Toy catalogues are wonderful things, we’ve even looked at them before on Source Blog here and here. In addition to the waves of nostalgia washing over us every time we look at a vintage Hasbro Transformers catalogue included with the toys, there are loads of hidden gems, prototypes and hilarious errors within. We’re going to have a look at some UK and US Transformers catalogues from 1985, 1986 and 1987.
While the aforementioned articles we’ve published on the Source blog looked at the general appeal and nostalgic value of paperwork, as well as toy trade catalogues meant primarily for retailers, this week’s piece picks out a few of my favourite oddities from the UK 1985 and 1986 Transformers catalogues and the US 1986 and 1987 catalogues. and is entirely inspired by a conversation with my friend Jeremy W. Kaufmann about the proto vs production Fortress Maximus. There are plenty of interesting things throughout those four foldouts, but with help from Botch The Crab’s excellent site (with unwatermarked scans) we’re just going to focus on a handful of them, and drop in a few gems at the end as a reward for anyone who’s stuck with us (or knows how to use a scroll bar).
The above snippet from the 1985 UK Transformers G1 catalogue shows the Autobot cars and minibots. Interesting things to note here are the widespread lack of rubsigns which were probably not yet finalised for these pre-production photo-shoots, Cosmos appears to have an all-yellow head with no red sections, Tracks’s face is not yet painted red and Smokescreen is still displaying a blue “RR” Diaclone hood sticker at the base of the windshield and “DATSUN” lettering on the front bumper.
Staying with the same 1985 UK catalogue, the Decepticon section has a number of interesting inclusions too, not least of which is the grey cartoon-accurate Triplechanger Astrotrain. Consisting of 3 separate painted hardcopy resin prototypes, the grey Astrotrain is one of the most famous unproduced Transformers in history. The hawk-eyed among you will notice that the Blitzwing has the Diaclone-mould telescopic turret and sharp unrounded sword point.
What I really like in the above picture though are the Insecticons with the dark translucent orange chest flaps which contrast with the actual yellow production versions. The Transformers Insecticon box artwork had them portrayed with a similar coloured chest flap, again as opposed to the production yellow flaps. Catalogue Kickback also has sharp and pointy Diaclone-esque wingtips.
Finally, for the 1985 UK catalogue, some Dinobot exposure. In the foreground we have the gorgeous red-faced, white legged, cartoon-reminiscent version of Slag that was only mass produced as a TF in Canada but appears here and elsewhere in TF paperwork of the time. In the background you can see a distinctly blue waist on Grimlock, which marks him out as a Diaclone.
When you look at the other Dinobots in TF colours, and you consider the fact that a Diaclone Grimlock is shown in the catalogue, and that the red/white scheme for Slag was one of the last colours it was produced in for Diaclone (Italy), you can just reach out and touch the conclusion that he was never intended to be red and white for Transformers, the plan may always have been to give him the uniform grey/black/red/chrome Dinobot look.
Looking now at the 1986 UK catalogue, there is much the same look and feel to the paperwork but a few new faces. The 1985 gang are now showing off their gleaming new rubsigns, but Autobot golden boy Hot Rod is distinctly more pink than the production version and has clearly hand-made chest stickers. Further up the page you may see the prototype Triplechanger Broadside which is so vastly different from the production version that one wouldn’t even know where to start pointing out differences!
While Astrotrain and Blitzwing have now been tamed and Hasbro-fied, the newer Triplechanger Octane sports pre-production chrome fists, and Cyclonus has a bizarre all-silver head section. The Cyclonus is another well-known UK paperwork oddity, even appearing in Ladybird story books with the same all-silver head and face.
Let’s switch our attention to those across the pond, and take a look at the 1987 US Transformers catalogue:
This prototype Fortress Maximus from the 1987 US catalogue is another famous pre-production celebrity. Slide-out waist guns instead of flip-out guns, different coloured translucent shoulder flap, waist winch, chest flap etc, different moulding on the insides of the legs, this depiction was quite different from what Hasbro ended up releasing.
His Headmasters arch enemy Scorponok wasn’t too far off either, the prototype noticeably sporting a green helmet, green scorpion legs, a green Fasttrack and feet…just fantastic really. Almost all of the characters introduced during Rebirth had wacky prototype representations in this catalogue. Have a look at the Autobot Headmasters:
Hardhead, Chromedome, Brainstorm and Highbrow are all painted hardcopy prototypes in this shot. Their canopies are solid colours instead of the translucent plastic on the production versions of the toys. The Headmaster heads all seem remarkably similar too, showing differences from the final toy versions released in mould and colour. Duros and Arcana seemed to have switched spots too.
The Targetmasters, fresh for 1987, also exhibited some weird features. For a start, Sureshot and Crosshairs appeared to have had their heads mixed up, and their Targetmaster partners (as well as Pointblank’s) were more of a maroon than bright red of the final product. More prototypes of course, you can see strange colours on the TMs throughout that picture.
Even though the following is a snippet of Metroplex from the US 1986 catalogue, it appears in the 1987 one too…
…and there’s nothing particularly fascinating about this image, I just like it because Bumblebee has managed to sneak his way into the 1986 assortment! Can you see him?
Now, as promised, a reward for all of those who stuck with this piece until the end. We all like good photography of rare toys, and it’s never enough to just look at them on the pages of catalogues because if that were enough, we would never have lusted after grey Astrotrains, blue Bluestreaks or pink Hot Rods for decades. So here we go…
Chrome-fisted test shot G1 Octane:
Hardcopy prototype grey Astrotrain:
Pink Hot Rod test shot used in Toy Fair 1986:
Mock-up 1987 US TF catalogue with comments:
Many kind thanks to the guardians of TF history Paul Hitchens, Ras and Botch The Crab for scans and images.
All the best