In 1986, the writers of the animated Transformers movie might have slaughtered a gallery of fan favourite characters, but they also introduced the likes of Hot Rod, Springer, Arcee, Ultra Magnus, Galvatron, Cyclonus, Scourge and Unicron who have all become extremely popular. In fact, one could argue that Hot Rod, Cyclonus and Scourge – along with Blurr and Kup – were so popular that Hasbro felt the need to re-release those Generation 1 figures again in 1987 as Targetmasters. So, they are in a way the first Transformers reissues. Having already looked at the new-for-87 characters that became Targetmasters (Autobots and Decepticons), this week we look at Targetmaster Hot Rod, Kup and Blurr, the 1987 Autobot Movie Targetmasters.
As discussed previously, the Targetmaster concept was borne out of the Autobot and Decepticon forces landing on planet Nebulos, then binary-bonding with different Nebulan factions to become Headmasters or Targetmasters. Freedom fighting Nebulan sharpshooters bonded with the Autobot forces (as seen in the 1987 series 4 “Rebirth” cartoon) to become their transforming weapons, or ‘Targetmasters’. Hot Rod, Kup and Blurr received this upgrade, in addition to Pointblank, Sureshot and Crosshairs for the Autobots. The evil Nebulan oppressors known as “The Hive” binary-bonded with the Decepticons Cyclonus, Scourge, Misfire, Triggerhappy and Slugslinger to similar effect.
One of the nicest things about the 1987 Hasbro Headmasters and Targetmasters is just how uniform and attractive their packaging was. The small window and graphics dedicated to the Nebulon partners helped these toys stand out on shelves in 1987 and contributed greatly to their widespread popularity and the powerful nostalgia felt today by many fans of Generation 1 Transformers. The grid pattern boxes remain, digital sunburst behind character artwork replaces standard gradient sunburst, and the aforementioned box artwork saw Hasbro artists add the Targetmasters to the original illustrations. The shape of the Autobot Targetmaster boxes is quite interesting too as they are long and relatively deep, but don’t have the height of the airborne Decepticon TM (Targetmaster) packaging.
Above you will see the Nebulan partners for our Movie character Autobot Targetmasters. From left to right we have Recoil who is Kup’s weapon, Firebolt for Hot Rod and finally Blurr’s partner Haywire. As with all the 1987 Targetmaster sub-sets, the Autobot Movie trio have a uniform Nebulan colour scheme. While Peacemaker, Spoilsport and Pinpointer were mostly red and black, Hot Rod, Kup and Blurr’s Targetmasters are mostly grey and black. These three all have a pin mechanism for their pivots meaning they do not suffer the breakages and stressed plastic issues of the Decepticon Targetmasters for Misfire, Triggerhappy and Slugslinger. The Autobot Movie Nebulans, however, are equally susceptible to yellowed plastic. You may also notice that like the other Autobot Targetmaster Nebulans, Recoil, Firebolt and Haywire have their handles on their backs. In order to allow the Nebulans to interface with the moulds, all three main figures had the peg holes in their hands increased in diameter with Hot Rod’s engine block peg hole similarly increased in size. Kup and Blurr had new ports moulded in.
As if we could start with anyone but the poster boy, Hot Rod. Already a toy I consider to be among the very best Generation 1 figures available thanks to excellence in looks and the best transformation ever, there has always been an air of prestige about the Targetmaster version. Back in the 1990s, before the reissues, a TM Hot Rod was a hugely desirable commodity. Heck, any Hot Rod was desirable back then. I remember loose TM Hot Rod specimens selling for £150 and boxed ones being properly insane for the time. The Autobot and Decepticon Movie Targetmasters were not originally available in Japan so they were always special in the vintage world. Reissues have long since put those kind of values to the sword, but even now the spoken phrase “Targetmaster Hot Rod” sends chills down my spine. Although his partner Firebolt does not match him for colours, somehow that black and grey Nebulan and his red face gel comfortably with the flame-licked main figure. Speaking of Firebolt, he’s the simpler 2-piece design Targetmaster with a straightforward fold-over transformation. I recall just Firebolt selling for eye-watering amounts pre-reissue too.
TM Hot Rod comes in a few interesting flavours. It is possible to find him with a shiny yellow background on the main chest sticker and those same easily-destroyed large thigh stickers that are the bane of well-preserved vintage Hot Rod specimens. A running change saw those thigh stickers significantly reduced in size, with new moulded recesses on the thighs for them to be placed in. This was done to prevent the same wear being inflicted during leg transformation, but this version still had the distinctive yellow background on the large chest sticker. The last change for TM Hot Rod seems to be the large chest sticker’s background reverting back to orange (like the ’86 Hot Rods), and of course with the updated smaller thigh stickers too. I wonder if this coincides with the three main TM Hot Rod box variants.
You can see above that we have three versions of TM Hot Rod’s box, the ‘Error Box’, the ‘Sticker corrected’ and ‘Print corrected’ boxes. What this refers to is the text in the orange arrow graphic where Firebolt is described originally as Misfire’s weapon, instead of Hot Rod’s. For a short run this was corrected with a sticker on the box (in my experience the toughest one), and then it was print-corrected. Untidily. The TM Hot Rod you see in my photos (orange chest sticker background, small thigh stickers) is from the print corrected box. I suspect the yellow background/large thigh sticker version comes in the first error box. TM Hot Rod was available in the US, UK, Canada (French/English bilingual), Europe (French/German bilingual) and all versions sported black plastic feet. Only the reissue has metal feet and can accommodate both the larger Targetmaster peg and the specially moulded handguns for the TFC #13 book reissue release. Last point of interest on Hot Rod, the Targetmaster version ‘corrected’ the tech spec statistics seen on 1986 Hot Rod, reducing his firepower.
Next up we have Kup and Recoil. While admittedly the addition of the excellent 3-part Targetmaster makes G1 Kup more appealing, he still languishes quite low on the all time favourites list where vintage figures are concerned. It could be because his arms appear to come out of a point lower than where his shoulders ought to be, making them hard to pose naturally. All my experiences of him have been with worn G1 specimens and it’s never captured my imagination. Amazingly though, transforming and handling the mint specimen above for the first time, I derived a huge amount of pleasure from it. There is quite a bit of die cast metal on him and I love the way his arms fold up under the hood. The snapping together of the waist is cool and with unworn vibrant stickers, I’d say I am actually a fan.
Recoil is the most complex (relatively) of the Autobot Movie Nebulans and reminds me a lot of Pinpointer (Crosshairs). As he is so long in weapon mode, or “Musket Laser” as Kup’s instructions label him, you’ll usually find him displayed pointing backwards or to the side. I think it’s the only one of the Targetmaster Autobots that can’t point the weapon forwards. Variety is nothing to whine about, though, and again the grey and black complement Kup’s very blue colours. In order to accommodate Recoil in vehicle mode, the back panel on Kup (also acting as the pick-up’s bed) has a peg hole moulded into it that the first release Kup wouldn’t have had. Targetmaster Kup has plastic wheels like the later 1986 version. Kup and his Targetmaster were reissued alongside Wheelie during the TFC book reissue era.
Finally, we have data courier Targetmaster Blurr and Haywire, the only pairing of the set not to have been reissued thus far and therefore managing to maintain some of their original vintage value compared to Hot Rod and Kup. Blurr as a toy changed – certainly the robot head did – from the prototype stage to production stage. While TM Blurr maintains much of the original colouring of the 1986 Blurr, the vehicle hood/shield now has a light blue colour instead of the cream of the 1986 release. Blurr’s upper hood section now has a peg hole moulded in for Haywire to plug in during vehicle mode shenanigans. It is very common to find TM Blurr shields with the connecting pegs for vehicle mode snapped, so much care has to be taken there! I have always found the transformation of the head and back tricky, especially when trying to find clearance. I also like to position the feet and chassis in such a way in vehicle mode to make the front of the futuristic car look as elevated as possible. After all, Blurr is supposed to be a hover car.
Die cast content on Blurr is again noticeable, this time in the legs. I do wish those feet were bigger, though. Whenever anyone walks past my display, Blurr and Kup are the first to end up moved out of position from vibrations. Haywire differs visually from Recoil and Firebolt in that his upper body is grey with black legs, the reverse of the other two. Just as with Hot Rod, seeing as how he has such an aerodynamic vehicle mode, the addition of the Nebulan truly spoils that streamlined appearance. It is quite irresistible, though. Something about adding on as many intended vintage accessories as possible to a figure still appeals to me. Interestingly with Blurr, his robot mode stickers do not bring as much to the party as they do the other two. In fact, I have included vehicle mode images from the rear for all three toys purely so that you can see how elaborate the stickers are on the back of Blurr as a car! While he does have those short arms and very annoying wear spots (bent head ray, saggy arm covers), picking this figure up as an adult collector has been a joy. It doesn’t have the prettiest head sculpt and I rate his transformation as the weakest of these three, but man I love that vehicle mode. Like Kup and Hot Rod, Blurr was available in Europe, the US and Canada, but not in Japan as a Targetmaster. It’s worth noting that like Pointblank, TM Blurr is one of the few standard sized 1987 HM/TM figures who has a separate accessory (shield) to the main hand weapon.
At the time of release, having a G1 toy come out again but with added accessories and different packaging (not just a continued production run with the odd improvement and trademark/copyright update) would surely constitute a reissue. I don’t even remember seeing Scourge and Hot Rod for sale in 1986 in the UK, but I sure remember the Movie Targetmasters in 1987. These toys are the most visible and well known releases when it comes to the post-Movie change in aesthetic, and they were key players in that feature film, so it is no real surprise that Hasbro saw fit to give them one more go around the block. While they no longer have the first release die cast feet/wheels etc, the added TM partner made toys like Kup and Blurr infinitely more attractive to me, and I imagine to many other children in 1987 as well. Hot Rod is one of the finest G1 toys ever made in my opinion, and while the other two have gone up in my estimation as an adult collector since handling such fine specimens, I still don’t think they compare to Pointblank, Sureshot, Triggerhappy, Misfire and Slugslinger in terms of looks. What they do accomplish is being a very special link between the fame of 1986 with its shift in aesthetics and the brilliance of 1987’s gimmicks. It helps that they are so beautifully packaged, too.
All the best