also make it “fire.” It didn’t shoot any projectile, but the lights flashed and it made a laser-like sound. You could enter up to 99 commands.
So the game was to decide where you wanted to send the tank (preferably to some location out of sight in another room), and then successfully calculate (or guess) the distances and turns to enter to make it go there. This actually made it almost educational as well as motorized fun.
Everyone from our 8-year-old, through the many teenage boys we attracted to our house like flies back then, (and me too!) loved to play with this tank. It ran better on low pile carpet and floor than shaggy surfaces, but it would usually make transitions from one surface to another fairly well. Firing the tank did drain the batteries more quickly than just running it. It takes 4 D batteries and a 9-volt. I think it only had one speed, and this helped to keep it from breaking because you couldn’t slam it into walls at great velocities.
We declared this to be an inside toy to keep it from picking up so much dirt that it wouldn’t run, and the strategy must have been a good one, because it lasted through several years of hard use. The directions may have even said that. I don’t remember.
It was made by Milton Bradley and had a hard plastic case. I believe it came out in 1979.
The biggest drawback was that you had to remember to be very careful when you picked it up. It had to be lifted from each side under the wheels, not by lifting the body.
Its passing was mourned by all. I think it only cost $20 when we bought it new. Now if you want one that works it looks like you will need to shell out more like $50.