The Diaclone Car Robot story so far has introduced us to the stunning Police Sunstreaker and Blue Bluestreak in Part 1 as well as the shimmering gold campaign prize cars in Part 2, so you’d be forgiven for thinking that the best has past. But you’d be wrong, as the final third of the Japanese Diaclone Car Robot journey will introduce us to a famous little Red Corvette, a most unlikely hyper-rarity and an almost mythical giftset.
As 1983 became 1984, the imminent global release of the Transformers had an inevitable effect on the Diaclone toy line. Takara would have made arrangements with Hasbro regarding the licensing and manufacture of many of the Car Robot moulds and their use in Transformers. The true impact of The Transformers’ global success would not be felt in its entirety until late 1984 and early 1985 where the Car Robot line ended, but between the end of 1983 and that time, Takara managed to create some of the brightest gems in this amazing category, helping to secure its everlasting legacy.
This period of Diaclone Car Robot releases is undoubtedly my favourite, with the introduction of some of the strongest and the most attractive moulds ever to be seen in an action figure line. The use of iconic sports and racing cars as inspiration for these robot warriors worked perfectly with the distinctive and destined-to-be-famous appeal of transforming robots. The No.15 New Countach LP500S was no exception, showing that despite two previous Lamborghini Countach Car Robot offerings, a completely new mould could still make the figure who would become the Autobot “Sideswipe” a stand-out release.
While the red version of this Diaclone is understably steeped in familiarity, the yellow release of the No.15 New Countach LP500S, or “Yellow Sideswipe” as it has become known, is a thing of surreal beauty…
Once upon a time there was no Reissue exclusive “Tigertrack”, there was only this unfathomably rare later repaint of the No.15 New Countach, which to this day remains a common gaping hole in the collection of most Diaclone enthusiasts. For years this was my Holy Grail as a Diaclone lover, and even after stupidly selling the Yellow Sideswipe pictured above, I found an even better one. Lightning shouldn’t strike more than twice, so I’ve vowed to be buried with my current yellow No.15 (not pictured here). There is something inexplicably eerie, yet irresistible, about such a hugely familiar mould in such an uncharacteristic colour. This has always been an expensive item, but nowadays collectors will pay close to $2000 to finally get their hands on this treasure in mint condition.
Quite frankly, how anyone could fail to fall in love with a 1970s Formula 1 car covered in chrome, who later became an Autobot that could turn invisible and single-handedly defeat Megatron and his band of merry Decepticons with a super-slick name like “Mirage”, is beyond me. Sporting no significant differences to the later Transformers toy or common foreign pre-Transformers versions of this mould, and despite very modest packaging, the continuing popularity and desirability of the original Japanese release of the No.16 Ligier JS11 F1 is a testament to the fabulous engineering and design of this stirring toy. Excluding the snappy waist of course.
Now for something rather big and rather significant…
After many prototype iterations and concepts, Takara finally settled on this look for the No.17 Battle Convoy, the toy that would eventually go on to become the Autobot Commander and worldwide cultural icon “Optimus Prime”. This is a tremendously important figure with immeasurable historical significance and gravity. Just think how many toys have been manufactured and created since the 80s bearing the name “Optimus Prime”, and it all began with this step towards trucks and trailers by the Diaclone Car Robot designers. Boasting an original price tag over double that of his Car Robot contemporaries, Battle Convoy came with three Diaclone drivers, a scout buggy and command centre in the trailer. While huge bases and intricate accessories and platforms were not new to the Diaclone line, to have them so neatly incorporated into this divinely handsome truck & trailer was some feat.
With its huge “Diaclone” lettering, metal plated trailer and importance as the pre-Optimus of the Diaclone Car Robot line, you can easily understand the high price an unused specimen could command on today’s competitive Diaclone market. It is one of the few Diaclones where even vastly incomplete and worn examples fetch clever money, such is the prestige this figure’s presence affords a collection.
Up next is another Diaclone Car Robot whose mould went on to gain a massive following and widespread adoration as part of the Transformers. The No.18 Alitalla(sic) branded Lancia Stratos Turbo, based on an internationally successful lineage of race cars, would become the Autobot engineer “Wheeljack”. This figure could already have claimed to have the most bizarre robot head sculpt of the entire Diaclone Car Robot family, but its more famous and exotic cousin managed to steal the limelight with its even stranger non-humanoid facial features…
Wow, where to start? The insanely sought-after Marlboor (sic) liveried Lancia Stratos Turbo, commonly referred to as “Marlboor Wheeljack” is nowhere near as rare as its multi-thousand dollar market value suggests. Like the Blue Bluestreak, it pops up a few times every year and commands outrageous amounts at auction, but there are many MIB unused specimens out there aided by a significant case find of untouched examples in 2003.
It is one heck of a special piece though, looking truly stunning in vehicle mode and drawing the eye in robot mode thanks to that unique head-sculpt, blue translucent windows and wings. This special edition of the No.18 shows the most noticeable departure from the standard model of any Diaclone housed within the same package. It even came with a completely different stickersheet to the Alitalla-branded Lancia Stratos requiring a separate stickermap to be printed and included with each toy. The ever-present hype and hysteria surrounding this Diaclone headliner will guarantee astronomical asking prices for years to come.
The No.19 New Countach Police Type was yet another Car Robot based on the venerable Lamborghini Countach, and the second Diaclone Countach in patrol car colours. This is another example of a figure that used to be much easier to find just 3 years ago than it is now. Hugely prone to yellowing and sticker-wear, this is one to grab with both hands should you ever stumble across a mint one. It is sometimes called the Diaclone “Red Alert”, but there are obvious differences between this Police Countach and the eventual Transformers Fire Chief “Red Alert”. This figure is another of my all-time Diaclone favourites.
As we approach the final few pieces of the Car Robot line, it is doubtless that Takara’s priorities for these moulds will have shifted towards manufacturing the immense number of units necessary to fill Hasbro’s orders for Transformers. Whether this affected the number of Diaclones produced for the Japanese market is not entirely clear, but it may have some connection to the fact that toys from this end of the Diaclone Car Robot spectrum are much harder to find on the second-hand market these days than the earlier figures.
Would you ever believe that this Diaclone version of “Grapple” could be the rarest and hardest to nail of all the Car Robots so far? Whether this is due to the fact that not many were purchased back in the day (tough competition from all those sports cars and Transformers) or that low numbers were produced, in today’s market this item can fetch a hefty sum when Car Robot completists lock horns at auction. The last one hit $3450, stickers applied! Personally, I’m still of the opinion that the black No.9 Honda City Turbo is a more difficult item to locate, but this No.20 Truck Crane is either its equal or a close second. It also has a very nice Diaclone-themed stickersheet and the “FUSO” plus Mitsubishi moulding on the truck cab, not to mention very attractive outer packaging.
Oh what a beauty, the sleek and sexy Stingray. A fine way to end the single-packed Car Robot dynasty, this No.21 Corvette Stingray is a massively popular Diaclone. Even though this colour scheme was used on the Corvette mould in numerous countries under different guises, it maintains its prestige and place as something of a Car Robot celebrity. The toy that would one day become the Transformers “Tracks” is one of the more common colour variants and not too taxing to get your hands on, and yet despite the relatively recent E-Hobby reissue “Road Rage”, No.21 has continued to appreciate in value. The Japanese Diaclone version of this toy has very dark purple limbs and accessories, something that other versions of “Red Tracks” do not. Interestingly, it is the only one of all the Car Robots (excluding the trucks) to technically have a third mode.
As with the other 2 parts of the Diaclone Car Robot tour, I have most certainly saved the best till last, much like Takara did…
Powered Convoy, a Diaclone masterpiece. A vehicle transporter upon which the 1986 Transformers “Ultra Magnus” was based, the Diaclone Powered Convoy came in a lovely blue/red/grey colour scheme with the transformable Powered Buggy. Dripping with class and alternative modes and functions, this immensely popular toy was a grand final hurrah for the Car Robot line. The first versions of the toy came with a mostly grey plastic trailer, but the last editions featured a chrome and white trailer and even more sparkly blue plastic. The later ‘Mekki’ Powered Convoy is far rarer, and that could easily be due to the fact that it was so easy to damage and shatter in places that not many made it out of the 80s alive!
I believe Takara had very high hopes for this figure, almost as a later commander of the Diaclone forces. There are even illustrations showing Powered Convoy leading the Diaclone Car Robots (who would become Autobots) against the main figures of Takara’s Microchange line (many of whom became Decepticons), so that concept was certainly in the air at the time and undoubtedly sharing influences with the Transformers. The fact that so many Powered Convoys exist today in used condition is a testament to how many must have sold at a time when they would have shared the toy shelves in Japan with the much more popular Transformers in late 1984 and early 1985. Needless to say its popularity and value have been heroically maintained!
There is one final piece to this Diaclone Car Robot puzzle that outdoes all other items in terms of value, rarity, desirability and mystique, the almost mythical Powered Convoy DX set:
When we talk about rare in terms of single-packed toys like the ‘Black Skids’, ‘Yellow Sideswipe’ or ‘Diaclone Grapple’, that applies to those smaller Car Robots that do not come packaged with other toys. This PCDX set which marked the final chapter in the Diaclone Car Robot voyage is on a completely different level. Featuring the fragile later chome Powered Convoy, it also came packaged with an exclusive RED Ligier JS11 and a black/blue New Countach LP500s, neither of which were available anywhere else or in any other format.
This is the Diaclone Car Robot equivalent of a supernova, the glorious and spectacular death of a gigantic bright star that has lived fast and died young. Always the very final remaining piece on a collector’s all-time wishlist, PCDX will forever be the mightiest of all TF-related giftsets. This is one of the few Diaclones I have never seen in the flesh, knowing of only 8 in 13 years of collecting that have surfaced. Of course there must be more, but when you consider how late in the line this must have hit shelves, and the fact that it would have been sold alongside Transformers in Japan, you can understand why in 1985 at 6800 yen it may not have sold as well as its contemporaries. We may well have had a reissue of the black Countach (“Deepcover”) and good quality reproductions of the red Ligier, but those will have made absolutely no impact upon the value of a Powered Convoy DX set, or done anything to tarnish its image or hallowed place in the hearts of all Diaclone collectors. This is Diaclone’s legacy, its masterpiece and its hidden treasure. A true collection-ender.
That concludes our 3-part tour of the legendary Japanese Diaclone Car Robot line, and hopefully it has brought you a little closer to the ancestors of our beloved Autobot cars and leaders as well as opened your eyes to the myriad of buried gems and breathtaking exclusives in that line. Apart from a small blip in value and popularity during the most prolific era of reissue exclusive releases, Diaclones have continued to appreciate to the point today where a complete collection of Car Robots could run any collector many tens of thousands of dollars. Most enthusiasts decide to splash out on one or two of their favourite pieces, and even then not in unused or boxed condition, but here’s to the few dedicated and immensely committed individuals who have undoubtedly sacrificed much to try and complete this most respected and prestigious area of Transformers-related collecting, allowing us to spend hours of our lives staring in wonder and awe at pictures such as these…
Heartfelt thanks to Ben Munn, Alessandro Musconi, Himawari, Heroic Decepticon and Anthony Brucale (TFU.info) for their priceless contributions to this article and the community.
You can start your own collection of E-Hobby exclusives today at TFSource
All the best