Collecting Transformers used to be a simple enough task, consisting of tracking down all the toys in the US or UK range between 1984 and 1987 and beyond, if you were so inclined. The core of most collections seemed to be based around Transformers The Movie or the original G1 series. With the increasing accessibility of the Internet in the mid-to-late 1990s, collectors around the world started to become aware of exotic foreign variants and exclusive releases. Niche collecting became ever more prevalent with buyers sometimes able to create an entire collecting career out of a single character or mould. Perhaps one of the most punishing, difficult and all-consuming niches of all is that of the minibot collector.
It feels as though minibots have been a confusing element since the very start when it comes to The Transformers, my own first childhood minibot purchase was the 1986 “Hubcap”, a case of mistaken identity. I asked for Bumblebee! Characters like Hubcap and the fan-named “Bumblejumper” never appeared in the G1 cartoon, yet they were widely available back in the 80s among the more popular and well-known Bumblebees, Cliffjumpers, Brawns, Huffers etc.
As with most things released in 1984 and 1985 under the Transformers banner, the first minibots were originally from one of Takara’s Japanese toy lines, on this occasion the Micro Change range of the Microman line. The pre-Transformers minibots were first released in large boxes with styrofoam inserts and sometimes in colours not seen in the Transformers line, and then in smaller boxes with a foam wraparound insert.
These Japanese Microchange minicars included amongst others a blue pre-Bumblebee (“MC-04 Car 03 Volkswagen”), a blue and a red pre-Bumblejumper (“MC-04 Car 04 Mazda Familia 1500XG”), a blue pre-Cliffjumper and a cream and brown coloured pre-Brawn (same as the one seen on Transformers packaging). The Bumblebee, Cliffjumper and Bumblejumper MC variants are some of the hardest, most expensive and sought-after of all minibots. Here’s a closer look:
After the Diaclone and Microchange toys were spotted by Hasbro at the 1983 Tokyo Toy Show, the Transformers made excellent use of the minibot moulds and made them world famous. However the focus of this article is less about the more familiar US Transformers minibots, and more about the stranger, lesser-known variants from around the world that make being a mini-collector such a huge task. Let’s start with Japan and their interesting packaging:
The first release Japanese minibots released in 1985 by Takara had the same inserts as the early large-box Microchange mini cars, but then changed to the more common carded format seen across the rest of the world. To appreciate just how small those first boxed Japanese minibots were, here is a rare 14 “Drag” (Huffer) next to a carded European “Diaclone” minibot, for all intents and purposes the same size as a US carded minibot:
That leads us nicely onto the subject of Ceji Joustra, who had the licence to sell Diaclone and Microchange toys in mainland Europe. While they were released on “Diaclone” cards with exclusive and spectacular artwork, the minis themselves came shipped with Autobot symbols, a possible sign of what basket Takara was putting its eggs in at the time of manufacture and distribution. Windcharger (“Trans-Am”), Brawn (“Cheetah”) and Huffer (“Truck”) were also released as part of the Joustra line.
However, the real magic in the world of minibots is not in the packaging, it’s in the sheer variety of colours these moulds were available in when you explore off the beaten track, specifically in Mexico and South America.
In Mexico, the company Plasticos IGA had licence to sell the toys from Hasbro as “Transformers”. To save on costs, the second wave of normally repainted and re-tooled minibots were just series 1 TF minibots but in third series colours. The above picture shows a Brawn recoloured as Outback, a Huffer coloured up as Pipes and a Windcharger mould mini repainted as Tailgate. These beautiful variants are among the most popular minibot rarities available and slightly more interesting than the Microchange and packaging variants mentioned above. There were other unique colour variant minis available in Mexico as well, such as a silver Cliffjumper and yellow/blue Windcharger released on a Tailgate card.
In Argentina, a company called Antex had licence to release minibots and Jumpstarters as part of their Transformers-a-like toy line, and now the colours for the minibots start to get a little weird. Here is a small selection of the slightly lower-quality and not too rare Antex minis:
As we get more and more into the world of the bizarre minibot, the incredible range of toys sold in Brazil by the company Estrela are up next:
Apart from the crazy colours used on the minibots from Brazil, notice also the strange stickers on the toys. The gold Cliffjumper seen in the first image above is from the slightly more sensible first wave of Brazilian minis; the “Robocar” line. Highlights from that line included a silver Bumblebee as well as a white Bumblejumper (with exclusive artwork!). Even better than that was the second wave of Brazilian minibots which were separated into two factions and collectively called “Optimus vs Malignus”, an obvious homage. Here is a close-up of the two faction symbols; Optimus and Malignus:
These Optimus vs Malignus minis came in a plethora of wild colours such as Constructicon-coloured Gears, blue and pink Windcharger and black and yellow Brawn. These are by far and away my favourite range of variant minibots.
It doesn’t end there, in Peru a company called Lynsa released the Transformers minibots on TF-styled cards, but again in strange colours and without any chroming or rubber on the toys. Here’s a small selection from these hyper-rare Peruivian minibots:
There are some superb variants of Huffer, Bumblebee and Cliffjumper in Peru as well, and even now the world of Venezuelan minibots is being explored by collectors and enthusiasts. So not only are minibot collectors forced to delve deep into their pockets for almost every purchase, the fact is they have to also establish contacts and friends in countries never before associated with Transformers, yet rich in mystery and undiscovered gems. How can you ever really know if your minibot collection is complete? There may always be one variant, one undiscovered group of releases…and that’s to say nothing of the more recent show exclusive Fun-4-All based keychain recolours issued by groups of collectors and fans at numerous conventions throughout the world.
I would like to end this article with a small gallery of interesting minibot-related images and a word of warning to all who are considering entering the world of the minibot completist; whether you’re just looking to have every colour of Cliffjumper or a complete selection of Brazilian minibots, there is not a single area of this collecting field that can be considered easy to complete. The competition amongst minibot collectors and the kind of lengths they’ve had to go to in order to unearth the marvels you see in this article are the result of over a decade’s worth of detective work, networking, heroic opportunism and an eagle eye that can spot a Mexican Bumblebee in a job lot of junk bots. Enter at your own risk!
Thanks to Morgan Evans, Marco Salerno and Colin Pringle for the use of their pictures and collection for photography.
All the best