Everyone loves a Transformers combiner giftset. It’s a lovely word isn’t it? Giftset. Just rolls off the tongue. My spell-checker doesn’t recognise it, but collectors certainly do. Almost always bright, colourful, large and with a significant portion of the box front covered in artwork, they make for some of the most popular and impressive collection display pieces one can find. Nowadays certain giftsets, while not necessarily rare, command vast sums of money as collectors vie with each other to complete their display of these beautifully packaged behemoths.
Usually made up of at least 5 special team members, Transformers giftsets allowed us the opportunity to score an Autobot or Decepticon combiner in one unforgettable purchase. The toys themselves are often not particularly difficult to source, but to have them all in one place, with specific combiner artwork and paperwork just adds to the appeal. There are many famous giftsets that collectors have worshipped down the years, from the original pre-reissue Japanese Predaking set to the US Computron, and more recently the Japanese Liokaiser set from Victory. Some of them have reduced in value as time has passed and others have soared. I’ve chosen a few examples this week to look at, but not necessarily what you might expect.
When I was told by long time Hasbro Transformers collectors that a mint unused US Defensor giftset was the hardest to find US packaged combiner, I simply thought they weren’t looking hard enough. What about Computron or Piranacon? I feel as though Defensor giftsets have been part of the collecting and online auction furniture for a couple of decades now. What I hadn’t paid attention to was the fact that most of the ones I had seen were Italian GiG Defensors, Canadian Hasbro Defensors, Greek El Greco Defensors and probably even Japanese ones. More and more I started to hear that a mint Defensor would be a momentous find from respected, knowledgeable collectors .
Due to the bootleg G1 giftsets that have been infecting the marketplace for some time now, collectors can often find themselves shying away from pulling the trigger on what appears to be too good to be true. Despite that, a simply beautiful specimen of a vintage Hasbro Defensor giftset was found this year and you can see it above, but MISB ones continue to elude high-end completists. Its rarity is a little bit of a mystery as that era of US Transformers toys is not generally considered to contain many tremendously hard to find items even in MISB condition, some have even suggested that the Defensor giftset could have been a store exclusive in the US, but there’s no evidence to support that as yet that I have seen.
Next up on my list of curious giftsets is the Hasbro Canada Guerrier De L’Air Aérobot, Superion. An Aerialbot giftset is not considered rare in any country it was released in typically, not even Japan by those who pay attention to their appearances. I love Canadian giftsets and if I were ever to consider a giftset collection, this is where I would start. The fact that each figure has two names displayed is unique among vintage Transformers, and the extra writing everywhere just gives the packaging an eerily familiar feel but with something definitely not ‘right’ for those of us who grew up with US/UK packaging. Don’t be fooled into thinking a complete collection of Canadian giftsets would be that simple either, when was the last time you saw a Hasbro Canada Devastator?
On the subject of Devastator, here is the Mexican Transformers version of the Constructicon set as manufactured and released by Iga. This is actually the first giftset I ever owned, having virtually no memory of ever seeing combiner giftsets in my youth, I unknowingly ended up with a Mexican Devastator in 1999. More than being just a packaging variant (Spanish text, Iga logo etc), the toys are different too. They are a slightly altered shade of green, the copyrights are blocked over “Japan”, and those which have been safety tested like the set above will have had the yellow robot eye paint on the large robot head changed to red paint.
Already a curious release, there are even further Mexican Devastator oddities to be found for one who cares. Some sets appear to have come with a few extra chromed parts that were never originally chromed for the Hasbro or Takara sets. The most notable addition of chrome to the apparently-earlier Iga Devastator is the head-weapon accessory that is usually just green. One of the handguns can also be found chromed in Iga sets, so keep an eye out for those, they are definitely not well-known Mexican variations, let alone well-known giftset variations.
A more recently discovered – or rather discussed – section of Transformers giftset releases are the Greek El Greco Devastator and Defensor. Not only do these sets often appear in great condition (possibly due to recent case or warehouse finds), but they are not quite as rare as you would imagine, despite the obscure origin. Notice the brighter green colour of the Constructicons, similar to the later 90’s era Italian GiG Constructicons. That seems to be no coincidence either, as if you examine the box front you will see the “TRASFORMER” label so closely associated with Italian pre-Transformers and Transformers releases.
In addition to being called “Excavator” like in Italy, having the “TRASFORMER” logo and sharing toy colour with the later Italian-released, Chinese-manufactured Constructicon giftset, there is evidence of unaltered Italian text on the back of the box above the El Greco address, showing that El Greco must have received their packaging templates from GiG and adjusted them accordingly.
Here’s the Greek El Greco Defensor for comparison, again almost a replica of the GiG template in layout, appearance and still sporting “TRASFORMER” logos:
Apart from maybe the US Defensor giftset, you almost never see the above featured sets on the wants lists of vintage collectors. It’s not surprising either, many would not value a Mexican Devastator above Japanese Raiden, Liokaiser, Battle Gaea, Liokaiser or Dinoking because the latter are actually exclusive figures as well as having exotic packaging as opposed to just a different language on the box and curiously different accessories, but I just can’t help favouring the underdog and the relatively under-appreciated members of the giftset family.
As always seems to be the case in any area of vintage Transformers collecting, there are still unanswered questions and unconfirmed variations, little-known gems and legends that have never been pictured. There are persistent rumours about a US Bruticus giftset packaging sample that may or may not have ended up in the hands of a collector, a similar situation with a GiG Predaking giftset and the possibility of a tremendously rare Milton Bradley (‘MB’) badged Devastator giftset released in mainland European countries. So, as with minibot, pre-Transformer and variant collectors, the job of a completist giftset collector is a chillingly difficult one, but ultimately rewarding.
Many kind thanks for photo contributions to Paul Hitchens (The Spacebridge), Jon Krause, ThemDukeBoys, Tusko and the anonymous source for the Greek giftsets.
All the best