Generation 1 Transformers are widely collected, revered and affectionately remembered by enthusiasts. Finding and owning original boxed or even sealed G1 Transformers is quite a privelege and an experience. More recent Takara and Hasbro Reissue Transformers have proven to be hugely popular and are into their second decade of release. So why is it that so many Transformers collectors shun and turn their noses up at the late 80s/early 90s Hasbro gold box ‘Classic’ releases? They are after all the first true reissues and allow collectors to own MISB-standard specimens of some all-time favourite moulds.
Between 1989 and 1991, Hasbro re-released a number of popular and well-loved G1 Autobots and Decepticons in classic G1-shaped packaging primarily for European markets. These releases included a selection of Autobot cars, Dinobots, Optimus Prime, Triplechangers, combiner teams and Throttlebots. The toys came in the same shaped packaging as their original 80s releases, but instead of the iconic red/purple grid patterns on the packaging, the boxes and cards were now mostly gold in appearance with red and purple highlights depending on faction. Other newer 90s Transformers were also released in gold packaging, but we’re going to look specifically at the re-issued set of Transformers from 1989 through 1991.
Originally I figured this would be a really straightforward area of G1 Transformers to focus on and complete due to the general lack of interest or passion for Classic releases, and a perceived higher availability than vintage G1. This was certainly not the case, as anyone who has tried to complete a collection of Classic TFs will attest to. These items were released seemingly in two main waves, the first being dated 1989 and consisting of Wheeljack, Prowl, Sunstreaker, Jazz, Ironhide, Inferno, the Stunticons and Aerialbots. Notice the dark gold colour of the boxes and very basic font used for the ”Classic” and “Classic Heroes” text on the above Autobot car packaging. The Transformers logo was also different and these particular UK releases even featured the character’s function (“Warrior”, “Engineer” etc) on the front. Wheeljack and Sunstreaker are of course rather more interesting than the others since Takara/Hasbro have not reissued them in the modern era due to supposed mould damage.
The first wave Autobot Strategist Classic Heroes “Prowl” is of special interest due to a number of variations which collectors are finally becoming aware of. Before we dive deep into those, you can see that the inner packaging is not markedly different from original G1 car inserts, but the instruction booklet has a revised style for the cover and Prowl’s missile sprue has the little steps in it between the outer sprue frame and missiles themselves, reminiscent of later G1 Fairlady releases.
Has it become clear yet that something’s a little out of place? If you can see past the creative Autobot sticker placement on this particular Prowl and concentrate more on the factory stickers on the doors and hood, you’ll see that for some reason the Classic Prowl has got some retro threads on. The blue police shield on the doors and hood actually have “Diaclone” on them, just like the original 1983 Japanese Diaclone Fairlady Z Police Type toy. The shoulder stickers that come off the stickersheet, however, are proper Transformers Prowl stickers and do not say “Diaclone”. There is no red mark inside the shield as there is with Japanese Diaclone Prowl, so this can usually be mistaken for a GiG or Joustra Fairlady Police, or a very early pre-rub US Prowl.
That’s not the only variation though, Classic Prowl has matte red robot horns painted on as opposed to the sparkly red of vintage and Diaclone Prowl. There’s undoubtedly an element of cost-saving and efficiency involved in any set of reissued moulds, but the Diaclone text on the stickers is just bizarre. It can only be Hasbro Europe using templates of whatever they had available at the time of manufacture. Speaking of manufacture, these Classic Transformers have all-new copyrights compared to vintage G1; the Japanese section of the stamping is completely blocked off (since a majority of these are made in China), leaving only Hasbro markings.
The second wave of Classics from 1991 featured a slightly more varied selection of toys such as Optimus Prime, Sideswipe, Tracks, Grimlock, Sludge, Snarl, Astrotrain, Octane, Springer, Sandstorm, Combaticons, Protectobots and Throttlebots. I always found the incomplete run of Autobot cars a little strange and wondered if it had anything to do with the fact that the corresponding original mainland European first release counterparts (specifically Milton Bradley editions) were pretty rare or not released at all. As it turns out, the reasons were much less tangled than that, as explained by the ex-director of Hasbro Europe Boy’s Toys division:
“If I remember it was simply that these items had sold so well and therefore to release them as ‘Classics’ some years later made a lot of sense because the cost was repackaging only. Tooling new products costs a huge amount, add the development cost, man hours, photography etc. The other thing that must be considered is the rest of the Hasbro folio of product and the new lines that need development! So I’m pretty sure its it was an amalgam of things.”
Here’s a fascinating one, the gold-boxed Classic Optimus Prime released in the 1991 second wave. It might be hard for you to believe, but this is a staggeringly rare packaging variation these days, especially this English language release which doesn’t even say “Classic” anywhere on it, instead it says “Original”. By that point we would have had Powermaster Optimus Prime so maybe Hasbro felt the need to make it even more clear that this release was based on the vintage G1 Optimus Prime. This is not to be confused with the easier-to-find Spanish version of the gold-boxed Optimus Prime, more on those later.
Now, I love uniformity in packaging across a toyline, so I was looking forward to placing a number of these gold box Classic Transformers in a row and feel the expected thrill of OCD wash over me. Unfortunately, even the gold-boxed Classic line went through a little change from the first to the second wave, illustrated nicely by the following pictures:
The first photograph shows the wave 1 cars Wheeljack, Sunstreaker and Prowl next to the wave 2 Optimus Prime. The second photograph shows the first wave Classic Jazz and Wheeljack alongside the second wave Classic Dinobots and Onslaught. The gold colour used on the second wave boxes is noticeably lighter and the font for “Classic” is much more stylised. The character names now sit in faction-coloured boxes too as opposed to just black backgrounds and there is no yellow behind the “Transformers” logo towards the bottom of the box front. In addition, the box back artwork was changed to reflect the extra characters joining the sub-line. You may also be able to see the slightly lighter white cardboard inserts used on most Classic releases. The differences aren’t huge though, the toys can easily still be displayed alongside each other and are clearly from the same sub-series.
Only three of the Dinobots were released for the Classic line, although in much of Europe we were already denied Swoop first time around to some degree so only Slag was a notable absence in this regard. The Sludge and Snarl show a few interesting variations from vintage G1, the most obvious being Snarl’s dinosaur head having changed to an opaque black instead of translucent and some even have a sawn-off style missile mould, undoubtedly neutered for reasons of increasingly suffocating (bad choice of word?) health & safety regulations. The Classic Dinobots were also featured in this quite shockingly bad Hasbro UK promotional video for their Uxbridge showroom event -> DinobotAd
The 1991 Classic Tracks is another that exhibits a significant variation from its vintage counterpart. Tracks no longer has shiny silver shins, they are instead painted black. I had originally thought they were black plastic, but it’s painted black diecast. The rubsigns were still very much a part of the setup at this stage, but eventually they were dropped from the various Classic releases.
The triplechangers released in Classics consisted of Sandstorm (plastic toes), Springer (plastic chest), Astrotrain and Octane. As mentioned before, these are wave 2 Classics from 1991 and onwards featuring the slightly altered packaging. It is unfortunate but sellers have been known to remove sealed Classic toys from their gold packaging and place them in vintage G1 boxes. In some cases the lack of a rubsign is a giveaway, sometimes it’s the much whiter insert packaging. The airtight test is of course the copyright. By the time you’re looking at an opened Classic copyright though, it might be too late…
A significant series of Classic releases that I feel I must mention are those from Spain, which have appeared in huge numbers over the past 2 decades still completely untouched and seemingly fresh from factory and case finds. These are completely devoid of any “Classic” text anywhere, and in the case of Onslaught he is called “Oslat”. Sometimes even the moulding is different on these toys and they tend to have no rubsigns at all. Compare the details on the above Spanish “Oslat” and below Spanish Wheeljack to the images of the English language UK released versions of the same toys pictured earlier in this article:
It’s interesting to note that the above Spanish Wheeljack exhibits the second wave packaging design as opposed to the UK Classic Wheeljack which was a first wave design. Other international gold-box releases can be found in mainland Europe featuring multilingual packaging, specifically French and Dutch. The Stunticon Drag Strip and Tracks in the following images are examples of such bilingual Classic releases:
Gold-boxed Classic-era Transformers were available in Italy too, but occasionally in a slightly different way. They were apparently not pitched as Classics as they are labelled “Nuovo”, meaning “New”. The three gold-boxed GiG Dinobots were sometimes offered as a promotional extra for those who purchased 90′s-era GiG giftsets in vintage-style packaging. Confused? Have a look:
I have even seen English/French bilingual releases which I believe may have seen release in Canada, understandably surprising considering these are thought to be European exclusive releases. When we talk about European Transformers, we usually refer to countries like the UK, Germany, France, Netherlands, Italy, Spain and the like. One of my clearest childhood experiences of finding Transformers involves being on holiday in Cyprus in both 1990 and 1991, and having my parents pick me up a Classic Aerialbot Air Raid and Classic Heroes Sunstreaker, both English language, both of which I still have to this day. These gold-boxed Classics saw some serious distribution back in the day.
These catalogue scans from 1991 demonstrate just how much stock Hasbro Europe were putting in these Classic Transformers, one final hurrah for the first generation of Transformers which had, according to the man in charge at the time, proven popular and brought Hasbro success.
By 1992 Hasbro were not only still peddling the Classic range of Transformers, but also newer toys like the Motorvators in the same gold-box packaging of the time. Notice that Optimus Prime is referred to in the above scan as “Original”, just like on the English language packaging of the toy.
One of the reasons I have not attempted to cover this area of Transformers before or produce any kind of resource that claims to be remotely definitive is that there was clearly a great deal going on at the time with Hasbro Europe and their distribution of these toys. There were a wide range of variations across the packaging in different countries, variations in copyrights and running mould changes, so it’s not hard to see why collectors can shy away from getting deeply involved in this part of the Transformers spectrum. The perceived wide availability of sealed items also makes it appear that there is no challenge or substance to buying Transformers that are much more desireable in their original 80s packaging.
However, to some degree I feel this prevailing opinion has come about due to case finds of Spanish Classics and the typical psychological linking of Chinese manufactured Transformers to KOs, bootlegs or generally lower-quality releases. The fact is though, for many of us, these gold-boxed Classics were as big a part of our childhood connection to Transformers as the original 80s toys. For anyone who feels that completing this area of collecting represents something of a pushover, see how long it takes for you to locate and purchase a complete run of English language UK, French/Dutch or Canadian gold-boxed Classic Transformers. An English MIB unused standard Optimus Prime, Astrotrain and Sideswipe alone will keep you looking for months, maybe years. They deserve respect as a sub-category, and they have certainly earned a place in my heart.
Enormous and kind thanks to all those who came to my rescue so rapidly this week with photographic and video contributions, thank you Colin Pringle, Martin Lund, Jeroen Blok, Quint Gremmen, Eddie Renzulli III and Ferdy La Bree.
All the best