Who is “Tigertrack” and why does he deserve a Transformers Masterpiece release? Well, he’s just a yellow repaint of MP-12 Masterpiece Lambor (Sideswipe), an homage to the 2004 reissue exclusive “Tigertrack” – another yellow repaint of G1 reissue Sideswipe, right? A poor man’s Masterpiece Sunstreaker, right? Wrong. Over the next 2 weeks I hope to convince you that there is much more to his character, origin and significance than just being a soulless repaint and a meaningless ‘Yellow Sideswipe’ created by Takara to make the MP-12 mould more financially viable.
In late June 2013, Takara Tomy finally released their Tokyo Toy Show exclusive MP-12T Masterpiece Tigertrack yellow repaint of the massively popular MP-12 Lambor (Sideswipe). It’s a little inaccurate to call this a show exclusive as it was also available at retail in some Asian collectors’ stores. Not being an original G1 Transformers cartoon or comic character, the reception to this release has been mixed, some viewing it with understandable apathy while some were spellbound by a yellow version of this spectacular sculpt. This week we will start by looking at the origins of the yellow coloured Sideswipe mould as a Diaclone, the ensuing Transformers confusion and subsequent first official “Transformers” appearance of the Sideswipe toy in yellow. Maybe then you’ll see why MP-12T Tigertrack has immediately become my favourite!
First off, let’s get his name right. When the yellow version of the well-loved Autobot warrior Sideswipe officially became a Transformers character in 2003, the Figure Oh magazine reissue exclusive mail-away figure was called “Tigertrack” and designated 90 in the Takara Generation 1 numbering system. Not “Tiger Track”, “Tigertracks” nor “Tiger Tracks” – his name is singular and one word, no spaces, no plural. As far as character names go, I think it’s one of the strongest any new Transformer has been given.
Nearly all G1 Autobot cars have their roots in Takara’s Japanese Diaclone Car Robot sub-line that started in 1982 and ran through to 1985. On the surface of it, the 2003 reissue was a straightforward tribute to the yellow second release of the Japanese Diaclone Car Robot No.15 New Countach LP500S, and the Masterpiece MP-12T Tigertrack a direct connection to that reissue and original Diaclone recolour. While nothing I write in these next two weeks will dispute that simple lineage, my aim will be to show that the legacy and reach of the ‘Yellow Sideswipe’ goes beyond simple modern mould re-use, giving extra gravitas to the importance of this Masterpiece Tigertrack to a variant collector such as myself, and the above picture is a clue to that.
The first ever release of this ‘pre-Sideswipe’ mould as a Japanese Diaclone was red, hence the red stock photography on this yellow re-colour’s packaging. This second version of the undoubtedly popular toy was released in late 1983 in Japan, and was also available later in Italian packaging too. Both versions of the Diaclone yellow New Countach are very rare and tremendously sought-after in the modern collectors’ market. This Diaclone ‘Yellow Sideswipe’ was my first holy grail and it took a few years to finally track it down, it now holds pride of place in my collection. There was another Lamborghini Countach mould in the Diaclone line though from much earlier in 1982, the No.1 Countach LP500S Super Tuning version which would later become the Autobot warrior “Sunstreaker”. For Diaclone in Japan, this Super Tuning Countach LP500S was released in red and also in police colours.
When the Sideswipe mould made it to Hasbro’s Transformers in 1984, the first red colour was selected for the “Sideswipe” toy and instead of the normal red colour for the Diaclone Super Tuning toy, that toy was released in a new yellow scheme for the Transformers as Sideswipe’s twin brother “Sunstreaker”. So it would seem that the ‘Red Sunstreaker’, ‘Police Sunstreaker’ and ‘Yellow Sideswipe’ Diaclone variants were dropped for Hasbro’s new project, leaving only the now-standard red Sideswipe and yellow Sunstreaker. Recently-released legal licensing documents between Takara (now Tomy) and Hasbro show that it wasn’t quite as simple as that though…
The above excerpt shows that the original arrangement for the 1984 series 1 Transformers Autobot cars involved using an un-altered Diaclone Car Robot No.1 (meaning a red version of Sunstreaker) and – more importantly – a “No.15 New Countach (yellow)”, meaning a yellow Sideswipe! This doesn’t necessarily mean that “Sideswipe” should have been yellow, that name could well have ended up with the red Super Tuning version, but it does show that the New Countach mould that would eventually come to be known as “Sideswipe” was originally meant to be yellow for Transformers. We nearly had a Tigertrack in 1984!
Of course we know that’s not what we ended up getting for either Hasbro or Takara’s Autobot car releases, but the seeds of confusion were already sewn and the original intentions evidenced in the above documentation have created a few interesting situations in the Transformers universe, some of which have only come to light very recently.
One situation that has been known about for years, though, is the suspected mix-up between Autobot Sunstreaker and Sideswipe’s tech specs. Sunstreaker’s tech spec mentions “Ground to air rockets” and Sideswipe’s tech spec talks about “powerful pile drivers” and a “rocket backpack”. These descriptions would appear to be referencing the other toy’s accessories, namely Sunstreaker’s spec mentioning Sideswipe’s shoulder-mounted rocket launcher and Sideswipe’s spec possibly describing Sunstreaker’s shoulder attachments that can be inserted into his arms and the big engine (or “rocket backpack”) that could easily correspond to Sunstreaker’s chrome engine/intakes. If we assume that “Sunstreaker” is a reference to a sun-coloured car (yellow), and that the yellow car originally mooted for Transformers was the New Countach Sideswipe mould, then the tech-spec mix-up theory holds some weight.
Interestingly, the August-badged 1984 Marvel Age comic issue 17 had a feature on the then-upcoming Transformers toy line with a fascinating passage that read “The warriors named Sideswipe, Blow-Out and Spin-Out can transform into exotic sports cars…Blow-Out can fire projectiles filled with a special compound called ‘glass gas’…Sideswipe possesses piledriver arms and a rocket backpack…Spin-Out is equipped with an ultra-accurate missile launcher and an electron pulse gun“, so the final naming of the toys was still unconfirmed even then, as “Blow-Out” seems to be Cliffjumper, “Sideswipe” seems to be Sunstreaker, and “Spin-Out” seems to be Sideswipe.
It doesn’t stop there. This glorious original piece of Transformers merchandise from the UK appears to depict a Sunstreaker. As it’s a lenticular wallet, adjusting the angle slightly reveals the character’s alternate mode, a yellow Lamborghini Countach. Nothing strange there, right? Look again…
The wallet clearly depicts a yellow Sideswipe vehicle, identifiable by the lack of the massive engine/intakes seen on the Sunstreaker mould and the “Rallye Racing” stickers just under the headlights. This may have been an item from 1986, well after the established naming convention for the respective Transformers Countach moulds, but it does hint at the continuing confusion surrounding those two characters and the possibility that older documentation was still being used and sent to partner companies.
However, the most spectacular example of this Sideswipe-Sunstreaker mix-up came in the form of the 1985 mainland European Milton Bradley release of G1 “Sideswipe”. The Sideswipe that was in fact a Sunstreaker:
A thing of pure wonder where the beauty lies in the jarring mismatch of a Sunstreaker toy, comfortably nestled in styrofoam within a European MB-badged Sideswipe box. But where’s the proof that this was a genuine variant and packaging error? In 1985, Hasbro – through Milton Bradley – purchased the licence and all associated stock of Takara “Diaclone” toys from Ceji Joustra in mainland Europe to allow them to sell moulds such as Optimus Prime, Starscream, Brawn, Huffer, Windcharger, Gears, Laserbeak, Ravage, Prowl, Jazz, Tracks, Ratchet, Trailbreaker, Hound and Sunstreaker under their “Transformers” brand. This – amongst other things – resulted in the direct repackaging of Joustra Diaclone cars housed in original styro inserts into MB-badged Transformers packaging, with the assistance of cardboard supports. We therefore received such infamous variants as the Transformers red Tracks and the Sunstreaker-in-Sideswipe packaging – or “Sunswipe” – as Ceji Joustra only had red Corvettes and Super Tuning yellow Countaches. No red Lambos, and no Sideswipe moulds.
If you add all of the above evidence of Hasbro’s intention to release “Sideswipe” as a toy with piledriver arms and rocket backpack to the established history of Hasbro & Milton Bradley buying Ceji Joustra’s stock of European “Diaclone” toys in 1985 (also evidenced in the aforementioned Hasbro-Tomy licensing documents), then it does start to make sense. This lovely “Sunswipe” comes with Sideswipe instructions, sticker sheet and packaging. The number of childhood Sunstreaker specimens found in mainland Europe sporting hideously shoe-horned Sideswipe stickers puts the authenticity of this variant beyond doubt. It is a Ceji Joustra Diaclone “Countach” in a MB Sideswipe box, and its cause can be traced right back to those original documents and intentions.
Well, what does all this have to do with Masterpiece Tigertrack? It all just goes to show how the existence of a simple yellow toy repaint could have such major consequences in different markets. That original intention to release Sideswipe in yellow created waves that are detectable even today thanks to the assembling of global pieces of the great Transformers tapestry. Mercifully, for those who cannot bring themselves to drop thousands on an original yellow Diaclone Sideswipe, Takara filled a gap in many collections by ‘re-issuing’ the yellow version of Sideswipe, and thus “Tigertrack” was born.
When I sold my collection in 2003, my first MIB Diaclone Yellow Sideswipe went with it, and that decision was made palatable by the release of the magazine-exclusive mail-away 90 Tigertrack. This stunningly-presented exclusive yellow Sideswipe ‘reissue’ came in classic monochromatic Takara mail-away packaging, just like the vintage Takara mail-away Transformers Ratchet and Omnibots (second versions). Tigertrack’s tech spec describes him as being a highly skillful tracker, dedicated sentry and ferocious hunter. The exclusive artwork created for this package embodies the effort put into its release and should act as extra ammunition against those who claim this to be a hollow repaint. For many years, my old Tigertrack and White Astrotrain reissues were the only visible reminders that I used to have a serious Transformers collection.
It’s hard to see this is anything but a nod to the yellow No.15 Diaclone Car Robot, at the time there was no evidence of the “Tigertrack” character being worked into any Transformers mythos to any significant degree. The original Diaclone is so rare and expensive that this presents the only opportunity for many collectors to have this mould in striking yellow – arguably the only colour it should ever have been released in (gasps!). The fact that the reissue did nothing to bring more Diaclones out of the woodwork comfortably explains why Tigertrack sells for almost $200 nowadays.
There can surely be no doubt that the Lamborghini Countach was born to be cast in this divine shade of giallo. Sunstreaker is a show stopper when mint, and Tigertrack is no different. The Figure Oh exclusive reissue had tampographs (headlights, door and roof detail) where the original had badly-applied stickers prone to immediate peeling, but without the stickers applied off the sheet, it could easily be passed off as the Diaclone it was referencing.
In robot mode there are virtually no giveaways either, unless you can spot the reissue vs vintage mould differences on the chest pegs, between the ankles and behind the waist together with the extra silver paint used on the robot helmet. The rubsign is conveniently located underneath the hood so as never to be visible in either mode, another effort to help collectors maintain a Diaclone-style appearance for the toy, and another sign of the thought that went into this release.
Apart from the sticker vs tampo appareance, the reissue actually has a nicer overall fit in vehicle mode – the original kinks of the New Countach mould apparently having been ironed out. The roof on Tigertrack is a slightly more uniform colour compared to the Diaclone which seems to have a lighter coloured roof. As far as reissues go, I’ve never had one that does the original more justice than this one. Contrary to popular belief, vintage Diaclone quality is not higher than vintage Transformers quality, and luckily Tigertrack wasn’t one of the reissues that exhibited poor plastic or paint quality.
A sticker sheet comparison may be a shade too detailed for this piece, but the significance of the Yellow Sideswipe/Tigertrack stickers will be discussed again next week when we look at the Masterpiece Tigertrack in detail. For now it’s enough to compare the Diaclone, Transformers and reissue sticker sheets. The red shin stickers say “LP500S” on the two vintage sheets but “EP45K” on the licence-challenged reissue. Similarly, reissue Tigertrack has no “Countach” text on the rear bumper sticker nor an authentic Lamborghini hood sticker.
The quality and presentation of reissue Tigertrack is such that we can overlook the lack of licensed stickers, no toy is perfect after all. Having said that though, when we finally lift the lid on the fully-licensed Masterpiece MP-12T Tigertrack toy next week with its Diaclone lineage fully intact, and highly-celebrated Masterpiece moulding a rival for anything on the market today or since, the label “perfection” may not be quite so far-fetched. We’ve seen this week how the inception of the first transforming yellow Countach by Takara affected the Transformers universe across the world and how it is so much more than just a ‘Yellow Sideswipe’ – even if that was enough to make me fall in love with it originally. Having hopefully convinced you of why this item deserved the Masterpiece treatment – being quite possibly how Transformers Sideswipe should have looked in the first place – the next step is to examine that execution…
Many kind thanks to Morgan Evans for loaning me his reissue Tigertrack, and to Botch The Crab for tech spec scans.
All the best