20th Century Toy Collector

Illusion is the Ultimate Weapon!

European Ultra Magnus (1987)

I’ve been looking for this one for quite a while and two weeks ago I finally managed to succesfully track one down and purchase it. It’s the European version of Ultra Magnus that was available in mainland Europe in 1987 (though most likely only in France, the Benelux countries and Switzerland). Check it out!

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Ultra Magnus (Hasbro / MB) – Europe 1987

I already have a worn UK version of Ultra Magnus in my collection since ages ago, but it was only a couple of weeks ago that a first potential deal for a European Ultra Magnus presented itself through a Belgian seller. Unfortunately the deal fell through and I thought I would probably have to wait another couple of years for the next one to turn up. Fortunately for me it was only a couple of weeks later that I found another specimen right here in the Netherlands and I quickly snapped it up for a very reasonable amount (100 EUR).

“The Reluctant Leader”

Ultra Magnus was introduced in the 1986 animated feature “Transformers: The Movie” as Optimus Prime’s replacement as leader of the Autobots. He would hold that title only shortly, before being relieved of command by Rodimus Prime. So much for the cartoon continuity. In the toy line Ultra Magnus’s rank is that of City Commander (the city referred to here being Autobot City). The origins of the Ultra Magnus toy can be traced back to the Japanese Diaclone toy line where he was known as Powered Convoy, with a slightly different colour scheme than the red, white and blue Ultra Magnus we all know and love. Ultra Magnus can transport several Autobot cars simultaneously, which made him a great addition to most kids’ Transformers collections.

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Ultra Magnus transporting Autobot cars

“Made in Macau”

I’m a sucker for comparing the differences between the European releases of Transformers to the original American releases and trying to piece stuff together about the production and distribution of the toy. The first thing I did was to compare the toy itself to the UK release I had lying around, which is basically the same as the American release I believe. As I expected there were virtually no differences in the molding between the two. Both the American/UK version I have and this European release of Ultra Magnus were manufactured in Macau and the packaging was printed in Hong Kong.

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Production information for Ultra Magnus

Unfortunately this means that we’re dealing with an Ultra Magnus with plastic wheels instead of the rubber tires we can observe on the packaging. A sad but understandable move to keep production costs down I guess. Takara and Hasbro had outsourced a lot of production to Macau in 1986. Earlier versions of the Ultra Magnus toy came with rubber tires, more chrome and a painted head. This release feels a lot cheaper in comparison.  Because this particular Ultra Magnus I just bought was only released in 1987 I think this is the only version that was ever sold here, meaning it’s unlikely that the rubber tires version of Ultra Magnus was ever sold in this European packaging.

“A Matter of Time”

Things were still seriously out of sync back in 1987 in mainland Europe as far as releases of Transformers toys were concerned. Basically we saw most of the 1986 US releases here, but some of those we got in 1986 and some of those were only released in 1987. E.g., while the US got bots like Galvatron, Trypticon, Wreck-Gar, Sky Lynx and Ultra Magnus in 1986, for some reason those were pushed back to a 1987 release in most of mainland Europe (the countries where MB did the distribution of Transformers). It was weird and confusing. Here’s a page from the Dutch 1987 Transformers catalog that MB International BV produced and distributed as an insert inside the weekly Donald Duck magazine, issue number 40 released early October, 1987. It shows Ultra Magnus (a 1986 toy in the US), together with the Technobots (1987 toys) on the same page.

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Page from 1987 Dutch Transformers catalog

Another example of this fine mess is the European release of Metroplex and his Decepticon counterpart Trypticon. The US saw both Metroplex and Trypticon released in 1986, but for some reason the powers that be decided that most of mainland Europe got Metroplex in 1986, but Trypticon would have to wait until 1987.

“From Quad Lingual to Bilingual”

Up until 1987 all the (mainland) European Transformers releases came with quad lingual packaging. The four languages at the introduction of Transformers in Europe in 1985 were German, French, Dutch and Spanish. In 1986 some Transformers toys saw German dropped in favour of English, presumably because Transformers were not the big hit Hasbro/MB had expected it to be in West Germany.

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Bilingual European packaging of Ultra Magnus

As you can see from the age notice on the packaging in the photo above, 1987 marked a notable change in this policy and European Transformers suddenly came in bilingual packaging, with only French and Dutch as the languages of choice. I assume that non-French/Dutch speaking territories in Europe will have gotten the regular US / English language packaging, perhaps with an added sticker with the distributor contact information.

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Bilingual instruction booklet

An interesting side effect to this switch from four languages to a more manageable two languages on the packaging is that it was now finally feasible to include the actual bio of the Transformer. US packaging already had the tech specs and bio details since the line’s inception in 1984, but because the continental European releases needed to have evertyhing in four languages there was no room for a bio on the tech spec card, so we had to make do with just the Transformer’s motto. This changed in 1987 with the switch to bilingual packaging as you can see in the photo below. Ultra Magnus’s bio is included in both French and Dutch.

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Bilingual European packaging of Ultra Magnus

“MB distribution”

In 1987 the distribution and availability of Transformers in Europe was still relatively disparate and varied from country to country, as did the names of the distributors themselves! Most of continental Europe had seen the introduction of the Hasbro brand in 1986, but in most countries the distribution of the toys was still done by the various European Milton Bradley (MB) subsidiaries, who still appeared to be operating with a high degree of independence from their parent Hasbro in the US. The packaging of this 1987 Ultra Magnus is a testament to this. If we flip Ultra Magnus’s box to the side we can see the following on the left flap:

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MB International B.V. (Dutch distributor)

MB International BV is the name of the Dutch subsidiary of Milton Bradley International, Inc. Despite the fact that Transformers were now being branded as Hasbro products, the distribution in the Netherlands was still in the hands of Milton Bradley. At that point in history MB had their Dutch sales office in Utrecht and a distribution and manufacturing plant in Ter Apel. Now let’s flip the box over to the other side, which shows the distributor info for Belgium:

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Hasbro-MB N.V. (Belgian distributor)

The name of the distributor for Belgium is Hasbro-MB NV, which was actually a subsidiary of the Dutch MB International BV (MB International BV had several subsidiaries in Europe). The Belgian Hasbro-MB had their sales office in Brussels. Belgium did not have any other MB offices, because it was being supplied with Hasbro, MB and Playskool products directly by MB International BV’s warehouse in Ter Apel, Netherlands.

So that has the Netherlands and Belgium covered. But what about France? Well, if we flip the box over on its back, we can find this on the bottom of the box:

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Hasbro S.A. (French distributor)

Here we find the standard obligatory French legal blurb and now the name of the distributor is Hasbro S.A. with their head office in Le Blanc Mesnil, north of Paris with distribution done from the MB warehouse in Le Bourget-du-Lac, close to Lyon. Pretty muddy isn’t it? Although Hasbro and MB had merged in 1984, the way the new European Hasbro and MB operation presented itself to customers (and even retailers!) varied from country to country. Three countries where this particular product is distributed and the contact information for every one of those uses different names: “MB International”, “Hasbro-MB” and “Hasbro”.

“Assortment / product number”

MB used a different product and assortment number scheme than Hasbro, so Ultra Magnus’ number is different from the one on the English only US packaging.

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9043 98 – Ultra Magnus product number (MB)

From what I’ve been able to decode while looking at MB assortment and product numbering codes, 9043 indicates the assortment or box/factory case number, while a value of 98 indicates this toy is the only one being shipped in this box (i.e. not an assortment of various toys grouped together in a factory case). It is used for bigger toys like Optimus Prime, Jetfire, Shockwave, Megatron, etc.

“Clean up”

Another interesting tidbit we can find on the packaging is on the top left. On the US packaging you would always find the text “Transforms from robot to blah blah and back”. From the first releases in continental Europe this text has been removed, because it was probably not a viable option to translate the text into four different languages and not make the packaging look crowded with text. But even after the switch from 4 languages to just 2 languages in 1987 this text has been removed (in contrast with e.g. the Canadian packaging, which features two languages as well, but does have this text on the upper left of the box). I’m glad they continued this design choice, because it gives the European packaging a uniform look over the years and I think the packaging looks cleaner without the “Transforms from…” text. Here’s a close up of the part of the packaging where the text used to be:

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Remnants of text removal

For comparison, take a look at the photo below of the packaging of my American/UK Ultra Magnus. Note how the text “Autobot jet sold separately” has also been removed on the European packaging:

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Original text on US packaging

If you look closely at the first of the above two photos you can exactly see where the text has been removed, because the colouring inside the grid squares where the text once was is different. Looks like a sloppy cut ‘n paste job! :-)

“More Than Meets The Eye!”

More Transformers related posts coming soon (wonder if I should rename this site ’20th Century Transformers Collector’…. LOL).

posted by 20th Century Toy Collector in Transformers and has Comments (9)

9 Responses to “European Ultra Magnus (1987)”

  1. arkvander says:

    That is very interesting about the text removal on the box, I’m surprised they didn’t have the base image w/out the text available for use. And yes, more transformers!

  2. hey sir, not been on the blog-o-sphere for sometime, yet another fantastic post from you. I think many non-US released UMs actually got the plastic wheels version. Back in Singapore, we never had the rubber wheels version – it was the plastic wheels version in a USA box.

    • 20th Century Toy Collector says:

      Hey guys, thx for the nice comments. @Arkvander: Yeah I was as surprised as you. I wonder how the design and editing went back then. I know a lot of it was still (literally) being done with cutting and pasting physical prints, layering everything up and photographing that, but you would think MB / Hasbro Europe would’ve had access to the original prints/compostitions!

      @Brandon: Thx for the Singapore info on Ultra Magnus! I guess it was primarily the US that got the better looking variation of UM. I do seem to recall that Maz’s childhood UM was also the rubber tire variant, so it has probably been available for a while in the UK as well. I would guess this variant will have been produced by Takara in Japan as well (instead of Macau).

  3. Fighbird says:

    Excellent read as always, Mijo! :) Very nice observation about the shift from quad- to bi-lingual packaging in relation to determining the year of release. Seems like I need to rummage through my old Tech Specs collection and see if there is something interesting hidden there. :)

    Re. assortment numbering: You are correct that the single 4-digit number without a second 4-digit number indicates that Magnus was a single-case release, but the .98 rather denotes the packaging language variation. I don’t have too many early non-G1 packages to reference, but I have .05 for 1986 canadian minibots as well as UK Action Masters and Classics era releases, .02 for Spanish Classics, .97 on a Euro Action Master Rollout and .20 for both my MB and Hasbro Euro Seaspray.

    /Martin

    • 20th Century Toy Collector says:

      Hey Martin,

      Interesting remark about the numbering. I guess MB used the last 2-digit number for various purposes over time and packaging language might very well have been one of these in the later years. In 1985 and 1986 for the Transformers releases it was definitely not used for the language (probably because it was 4-lingual packaging anyway). As far as I have been able to decipher the second number for the 1985 and 1986 releases, it is reserved to indicate the specific item within an assortment. Using your MB Seaspray as an example which has number 20. When there are multiple items in an assortment the 2-digit number starts with 20 and works its way up. MB Seaspray’s asst number is 9100 and within that assortment Seaspray is 20, Powerglide is 21, Warptah is 22, Beachcomber is 23 and Cosmos is 24. When it’s a “big” toy that came in a case of its own the number 98 is used. For a complete list see here: http://20thcenturytoycollector.com/transformers/mb-transformers-collection/

      The above holds true for the 1985 and 1986 TF releases but it sort of breaks down in 1987 with the European G.I. Joe releases, where I’ve seen the 04 suffix used for Dutch language items and 97 for Belgian releases. Very nice observation though, because I hadn’t realized that the suffix might have been used to identify the various language releases! Nerdy, but fun trivia!!!

  4. David says:

    dude, if you want i have an ultra magnus and optimus prime that are both skillet faces (the form of magnus’ truck) I even have the plane pictured in the “clean up” picture along with a few others. They’re not in the best condition, as I was a kid and played with them, but now Im 17 and my love went from transformers to classic cars. If you could appraise them for me I’d be thrilled, and I’d be more willing to sell to you as theyll go to someone who’ll take care of them. Contact me at druff4555@yahoo.com, and I apologize if I’m violating any rules.

    • 20th Century Toy Collector says:

      Hi David, I already have those items in my collection, but thanks for asking! The best way to get an appraisal is to go to eBay and search for completed auctions (you’ll need to register an account with eBay to do that). That’ll give you a good indication of the prices those items are going for.

  5. evan says:

    hi I gust bought a 1986 Hasbro takara plastic tire Canadian release I gust want to know because seems like your a expert some things I should look for to make sure it is not a knock off or reissue if u can help me out that would b awesome thank you so much

  6. evan says:

    oh and here is my email evanshane5050@gmail.com

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