This isn’t the first time I’ve written about Generation 1 Transformers Minibots for this blog, but this time the focus of the article is not rare variants or the history of international releases. This time, it’s purely going to be a look at why the Minibots are so good, hopefully shedding some light on why they are seen so affectionately by many collectors and are the centre of many a collection. I had a single Minibot as a child and I believe it might be the only Transformer my parents ever threw away, so my affection for them certainly doesn’t come from nostalgia, but I have come to appreciate them on many levels.
Of course, the most recognisable Minibot of all is Bumblebee. Hasbro and Marvel certainly did not fail to see the potential appeal of a plucky, lovable little VW Bug robot back in 1984 and gave him a reasonably prominent role in the Transformers cartoon, actually replacing Hound as Spike’s closest companion in the Autobot ranks. Bumblebee has his own brand today thanks to the Michael Bay movies and the many occasions he’s played a starring role in cartoons such as TF Animated, Robots in Disguise and now Cyberverse. Character is something the Minibots have never lacked, seemingly endearing no matter what personality was attached to them. “Sweet Boy” Bumblebee, grumpy Gears, pessimistic Huffer, heroic Brawn and hot-head Cliffjumper are just some examples from the first series of the cartoon.
It wasn’t just the first series Minibots that had distinctive personalities, either. Blow-hard Powerglide, hippy Beachcomber, Warpath with his robo-Tourettes and gurgly Seaspray had their own spotlight episodes in season 2 of the cartoon and are quite memorable. This wonderful blend of small bot and big personality is not restricted to the cartoon either; IDW’s James Roberts made Swerve and Tailgate fan-favourite characters in More Than Meets The Eye/Lost Light and Nick Roche did a sparkling job on Hubcap in Sins of the Wreckers, just to give some examples. There’s just something about Minibots and personality. Everyone wants to root for the little bot.
The original Generation 1 toys themselves are hugely responsible for the affection collectors have for Minibots, too. These figures were some of the cheapest Transformers available at the time of the 1980s global phenomenon, so many parents would have chosen these small Autobots as a first Transformer for their children. They would have made good presents, entry-level figures and everything else you’d associate with the lowest price point items in a big brand franchise. They were not rubbish little toys by any means, though. The transformations were still engaging and fun, memorable and perfect for the play pattern.
Once you get past the Bumblebee/Cliffjumper/Hubcap/Bumblejumper mould, there’s a decent degree of diversity, too. The departure from cars to a plane, UFO, hovercraft and tank helped pad out the range of smaller Autobots nicely, as well. What makes them such good Transformers for children is also that younger kids can access their functionality and fun earlier in their development than, say, something like a Sideswipe or a Starscream. Certainly my daughter got on very well with the G1 keychains from the age of 2 upwards and still plays with them today, occasionally.
For adult collectors, Minibots are the gift/curse that keep on giving. If you fancy going beyond the original Hasbro offering, there is much to keep you occupied. If it’s a case of fundamentally different colours on recognisable moulds, there are gorgeous sets available like the E-Hobby GoBots above, or even vintage variants like Plasticos IGA releases from Mexico, wildly different South American variants with exclusive faction stickers and more. If one wishes to pay tribute to a single character, there are enough packaging variants to fill a lifetime of collecting and research for just about every mould. For the longest time I would believe myself to be free of the Minibot affliction, then would recall that I painstakingly tracked down multiple Ceji Joustra Diaclone carded variants of Windcharger, Gears, Huffer and Brawn!
Even the current mission of trying to find the very basic Hasbro G1 Transformers minibots from the pre-rub era (I prefer the red Autobot sticker on Bee and Cliff to the rubsign) in excellent shape with no chrome or sticker wear has proven difficult and expensive, despite how widely Bumblebee and Cliffjumper were bought and how many there are out there. Why? Because of all the above. There are so many reasons why a G1 collector – or even non-G1 collector – would want a nice example of a Bumblebee or Cliffjumper. They are of such a perfect little scale and can be displayed alongside so much, including massive 3P/MP-scale baseformers and titan class toys. Some are even gathering up nice Bumblebees in advance of this year’s Christmas movie, hoping for another boost in value to their stock and value.
Certainly I still dream of the day where I will be able to display a MOSC G1 Hubcap from 1986 with a Fenwick price sticker, purely due to the power of nostalgia. I love the fact that there’s every chance such a specimen with a specific price sticker could no longer exist. It makes the potential discovery of one years from now that much more exciting and special. My second ever Transformer, the only one ever to be thrown away (I suspect because an arm and the head plate broke off), and a toy I thought was Bumblebee. Despite all of that, my affection for it has not wavered.
So how lovely it is that Hasbro (Asia?) and Walmart are now in the process of reissuing Generation 1 Transformers Minibots in original Hasbro G1-style vintage packaging. Bumblebee, Outback, Tailgate and Swerve are there on Walmart shelves for you to come across and be struck through the heart with. Presumably. Sure, the figures are mostly re-releases of the TakaraTomy Encore reissues of some years ago, but the hope always remains that Hasbro will just go ahead and give us more of the same. They may not be true vintage figures, but the sight below still takes my breath away and makes me happy. Collectible, fun, diverse, characterful and affordable, as they always were.
All the best