Minibots got everywhere. They were in Generation 1 in North America and Europe on cards, they came out in Japan in boxes and then cards, they originated in Japan in boxes with different colours to Transformers, they were available in a rainbow of new decos in a number of South American countries, moulds were re-purposed as new characters and painted as such in Mexico (with new colours thrown in for fun). There were vintage model kits and gumball kits in Japan too of certain moulds. More recently reissues have introduced new and interesting variants and interpretations, and there were also keychain versions with convention exclusive repaints. That’s a very general overview, but as if that wasn’t enough headache for the minibot completist, there are also vintage bootlegs, and they are something entirely different.
Certain sub-categories of Transformers, especially Generation 1, lend themselves to ‘completism’ and very quickly pull collectors into variant-hunting mentality. Autobot cars often lead to reissue exclusives, Diaclones and customs. G1 Seeker jets lead to Four Star KOs, global variants and reissue exclusives etc, and this jet completism has also spread to Classics jets and even Masterpiece jets. Minibots, though, are the area of G1 with possibly the most variants for a collector to track down – some of them cripplingly rare – and because they are small and cheap to start with, it’s a slippery slope that drops right down the rabbit hole.
With these sub-categories, it’s a little different when it comes to KOs, especially gaudy ones. Collectors will typically be more inclined to add bizarrely-coloured bootlegs to their collections to sit alongside official releases in order to expand the tapestry of jets or minibots. And vintage bootlegs are far more acceptable than brand new ones.
In the late 1980s and through the early 90s in Spain, toy manufacturer Gisima S.L. took three Transformers minibot moulds – Beachcomber, Windcharger and Seaspray – and released a slew of repainted bootlegs of those figures in small stores, kiosks, souvenir shops and almost two decades later, in gumball machines across Spain and its islands. Most interestingly, the moulds were slightly re-tooled from the originals. The original cost for these minis in the 80s was 100 Pesetas (roughly $1.00) and they were originally sold in the orange-based clear display cases (meant for small die cast cars) that you can see at the head of this article.
Just recently a Finnish collector revealed that these items had made it as far North in Europe as Finland, although possibly as a result of pre-owned items bought in Spain previously: “I remember these Minibots being sold here in Finland as well! I had two of these: Seaspray (white front) and Beachcomber (yellow head). They came carded in cards of three, although many times the glue on the card was so bad that only the middle one was still on the card while the two on the sides had dropped off. Mine had Seaspray and Beachcomber still on it. I remember seeing at least two other cards at the same store but they had only one toy on them, because of the bad glue. They were sold around 1990s and early 2000“.
The Gisima Beachcombers had a complete roof instead of a roll cage, far less moulding detail on the sidepods and the headlights were moulded into the hood/knees instead of being separate pieces near the wheels. The colours range from yellow/blue, cream/blue and red/yellow, with inverse schemes apparently available for each set of colours. The difficulty comes when the assembly of these minibots is not precisely the inverse of the other, and so hybrids with – as an example – more yellow than blue are seen. That makes the life of a completist horrendously difficult. Impossible, actually.
The Windchargers are no different, so far having been found in all black, all cream (anecdotal), cream/blue and yellow/blue colours, with a supposed red/white scheme out there too. The moulding on Windcharger is simpler too with a one-piece grille/hood section, far fewer facial features sculpted into the robot head and a one-piece sunroof instead of two. There is no metal or chrome on any of the Gisima minibots. The highlight with Windcharger is probably the all-black Knight Rider-style bot. All the Gisima minibots also have exclusive stickers, some of which seem to be peeling and mis-placed straight out of the packaging.
Probably the most fascinating of the Gisima minibots is Seaspray, due to a massive re-tooling of the fan section behind his head. Compared to a G1 Seaspray in the above picture, we can see that instead of two fans pivoted at the shoulders, the KO Seaspray has a single fan (impeller) which pivots in the centre. There’s also a sort of raised cabin at the front where G1 Seaspray has a rubsign indent. Again there are the unique stickers, lower quality fit between sections and fear of breakage every time you go to transform it, but as far as remoulded KOs go, it’s a bloody nice one.
Some of these repaints have such character and stand out so much compared to their G1 forefathers that it would be easy for one so inclined to consider them completely new characters. Now, what of the confirmed/assumed variations, then?
- Cream – assumed
- Blue/Yellow – assumed
- Cream/Burgundy – assumed
What makes a bootleg desirable and ‘successful’? Well that depends on whether you are trying to get an exact replica of something unobtainable or expensive for an affordable price, or if it brings something completely fresh to the table. The quality and durability also have to be high enough to allow a collector to enjoy its functionality. These Gisima ‘bots have been known to break straight out of the package but of the 12 or so I have handled recently, I haven’t damaged any of them when taking due care.
Regarding attainability, I had not seen these anywhere before 2006 on holiday in Spain, and not again since until early 2014. Spanish collectors, of course, were well aware of their existence but the TF community at large was not. That doesn’t mean all Spaniards have complete sets, far from it, and that probably tells you what you need to know about how hard they are to find. As for imitation, forget about that. They look amazing together and even moreso alongside established Transformers minibots. They expand the universe, and together with fresh completist headaches, they bring some more freshness to G1, and for a bootleg that’s quite an achievement.
All the best