COLLECTING THOUGHTS: Plastic crack – caring for GPS toys

These days, a big part of the fun in toy collecting is sharing any new items that come your way with fellow fans online. There’s nothing quite like showing off a new acquisition, particularly when it’s something that you’ve been searching for a long time or if it’s an especially hard-to-come-by item. Here’s a case in point if you really need it!

I’ve finally fulfilled what I would consider a lifelong (well, almost!) ambition and got my hands on a vintage 1988 Masterforce Black Zarak, which, even as I type it now, is something I never thought I’d be able to say. I’m ridiculously excited to own such a thing, and it truly feels like a landmark addition to the collection in many respects. After all, it’s a bit of a legendary piece for several reasons, not least of which is its relative scarcity (despite not being what I would exactly term a “rare” toy), its common value on the aftermarket and, perhaps most notably, its rather infamous reputation for being a bit delicate.

Yes, unfortunately, this particular toy is well-known for being as fragile as your grandmother’s best china, which also explains the scarcity part of the equation above. It’s not so much a question of finding the toy, to begin with, but more of finding one in a condition that could be considered acceptable. And it’s all down to what many consider one of the biggest horrors of Transformers toy collecting: the dreaded ‘gold plastic syndrome’ (or GPS, if you will).

Now, you would think that a hobby like this would be unadulterated joy from start to finish, wouldn’t you? How can a pastime that includes amassing items intended solely for enjoyment ever be anything other than a complete blast? Yet sadly, there’s nothing to take the sheen of the endeavour like the ever-apparent awareness of just how fragile the things you collect can be, and actually breaking a treasured item is a truly horrid feeling at the best of times. Perhaps it’s for this reason more than most that GPS strikes such fear into most collectors’ hearts.

It also likely explains why GPS has become so well-known in the hobby, even by younger collectors who realistically weren’t on the scene between the late 1980s and the early 2000s, when the problem was in its heyday. That’s not to suggest that there haven’t been isolated examples since, but the outright paranoia concerning any Transformers toys that have even a smidge of a gold hue to them is still rather palpable, and as I myself have experienced, you simply *cannot* post pictures such as the ones above without many, many people quickly rushing to remind you that the toy you’ve just purchased might be inflicted with the problem. Seriously, check the replies and you’ll see exactly what I mean!

But what exactly is GPS, anyway? Well, it’s not a scientific term, but ‘gold plastic syndrome’ tends to be used in reference to the crumbly nature of the plastics found on a number of toys released during the era mentioned above. It’s not 100% known what causes the issue, although it has been attributed to the amount of metallic fleck included in the plastic mixture or just that the plastics themselves weren’t mixed particularly well and so aren’t as stable (often identifiable by the trademark ‘swirl’ seen in the final product). The name is, if anything, a bit of a misnomer, as it’s not only gold plastic that’s affected (although it is by far the most prevalent example), and, rather crucially, it doesn’t affect all gold plastic toys either, with Generation 1’s aptly-named Goldbug being an obvious case!

Some of the first toys to suffer with it are in the 1988 range, including Pretenders such as Roadblock and Skyhammer and, yes, our dear old friend, Black Zarak. However, it then became very prevalent in the European-exclusive arena of latter-day G1, with toys such as Thunderclash, Skyquake and Pyro all being prime examples. It continued through to Generation 2, with Slingshot and Electro being the poster boys from that era, then to Beast Wars/ Machines, including examples such as Grimlock, Torca and Magnaboss, and then through to RID2001 with the Air Attack Optimus Primal release. There were even a few examples of it during the Unicron Trilogy and beyond.

But should you really be so fearful of it if you’re going to collect Transformers? Well, yes… and no, I suppose! After all, it’s not like it’s a problem that plagues every Transformers toys from history (seriously, when you look at the full list of examples, it’s not that many!), so you can just… y’know, not buy those specific toys if indeed you’re really worried about it. Equally, GPS has seemingly been all-but-eliminated these days, with the only real modern example that is sometimes cited being Unite Warriors Menasor from 2015, on account of its swirly gunmetal plastic being brittle over time.

The reality is that it’s perfectly possible, nay, quite probable that most fans can build up a hugely impressive Transformers collection without ever once feeling the impact of GPS at all! Yet somehow, GPS has become thought of as the ultimate bogeyman – the Final Boss of all collecting problems which every collector must eventually square off against, which I guess goes some way to explaining why it’s now almost impossible to share a photo of a toy cursed by its reputation without people mentioning the syndrome in the replies.

I’d say it’s likely the fact that GPS isn’t something that’s ever been scientifically ‘diagnosed’ or explained that also contributes to a lot of the myths (and the fear!) about it, in many ways. It sometimes feels like people expect these toys to explode into a heap of gold dust or that simply coughing loudly in front of one of them would be enough to shatter into a million pieces!

And look, that’s not me making fun of or downplaying GPS at all – far from it. As you can probably see, I have enough of the highlighted toys in my collection to be taking it seriously myself. However, it is also possible to collect and enjoy these toys despite their potentially fragile nature.

The first thing to say on that score is that GPS is actually rather random in terms of how it afflicts different toys. You could collect many of the toys on the GPS hit list without ever once experiencing a problem (although I would always recommend a bit of care, all the same!). I have had two G1 Pyros, one of which almost immediately succumbed to a crumbling, and another has been transformed multiple times and enjoyed without any sign of an incident thus far (touch wood!). Other toys are arguably much more likely to encounter the problem, but still, the point stands.

Even if a particular toy is on the more fragile side of the problem, it’s still possible to enjoy it without breaking it just by being extremely careful! That might sound obvious somehow, but if you’re happy with the idea of never transforming some of the examples on the list then they can still make for rather wonderful display options. I have no plans to ever combine my G2 Slingshot with the rest of his Aerialbot teammates (even though I would of course love to be able to!) as I know what the outcome would likely be, but that doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate him in his robot mode amongst the rest of my G2 ranks.

And hey, should you decide to get super brave and transform some of those examples after all, then who knows – you might just get lucky! Even then, there are hints and tips that collectors have devised over the years which supposedly help, such as using lube in the joints of any problematic toys, and then rather obviously taking your time and thinking about where you’re applying pressure as you go. These are not figures to handle to tempt fate with, after all.

But look, none of this is me saying that you should absolutely go out and get a lot of GPS-inflicted toys and that you’ll never have a problem because the sad reality is that, yes, it is something that puts a bit of a damper on a number of otherwise stunning figures from years gone by. I very much would love to see Hasbro and Takara reissue a number of the toys on the list with improved plastic, such as they did with the Encore Air Attack Optimus Primal release. However, it’s unlikely to be the case for the vast majority of examples, so for those of us that wish to enjoy these toys as best we can, it’s something we have to live with.

I know for my own part that there’s no way I would want my shelves to be without the majestic presence of toys such as Thunderclash or Skyquake, because they’re just too great not to experience, despite the potential problems these specimens may encounter.

So, we collect, admire, and carefully curate such toys with the respect they deserve, all the while hoping to preserve their existence and their untarnished condition for as long as possible (and all the while prompting a slew of social media comments every time they’re shared, I suppose!).

At the end of the day, it’s a small price to pay to have treasures such as Black Zarak in your collection, as is keeping in mind that a thing isn’t beautiful because it lasts.

TTFN

About Sixo

Transformers collector from the UK, collecting vintage G1/G2, CR/RID, UT & Masterpiece/3P. Find me at twitter.com/SixoTF or on YouTube at youtube.com/SixoTF

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