Over a decade ago, I gave my Robots in Disguise Car Brothers to a non-collecting friend as a gift, and they’d been sitting in his garage for all that time. Having just cleaned out that garage he dropped them off to me again, thinking I’d have more use for them now than when I gave up the hobby back then. The Car Robots Mach Alert, Speedbreaker and Wildride became Robots In Disguise Prowl, Side Burn and X-Brawn. Playing with those excellent toys again, something dawned on me. Car Robots is now almost as old as Generation 1 was when Car Robots first came out.
While the numbers aren’t quite as exact as I’d like for a perfect headline, it’s more than close enough. Transformers Generation 1 premiered in 1984 and sixteen years later, there was a significant return for Transformers to vehicle-based Transformers in the main brand toy line after the beast era with Takara’s Car Robots in 2000. Now, fourteen years later, I am enjoying those moulds for the first time in a decade and have decided to share some of the thoughts that has inspired.
That was a really profound realisation for me, that Car Robots/Robots in Disguise as a toy line is just mere months away from being as old as G1 was when I picked up the Car Brothers in Forbidden Planet at the turn of the century. I remember just how ancient Generation 1 felt at that time, even if it was revered. Don’t forget that 2000 was the year that Takara started to officially reissue figures from G1 such as Convoy (Optimus Prime), and Megatron as Japan’s 15th anniversary of the debut of Transformers, so even though it was ancient, it was still relevant.
This kind of realisation helps me understand how newer collectors can look upon recent lines with such adoration, toy lines that came along after my initial love of Transformers faded. I look back now on Car Robots in a way which is distinctly different to how I perceived Generation 1 back in 2000, but that’s obvious because G1 had my childhood, a completely unquantifiable concept. It forces me to respect the passage of time between G1 and CR, and then CR and present day Transformers, and further reflect on the obvious differences between the earliest years of my life and the second half of it so far. Quite a sickening and needless over-analysis of playing with three TF toys, right?
Car Robots marked a return to vehicle-based main line characters by Takara and then Hasbro in Robots in Disguise, but with a distinctly different flavour. While later Generation 1 and Generation 2 started to introduce more poseability to robot figures, the Beast era took that even further and the technology and designs in CR/RiD reflect that, especially for the Car Brothers. It may no longer have been cool for Transformers to have massive paneled chunks of vehicle bodywork as limbs, but real world vehicle modes were back.
The Lamborghini Diablo “Prowl”, Dodge Viper “Side Burn” and Mercedes M-Class “X-Brawn” are sometimes looked at as though they are now dated designs, ‘shellformers’ where a humanoid body is covered with car parts that are peeled back to reveal what seemingly resembles a robot, but that’s an overly harsh analysis of what are three superb deluxe-class Transformers.
The vehicle modes are gorgeous and infinitely displayable, the robot modes are poseable, respectably show-accurate and have some very distinct and memorable quirks. Maybe it’s comical now to look back at robots that have a whole vehicle’s front end as a hand or its rear end as a forearm, but at the time they were the first new-era Transformers I had owned since 1989. Autobots and Decepticons were back in stores. They were a revelation.
I remember so clearly how difficult I found Side Burn’s transformation when I first bought the toy. Instructions were needed, no doubt about it, that in itself was a new experience for a previously G1-only collector. I knew how to rotate waist sections, open and close flaps, extend arms, extend legs, sometimes fold hollow leg panels over to cover thighs etc, but lining up limbs before closing a shell? Asymmetrical robot modes and positioning of parts? Mad kibble? That was all entirely novel.
If I’m not mistaken, at the time Side Burn even had something of a reputation for being quite frustrating to transform. What really got me thinking was that after the photoshoot for my blog where I was just going to showcase the toys as “hah, look what turned up again”, I had to transform the toys back into car mode and put them away. I was dreading Side Burn, but Prowl and X-Brawn were easy enough. I transformed Side Burn with ease, not a single issue or frustrating misstep. That is categorically not how I remember it!
That is what provided the real inspiration for this article, the realisation (one that was probably clear to most of you already, let’s remember the guy who writes these articles didn’t know PM Prime’s trailer door opened) that so much of today’s vehicle Transformer technology and procedures were evident in these Car Brothers, albeit at an early stage. Features I am now accustomed to that I wasn’t in 2000, features that allowed me to decipher and transform Side Burn without hassle.
You can see the folding up of RiD Prowl’s legs in toys like Alternators Mirage, Masterpiece Sideswipe and Human Alliance movie toys. You can see the folding and storing of his forearms and positioning of his doors as a skirt in Binaltech Tracks and Alternators Windcharger. That is not to say that these moulds were where these concepts debuted, but it was my first exposure to them.
The fact that they are such ‘old toys’ now, plentiful and preserved in part due to a different culture and attitude towards such toys by society and the age of those interested in preserving them, means that their age compared to Generation 1’s age in 2000 makes these Robots in Disguise a sort of ‘new vintage’, and yet we can never look at them that way.
Without the application of that beast-era toy technology to vehicle forms, we may never have gotten Alternators and Binaltech, Alternity and finally today’s golden boys, Masterpiece Transformers.
Of course Car Robots/Robots in Disguise used moulds from Generation 1 (Fortress Maximus) Generation 2 (Laser Prime) and later in their lineup, but in my opinion the biggest successes of that line were the newly introduced sculpts like the Car Brothers, Super Fire Convoy/SFC and JRX/Rail Racer. These three pictured above raised my expectations of what vehicle-based Transformers could be as robots, even if they were far more human in their proportions than the robots I was used to.
Somewhere along the line the Generation 1 aesthetic became cool again, and was exploited thoroughly in harmony with the concepts borne out in Car Robots/Robots in Disguise via Binaltech, Alternators, Classics and Masterpiece. The Car Brothers of CR/RiD were that entirely necessary and memorable step between what we got – those of us who are lovers of vehicle based Transformers and Generation 1 – and what we always wanted.
You can see a further pictorial of the toys featured in this article on Square One blog HERE
All the best