Fraud is nothing new in toy collecting, and neither is trying to pass off a custom as an official variant of highly limited number, value and desirability. At a time in Transformers and Diaclone collecting where 3rd Party Products are hugely popular and Chinese counterfeits of original G1 Transformers and Diaclones are everywhere, it was only a matter of time before somebody tried to cash in on what is probably the most sought-after Diaclone car of all. We were about due an attempt at passing off a custom item as a genuine Finnish Diaclone Black Corvette, we just didn’t expect it from a member of our own relatively small Diaclone collecting community.
Now to be absolutely clear, while I do want to draw attention to the story behind the selling of a fake Finnish Diaclone Black Corvette at BotCon 2012 for $2,800, this is not a naming and shaming exercise. The full details of this debacle are available on public Transformers and Diaclone forums on the Internet for people to research and dig up, details that the victim of this fraud and myself meticulously put together, resulting in a full refund for the victim and a public outing of the party responsible for the fraud. Now that’s out of the way, let’s look at what actually happened.
The popularity and interest shown in the original Diaclone Black Corvette or ‘Black Tracks’ was reflected in just how well the 2002 Lucky Draw Reissue Black Tracks was received. That item, supposedly limited to 300 pieces, sells today for over twice its original market value of $300. They are not at all hard to find, but they will never be cheap. While they serve as a perfectly good alternative to the original Diaclone, of which 8 specimens have surfaced to date, the reissue is not precisely the same as the original. The robot face on the reissue is gold instead of turquoise, and there is far less grey on the reissue. Any grey that does exist on the Lucky Draw Tracks is lighter than the Diaclone grey plastic.
Unfortunately, when there is that much money involved in vintage collectibles and fan-made items are of such high quality, the possibility always exists that collectors can be duped into buying a fake. Counterfeit red Diaclone Mirages and blue Diaclone Swoops are an example of what is possible. That is exactly what happened at BotCon 2012 where a well-known Diaclone collector apparently sold an original Finnish Diaclone Corvette to a collector in Italy for $2,800.
The seller had displayed the item on a dealer’s table throughout the first full day of BotCon and a number of collectors had seen it the day before. A keen-eyed BotCon attendee commented as follows: “I caught a few glimpses of it – first time I ever saw one in person. When I saw the owner just carrying it around one of the parts parties, I didn’t seriously think it was an original. The figure, which was kept in robot mode the entire time from what I saw, was incomplete without missiles and apparently without the backs of the launchers. I don’t remember seeing much for stickers, but it did look to be in great condition…I believe I saw it initially Thursday, but then a dealer had it displayed briefly behind glass at his booth Friday. By Saturday it was gone, as news spread the owner sold it to a buyer in Italy…he definitely had it Thursday before the dealer room opened, and I can only assume he brought it with him“.
Apparently, anyone who asked was assured it was real, and since so few originals have surfaced over the years, not everyone can be blamed for missing the tell-tale signs that would have given this item away immediately as an imposter. While nobody actually at the show purchased the item, emails were sent by the seller (not to be confused with the dealer who had it displayed) to 2 Italian collectors about the toy. Pictures were not immediately forthcoming but were later sent at request, not surprising when you consider the price tag of nearly three thousand dollars.
The item was missing the back-end of the launchers, and I must say I have never seen any Tracks, G1 or Diaclone, mint or junker, missing those parts. Regardless, a deal was done and the $2,800 was transferred to the seller, the so-called Diaclone black Corvette was removed from the dealer’s table and accepted as sold. News of the purchase spread fast online and in person amongst Diaclone enthusiasts and collectors. Having tracked the origin and location of every Finnish Black Corvette since 2004, I started asking some questions as I was desperate to know how this one had slipped under the radar and ended up in America. Black Corvettes randomly surfacing in Finland is understandable, but not abroad.
Having asked around and done some digging, I realised that not everything was adding up. I decided to contact the buyer of the BotCon Corvette to try and get some pictures to look at. Maybe it was one of the same Corvettes I had seen in Finnish hands over the last 8 years, a Corvette that had finally been persuaded to part from its proud childhood owner.
Having been sent all of the above photos by the buyer in Italy a few days after the sale had taken place, I immediately identified the item as a fake. There were issues with the colour of the grey parts and obvious tell-tale moulding differences from the original black Finnish Diaclone Corvette. The condition of the toy and the missing launcher parts were highly dubious as well. I did not actually own a Finnish Corvette at the time but I had written a very lengthy article about it on my own website and had spent years examining those that had surfaced. I wrote another article about Finnish Diaclones for this blog recently too and had edited quite large pictures of the black Corvette contributed by kind collectors, so I knew what to look for. Having said that, there was information in my original article from 2005 that would have helped anyone identify this item as a fake immediately. I’ve always said nobody really reads my articles!
Now, had I not written those articles and studied the toy of my dreams endlessly over the last few years, the fraud would still have been rumbled, and here’s why:
A fellow collector in North America had received the above picture of an unfinished custom Black Tracks a day before the aforementioned sale at BotCon had taken place. This custom was missing the robot wings and more importantly, had an unpainted face. In addition to that, the launchers were again missing the rear end parts and the moulding on some of the toy parts was inaccurate. It appeared that the grey parts had been specifically cast for this custom. The North American collector shared this picture with me as soon as he heard about the BotCon 2012 Corvette deal. What’s the connection? Well, the picture originated from the same person who sold the toy at BotCon. At this point the alarm bells were ringing loud and clear, maybe this was not a case of someone selling a toy they believed to be real, but a genuine and premeditated attempt by a collector at conning a fellow Diaclone enthusiast out of a great deal of money. And this from a person who had photographed a vintage black Finnish Diaclone not 12 months previous.
This wouldn’t be the first time that a well-known person in the community had tried to rip off high-end collectors known to spend big money on rare toys. A group of prominent Asian toy dealers had tried to pass off C-308X Nucleon Quest Superconvoys and custom black Godbombers as Lucky Draw Black God Ginrai giftsets a number of years ago, selling a few for about $1,000. I had helped successfully expose that scam but unfortunately it was naive to believe that it couldn’t happen again.
When confronted with the gathered evidence, the seller of the custom Black Tracks was forced to issue a complete refund to the Italian buyer, and admitted that the item was a custom. The parts had indeed been cast in grey and the body was from a G1 Tracks dyed black apparently. For his part, the Italian buyer identified it as a fake the second he removed it from its shipping box and would undoubtedly have uncovered the fraud with help from the North American collector once it had become public.
As if that wasn’t a concerning enough development for the Diaclone collecting community, the same week that the fraud was exposed publicly online, a newly registered member on eBay stole the above pictures and tried to sell a set of black and red “Diaclone” Corvette Stingrays on eBay. Clearly more and more folks were trying to exploit the appeal and high value of the Finnish Black Tracks. Thanks to the naturally suspicious nature of many high-end variant collectors, the information available online and increasingly knowledgeable communities, nobody was taken in by that eBay auction and it disappeared rather quickly. The same eBay seller had listed a Marlboor Wheeljack too, another well-documented high-end Diaclone toy that regularly fetches thousands of dollars.
But despite all of the information available online, and there was certainly enough of it there to prevent this custom Black Tracks fraud from getting as far as it did, this kind of thing is still taking place and claiming victims. On this occasion the victim was fortunate enough to get a refund because the evidence against the guilty party was irrefutable. In future, as more Corvettes surface and pictures become more commonplace, there is every chance that fakes and customs will increase in quality, accuracy and quantity.
It is for this reason that I am finally seeing wisdom in the words of long-time collectors who are reluctant to share high quality photographs of their super-rare items online for fear of ruthless reproduction and exploitation. I myself have denied requests for high-quality scans of Diaclone packaging and am not currently comfortable sharing all the minute and obvious features that helped me to identify the custom Black Tracks as a fake for fear of a more successful repeat of this scam. On the other hand, the more knowledgeable the community is, the more this kind of thing can be fought, and it should be fought. Then again, detailed information that could have helped foil this scheme had already been online for nearly 8 years, and maybe the biggest crime here is that collectors and variant enthusiasts like myself would now think twice about sharing such information and images so freely again.
All the best