COLLECTING THOUGHTS: Uncovering a ’90s Transformers mystery!

One aspect of Transformers collecting that never fails to delight is the mystery.

Whether it’s classic vintage Generation 1 or even more modern fare, many unanswered questions and tidbits of historical trivia remain for us to uncover. Sure, some facts seem lost to time, but one thing that always surprises me is how fresh discoveries are still frequently made, even concerning specific toy lines shelved three or four decades ago.

All of which brings us nicely to this little lot of classic 1990s designs, most commonly known as the ‘flipchangers’ first released under the ill-fated K·B Toys-exclusive banner of Machine Wars in 1997. Despite their smaller stature, these figures comprised two-thirds of the overall roster, with four unique moulds rendered in two distinct colour schemes each. Although the larger releases were repaints from the early ’90s Euro G1 era, it was tremendously exciting to see previously unused vehicular designs with the same kind of articulation and spring-loaded transformation we’d become accustomed to through Beast Wars by this point.

Of course, these designs have been re-purposed plenty of times since, cropping up in all kinds of unexpected places, from Takara’s Beast Wars II, Car Robots and Robotmasters line-ups to Hasbro’s 2001 Robots in Disguise. They’ve been realised in a wide array of unique colour schemes by now, but the inherent charm and elegant design always remain the same, never failing to showcase what timeless classics they truly are.

Yet one thing that remained a mystery for a long time was where these toys originated. Despite not being released before, it seemed unlikely they were designed specifically for Machine Wars, even though their close design ties to Beast Wars presumably had them hailing from a similar post-G1 era. Many deduced they must have originated during Generation 2. Still, it wasn’t until much later, when we finally caught a glimpse of some unreleased prototypes, that the pieces started to fall slightly more into place.

Picture source: eBay

These four prototypes surfaced on eBay years ago and immediately caught attention for showcasing what was perhaps initially planned for the designs prior to Machine Wars. Even though it seemed quite evident the colour schemes weren’t finalised and the paint operations were missing, we at least had an idea of the loose presentation for the toys had they first materialised as part of the G2 line. However, there was still an ongoing mystery to the whole thing, not least because we didn’t know the intended character names. That was before the latest startling revelation, however!

Picture source: PrePro

On 5th May, the Facebook group ‘PrePro‘, a private resource that facilitates the sale of rare pre-production items, began dropping listings for a set of these prototypes, except now they were alongside more finalised versions of the same toys, complete with paint applications! Even better, they included more details about the original plans for them, including the character names! It’s revolutionary stuff and finally puts to bed much of the mystery surrounding the designs for so long. First, the mould most commonly thought of as ‘Mirage’ was originally going to be released under the name of Lightspeed, alongside confirmation the toys were considered for a 1995 (or perhaps early 1996) release. This means they would have been lined up for just beyond the very tail end of Generation 2, largely explaining why they never made it to market at the time. 

Picture source: PrePro

Here we can see the intended deco for the design, which was cast in a pale lime green colour and then finished with various swirly blue and black tampos, alongside a number 7 livery and writing on the rear spoiler similar to what we eventually saw on the Machine Wars release of its Autobot mouldmate.

Picture source: PrePro

Speaking of which, here’s the sample for that same toy, except now with the finished tampos designed to adorn its original release had it happened. In many ways, it’s not a million miles away from Machine Wars Hoist, which is also black and references a towing company on the side (though it uses the name ‘Wilk’ instead). There’s no robot-mode photo in this case. Still, we do have an identity, with the Autobot in question set to be known as ‘Greasepit’ (which, interestingly, was also the moniker considered for another unreleased toy of the era).

Picture source: PrePro

What of our two Decepticon jet moulds? First up is the mould that would become Machine Wars Megatron, except here cast in a dark olive green and now finished with a sort of off-white camo pattern (which somehow feels not too far off the ‘tattoo’ finish on Revenge of the Fallen Starscream!).

Picture source: PrePro

We can also see some of the decals that would have adorned the rear fins, complete with details saying ‘YF-22’, which are significantly different from the toy we got in 1997.

Picture source: PrePro

Finally, here’s our second bad guy, presented in blue plastic and with a decent glimpse at the robot mode for the first time ever! It appears as though this toy would have had fewer paint operations than the others, but still, it looks pretty handsome all the same.

Picture source: PrePro

As with its fellow jet, there would have been decals applied to the rear fin, which here look to showcase a snake emblem of some kind. Very unique! Neither of the Decepticons had names confirmed in their listings, but there was more detail yet to come…

Picture source: PrePro

As if the glimpse of the finalised prototypes wasn’t enough, the same group then posted these Pantone presentation charts on 11th May for all four toys, showcasing what the designers initially conceived in terms of each palette. The listings noted that the colours were then changed in favour of the cast samples shown above, but it still gives us a fascinating insight into what may have been for these designs. Lightspeed here is weirdly not too dissimilar to the 2000 release of Car Robots Indy Heat!

Picture source: PrePro

Next, it seems the initial plan for Greasepit was to have him in a more traditional burnt yellow construction-themed hue, complete with hazard detailing down the side. This feels somewhat similar to Machine Wars Hubcap, though arguably a little more successful because the blue and black break up the main body colour.

Picture source: PrePro

As if that wasn’t enough, the Decepticon presentations also give us names for the two characters! Well, at least assuming these would have carried through. I will admit I had assumed this mould was always intended to be Megatron first and foremost, given how closely the head design resembles the Decepticon leader. Still, it seems it would have been known as ‘Skystriker’ instead (with no relation to the G.I. Joe toy of the same name evident!). We can also see this frankly beautiful green reptile-like pattern that was originally considered – we were robbed!

Picture source: PrePro

Finally, we come to the other jet, which we now know would have been called ‘Thundercracker’, making it the only example to share a name with its eventual Machine Wars release. However, the finish of the figure itself would have been very different, with a zebra style to the jet alongside blue highlights in robot mode. I would *love* to see this happen!

So, there we have it – another mystery finally solved! It’s incredible to think that after so many decades of wondering about these toys’ origins, we now have the information at long last. Let’s hope the people who bought the various pieces are happy knowing they own such an intriguing part of Transformers’ history.

What will we discover next? Perhaps that’s a story for another time.

TTFN

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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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