My introduction to G.I. Joe occurred in early 1987, which is when I received the very first G.I. Joe mini-catalog showing the inaugural wave of G.I. Joe toys that would hit Dutch toy stores in the spring of 1987. The catalog was included as an insert in the number 16 issue of the weekly Dutch Donald Duck comic in mid-April of 1987.
Donald Duck 1987-16 with Dutch G.I. Joe catalog
“The 1987 catalog”
The Donald Duck comic had an impressive number of subscribers in the Netherlands running in the hundreds of thousands and that’s not counting newsstand and supermarket circulation. So it was often used as an effective method by advertisers to reach many Dutch boys and girls in the 1980′s (though inserts like these were probably only available to subscribers). I can’t recall exactly whether I was still a Donald Duck subscriber in early 1987, because my parents cancelled the subscription at some point in time, but I definitely got this catalog in the mail and I suspect it was sent to me directly by MB, because I was on their mailing list (I sent in my Transformers cut out points for the S.T.A.R.S. mail away offer in 1986). The catalog was also available as a pack-in with all the boxed G.I. Joe items that debuted in 1987. If you’re interested, a high resolution scan of the complete catalog can be found in a blog post I made here.
Dutch G.I. Joe catalog (spring 1987) MB International BV
Man, I fondly remember this catalog. I knew every centimeter of this catalog by heart. Most of my buddies and class mates also got this catalog through the mail around the same time (which is a testament to the effectiveness of MB’s advertising campaigns in the 1980′s, I guess). I remember some of us sitting in the school yard staring at this catalog and trying to determine which action figure was the coolest. Most of us agreed that Flint (or ‘Kei’ as he was called in the Netherlands) was the coolest of the good guys and he is still one of my favourites today!
A couple of years ago I decided I would try and collect all the items shown in this catalog in their original Dutch packaging and I almost have all the vehicles complete. One of the small vehicles that I scored first was the Cobra F.A.N.G., which is shown below :
Cobra F.A.N.G. shown in 1987 Dutch G.I. Joe catalog
F.A.N.G. stands for Fully Armed Negator Gyrocopter and it was released for the first time in the US in 1983 as part of the second wave of G.I. Joe toys. It was re-released in 1984 and 1985, before being discontinued in 1986. The F.A.N.G. was released in the Netherlands (and the rest of mainland Europe) in 1987 as part of the first wave of G.I. Joe toys.
The Cobra F.A.N.G. was called the same in the Dutch release, although the acronym didn’t really mean anything. The Dutch translation for F.A.N.G. was “Volledig Bewapende Vernietigings- Gyroskopische Helikopter”. I don’t exactly understand why the F.A.N.G. is called a gyrocopter, because gyrocopters usually have free floating main rotors and a smaller engine powered propeller at the back that creates the forward motion which is needed for the main rotors to start spinning and to create lift. The F.A.N.G. though looks like it has an engine powered main rotor (the engine is located right under the main rotor).
Cobra F.A.N.G. (1987) Dutch blueprints
The blueprints also tell us that the F.A.N.G. weighs 1,000 kilograms (2200 lbs), can reach speeds up to 320 kilometers/hour (197 mph) and has an operating range of 900 km (550 miles). It also comes with capacity for a total of four heat-seeking air-to-air missiles (two on either side of the F.A.N.G.) , a bomb and a nose mounted movable 30mm rapid firing cannon. Man, I just frickin’ love the detail that went into these toys. These enormously detailed vehicle blueprints combined with the character tech specs really stimulated my imagination when I was a kid (and still do!) Hasbro certainly nailed the execution of this toyline in the 1980′s in my book.
Donald Duck 1988-09 with Dutch G.I. Joe catalog
The Cobra F.A.N.G. was re-released in the Netherlands in 1988. Here’s a photo from the Dutch spring 1988 catalog, which was (again) included as an insert with Donald Duck issue number 9 from early March 1988. Here’s a close up of the F.A.N.G. from said catalog, this time with Sneeuwzoeker (Snow Serpent) at the helm.
Cobra F.A.N.G. shown in spring 1988 Dutch G.I. Joe catalog
I scored my first Cobra F.A.N.G. in Dutch packaging in September of 2010 together with a boat load of other 1987 G.I. Joe vehicles in Dutch packaging. The F.A.N.G. and its packaging were in reasonable condition, but the bomb and missiles were missing as you can see in the photo below. I also placed a loose Cobra action figure inside the F.A.N.G. to match the artwork on the box (the F.A.N.G. did not originally come with any action figure).
Cobra F.A.N.G. (1987) MB international BV
Lucky for me I scored an upgrade for my F.A.N.G. about a month ago! The cool thing about it was that the toy was still unassembled, with unapplied stickers and accessories still on the tree! Contrary to Transformers, G.I. Joe vehicles often had to be partly assembled out of the box, so it’s not easy to find those untouched. Here’s a snapshot of the complete contents of my new F.A.N.G.:
Cobra F.A.N.G. (1987) MB international BV
Cobra F.A.N.G. (1987) MB international BV
The Cobra F.A.N.G. was distributed in the Netherlands by MB International B.V. The G.I. Joe toys carried the Hasbro logo on the packaging, but the truth was that at that time Hasbro was nothing more than a division of MB International B.V. in the Netherlands. According to records I pulled from the Dutch Chambers of Commerce it was not until late 1991 that Hasbro Netherlands was truely founded as a private, limited liability company (or as is called in Dutch, a BV, a “besloten vennootschap”). Hasbro acquired MB in 1984 and in many European countries the various MB subsidiaries were used to distribute Hasbro toys, before everything was truely vertically consolidated in the early 1990′s under the Hasbro name.
Distributed by MB international BV, Utrecht, Holland
This particular version of the Cobra F.A.N.G. in Dutch packaging was also available to retailers in Belgium (in Flanders, the Dutch speaking parts of Belgium), which we can glean from the other side of the box. Distribution in Belgium was done by Hasbro-MB N.V., which was a subsidiary of MB International BV.
Distributed by Hasbro-MB NV, Brussels, Belgium
The stock number (SKU or stock keeping unit number) for the Cobra F.A.N.G. was 9602. MB International numbered all their products with a 4-digit code, which was a seperate numbering scheme from the one used by their American parent Hasbro, Inc. An additional 2-digit suffix was also used that could serve several purposes, although it was primarily used to indicate the language variation of the product (thanks for this info, Martin!)
9602 04 – Dutch Cobra F.A.N.G.
As you can see from the photo above the 04 suffix indicated that this product was the Dutch language variant. From looking at some of the other European G.I. Joe items I have lying around I also figured out that 01 means French packaging and 97 means bilingual French/Dutch packaging. So that means that the SKU numbers for the Benelux and France were:
- 9602 01 – F.A.N.G. in French packaging
- 9602 04 – F.A.N.G. in Dutch packaging
- 9602 97 – F.A.N.G. in bilingual French/Dutch packaging
9602 01 – French Cobra F.A.N.G.
9602 04 – Dutch Cobra F.A.N.G.
As you can see from the two photos above the European Cobra F.A.N.G. was manufactured in Waterford, Ireland. This used to be the location of the Irish subsidiary of Milton Bradley (MB Ireland). The Waterford plant was used a lot for the production of the early vintage G.I. Joe vehicles for the European market. The G.I. Joe action figures were made in Asia, but the vehicles were all made in MB’s Waterford factory in Ireland. This explains the differences which are often found between the American G.I. Joe vehicles and the European ones. The American G.I. Joe vehicles were usually made in the Americas, Hong Kong or China, while the European vehicles were manufactured in Europe by MB.
MB Ireland factory (Waterford, Ireland)
“Viva MB España”
If only things were as “simple” as that. Just last week I found a collector who was selling off a couple of Dutch G.I. Joe boxes and I cleaned him out, because I could use some of the boxes he was selling as upgrades. One of the boxes that was part of the lot was another Cobra F.A.N.G. box. I compared this new box to the one I already had and dammit, there’s a difference…. It appears that there was a second production run of Cobra F.A.N.G.’s in Europe and this one was in Valencia, Spain!
9602 04 – Dutch Cobra F.A.N.G. (made in Valencia, Spain)
Are you still with me? :-) Well, it appears we once more have two European G.I. Joe variants of the same toy on our hands (just like the two Chung-Ho variants in post number 94). We have a Cobra F.A.N.G. made in Waterford, Ireland and another made in Valencia, Spain.
It is not a real surprise that the second variation was made in Valencia, because guess what! MB also had a manufacturing plant there. MB International B.V. used to have a Spanish subsidiary called MB España S.A. based in Valencia. MB España S.A. was responsible for the production of various Hasbro products for the European market and distribution in their domestic market in the mid to late 1980′s. Amongst other things they manufactured G.I. Joe vehicles, Jem dolls and Battle Beasts (or “Bestias de Combate” for the Spanish market).
“That Dating Game Again”
So now that we have established that there were two Cobra F.A.N.G variants made in Europe, one in Ireland and one in Spain, which one came first? Well, I think I have the answer to that one. I think the Waterford, Ireland made F.A.N.G. was released in 1987 and the Valencia, Spain made F.A.N.G. was available in 1988. How do I think I know? Well, the answer lies in the Belgian contact information on both boxes, because it is different:
Louizalaan address in Brussels, Belgium
Vaartdijk address in Brussels, Belgium
If you look closely you can see that the address information has changed. The Waterford, Ireland made F.A.N.G. has an address in Brussels at the Louizalaan 386, while the Valencia, Spain made F.A.N.G. has an address at the Vaartdijk 109-111 in Brussels. It just so happens that I know that Louizalaan address of Hasbro-MB N.V. is from 1987, because I have a Benelux Ultra Magnus from 1987 that has the same contact information (discussed in post number 90). So the logical conclusion would be that the Waterford, Ireland made F.A.N.G. is the 1987 release and that the Valencia, Spain made F.A.N.G. is a second production run available in 1988!
“Behind the Curtains”
So that’s the Cobra F.A.N.G.! Although I already knew that most (or all?) of the European G.I. Joe vehicles were made in Europe instead of Asia, I did not realize that production was moved from Waterford to Valencia. If anything, it gives an insight into the production and distribution side of things, which is like peaking behind the curtains to me. :-) It will be an interesting exercise to compare the production/manufacturing info on the packaging of the other G.I. Joe vehicles I have and see if any other patterns come to light. Nerdy fun!