It’s 2013, approaching 30 years since the launch of The Transformers toy line globally and over 30 years since the dawn of the pre-Transformers “Diaclone” and “Micro Change Series” toy lines in Japan and Europe. There are thousands of Generation 1 collectors and enthusiasts worldwide, there have been dedicated websites for a decade and more. Despite all of that, there are still discoveries being made and long-buried treasures being unearthed by relentless and passionate individuals. So much so, that after 3 installments of the “News To Me” series, there’s still more to share!
This time there is admittedly less concrete new discoveries, but more confirmation of a few things that were already known to be very possible, a few speculative assumptions that may yet turn out to be false, and some pictures of incredibly rare toys that I was honoured to see for the first time either together as a set, or individually. There’s quite a focus on packaging this time as well, so I hope there’s something for every type of vintage collector to be surprised by.
Once in a very very long while, in vintage Transformers and pre-Transformers collecting, something comes along that absolutely pulls the rug away from under your feet. It leaves you in a place where you don’t know whether to let yourself believe in the authenticity of what could be a major new discovery, or give in to your scepticism, your jaded experience and the feeling that by now such a discovery should already have been made. But a discovery cannot be called such until it is discovered! And this might just be the first documented appearance of what appears to be a Takara Micro Change Series Micros cassette robo (pre-Rumble) with a special Panasonic Ångrom cross-promotion from the 1980s.
How could an ancient cross-promotional item between Takara and Japanese electronics giant Panasonic have gone this long without any form of documentation, sighting or rumour? The Panasonic Ångrom micro-cassettes are highly rare items whose reflective mirror-like tape was created using a form of vapour deposition. If you type “Panasonic Angrom” into YouTube you will see a video of one such item, and you will also notice slight differences between the sticker on the item there and the stickers – which appear to be machine cut – on this pre-TF Rumble.
Now there aren’t a whole load of photos of these original Panasonic items, so it is unclear whether someone made a very detailed custom as a tribute to this highly rare original Panasonic cassette with reprolabels, or if it is a KO of some kind (although covering it in Panasonic logos in a Takara tape case is mighty ballsy). Could it have been a promotional item, highly limited or maybe one that never properly got off the ground? The toy itself is of course a Micro Change exclusive colour scheme for this MC-01 mould released in 1985, not quite Frenzy, not quite Rumble. A real head-scratcher, but also an eye-popper. Of course we leave ourselves open to ridicule if it is indeed a custom or fake whipped up by an enthusiast of both brands, but it’s worth putting it out there to be sure!
Now for something a little closer to home and recognisable…or so it may appear. What we have here is a metal-plated, grey-Roller, bloated-parts Optimus Prime from the early 1984 era of original first series Transformers. Just one or two problems here, Milton Bradley badged European release Transformers only hit the market in 1985 and this one has a rubsign! After a decent amount of comparison between Mijo’s Milton Bradley Optimus Primes above and my late-stamping Joustra Diaclone Battle Convoy, it was determined that this Takara-manufactured MB Optimus Prime (unlike the French Ceji-manufactured Optimus Primes with blue or red feet) with metal plates and other seemingly pre-rub parts is in fact a re-packaged Joustra Diaclone in Transformers packaging, much like the famous MB Red Transformers Tracks. Milton Bradley obviously had some Ceji Joustra Diaclone stock of Battle Convoys left to re-sticker and slap in their own Transformers boxes. I instantly have a new favourite Optimus Prime variant.
The Mexican Iga-manufactured variant of Smokescreen is not new to G1 collectors, especially variant hunters. The most famous version is basically a Bluestreak toy painted up as Smokescreen – completely devoid of Fairlady Racing features like the front splitter and rear spoiler. There is a much later corrected version from Mexico that is a proper Smokescreen mould, nowhere near as exciting. What was a surprise to me was that transitional variants exist. In 2011 I found a hybrid which had a normal Smokescreen front end, but the rear was Bluestreak mould – no spoiler. It also had a Bluestreak-style T-bar roof which normal Smokescreens do not have.
Just recently though I acquired the opposite hybrid variant – one with a Bluestreak front bumper and roof, but a Smokescreen rear with spoiler! I thought very carefully about taking both of my variants apart to make one perfect ‘Smokestreak’ and one perfect corrected Smokescreen, but to do that would be to eliminate the significance and special appeal of these transitional variants. So I have left them in their half-Bluestreak/half-Smokescreen states, one a reflection of the other. It is also worth noting that like the fully Bluestreak-mould beauty and the fully-corrected Smokescreen, these Mexican “Smokescreens” have matte yellow-painted robot horns not gold, and a chrome-effect red hood sticker instead of flat red. Factory stickers are a little different to a US Smokescreen too.
Here is something that we figured would eventually turn up, a very early 1984 pre-rubsign ‘No Grey Border’ box for Wheeljack. We have already seen the equivalent ‘NGB’ boxes for Starscream, Thundercracker, Skywarp, Jazz, Sunstreaker, Mirage, Ironhide, Trailbreaker, Bluestreak and Prowl. Wheeljack remained, as did Hound, Ratchet and Sideswipe – but they will probably all be seen given enough time. So here is the beautiful NGB Wheeljack specimen, and the toy inside was, as you would expect, a “TAKARA JAPAN”-in-circle stamped item. There is another difference in the contents too, to quote the owner “the sticker sheet is slightly different- the NGB has an extra 1/4 added at the right side that is scored, and is also very yellow tinted (not with age). The WJ pre rub sticker sheet is more a green hue“.
Fortress Maximus is the biggest Transformers toy released to date (whoa there, Metroplex fans), and in light of his recent popular reissue, it seems an appropriate time to throw this one out there. Hasbro Canada released almost everything that Hasbro US did in the 1980s, and often the packaging would be slightly different. It always seemed as though you were looking at something hugely familiar, with just the slightest twist, difference or error. Canadian G1 is not to everyone’s tastes, but I absolutely love it. Some of the French names are superb, there are errors galore like Autobot Megatron, and we have the exclusive red Canadian Dinobot Slag. You can read more about them here.
One Canadian G1 item that rarely ever appears – to the point where some do not even believe it got released – is Fortress Maximus. So I give you, in the above photographs, concrete proof of the existence of a Canadian Fortress Maximus box, or should I say, “Forteresse Maximus”. The world’s rarest doormat.
Finally, we have the insanely rare and sought-after blue Micro Change Series pre-Cliffjumper, Bumblebee and Bumblejumper – or to be exact, the blue MC-03 Porsche 924, Volkswagon and Mazda Familia 1500XG respectively. There’s no news here really, these releases are well known and fully documented, the point of import here is that they are almost never seen individually for sale, let alone pictured together in such pristine condition. Their appearance is truly alien, totally enchanting and capable of bringing even the hardiest of anti-minibot collectors (ahem) to the brink of caving in and embarking on that impossible quest. If there is any news to be had here, it’s that one fine collector has actually proved it possible to obtain all three of these diamonds – and all within 12 months of each other. Spectacular achievement!
That brings us to the end of an unexpected fourth chapter of previously-undiscovered – or rather under-documented – vintage Transformers/pre-Transformers items. The content is understandably becoming more niche and speculative in some cases, but the fact that it is there to be discovered at all after nearly 3 decades of unearthing, research and documentation should bring a healthy and fresh dose of vigour, interest and wonder to our vintage Transformers and pre-Transformers collecting. There may be more competition for the rarest items these days, but through that competition have come new collectors and new discoveries. Long may it continue! Here’s to a future fifth chapter…
Many gracious thanks to pioneering collectors – and friends – Shanti Seigel, Mijo, Paul Hitchens, Gordon Yip and Jon Krause for the use of their photographs and for reminding me what the real joy in this hobby is.
All the best