GoBots Carded Action Figure
Item No.: No. ??? Manufacturer:Tonka Includes:n/a Action Feature:Changes from transport truck to robot Retail:$3.49 Availability: 1983 Other: The poorer man's Optimus Prime, but before Optimus Prime
A survivor of many a garage sale over the years, Road Ranger was brought to the USA by Tonka just before Hasbro brought over its Transformers toys from Japan. At the time, the two were pretty much on the same page - lots of marketing, lots of cartoons, lots of licensed products. Both were mocked as TV shows existing merely to sell toys to kids, and it's easy to forget that the two were just the most famous examples of dozens of awesome and awful vehicle-to-robot toys from just so many companies. The trend of transforming things remains with us to this day, but at the time other lines like M.A.S.K. and Masters of the Universe's Meteorbs were just some of the things to share the toy aisles with the likes of the GoBots spin-off Rock Lords toys. (Which at the time I thought was an absolutely stupid idea, and I was 6.)
Largely forgotten after being crushed by Transformers, GoBots were a cheap, robust line with lots of interesting play features and simple transformations. They featured die-cast metal parts and chrome elements too, but also put the characters on the TV show by pulling from the entry-level price points. You could get Leader-1 or Turbo for a couple of bucks, unlike with Transformers where nearly every important character that wasn't Bumblebee was out of the range of a typical 1984 child's allowance. I forgot I still owned this one, and you can see he's in good shape so he didn't get a ton of love or play back in the day. It's a really striking design and it's so easy to see how this would appear like a state-of-the-art futuristic plaything in toy aisles with Star Wars figures, Care Bears, and Masters of the Universe.
I love his robot mode. It's not far off from the early Transformers, with a bright gold visor on a blue face tucked safely inside a chrome silver helmet. It pops up when the car "constricts" during transformation, with a face that has the barest glint of a smile above what I will generously call his lower lip. The body is die-cast metal with red paint and a couple of stickers - there's no sign of peeling, which is genuinely amazing for a toy I've had for nearly 38 years. The hands have little reliefs of a fist on them, swiveling up and down and matching the non-jointed blue legs. There's not a lot of color here, because it helps keep costs down while leaving some of the detail work to pre-applied foil stickers. The end result is striking, and it's plain to see why toys like these - a collectible car that could also be a robot figure - were genuine game-changers before video games came in and started driving little eyes and dollars to other toy aisles.
Transformation is super easy, because you can just look at it and it's obvious where things go. Articulation is limited, but thanks to the transformation you get some moving arms. The legs are a single piece that doesn't move.
The truck is a little red cab with some blue on the back, and the color scheme looks a lot like Optimus Prime from before when there was an Optimus Prime. You can put a Hot Wheels car on the back and tow it around, or even some smaller GoBots cars - it's fun. It's simple. But it's a toy - a real toy, meant for children to muck around and destroy in 1-3 years before being buried in a sandbox or chewed up by the family dog, stepped on by dad, or donated to Goodwill during the child's first sleepover. Road Ranger is a survivor.
Or, he was - this is part of my Farewell Tour, and he just wound up scooped up as a childhood toy that, as I get older, has no real place to go. Will he find a new loving home? I hope so. I won't trash him or donate him, so it will be a fun surprise to see where he ends up. It's a great toy, and he's held up remarkably well given how time shreds plastic and metal. Given what I was seeing in Goodwill before the lockdowns, toys like this showed Tonka really knew a thing or two about toys. Or, rather, BanDai did, and Tonka wisely imported it. These were also relatively cheap, coming in barely above a 3 3/4-inch action figure. I can't imagine we'll see anything quite this good at a low price point (even adjusted for inflation) ever again. A comparable toy today would be Hasbro's Transformers: War for Cybertron Kingdom Core Class toys - and while they're neat, they're not quite as sturdy or as kid-friendly.
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