Under The Skin

Gentlemen, start your engines...

Toy collectors all have their reasons for spending hard-earned money on action figures, vintage toys, modern children’s toys or high-end collectibles. It could be nostalgia, simple adult appreciation, a hobby or as a coping mechanism for something. There is a wide spectrum within which people enjoy the hobby in different ways. Vintage G1 Transformers have a lot to offer the collector; they are beautifully engineered robots with often believable, attractive alternate modes, there is occasionally good back-story and memorable characterisation for the figures and they are usually presented in packaging featuring stunning artwork. But, there exists even more appeal and interest in these toys for anyone willing to dig below the surface… 

I’m taking a risk this week by choosing a subject that appeals to very few collectors. Many who frequent TFSource and the online community are not necessarily fans of Transformers Generation 1, let alone pre-Transformers. Even then, only a minority of G1 collectors show an interest in toy and packaging variations by year or country, and from that niche group, a very limited number would consider copyright stampings and mould alterations a topic worthy of notice. So why bother? Because it’s not just about anally retentive, masochistic OCD attention to detail. OK, fine, it is about that – but there is a purpose! And you thought last week was bad.

Early Joustra - Finnish Diaclone - Early GiG - Later Joustra

Let’s just keep this sane for a few moments longer before people start leaving the theatre, what we have here is an early mainland European Joustra Diaclone pre-Mirage “Ligier”, a Finnish Diaclone Ligier JS11 F-1, an early Italian GiG Trasformer Ligier JS11 F-1 and another later European Joustra Diaclone “Ligier”. All are different, and that’s just with us looking at some cross-European releases within 1984, never mind pre-rub and rubsign Transformers. We’ve covered the differences between the packaging for these toys extensively on the Source Blog, namely in our Diaclone Abroad and Finnish Diaclone articles, so the focus here will be the toys and in particular, moulding features that will help you distinguish one from the other.

Finnish Diaclone Ligier

I’m not talking about a toy simply missing its outer box, but one that comes loose with absolutely none of the distinguishing features afforded it by its packaging. Before we get to that stage though, the image above shows a Finnish Diaclone Ligier. The styro insert is just like the Japanese toy as are the accessories, and it even comes with a Diaclone driver (didn’t have one at the time of the photo!). The instructions are not in Japanese though, so that’s always a giveaway. The Ceji Joustra Diaclone Ligiers would look much the same, just different paperwork and no driver.

GiG 1st release Ligier with stickered "Ligier 26"

Italian Diaclone Auto Robots are usually incredibly similar to the Japanese/Finnish/Joustra equivalents inside the styro, with one major difference; the lack of plastic or chromed missiles. These toys come with safety-conscious orange and black ‘Boppers’. Sometimes the styrofoam is mutilated to fit them, but you can see above that those at the factory found another way of squeezing them in with pre-Mirage. The Ligier is a nice individual case of its own though, the “26 Citanes” has been covered up with a “26 Ligier” sticker in an attempt to block out the cigarette advertising implied by a deliberate mis-spelling of French cigarette brand “Gitanes”. Later versions of this release would have the “26 Ligier” painted/printed on instead of stickered on. Again, no driver, and “Trasformer” paperwork to help distinguish.

Ligier robot mode

That’s all great if you have the packaging, even the inner packaging and paperwork, but what if they are missing? What if all the accessories are missing? What if you’ve lucked into a nice loose Mirage or pre-Mirage and would like to know more about its origins? What if you have a great box and styro for a pre-Mirage and want the toy inside to be as authentic and release-specific as can be? Some people don’t care, it’s just about display, but if you do care (and I’ll try to make you) then get your microscope out.

Could you tell these apart?

It was a real revelation for me when I finally had more than one of the same figure as an adult collector, and realised that not all Transformers were made the same. I noticed moulding differences on my childhood Grapple chrome grill compared to an eBay purchase and that led me to pay more attention to and explore websites that catalogued all manner of small and large changes made to toys throughout their production histories. A copyright does not always tell the whole story, sometimes certain features of a toy change by a miniscule amount, sometimes drastically. Being able to see what stamping corresponds to what mould features, and marrying that up with the right accessories and then packaging can be as rewarding as it is difficult, and often excruciating.

What we’ll look at for the rest of this article are the varying features on the first Ceji Joustra Diaclone Ligier, the Finnish Diaclone Ligier, the first GiG Trasformer Ligier and a later Ceji Joustra Diaclone Ligier in attempt to put them in some kind of sequence. We can take our first Ceji Joustra Diaclone to be pretty much identical to the Japanese Diaclone for reference purposes.

Early Diaclone Ligier copyright

The copyright stampings are as good a place to start as any. The very first iteration of the Diaclone Ligier pre-Mirage released in Japan by Takara had the above copyright. As with almost every first release Diaclone car, there is a “TAKARA JAPAN” stamping in a circle, and this particular mould’s patent was still pending at the time of manufacture and release, so that is reflected in the stamping by the “PAT.P” addition above the “TAKARA JAPAN”. Notice that the writing is perfectly perpendicular to sides of the car and the robot’s legs.

Nothing strange there of course, and some of you will have even seen this same copyright on the very earliest Transformers Autobot Mirage toys from 1984. That same batch of manufactured Mirages were probably being created and shipped to Hasbro at a very similar time to when Ceji Joustra were receiving their first shipments of “Ligier” in mainland Europe from Takara, and GiG were receiving their first “Ligier JS 11” toys for their Trasformer Auto Robot range in Italy. Same mould, same toy, different paperwork (and factory stickers for GiG) and packaging going to different companies for different purposes. We can date all these occurrences around mid-to-late 1984.

Finnish Diaclone Ligier copyright

Then comes the Finnish store-exclusive Diaclone Ligier release with its slightly different orientation of the exact same copyright stamp. It seems to have been rotated anti-clockwise by a few degrees so that it no longer sits perfectly perpendicular to the legs. It’s a microscopic change, one noticed by Martin Lund and since confirmed by myself as the only known owners of Finnish Diaclone Ligiers so far. It may not shatter the Earth, but it is noteworthy that something had changed between that Japanese, Ceji Joustra and Italian stock sent out and Finland’s receipt of what was thought to be the exact same toy.

Later Joustra Diaclone Ligier copyright

It was quite a surprise to find a Ceji Joustra Diaclone Ligier with the same rotated copyright stamp as the Finnish Diaclone, could the seller have found a loose Finnish Ligier and placed it in a Joustra box? I had to buy it to find out, and as it turned out the copyright was not at the same angle, it was the same “PAT P TAKARA JAPAN” stamp rotated through a few more degrees anti-clockwise. This is insanity, surely? Buying toys because they show 5 to 10 degrees difference in angle of copyright stamping?! Maybe so, but as it turned out, the copyright text was about the only moulding feature my two Joustra Diaclone Ligiers had in common.

If we discount the Finnish Diaclone’s slightly rotated copyright and the Italian Diaclone’s “Ligier 26” stickers, the Finn and the Italian and even the Japanese can be considered the same as the 1st early Joustra Diaclone. So basically, it’s everything else versus the later 2nd Joustra Diaclone Ligier pre-Mirage.

Early Diaclone Ligier spoiler

So what could possibly be so different about two toys that share an almost identical copyright, both come in the exact same packaging for the same toy line, manufactured by the same company in the same 12 to 18 month period? The image above shows the back of the first Ligiers (Japanese, Italian, early Joustra, Finnish) and you can see a butterfly-style connection between the actual chromed rear wing of the car and its vertical upright where the hinge is. Eitherside of the butterfly hinges you can see blank moulded circles. Compare with the later 2nd Joustra Ligier:

Later Joustra Diaclone Ligier spoiler

Gone are the butterfly hinges and much simpler moulding is evident for the hinges. Also there is one extra moulded circle and most significantly, a “2” stamped on each spoiler piece indicating a later iteration of the mould for that part. Why change the mould and re-tool parts of a toy that will undoubtedly cost the manufacturer money? Could have been for safety reasons, to improve structural integrity and durability, or actually to save costs on a newer mould with cheaper construction costs/materials considering the massively ramped-up manufacture necessary for the imminent Hasbro Transformers orders.

First Diaclone Ligiers - Inner leg

Second Diaclone Ligier - Inner leg with "3"

The top image shows the rear of the first Ligiers’ legs, and the cavity shows nothing inside. The second photo shows the same cavity on the second Joustra Ligier which has a “3” stamp in there. So, somehow despite no change in copyright stamping (besides angle of stamp), we’ve gone from first iteration leg mould to third. It’s not impossible that changes had to be made there to aid stability and durability, and the “2” iteration leg mould never made it past the prototyping stage to production. But that doesn’t mean that all “2” stamped parts were discarded and immediately re-tooled as we saw with the spoiler/wing and the image below.

2nd Joustra Ligier inner arm with "2"

The inner sidepod on the second later Joustra Ligier is stamped “2”, the first Diaclone Ligiers from Japan, Joustra, Finland and Italy have no number stamped there (or anywhere in fact). Just one more example of how many changes this one mould has gone through despite having a near-identical copyright. But just adding a number to a piece of plastic is hardly noteworthy, are ther any actual physical differences between the toys that can be spotted without getting a microscope out? Well…sort of…

Pre-Transformers Ligier waist pegs

On the left we have the first Ligiers represented, and on the right we have the later Joustra Ligier with the further rotated stamp. The arrows on the image clearly show the area of interest, and how the later Joustra Diaclone Ligier (remember these were all manufactured by Takara in Japan) has a shorter peg for connecting the rear of the car to the sidepods in vehicle mode.

Early Diaclone Ligier engine

Later Diaclone Ligier engine

Don’t be distracted by the difference in blue plastic colour on the two Ligiers pictured here, one of them is heavily discoloured! The top image shows the engine of the first Ligiers, and the second image shows the later mould engine. If you look really carefully at the side of the chrome engine block facing us, you will see that the later one has more rectangular horizontal bars moulded into it with sharper corners and a circular arc over the circular cable connection points. The lower horizontal bar’s position has been moved too.

Ligier moulding details - no idea what to call these!

Finally, there’s a mould change under the rear of the Ligier/pre-Mirage vehicle visible from the toy’s underside. Those moulded lines and pegs have been visibly altered for the second version of the Joustra Diaclone Ligier. So to summarise we have:

Japanese, Finnish, Stickered GiG and 1st Joustra Ligier:
– “PAT.P TAKARA JAPAN” Straight and slight rotation stamp
– Butterfly spoiler hinge with no moulded number
– No number moulded on inner leg cavity
– Long waist peg
– No number moulded on inner sidepod
– No ‘arcs’ on circular cable connectors on engine
– Smaller moulded pegs on underside of car rear

2nd Joustra Ligier:
– “PAT.P TAKARA JAPAN” increased rotation stamp
– Simpler spoiler hinge with “2” moulded in
– “3” moulded on inner leg cavity
– Short waist peg
– “2” moulded on inner sidepod
– ‘Arcs’ on circular cable connectors on engine
– Fatter moulded pegs on underside of car rear

And it was all going so well. During my research and mould analysis on all the aforementioned pre-Ligier toys, I had asked for other collectors to verify my findings. One of these collectors was a fellow Ceji Joustra Diaclone collector who also had two Ligier (pre-Mirage) figures, and astonishingly both were different from the two I had, making FOUR main Joustra Diaclone variations.

Fly in ointment, spanner in works

The one on the left in the photo above has the same highly-rotated stamp as the toy I have been calling “2nd Joustra”, and yet it has the butterfly connectors, longer waist peg, empty inner leg cavity, smaller underside pegs…BUT it has the later engine mould with the ‘arcs’. The one on the right has a 3-line Takara Co Ltd + dates + Kanji copyright often seen on very late pre-Transformers and most pre-rub Transformers mould toys. You might expect that to be like my “2nd Joustra” with all the newer moulded parts, but no, that too is a hybrid! It has the later simple spoiler connectors, “3” in leg cavity, engine ‘arcs’…but it has longer waist pegs and smaller underside pegs.

So in reality, the toy on the left is the true 2nd Joustra, the one on the right is the 3rd Joustra, and my “2nd Joustra” is in fact the 4th Joustra! I have no plausible explanation as to why the most updated and latest Joustra Diaclone mould sent to Europe by Takara had an older “PAT P” stamp with high rotation instead of the updated 3-line copyright, only speculation. The toy nearest in moulding to my actual 4th Joustra is probably a normal pre-rub Transformers Mirage.

Milton Bradley G1 Transformers Mirage

So what was the point of all this? I carried out painstaking research on moulding, took a stack of photographs only to have my established order of moulding seemingly wrecked by one contribution from someone else’s collection. In fact, what we should have now as a result of the catalogue of moulding changes is a chronological template for slotting Mirage and Ligier toys into when they are found loose with no parts or packaging, and some idea of what authentic parts can be used to repair and replace broken sections. We all know how fragile Mirage’s mould is (waist, spoilers etc).

A good example is shown in the last photograph above, which is of a Transformers Mirage toy bought in Europe. The moulding on that toy, despite the Autobot sticker, is precisely the same as the first Ligiers, even down to the perfectly straight “PAT.P TAKARA JAPAN” stamp. We can tell it’s of the same batch as the first released pre-TF Ligiers. So how is that possible for a Transformers toy with an Autobot symbol? Well, it must be a Milton Bradley European Mirage, which is in essence Ceji Joustra Diaclone overstock purchased by Hasbro Bradley once they had acquired all of Ceji’s stock in 1985. The Diaclone stock was packaged directly into ‘MB’ Transformers boxes. Rubsign Transformers Mirages have even further evolved moulding, but this article was only supposed to make an example of the pre-TF era of this mould, the study can easily be extended further.

Verified by geekery

This kind of research and cataloguing of precise moulding feature evolution and copyright stamps can have profound consequences, as this exact type of research and comparison was used last year to verify the existence and authenticity of an all-black Japanese Diaclone pre-Sideswipe that had never been seen before and was met with mass scepticism. The proof, for anyone who wanted to wade through the sea of minutiae such as that seen in this article, was there and was irrefutable.

Obviously as I said before, some people won’t care and will accept any Ligier or Mirage in a Diaclone box suitable for their collection, and that’s fine. But it needs to be accepted that any sort of Frankenstein-ing of parts and accessories – especially on rare toys and variants – can have a negative effect on the recording of this type of hideously microscopic detail. Detail that could one day be used to prove or disprove the existence of another spectacular new pre-Transformers or vintage Transformers variant. With news of another such discovery about to break in the field of pre-Transformers, surely there can be even more room in the collecting universe for those of us who do care.

"Go now, my children..."

Many thanks to RpChristophe and Brandon Yap for photographic contributions they didn’t know they were making this week!

All the best

About Maz

Diaclone and TF collector & writer from the UK. I also write for & own TF-1.com and TFSquareone.


Don't miss out on the latest