Binaltech, Alternators, reissues, Cybertron, Energon, Armada, Classics, Henkei, United, Generations, Movie, Animated, Prime, 3rd Party and Masterpiece, the scenery has been moving rapidly for Transformers collectors in the last decade. For completists the sheer weight of product must have been overwhelming, and for the dabblers not much easier. That’s to say nothing about the distraction of vintage collecting.
Often we don’t find time to stop and appreciate a toy line or individual items fully, so I’ve derived huge pleasure so far from taking another detailed look at all of those beloved Binaltech toys I fervently collected on release up until 2007. Last year I wrote an article called Why I Won’t Sell My Binaltech, but the truth is with the rising cost of vintage Diaclone and Masterpiece Transformers, it had crossed my mind a few times to let this chapter of my collecting fade into history, allowing me to embrace the new wave of Takara automobile robot perfection. A few days spent in their company taking photographs for these articles, and I’m now actually on the lookout to complete my BT collection, the line dubbed ‘unofficial Masterpieces’ by some. The journey stared here last week.
~ BT-05 Dead End ~
While Takara’s Binaltech line was launched with a healthy dose of Generation 1 Transformers homages, nods and winks, updating time-honoured Autobot car designs and characters like Smokescreen, Lambor (Sideswipe), Streak (Bluestreak) and Hound, it didn’t take long for them to push the boat out a bit and start expanding the expected roster of characters. The fifth Binaltech installment was Decepticon Stunticon “Dead End”, originally a Porsche, and now a stunning black Dodge Viper Competition Coupe.
A striking remould of the BT-02 Viper SRT-10 Lambor, Dead End is the first Decepticon (or Destron) from the Binaltech line, and he was originally penned in as Sunstreaker – a theory corroborated by Alternators Viper CC test shots featuring Autobot symbols moulded into the chest. The apparent last-minute decision to go with such a dark and menacing scheme and a Decepticon such as Dead End was nothing short of inspired. From the cold dark chassis colour and glinting chrome to the eerie tint on the windows and headlights, Dead End grabs you by the (ram’s) horns.
You just can’t touch that, 1:24 scale model vehicle accuracy, no screaming Decepticon logo but unquestionably evil and worthy of many hours of staring. Sunstreaker who? This is as good a remould as we could ever have hoped for the Viper mould, transforming the feel and style of the toy almost entirely compared to BT-02 Lambor. My Dead End specimen has well-aligned panels and a good fit on all parts in vehicle mode, so yet another improvement over Lambor.
Suddenly there are flashes of red and gold across Dead End in robot mode, and he is more than just a little reminiscent of the tremendous black, gold and red scheme of Black Zarak. The head sculpt is 100% Sunstreaker, beyond a doubt, but the fact that it works as Dead End without any sort of need for mental re-calibration speaks volumes about how successful a repaint Dead End is. The brutish tyres on his shoulders, impressive feel when you hold him in your hands and overall presentation elevate this figure way above Lambor. If you need just one sample of the Viper mould, look no further.
~ BT-06 Tracks ~
Now for something altogether more familiar…but not quite! After the arrival of BT-05 Dead End out of left-field, Takara went back to bread and butter Autobot cars with a no-brainer Corvette update for BT-06 Tracks. Featuring the positively moving Chevrolet Corvette C5 Z06, first in flagship Corvette yellow (probably a manufacturer stipulation) and then later updated to G1-accurate blue complete with a flame sticker for the hood, Tracks joined the Binaltech ranks. Tracks was the start of a small run of Binaltech releases available in two distinct variants, forcing completist collectors to pick up two of each character for a while.
Apart from the robot feet peeking out from under the front bumper, the Corvette alternate mode on Binaltech Tracks was perfect. The functional steering was no longer operated by a magnetic axle system like the Subarus and Vipers, but instead used an automatically-aligning type of moving plastic tab system. While the blue Tracks makes perfect sense and would have appealed massively to purists, I feel part of the collecting minority in preferring the yellow BT-06 as Tracks. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that toy in yellow, apart from your G1 reflex screaming at you, but Binaltech is not Generation 1 and to judge it against that criteria is to deny its own merits for which it should be lauded.
Those merits include a sensationally accurate alternate mode, great quality paint applications and a few nice touches in robot mode that make the figure unforgettable in the overall Autobot Tracks timeline and ancestry. Many fans of Binaltech take great pride in telling admirers of these cars that they are indeed Transformers and not just die cast vehicles. The robot mode for Tracks has been criticised for its excessive kibble and inevitable die-cast rubbing and chipping, as well as very limited leg and ankle articulation. While the kibble does somewhat dominate the robot mode, alongside the beefy upper half it adds necessary width to the bottom half of the robot and contributes to an overall ornate look for BT-06 Tracks.
I find it very hard to pinpoint any post-G1 incarnation of Tracks that better captures the essence of the character and original design more than this Binaltech rendition. The false roof/chest is accepted by some as a beautiful slice of nostalgia, but those who see it as ‘cheating’ by the designers need look no further than the much-celebrated Masterpiece Convoy’s grille or Masterpiece Alert’s shoulders for similar tricks. Blue is clearly the way to go for purists, but for those who can see Binaltech as a toy line that not only brings the past to life, but also as a series that embraces more current vehicle and manufacturer heritage, there’s more here to appreciate.
~ BT-07 Smokescreen GT ~
It’s quite something that the Binaltech release I believe to be the single most impressive and definitive of the series happens to be the one that people know the least about. No other release in the entire toy line is overlooked as much as BT-07 Smokescreen GT, and none less deservedly so. In 2004, Takara released an updated version of the launch character Smokescreen to reflect the 2004 SWRT version of the Impreza WRC, available as the Petter Solberg / Phil Mills #1 car and the Mikko Hirvonen / Jarmo Lehtinen #2 car. Each came packaged with one launcher and missile, so if you wanted the complete Smokescreen look you’d need to buy both, a scheme that Takara Tomy are now repeating for the Masterpiece Prowl / Bluestreak Amazon exclusive releases.
The updated 2004 Impreza WRX is arguably more fetching and the inclusion of the shoulder weapons makes it *the* Binaltech Smokescreen to get, but a lack of initial pick-up by collectors due to the closeness in appearance and nature to the well-purchased BT-01 (and the not insignificant cost of importing these heavy toys) means it is not an easy or cheap item to find today. It also is not entirely perfect, you can see that the trunk on the Smokescreen GT above does not stay closed, and the #2 I own has a similar issue.
The “GT” in “Smokescreen GT” stands for Genetronic Translink, which the story of Binaltech explains allows the operator to link his consciousness or spark to other autonomous Binaltech host bodies at once, a Smokescreen army if you will. Very fitting for one designated as a diversionary tactician. It’s a shame collectors often don’t even know this release exists, and I do wonder if I wasn’t such a huge fan of the Impreza WRC (thanks to various Gran Turismo and Colin McRae Rally games), would I have stuck to my guns and invested in 2 more BT Smokescreens? Takara were certainly getting their money’s worth out of the moulds at this stage.
BT-07 is without doubt my favourite Binaltech toy, and I feel it was one of the last releases that didn’t suffer any particularly noticeable quality issues beyond the now-standard threat of paint chipping. The feel of the toy cannot be questioned, it’s as solid as a rock and mesmerisingly beautiful in both modes, almost impossible to believe we could have such a heavily sponsor-laden real world motor sport icon as a Transformer. Even though we’d already had two BT-01 variants and BT-03, I had no trouble finding a space for BT-07 in my collection. Worth it just for the launchers, those alloys and the mental image of a horde of Binaltech Smokescreen GTs ready for battle.
~ BT-08 Meister ~
Just when it looked as though the Binaltech line was starting to bury itself under multiple versions and repaints of the same toys and moulds, Takara pulled another blinder and gave us a new manufacturer in Mazda, a highly attractive model in the RX-8 and a new mould featuring one of the most deeply-loved Transformers of all time, Meister (Jazz). But of course, we didn’t just get him in his traditional white, we also got a simultaneously-released red version (with its own unique box) “Velocity Red Mica Edition”, later named “Zoom Zoom” in reference to Mazda’s commercial advertising campaigns whose production was undoubtedly heavily influenced by the manufacturer themselves.
Mazda’s rotary masterpiece fits beautifully as Jazz/Meister, and as odd as it is to see him in red, the co-release “Zoom Zoom” is a remarkably attractive toy. Despite the heavy weight of multiple releases per character and the inevitable repaints that Takara and Hasbro did warn fans about, the line was flourishing because the heavy hitters were arriving on the scene; Tracks and Jazz are immensely popular G1 characters. For many collectors who had given up years before, Alternators and Binaltech are cited as the source of their re-awakening, and thus the toy line is remembered fondly by most even if some of those fans now feel Binaltech is less relevant.
The basic foundation of the RX-8 mould was very similar to the Impreza mould, with a few key differences. First of all, the legs no longer just folded back up into vehicle mode in the tricky fashion associated with Smokescreen and Streak, they now ratcheted back into place which was a massive improvement. Also, the transformation of the legs required not just waist rotation, but subsequent leg and foot rotation, a quite delightful series of transformation steps I have always enjoyed on this figure. Finally, the weapon for Meister was no longer housed underneath the hood as the engine block or intercooler, it was now the exhaust.
BT-08 Meister has a superb robot mode, excellent proportions and poseability, scintillating paint job with a head sculpt to die for. The turquoise highlights (visor and sticker-homage detail on upper thighs) are simply delicious. It’s not all perfection though, during transformation the hood flap that allows the head to pop out can often become detached as can the entire hood if you’re not careful. Also, the arms have a tendency to pop off at the shoulders, a feature of subsequent Binaltech designs that started in earnest with Meister.
BT-08 Meister isn’t a Porsche, and once we (and Takara) are over that fact, he also doesn’t have Martini racing stripes. He doesn’t need them because this isn’t Generation 1 Transformers, this is Binaltech. We should allow it to be its own toy line with its own charm and features, colours, welcomed visible nods to G1 but distinctive personal character and strong influences taken from contemporary vehicle manufacturers and their heritage and brands.
Discussing a lack of relevance for Binaltech in light of the newer Masterpiece Autobot cars or even Classics is to ignore the toy line’s own appeal and merits. Yes they may have been shown in MP-04 Convoy’s trailer but they were never officially branded as Masterpieces, and to think of them and judge them as such would be a disservice, an injustice to the brilliance of a toy line that have given us a number of definitive character updates that are yet to be surpassed. In fact the new Masterpiece line is the best thing that could ever have happened to Binaltech, because now the toys within can be appreciated for what they truly are, not what many collectors desperately wanted them to be. What other Transformers toy line could have given us a yellow Tracks and red Jazz that were so utterly sublime?
All the best