I’ve been compiling “best of” lists of my favourite new toys from each year for a good while now, but it was only last year that I decided to do a similar thing by rounding up my top vintage purchases over the previous twelve months. It provided a welcome opportunity to re-examine some of the best stuff I’d picked up and was without doubt one of the most fun exercises of the year for me as a collector, so I’m thrilled to repeat the process this year!
The plan is very simple – count down the top ten purchases of vintage Transformers toys that I made in 2019. What could be easier, eh? Sure, I happen to have found myself with a few nice pieces along the way, but it shouldn’t be too difficult to compile them into some kind of meaningful list, right?
Well, yes and no. On the one hand there are definitely a couple of toys that were always going to stand out above the rest – stuff that is just so inherently awesome that it automatically earns a top spot. As with 2018, there are one or two pieces on this list that I always knew would be there.
However there’s also parts of this process that I find quite complicated. For starters, the main difference between collecting vintage toys to modern stuff is that I’m already familiar with a fair portion of the pieces I come across. I owned or experienced a fair few Transformers during my youth, and then went on to assemble a modest collection during later years, so it’s not like this is my first stab at compiling a G1 line-up (even if it is by far the deepest).
With that familiarity comes nostalgia, which can often impact the decision making when you’re trying to create order in some kind of ranking. To further complicate matters, some toys I know well end up earning a spot on the list for how they instantly bring back memories of days gone by, whereas others miss out for almost feeling too familiar and therefore not quite as thrilling somehow, despite still being awesome in their own right.
Then there are the previously undiscovered toys, the ones that I never knew in my youth nor in the days since. Naturally there’s a real thrill to experiencing firsthand a toy that you’ve read about for many years but never actually held, so that can often tip the scales in their favour.
There’s still a fair chunk of G1 (and G2) that falls into this category for me, although it’s becoming increasingly smaller as time goes by. These days it’s mostly just landmark purchases left, and perhaps understandably those are going to have to be quite spaced out. I’m happy for that too, almost as though it’s prolonging the voyage of discovery for as long as possible.
And finally there are the vintage toys that win a place of pride in spite of their flaws. Nostalgia aside, anyone with an honest eye can look back on a line like Generation 1 Transformers and see that there was some dopey stuff going on occasionally. There’s no harm in being honest about how random or just plain naff some parts of it were of the line were, although that doesn’t stop me still loving and embracing it all.
Anyway, I suppose what I’m saying is that the vintage list probably isn’t as easy to scramble together with an objective head on as first you might think, as the very nature of seeking out old toys from nearly four decades ago brings all kinds of feelings with it. However, never let it be said that I’m not one to struggle for my art (I’m kidding, honestly).
So with all that said it’s time to get started with our list, which will be broken into three parts. Hope you enjoy the read!
#10: Generation 2 Breakdown (1994)
Kicking us off at number 10 is a toy that I didn’t anticipate owning for a long time to come, but I had the fortune to stumble across at last year’s TFNation convention in August. And boy, is he something!
For those that don’t know the significance, the original Stunticon moulds were repainted for Generation 2 but never released, existing only as prototypes. A few examples of those unreleased toys do exist, but a full set would easily run into the thousands these days and so falls into the category of “unobtainable” as far as most of us are concerned.
However, just 300 copies of Breakdown were produced as the first ever Botcon exclusive toy in 1994, and it’s that version that I was lucky enough to find. Still considered rare and fetching a big price for a MOSC copy, this one had been very carefully unsealed (making it all the more affordable!) by the previous owner and then generously donated for sale to the folks at Toy-Fu.
I can distinctly remember walking into the dealer room as the doors opened on the first day of the con and also immediately clocking this beauty on display up high. I took a few laps around the room whilst I pondered over it, and then quickly decided it had to be mine. No regrets.
After all, just look at this thing. Those colours are sheer G2 perfection, and he fits so wonderfully well alongside other ’90s releases such as Dirge and Bruticus.
In many ways it’s a shame that I’m so unlikely to ever own the remainder of this set, but still this guy remains a treasured if entirely unexpected addition to the collection over the last year. He’s kind of the ultimate G2 piece so I’m ecstatic to have him in pride of place.
#9: Decepticon Targetmasters (1988)
Is it a bit of a cop out to feature three toys in one spot? Well yeah, maybe it is but it’s my list so my rules! And hey, when they’re as nice as these three you’re surely not going to make me choose are you?
Yes, I love all three of these toys and was thrilled to pick them up throughout 2019. First up was Quake, who I knew well from childhood but still thoroughly enjoyed rediscovering. That tank mode is simple but wonderful, and the transformation is pure mid-G1 fluidity.
It’s his robot mode that really takes the cake though, being so distinctive and handsome as it is. It boasts some decent articulation in the shoulders and even has a head swivel! I also love the way you can use the tank barrel as an additional gun.
Next up was Spinister, which, if you absolutely forced me to choose, could very well be my favourite of the lot. There’s just something about those wonderful colours, isn’t there?
Then there’s that devilishly clever and quite unique transformation which unveils a wicked robot mode with one of the best headsculpts I can think of. Just divine.
By far the biggest challenge for me to find in desirable condition was Needlenose, and it took me many long months of patience to finally seek out a specimen I was suitably happy with. Far too often this toy is beaten up and mangled with rusty screws and chipped paint, so I’m thrilled to own a copy that looks so pristine.
And hey, he may not have the head swivel that the other two show off so well, but you can adjust his hat up and down for a random spot of emoting, so that’s certainly fun!
Overall this set has been a real joy for me to collect over the last year, and take a welcome place on my shelf alongside their 1988 Headmaster comrades. Wonderful.
#8: Micromaster Countdown & Rocket Base (1989)
Oh mama. I mentioned above how some of the stuff I’ve picked up over the last year represents some wonderful memories from childhood, and this would be the ultimate example. Talk about your dream toy as a kid, right?
It was the 25th December 1989, and I can vividly remember tearing back the wrapping paper to see that huge box. Yep, I was a very lucky lad on that particular Christmas morning, and there are at least a few grainy photographs from the day to serve as proof.
When it comes to my modern collecting, I’d held off on going full tilt on Micromasters until relatively recently, but when I saw a listing had popped up for a decent price and immaculate condition Countdown, I knew it was time. The sense of wonder and excitement wasn’t too far removed from all those years ago!
I mean, what’s not to love about this thing? The Micromaster himself is one of the best, with wonderful colours and a fantastic headsculpt. The mobile launch base mode is big and exciting and chock full of play value, and the command centre is just about as perfect a playset as the Transformers line will ever produce. ‘Nuff said.
In fact I think this toy cements that Micromasters were one of the best things to come out of latter day G1. The play pattern is just so involving and beautifully realised, and as much as I hate to be “that guy” I don’t know that it’s ever really been bettered, in my mind.
It’s been great fun to rediscover this set again after so long, especially all the surprising little features that I never realised as a lad. A friend of mine had only recently uncovered that the small mini-figures from the European Motorvators (or their Japanese Brainmaster equivalents) can sit inside the command centre, for example. It’s too perfect to be accidental.
Then there was an even-more-recent personal discovery that the command centre walkway can be used in launch base mode as a gantry for the Micromasters to make their way from the elevator to the shuttle. A lot of people will know this already but somehow it had completely escaped me before owning this toy again, and I love it!
Anyway, I could go on and on about this thing but needless to say it’s been a hell of a rediscovery for me. Stuff like this is what makes collecting vintage toys all over again so worth it.
So, that’s part 1 of our list! Continue on to part 2 here.