Transformers and car modes go together like fish and chips, having been a big part of the toyline’s draw since the very first days of the Autobot line-up in 1984.
Of all the many alternate forms we’ve seen over the years (some much more outlandish than others), it’s fair to say that a realistic Earthern vehicle mode is one that’s still most likely to get the motor running for a lot of Transformers collectors, but there’s perhaps one particular brand of car that elicits more conversation than any other: Porsche.
Yes, ever since Jazz became a fan favourite character in the first year of the franchise, it seems as though collectors have a special craving for toys resembling the manufacturer’s output. It’s hard to say whether that was down to the car itself or his heavily memorable depiction on-screen, although one suspects it must have been at least in part the latter, especially given how he’s still seen as the poster boy of Porsche alternate forms, even today. It created a sizeable amount of controversy when the character was instead depicted as a Pontiac Solstice in the first live-action film in 2007, with a lot of people disappointed to not see his classic Porsche 935 vehicular form represented in some way.
Photo credit: Protoman
Fast forward some 14 years and fans are finally getting their wish, as the upcoming Rise of the Beasts movie will indeed feature the 935 in all its glory, except – oh help, oh no – it isn’t going to be Jazz! Instead, this character is apparently named ‘Mirage’, a name given to Jazz’s equally-iconic Autobot car comrade from 1984 who typically turns into an F1 racer. Some are already treating this as anything from slightly mystifying to an outright slap in the face, although for my money it’s perhaps not too surprising given how little previous films tended to stick to classic G1 Transformers lore when approaching their robotic cast. True, RotB is seemingly separate from the Michael Bay era in a lot of respects, and we’ve still yet to fully determine if it’s a cold reboot or a quasi-prequel of sorts (even if that would mean all kinds of continuity-stretching shenanigans, to say the least!) but I’d imagine Paramount is hoping to keep the whole thing appropriately vague just enough that it could work as both – a clean jumping-on point for those that want it, *and* another entry in the ongoing saga if that’s how you prefer to see it. Perhaps they’re hoping not to alienate fans of the first five films by outright stating they’re no longer in continuity, who knows?
Photo credit: Sim Miata
Either way, the Porsche is this case is going to be Mirage, that we know. However, regardless of your thoughts on that, it does at least imply a significant behind-the-scenes development of the relationship between Porsche and the Transformers brand itself. The car-maker has rather infamously been unkeen to work with Hasbro and Takara on using their trademark for Transformers toys in the past, with the situation first coming to light during the development of the Binaltech line back in the early 2000s.
As has been extraordinarily well-publicised in the years since, Hasbro & Takara had developed a prototype of Jazz for the officially licensed line using a modern Porsche 986 model as a nod to his classic appearance, before striking out in negotiations with Porsche, who eventually declared that, “Transformers are not worthy (of) carrying the Porsche trademark. They are war machines and the toyline in no way represents the lifestyle and ideas which Porsche represents.” Many interpreted this as the car manufacturer being sensitive of their history (with founder, Ferdinand Porsche being a member of the Nazi party and an officer in the SS prior to and during World War II), but either way, it ultimately left the original BT Jazz design dead on the side of the road, only for the character to make a comeback as a licensed Mazda just over a year or so later. In some ways, it’s a real shame it never happened, yet I can’t help but think how great BT-08 Meister turned out and not be too unhappy about it!
Still, that quote from Porsche has certainly stuck in the minds of fans over the years and is often trotted out at the first sign of debate despite being from the better part of two decades ago. “Porsche won’t allow war toys” was certainly true at one stage, but some things do change with enough time! After, all, just look at the situation with Volkswagen, who similarly had refused a licence for a potential Binaltech Bumblebee back in the day, citing similar reasoning to Porsche that they didn’t want to be associated with so-called ‘war toys’ (with the Beetle having been designed by Ferdinand Porsche himself based on a concept from none other than Adolf Hitler). However, we all know that they softened on that idea eventually, allowing not just one, but two officially licensed Masterpiece Bumblebee toys to be made!
The first, MP-21, arrived in 2014 to much fanfare, as it was both a big win unto itself but also showed that HasTak had still been working on some of these previously denied partnerships over the years. In truth, I think that as fantastic as the Volkswagen deal was for a lot of collectors, it was the potential implications that had some even more excited – after all, if VW would eventually come round, then what about Porsche?
Speculation at the time was particularly rife due to the fact that a lot of people seemingly interpret both car manufacturers as being one and the same behind the scenes, especially with Volkswagen having finally taken over Porsche in 2012 after a long history of working together (beginning with Porsche designing the VW Beetle, as mentioned above). There was an assumption by many, I think, that Volkswagen would therefore have the controlling say on areas such as licensing deals, and with their logo now appearing on the front of Transformers toy boxes, surely that meant that Porsche wouldn’t be too far behind, right?
In actuality, the situation is a lot more complicated than that. It is true that Volkswagen Group is Porsche’s parent company, just as they also own Audi, Bentley, Bugatti, and Lamborghini, and it is also true that there are engineering commonalities between those various companies as a result (with Porsche engines being used in some of VW’s other brands, as one example). However, in Porsche’s case, they had already attempted to overtake VW themselves, with the holding company, Porsche SE, buying up a majority of shares over an extended period from 2005 onwards, though this plan came a cropper during the 2008 financial crash. This in turn meant they were forced to sell the manufacturing part of Porsche (Porsche AG) to VW whilst opting to keep their chunk of Volkswagen Group shares, leading to a situation where Porsche is owned by VW and also effectively owns part of VW itself. Confused yet?
Don’t be, as the long and the short of it is there’s no reason to believe just because Volkswagen struck a deal with HasTak that Porsche would follow suit, which might explain the absence of officially licensed Porsche toys since MP-21 arrived on the scene. There have been many approximations over the years, of course, with obvious examples throughout Generation 1 and then again in the 2001 Robots in Disguise line all attempting to replicate the Porsche look and feel without veering close enough to require official permission to do so.
That’s even happened more recently, with the Studio Series ’86 take on Jazz doing all it can to look and feel like the character’s classic Porsche alternate form without crossing the line into problematic territory. It seems as though in the world of vehicle licensing, a few fudged details will be enough to get you out of a ticket.
So, why is this all a fuss to begin with, anyway? If HasTak can simply change a few finer details and put out a pretend Porsche toy already, why worry about obtaining a licence at all? Well, the Masterpiece line has a precedent of doing these things properly, of course, having already utilised contracts with Lamborghini, Jeep, Nissan, Lancia and more. There’s an argument to say that as much as some fans might be happy without the logo on the box, many more will be thrilled to finally see it happen through the proper channels. Fortunately though, it seems like that may finally be about to happen…
Photo credit: Transformers Prototypes
In the last twenty-four hours, We have seen what appear to be the first images of a prototype Masterpiece Cliffjumper surface. Assuming these are real (and that’s yet to be confirmed), it’s our biggest indication yet that Porsche may finally be willing to work with the Transformers brand at long last, as there’s little doubt that MP Cliff would see their emblem displayed proudly on the box.
But wait, wasn’t Cliffjumper a squished-up car in both the original Transformers toyline and in the subsequent cartoon? Would a licence even be required, as it looks like the Masterpiece toy would follow suit? Well, yes, it is true that the character has typically been a ‘super deformed’ Porsche 924 Turbo, with the 1984 toy beginning life as part of Takara’s Micro Change line, where it was intended to represent a Penny Racer-style toy of the actual car, but still, it’s a fair assumption that a licence would be required for a new Masterpiece project.
After all, the prototype above is clearly a retool of MP-45 Bumblebee (whether that makes you happy or not, but that’s another conversation!), which itself continued to feature the Volkswagen logo on the box despite its own squished proportions being all too evident, so we can quite safely predict that Cliff would follow suit.
Photo credit: Transformers Prototypes
It’s probably too early to be popping Champagne corks at this stage though, especially as, despite the Rise of the Beasts development, I have seen some speculation that the filmmakers could have sidestepped the need for a licence by placing an Autobot logo in lieu of the manufacturers’ emblem on the car bonnet (as seen above) and by using a vintage model of car, and all of this is even assuming they would seek to create licensed toys in support of the film to begin with (given examples such as Dark of the Moon, where toys resembling the character, Dino were merely approximations of Ferrari cars). However, it’s unlikely to me that they’d be pressing ahead in such brazen fashion, and between the film and the new prototype reveal, it does seem as though it could only be a matter of time before we’re finally able to own an official Porsche Transformers toy at long last.
So, the big question then. Where’s my Masterpiece Jazz?