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My MB Autobot Cars Collection

Of all the vintage toy lines that I collect Transformers are without a doubt my favourite. My primary focus is trying to complete my collection of Transformers that were released in continental Europe in 1985 by MB. Of all the subgroups of Transformers that were released, the Autobot cars have a special place in my heart. MB released a total of nine Autobot cars in 1985 in Europe and it took me a lot of time, money and energy to acquire these nine in their original packaging. It took me almost 5 years, around €2,000 and I don’t even want to know how many man hours! But seeing these awesome vintage pieces in my collection brings a smile to my face daily. No matter what. Check them out:

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Transformers – Autobot cars (MB) 1985 / Europe

I made this photo of my collection last weekend and went to town with Photoshop and added some grainy noise to the photo to make everything look like an old magazine print ad. :-)

“In the Beginning There was Diaclone”

What’s so cool about these MB Autobot cars is that they were originally Diaclone robots. Diaclone is the name of a Japanese toy line that most of the early G1 Transformers were based on, before Hasbro snapped them up. In Europe a French company called Ceji released these Diaclones in 1984 under their Joustra subsidiary. By 1985 Ceji was presumably in financial difficulties and Hasbro/MB bought their remaining stock of Diaclones and rebranded them as Transformers and released them in France, West-Germany, the Benelux, Spain (and possibly also Switzerland). More information on this interesting piece of toy history here.

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Joustra Diaclones

I’ll be writing in-depth articles on all nine of these MB Autobot cars in the near future, but for now let’s have a quick look at all of them, shall we? Autobot roll call time!!!!

“Trailbreaker”

Autobot strategist Trailbreaker. Transforms into a 1979 black Toyota Hi-Lux 4WD with cab. In the cartoon he is most remembered for using his awesome force field! This particular MB release is reused left-over stock of the Ceji Joustra Diaclone “Toyota 4×4″. What a beautiful toy!

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Transformers – Trailbreaker (MB) 1985 / Europe

“Ratchet”

Autobot medic Ratchet. Transforms into an early 1980′s Nissan Onebox Ambulance Vanette. In the cartoon Ratchet was the resident medic that could fix any injury that his Autobot brethren would sustain. This particular MB release is reused left-over stock of the Ceji Joustra Diaclone “Ambulance”.

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Transformers – Ratchet (MB) 1985 / Europe

“Mirage”

Autobot spy Mirage. Transforms into a Ligier JS-11 F-1 racing car! In the cartoon Mirage’s speciality was making himself invisible for a limited amount of time, which can come in quite handy when you’re a spy! This particular MB release is reused left-over stock of the Ceji Joustra Diaclone “Ligier”.

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Transformers – Mirage (MB) 1985 / Europe

“Jazz”

Autobot agent Jazz. Transforms into a 1981 Porsche 935 Turbo. In the cartoon Jazz was known for his love of music and gettin’ down, yeah! This particular MB release is reused left-over stock of the Ceji Joustra Diaclone “Porsche 935″. For some reason this is by far the rarest of all the MB Autobot cars ever released. If you ever find one, do not hesitate to snap it up. Literally worth its weight in gold!

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Transformers – Jazz (MB) 1985 / Europe

“Red Tracks”

Autobot warrior Tracks. Transforms into a 1980 Chevrolette Corvette. In the cartoon Tracks was known for being vain, and well… who could blame him. He looks awesome! This particular MB release is reused left-over stock of the Ceji Joustra Diaclone “Corvette” and that also explains why this MB version of Tracks is red instead of the regular old blue Tracks! One of the most well known colour variations in G1 Transformers collecting and absolutely the number one most popular (and highly expensive!) item of the whole MB Transformers line. Red Tracks’s vanity would not have it any other way!

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Transformers – Red Tracks (MB) 1985 / Europe

“Sunswipe”

Autobot warrior Sideswipe, erm, Sunstreaker, no wait…. What’s this? Well, it’s a Sunstreaker inside Sideswipe packaging! It’s still not clear how this mistake happened, but it has been proven beyond reasonable doubt that MB actually sold Sunstreakers inside Sideswipe packaging! This particular MB release is reused left-over stock of the Ceji Joustra Diaclone “Countach”. It is one of the many packaging/variant mistakes that MB made in the very early days of Transformers in Europe and it’s the most outrageous one if you ask me. More about this weird packaging mistake in an article I wrote here.

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Transformers – Sunswipe (MB) 1985 / Europe

“Wheeljack”

Autobot engineer Wheeljack. Transforms into a 1975 Lancia Stratos Turbo #539. Wheeljack is fondly remembered for being the crazy inventor scientist among the Autobot ranks. This particular MB release is reused left-over stock of the Ceji Joustra Diaclone “Lancia Stratos”.

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Transformers – Wheeljack (MB) 1985 / Europe

“Prowl”

Autobot strategist Prowl. Transforms into a 1979 Datsun Fairlady 280ZX Police Cruiser. Prowl is generally considered to be the second in charge after Optimus Prime during the early G1 days. This particular MB release is reused left-over stock of the Ceji Joustra Diaclone “Fairlady Police”.

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Transformers – Prowl (MB) 1985 / Europe

“Hound”

Autobot scout Hound. Transforms into a Mitsubishi J59 Jeep. Hound’s function as scout was portrayed often in the early episodes of the cartoon along with this hologram gun. This particular MB release is reused left-over stock of the Ceji Joustra Diaclone “Jeep”.

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Transformers – Hound (MB) 1985 / Europe

I feel all giddy inside whenever I look at these nine MB Autobot cars in my collection. They hold such sentimental value to me and their historic significance in the very early years of Transformers in Europe is really the icing on the cake. Good times!

And with this nice little round up out of the way, join me soon for an in-depth look at MB’s Trailbreaker. Thanks for reading and see you back soon!

posted by 20th Century Toy Collector in Joustra Diaclone,MB Transformers,Transformers and have Comments (5)

MB Laserbeak revisited

Waaaaaaay back in the early mists of time (in the year 2009) I dedicated my first post on this site to one of my favourite items in my G1 Transformers collection: MB’s Laserbeak! Since then lots of new information has been discovered about the early European Transformers releases, which this particular Laserbeak is a part of. Reason enough to warrant a new blog post dedicated to the old bird, I thought. Let’s have a more in-depth look at MB’s Laserbeak!!

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Transformers – Laserbeak (MB) 1985 / Europe

“The Laser Beak”

Laserbeak is one of several cassettes that were created for the evil Decepticon Soundwave. The idea was pure Japanese genius. Have a robot transform into a cassette player and then, to top that off, create smaller robots that change into cassettes that fit into the aforementioned cassette player!

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Soundwave & Buzzsaw (1985) MB Transformers trade catalog

The name Laserbeak is -of course- a rather clever play on the term “laser beam”. The name was thought up by Marvel Comics writer Bob Budiansky, who was also responsible for writing the cool Transformers bio’s for most of the tech spec cards in the early days and almost every frickin’ other Transformers name there was in the first few years!

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The talented Mr. Budiansky [1]

“1985: More Than Meets The Eye!”

Before we continue, I’d like to introduce a little context now. There’s an interesting back story to the introduction of Transformers in continental Europe and this particular Laserbeak release is inextricably part of this story. In short, the story goes like this: Transformers were originally invented by a Japanese toy manufacturer called Takara. And they were not called “Transformers”, but “Diaclone” and “MicroChange”. In 1983 Hasbro bought the rights from Takara to release these toys in its home markets. After a very successful introduction in 1984 in Hasbro’s primary markets (USA, Canada and UK)  it was time to introduce the Transformers toy line in Europe[2]. This occurred in the fall of 1985 and in most European countries the introduction of the toy line was handled by Hasbro’s newly acquired subsidiary MB (Milton Bradley), well known manufacturer of puzzles and board games. Due to licensing issues a lot of well known, early Transformers were not available to MB so a limited line up was released at first, which we can retrospectively refer to as “wave 1″. It consisted mostly of 1985 Transformers [3], which were free of licensing issues. Lots of 1984 Transformers like Optimus Prime, Starscream, most Autobot cars and many more were unavailable to MB. Here’s a list of all the Transformers that MB initially only planned to release (i.e. “wave 1″):

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Transformers – wave 1 (MB) 1985

Somewhere during 1985 the aforementioned licensing issues were ironed out and MB obtained the European rights to release these 1984 Transformers after all. Ironically enough these “older” Transformers were released as what we now can refer to as “wave 2″. Laserbeak is part of this second wave as you can see in the list below:

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Transformers – wave 2 (MB) 1985

These licensing issues were all due to the fact that a French toy company called Ceji had also negotiated a deal with Takara in 1983 to market these transforming robots in their respective markets, which was a significant chunk of Europe (France, West-Germany, the Benelux and maybe even more countries). Ceji released these transforming robots in 1984 and 1985 under the original Diaclone brand. This is what they released:

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Joustra Diaclone pre-Transformers – waves 1 and 2 (1984-1985)

Somewhere during 1985 (but after most of the first promotional material was already printed) MB / Hasbro came to an agreement with Ceji which allowed MB to acquire all of Ceji’s remaining stock of Diaclones and subsequent rights to release them in Europe as Transformers. The Diaclone toys needed to be rebranded as Transformers, which meant they needed to be put inside Transformers packaging, Transformers sticker sheets and instruction booklets were added, rub-signs were placed on the toys and voila! The former Diaclone toys were now Transformers! [4]

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From Condor and Jaguar (1984) to Laserbeak and Ravage (1985)

With that little history lesson out of the way, let’s shift our focus back to Laserbeak!

“Artwork”

One of the reasons why I like the MB version of Laserbeak so much (as a collector who likes to collect vintage toys in their original packaging) is that the packaging design is rather unique. Most of the other G1 Transformers that were released in Europe came in packaging that was nearly identical to the original American packaging, but with slight alterations for the European market. Problem is, that for the release of Laserbeak MB did not have a ready-to-go American packaging design to copy and adapt. Why? Well, because in the US all the cassettes were sold as dual-packs and Laserbeak came together with Frenzy.

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Transformers – Frenzy & Laserbeak (Hasbro) 1984 / USA [5]

However, MB did not have any Frenzy’s available for release for Europe so copying the American packaging was not an option. The reason why MB did not have any Frenzy’s was of course because Ceji did not have any! So a separate design for the Laserbeak packaging was needed specifically for the MB markets, which ultimately resulted in this über cool piece of 1980′s packaging design:

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Transformers – Laserbeak (MB) 1985

How cool is that! I remember very well seeing this card for the first time and totally falling in love with it. The artwork on the card has much more impact now that Laserbeak is pictured solo. The design looks a lot less cluttered. Nice and clean. Here’s a close up of the Laserbeak artwork on the card:

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MB Laserbeak artwork

Doesn’t it look amazing? The yellow spotlight behind Laserbeak looks a lot like a hot and scorching alien sun and adds a very dramatic feel to the whole. Also, if you look very closely and compare the artwork on this MB card with that of the American card you can see that the MB Laserbeak artwork has been rotated a couple of degrees counter clockwise, which adds to the impression that this bird of prey is getting ready to dive towards an unsuspecting victim! That.. is.. cool..

“From the Front…”

Let’s have a detailed look at the rest of the front of the packaging. At the top left corner of the card we find the quad-lingual age notice (in German, French, Dutch and Spanish) split over two lines, just like MB’s other wave 2 minibots have (the wave 1 MB minibots have the age notice at the opposite side of the card and on one line instead of two).

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MB Laserbeak – quad-lingual age notice

While the American Transformers packaging almost exclusively uses the Eurostile family of typefaces, the texts that are added to the European packaging are exclusively done with the Helvetica family, as are the age notices above.

Moving on to the bottom left of the card we see the MB logo instead of the Hasbro logo. Notice also how the MB logo takes up more space than the Hasbro logo usually does on the American packaging. The Hasbro logo on American packaging usually takes up exactly four grid squares. The MB logo box is slightly larger than that and as such does not align perfectly with the grid on all four sides. Again the wave 1 minibots are different in that respect. While the wave 2 minibots have this oversized MB logo, all the wave 1 minibots have a “normal” sized MB logo, which is exactly four grid squares.

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MB Laserbeak – MB logo and compliance statement

Below the logo there’s some text in French. It’s a legal statement saying that compliance of this product with all French laws is guaranteed by MB France S.A., the French Milton Bradley subsidiary. It looks like products sold in France were legally required to have this statement and contact information on the packaging. I have seen examples of MB Transformers packaging where this exact statement is included in the form of a sticker, because the original packaging did not carry the statement. Note also the contrast between the typefaces. Laserbeak’s name badge is printed in Eurostile, while the legal blurb below is printed in Helvetica. MB’s logo by the way is also Helvetica.

“Spy Cassette Assortment”

Moving right along to the opposite side, on the bottom right, we find the SKU (stock keeping unit) code of MB’s Laserbeak, which is 9104 21.

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MB Laserbeak – SKU code 9104 21

MB International’s SKU codes in Europe in the 1980′s (and early 90′s) were usually 6 digits long and could be broken down into two segments. The first segment is 4 digits long and is the main identifier. It usually represents a specific item or assortment of items. The second segment is a 2-digit number, which is often printed in a smaller point size than the 4-digit number. This 2-digit suffix represents variations. Sometimes it is used to indicate a specific language version of a product, but in this case it is used to individually refer to a Transformer within an assortment. The number 9104 is given to both of MB’s spy cassettes (Laserbeak and Ravage), which means they were probably sold together as part of an assortment, meaning a retailer could place an order for 9104 and would get a case of 12 or 24 Laserbeaks and Ravages. Within the 9104 assortment, the variation number 20 is assigned to Ravage and the number 21 is assigned to Laserbeak. Here’s a scan from the European 1985 Milton Bradley Transformers trade catalog supplement showing both cassettes with their numbers:

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Spy Cassettes – MB Transformers trade catalog supplement (1985)

“…to the Back”

Now let’s turn the card around and see what we can find on the back of the packaging. First, here’s a photo of the back of the card in its entirety.

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MB Laserbeak – back of the packaging

Our first point of interest is the tech spec section, which takes up half of the card. The size of the tech spec section is bigger than that on American Transformers packaging, because of the need to display four languages instead of one. Also, this means no room was left for the bio, so only the function and motto remain. Here’s a close up photo of the tech spec section.

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MB Laserbeak – motto and tech specs

Laserbeak’s function, motto and tech specs are the same as on the American release, just translated into German, French, Dutch and Spanish. Right below the tech specs is the copyright and manufacturer info. The copyright is attributed to Milton Bradley International, Inc., which used to be the foreign arm (from a US perspective) of the Milton Bradley Company to which all the European Milton Bradley subsidiaries belonged. The copyright conventions being referred to (Berne and UCC) are explained in more detail in an article I wrote here. As for the manufacturer info: the packaging is printed in France and the toy itself was made in Japan by Takara. So why is it that Laserbeak was made in Japan, but the packaging printed in France? Well, because of this particular toy’s history as we examined at the beginning of this article! This Laserbeak was originally manufactured in Japan by Takara and sent to the French toy manufacturer Ceji to sell in France as the Diaclone Condor! When Ceji agreed to sell their remaining stock of Diaclone pre-Transformers (including this Laserbeak) to MB in 1985 for inclusion in their Transformers line the product was already in France, so the Transformers packaging was printed in France!

“Barcode”

Let’s continue our exploration of the back of the packaging. At the top left we find the barcode and underneath that there’s the Transformers logo. Let’s check out the barcode for a moment (yes.. I am going there).

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MB Laserbeak – barcode

The barcode shown here is known as an EAN-13 barcode, which back in 1985 used to stand for European Article Number [6]. The “13″ refers to the number of digits that make up the barcode. So what’s so interesting about that? Well, those numbers actually mean something and here’s what:

  • The first three digits of the bar code are the so called GS1 prefix, which signifies the country where the manufacturer is registered [7]. Laserbeak comes with “501″ as GS1 prefix, which is a code that belongs to the UK. This is interesting, because it suggests involvement from a company in the UK in the process of bringing this product to market in continental Europe. It’s pretty much a safe bet that this UK entity will have been Hasbro Europe (or Hasbro UK or whatever it was called in 1985).
  • The next three digits are the company number, which is “180″. Hasbro Europe also sometimes used the company number “099″, but most Hasbro toys that were released in continental Europe up to and including 1987 came with a company number of “180″. From 1988 onwards the number “099″ seems to have become more dominant.
  • Right after the company number the next six digits of the barcode are the item reference. The item reference here is 910421. That sounds familiar! That is exactly the same as MB’s SKU code for Laserbeak: 9104 21! This is actually a very common occurrence, i.e. for manufacturers to encode their SKU numbers into the item reference section of a barcode.
  • The last digit of the barcode (“4″) is not interesting to us, because it is simply a checksum digit (a mathematical error detection mechanism).

 

 

“Availability”

This particular toy hit the European market in late 1985, which is when the Transformers finally made their entry into most of Europe through Hasbro’s newly acquired subsidiary MB (Milton Bradley, taken over by Hasbro in September, 1984). Laserbeak was probably available in most European markets where MB had local subsidiaries in 1985, which were: France, West-Germany, the Benelux, Spain and Switzerland [8]. These countries are marked in red in the map of Europe below:

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Availability of MB Laserbeak in Europe (1985)

It’s hard to say for sure if all these countries got MB Laserbeaks and if so in which quantities (or if any at all!) Exact details on distribution of Transformers in the early days in Europe is hard to find and I’ve learned through research that you shouldn’t assume too much based on just catalogues. Just because these Transformers were depicted in European catalogues did not mean it’s a guarantee that all of them were available in every country.

MB Laserbeaks were definitely available in West-Germany though, as that is where this particular specimen from my collection hails from. It was part of a batch of unsold toy store stock from a German toy store. It also originally had a special sticker that was attached to the back of the card. The sticker contained some German text and covered up the part which shows Laserbeak’s motto in four European languages. Here’s that sticker in question:

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MB Laserbeak with German sticker on back of card [9]

This sticker says “TRANSFORMERS …the world of transformation” and was undoubtedly added by the local German MB subsidiary back in 1985, which was ‘Milton Bradley GmbH’ from Soest, West-Germany. I know of one other collector who bought an MB Laserbeak from the same source as I did and that one came with that same German sticker on the back. Why did Milton Bradley GmbH add this sticker to Laserbeak’s packaging? Well, my guess is that they did this to make the product more appealing (or more understandable) to prospective German buyers. This particular portion of the packaging is probably the most conspicuous as far as the negative consequences of having everything printed in four languages is concerned. It might have been that Milton Bradley GmbH decided that four languages of text was too confusing for the consumer, so they decided to cover that up with this sticker containing just German text. When translated into English it sounds a little corny, but in German the text is actually pretty cool if you ask me. This type of customization for the local market is totally in line with everything I have seen so far in my research. Hasbro delivered the product, but the local MB subsidiaries in the various European markets enjoyed a large degree of autonomy in deciding how, when and if the product was marketed and distributed in their home countries.

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Laserbeak & Ravage in MB/Hasbro 1986 pack-in catalog (Europe)

I am pretty convinced MB’s Laserbeak was available in France as well by the way, because I have what I believe to be a loose MB Laserbeak and Ravage that I bought from a French seller in 2012. The MB Laserbeak and Ravage can be recognized by their unusual rub-sign placement and that leads us into the next subject matter I would like to discuss….

“Rubbed the wrong way”

On to the matter of the rub-sign and that’s where things start to become a little peculiar. As most vintage G1 Transformers collectors will know, the rub-sign was a nifty little addition that Hasbro introduced in 1985 in an effort to distinguish their “real” Transformers toys from knock offs or (parallel/grey imports of) Diaclones. The rub-sign was a special heat sensitive sticker that would reveal the sign of the faction that the robot belonged to when exposed to heat, which was either the Autobot or Decepticon logo, coincidentally both trademarked by Hasbro. The rub-sign technology itself was also patented by Hasbro. Also, contrary to today, back in 1985 the heat sensitive rub-sign was probably a lot harder (and more expensive) to duplicate by unauthorized parties, even if the trademark and patent rights weren’t enough to scare them off. It was a relatively effective way of letting kids know that only the Hasbro imported Transformers were real Transformers!

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MB rub-sign instructions (German, French, Dutch, Spanish)

And here’s a photo of the back of the MB Laserbeak packaging which shows the rub-sign instructions in four European languages (German, French, Dutch and Spanish).

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Rub-sign instructions

So, how do the rub-signs fit into MB’s Transformers line? Well, as far as wave 1 is concerned, these all came with rub-signs applied and are nothing out of the ordinary. And that’s not such a surprise, because all of them were manufactured and packaged in Japan by Takara, just like all the Transformers that were destined for the North American market. However, MB’s wave 2 Transformers are a whole different story altogether. As a general rule, the wave 2 MB Transformers did come with rub-signs, but as is totally consistent with all the weirdness we’ve seen so far with these early European releases, the application of these rub-signs is often different from the standard:

  • Rub-signs are placed at different locations than where the American and Japanese releases would have them.
  • Rub-signs were placed upside down
  • and in some cases there would not be a rub-sign at all!

 

Case in point being the MB Laserbeak. The normal spot to find the rub-sign on a Laserbeak that was released in the US is on the sticker side, right under the little tape window. Here’s a closeup that shows the rub-sign on an American Laserbeak:

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US Laserbeak – “normal” rub-sign placement

On the handful of MB Laserbeaks I have seen so far in unopened packaging Laserbeak has the rub-sign placed right between the two reels, covering up the tape window. The rub-sign is also rotated 90 degrees either clockwise or counter clockwise (both variations exist!!!). Here’s an example of a mint-on-sealed-card MB Laserbeak with a rub-sign rotated 90 degrees counter clockwise:

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MB Laserbeak – unusual rub-sign placement [9]

So where does my MB Laserbeak have its rub-sign? The answer to that is… nowhere! My particular MB Laserbeak, which probably came from the very same factory case as the one with the rub-sign above, does not seem to have a rub-sign at all. Check it out:

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MB Laserbeak – no rub-sign

This is really funny if you think about it. Here we have MB and Hasbro hammering home the difference between official Transformers and unofficial Transformers (“Hey kids, real Transformers have rub-signs!”) and on the back of the packaging of MB’s Laserbeak there are rub-sign instructions, but the actual toy inside the packaging does not have a rub-sign at all! I wonder if any kids returned their MB Transformers to the store back in 1985 claiming they were fakes, because they did not have a rub-sign! LOL!

There is of course a slight chance that the rub-sign is located at the other side of the cassette on my MB Laserbeak, which is not visible the way it is packaged, but given the rub-sign inconsistencies seen so far and the fact that it’s hard to find a good spot for a rub-sign on the other side of the Laserbeak cassette I am more inclined to believe that this one has no rub-sign at all. There is one way to find out for sure, but I was not planning on opening this sealed specimen any time soon ;-)

There’s one more detail I noticed on my MB Laserbeak when I was studying it closely under a magnifying glass (I know, I know…. geek city) and that is that there are several imperfections on the sticker, the most noticeable of all being the tear at the top left of the tape window and some dust and dirt here and there. Here’s a close up photo:

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MB Laserbeak – sticker damage

These imperfections puzzled me at first. It looked like a slightly used Laserbeak, but it was sealed tightly shut, so it couldn’t be! However, placed against the background of this toy’s history these imperfections start to make sense. There’s a lot of evidence that suggests that the French company Ceji did not only sell their stock of Diaclones to MB in 1985, but that they also took care of the rebranding process as well (the repackaging of their Diaclone stock into MB Transformers packaging). It seems there was a lot of manual labour involved there and the inconsistent rub-sign placements (or lack thereof) seem to be a testament to this. These MB Laserbeaks did not come straight off Takara’s production lines. They were sent to France and some of them may have even ended up in Ceji Joustra’s Diaclone packaging before being reallocated to MB’s Transformers line. Who knows how the actual rebranding process worked and how the product was handled during this process.

“Two Birds, One Stone”

I hope you enjoyed reading this detailed look at MB’s Laserbeak. Like most other wave 2 MB Transformers it has a special history that is closely tied to that of Ceji’s Joustra Diaclone line, which only adds to its appeal in my opinion.

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MB Laserbeak (1985) and Ceji Joustra Condor (1984)

I am desperately on the look out for the MB Ravage to place alongside my MB Laserbeak, but that item has proven to be the most difficult one to track down yet in its original packaging. If you ever find one or have one for sale I will gladly take it off your hands for a handsome sum ;-) Thanks for reading and see you back soon!

 

“Notes, References and Acknowledgments”

  1. Photo of Bob Budiansky by oinkandcoo, used under CC-BY-ND 2.0 license
  2. Geographically the UK is part of Europe too, although some of its inhabitants like to pretend it’s not.
  3. when I refer to 1984 or 1985 Transformers I mean the year those Transformers were originally released in the US.
  4. More information on the transfer of Ceji’s Diaclones to MB’s Transformers line in the article MB Transformers: Part 4.
  5. Photo of U.S. Frenzy and Laserbeak by patobot. Used and adapted under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 license
  6. the EAN-13 barcode is currently known as the International Article Number system even though the acronym has remained unchanged.
  7. the actual product itself can be manufactured in a different country, as is the case here.
  8. MB also had subsidiaries in the UK, Ireland and Italy at that point in history, but these markets were already covered by Hasbro and GiG.
  9. From the collection of Ferdy La Bree (bobafer73).
  10. From the collection of Ferdy La Bree (bobafer73).
posted by 20th Century Toy Collector in Joustra Diaclone,MB Transformers,Transformers and have Comments (12)

Transformers – Windcharger (MB)

“Quick action equals quick victory!”, that’s Windcharger’s motto. Windcharger was part of the very first series of Transformers minobots to be released and although most of his first series minibot brethren got plenty of air time in the original Transformers cartoon, Windcharger’s appearances on the animated series were very few and far between. Still, Windcharger was probably a very popular Transformer back in the day, because of the entry level price point and the fact that he turned in to a red race car! Today’s post is about the very rare mainland European version of Windcharger by Milton Bradley (MB).

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Transformers – Windcharger (MB) Europe 1985

“US release”

In the US Windcharger was released by Hasbro in mid-1984 together with 5 other minibots, classics each and every one of them. Here’s a photo from the US 1984 Transformers pack-in catalog showing Windcharger together with Bumblebee, Huffer, Brawn, Gears and Cliffjumper.

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Transformers – pack-in catalog (Hasbro) US 1984

“Micro Change”

Just like the rest of the minibots Windcharger was originally a toy that was released by Japanese toy maker Takara as part of their Micro Change series, which was in turn part of their 1983 New Microman line. The Micro Change series was a series of robots that transformed into everyday items that you would find around the house and many other early Transformers were actually descendants of this line, like Soundwave (a cassette player), Reflector (a photo camera) and Megatron (a gun… a household item in some countries). The minibots were supposed to represent toy cars, hence their deformed look. Windcharger is loosely based on a 1982 Pontiac Firebird Trans-Am.

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MicroChange – Car 06 (Takara) Japan 1983

“European release”

In Europe Windcharger was available from 1984 in the UK and from late 1985 in continental Europe. Hasbro Industries (UK) Ltd were responsible for the UK market and simply imported Windchargers in American packaging. On most of mainland (western) Europe it was Hasbro’s newly acquired subsidiary MB who were responsible for the introduction of the Transformers toy line. For a very short while Transformers were available in Europe with an MB logo on the packaging. This changed in early 1986 when Transformers started to come with a Hasbro logo on the packaging.

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MB branding and distribution

“Distribution”

Transformers toys in mainland Europe came in quad-lingual packaging in 1985 and 1986. Windcharger was a 1985 release and came with German, French, Dutch and Spanish on the packaging. Transformers toys were distributed by ‘Milton Bradley GmbH’ in West-Germany, ‘MB France SA’ in France, ‘MB International BV’ in the Netherlands, ‘MB Belgium NV/SA’ in Belgium, ‘MB España SA’ in Spain and ‘MB (Switzerland) AG’ in Switzerland. Some MB Transformers also ended up in several Nordic countries through ‘BRIO/Scanditoy AB’ and all the way down in beautiful New Zealand through ‘Milton Bradley (NZ) Ltd’.

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Quad-lingual packaging

MB in Europe used a different product numbering scheme than Hasbro, so the SKU/catalog numbers on the European toys were different from those on the American packaging. Windcharger was part of the second “mini-vehicle” assortment number 9125. This particular assortment consisted of four Autobots, the other three being Brawn, Gears and Huffer. Here’s a photo from that assortment from a 1985 Transformers Milton Bradley dealer catalog supplement that was available in France and the Benelux (maybe also in West-Germany and Switzerland):

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9125 “mini-vehicles” assortment (MB) Europe 1985

Note the incorrect suffix in the catalog page above. Windcharger’s number is not ’9125 20′ as it states in the catalog, but ’9125 22′. Here’s a close up of the catalog number on the MB Windcharger packaging:

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Windcharger SKU/catalog number (MB) 9125 22

“Robot mode”

Let’s examine the rest of the blister packaging. As with all European cards, the text “Transforms from minicar to robot and back” has been removed. If you look closely you can see where the original text was located by spotting the two rows of squares on the top left that look out of place (they don’t fade nicely with the rest of the grid). The beautiful artwork on the card is the same as on the American card.

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Windcharger artwork

The American minibot cars came packaged in vehicle mode in 1984 and were re-released in 1985, but now packaged in robot mode. This European Windcharger is packaged in robot mode, just like the American 1985 Windcharger release.

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Windcharger (MB) – packaged in robot mode

“Age notice”

On the top left of the card we find the age notice in German, French, Dutch and Spanish.

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Windcharger (MB) – Age notice (quad-lingual)

Contrary to MB’s wave 1 mini vehicles, all four wave 2 mini vehicles also have the original English age notice on the top right of the card. It looks like they forgot to remove this original text which is also present on the American Windcharger cards:

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Windcharger (MB) – Age notice (English)

“Front to Back”

Let’s flip the card around and see what we can find on the back of the packaging. As you can see the portion of the back of the card that is taken up by the tech specs is significantly larger than what the American tech specs need. This is of course because of the need to display information in four languages. This also means that there is only room for the motto and no room is left for the bio that is found on the American releases.

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Windcharger (MB) – back of the card

The rest of the card shows the transformation instructions and has information on how to decode the tech specs with the red decoder strip which can be found inside the packaging of boxed Transformers. Also included is the cut out point (well, half a cut out point), which kids could save for special mail away offers. The actual mail away offers varied from country to country. Around the time of Windcharger’s release there was a Transformers Time Warrior watch mail away promotion which ran until December 31, 1985. In Europe it is confirmed this offer was available in the UK, the Netherlands and Belgium. Here’s a blog post on that particular mail away promotion I wrote last year.

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Windcharger (MB) – tech spec instructions and cut out points

“The French Connection”

MB introduced the Transformers toy line in Europe in 1985 and released two waves of our loveable transforming robots. The first wave consisted mainly of 1985 characters and lots of iconic robots were missing from that line up, like Optimus Prime, almost all Autobot cars and characters like Starscream, Ravage and Laserbeak. All this was due to licensing issues, because a French company called Ceji already held the rights to those characters for most of Europe, licensed directly from Takara. This caused all sorts of confusion and even resulted in Jetfire being billed as the leader of the Autobots, because Optimus Prime was not available due to these licensing issues.

At a certain point in time in 1985 MB/Hasbro worked out a deal with Ceji, which allowed MB to release these popular characters in Europe after all. Those Transformers are part of what we can now identify as wave 2. Windcharger was part of this second wave. These wave 2 releases are my favourites of the whole MB line, because they were originally released as Diaclones in Europe by Ceji under their Joustra brand/subsidiary. Here’s a photo of both the 1985 MB release of Windcharger and the 1984 Ceji Joustra Trans-Am. They look pretty similiar, don’t they? :-)

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Windcharger (MB) 1985 – Trans-Am (Ceji Joustra) 1984

What I find even more fascinating about this wave 2 minibot assortment, or mini vehicles as they are officially called in the MB line, is that the Ceji Joustra releases already carried an Autobot logo! Look at the close up photo below:

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Autobot logo on both Windcharger and Trans-Am

There’s almost no doubt that Takara just allocated a portion of their production line which was meant for the American market (for Hasbro) to Ceji. They didn’t even bother to remove the Autobot stickers! How cool is that! I cannot imagine Hasbro would have been too pleased about that. The same goes for the other three minibots in this assortment. The Ceji Joustra counterparts of Brawn, Huffer and Gears also carried Autobot stickers. If you’re interested in reading more about the connection between Ceji Joustra Diaclone and MB’s wave 2 of Transformers you can read about it here.

“1986 re-releases”

1986 saw a change of strategy in the way that MB and Hasbro would market Transformers in continental Europe. It was decided that Transformers would not come in MB branded packaging anymore, but would carry Hasbro logos as they already did in the US, Canada and the UK. A large portion of all the 1985 MB branded Transformers were re-released in 1986, but now with a Hasbro logo on the packaging. An exception to this were all four minibots of MB’s 9125 assortment. Here’s a photo from the 1986 minibot line-up from the Spanish 1986 Hasbro dealer catalog:

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Mini-vehicles assortment (Hasbro) 1986 dealer catalog – MB España

Twelve mini vehicles are shown here. Five of those had been available previously in 1985 in Europe under the 9100 assortment of wave 1 mini-vehicles (Cosmos, Beachcomber, Powerglide, Seaspray and Warpath). The 9125 assortment of Windcharger, Gears, Brawn and Huffer has not been re-released in 1986 in Europe. So why is that? Well, I believe the answer lies in the fact that all four of those have been replaced with new mini vehicles that are known to be re-painted and slightly altered versions of those four. Windcharger was replaced by Tailgate, Gears was replaced by Swerve, Brawn was replaced by Outback and Huffer was replaced by Pipes! I suspect that MB felt there was little point in finding a production line for Windcharger, Gears, Brawn and Huffer for a 1986 re-release, when Takara was already pumping out four similiar mini vehicles that could take their place in 1986.

This, in my opinion, also explains why continental Europe never saw an official Cliffjumper release. If you look back at the original 1984 minibot assortment that was released in the US you can see that four of those saw a 1985 release in Europe as the 9125 assortment, because MB acquired those when they took over Ceji’s remaining stock of Diaclones. Bumblebee is the fifth minibot from that assortment and did see a European release in 1986, probably because it was such a popular character (and was shown very often in the Transformers cartoon). Cliffjumper was probably left out because he was not part of the original Ceji Diaclone stock and was not deemed popular enough (as Bumblebee was) to go through the effort of sourcing a new production line for the benefit of creating new Cliffjumpers for a 1986 release in Europe.

“Gone with the Wind”

Taking all the above into account it becomes clear that this European release of Windcharger (and the other three mini-vehicles of the 9125 assortment) are very hard to find in European packaging. They were only available as part of MB’s wave 2 release in late 1985, which were left over Ceji Diaclone stock, and they never saw a 1986 re-release in Europe in Hasbro packaging like most of the other bots did. I acquired this MB Windcharger together with an MB Huffer and Gears from a Dutch collector back in 2009. According to the seller these were all from a case of unsold stock that was found in a German toy store that went belly up. There have been very few MOSC (mint on sealed card) sightings of this assortment anywhere else. The only other source I have seen so far is an ex-Hasbro UK employee, who had a production sample of an MB Brawn, which is now in the possession of a good collector friend of mine, also here in the Netherlands.

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“We are family”

If you ever come across an MB Windcharger, Gears or Huffer don’t hesitate and snap it up, because they are rare and have a special history. If you ever come across an MB Brawn in its original packaging, do not hesitate to contact me, because that one is still missing from my collection. Good money paid. ;-)

Credits

Thanks to Martin Lund for the photo of the MicroChange Trans-Am!

posted by 20th Century Toy Collector in Joustra Diaclone,MB Transformers,Transformers and have Comments (13)

MB/Hasbro and Ceji theory confirmed

I’m so glad to be able to post this information. It’s probably going to evoke a “meh, so what..” reaction from 99.9% of everyone reading this (and probably rightly so), but for me personally and the handful of nerds who are as obsessive about info like this as I am (my hat goes off to you!)  it’s wonderful info that has only recently been unearthed. It has to do with the distribution and rights to selling early vintage Transformers in the 1980′s in Europe.

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“The MB & Ceji Joustra connection”

I have been researching the early years of Transformers releases in Europe and I’ve put some stuff on paper that you can read starting here in my, as of yet, unfinished series of articles on MB Transformers. In these articles I have made a big point about there being a connection between MB and Ceji, the latter being the company that held the original license to exclusively sell the toys that Transformers were based on in Europe. There was seemingly a lot of evidence that pointed in the direction of MB having taken over Ceji’s Diaclone stock. The evidence was very strong, but until today it was all circumstantial. Not anymore:

Mention of Ceji deal in document between Hasbro and Takara

Letter from Hasbro to Takara regarding MB-Ceji deal – 6 May 1986

What you see above is a copy of a letter dated May 6th, 1986 sent by Hasbro to Takara (edited very slightly by me for clarity) in which they refer to the acquisition of all DIACLONE stock from Ceji at cost. It goes on about Hasbro (the owner of MB) getting a break from Takara regarding the royalties for Transformers sold in Europe, maybe because some of these were already factored into the price that Ceji originally paid to Takara.

It is also interesting to note that Hasbro/MB got Ceji’s Diaclone stock at cost price. This seems to further support the idea that Ceji might have been in financial difficulties for them to give away their rights to sell and distribute Diaclones/Transformers in Europe and sell off their Diaclone stock at cost price!

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“Hello, former Ceji Diaclone stock!”

Some great “new” info there that confirms theories about what happened in Europe in the 1980s. I will make an effort to update the MB articles with this new info as soon as I can (probably within the next week), including a long overdue overhaul of the articles themselves, but I just couldn’t refrain from publishing this info here already. A big, big thank you to my good friend Maz for pointing me to this info and for RC85747 at the AllSpark forums for publishing the link to the SEC filings containing this info. Dig through them here if you’re interested!!

posted by 20th Century Toy Collector in Joustra Diaclone,MB Transformers,Transformers and have No Comments

Joustra Diaclone bomb

Exciting times if you’re a fan of early European Transformers history like me. Especially if you’re interested in a little niche section called Joustra Diaclones! For the uninitiated, Joustra is the name of a French toy company that briefly held the exclusive rights to sell Diaclone transformers in a major part of western Europe in 1984 and 1985. This was right before the Transformers onslaught hit Europe properly. What sets Joustra’s Diaclone releases apart from Japanese, Italian and Finnish Diaclones is that Joustra went to great lengths to customize the packaging for the European countries where they sold their stuff. Mindblowingly beautiful and exclusive packaging art work and a mini comic were produced especially for this line.

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So why are these times exciting? Well, first off my good friend Maz of TF-1.com has just published his magnus opus on Joustra Diaclones. It’s a huge article that aims to be the definitive source on the exciting story of Joustra Diaclones and it succeeds at that (in spades!) I have tremendous respect for Maz, because his passion is so genuine and makes his articles a joy to read. In fact, Maz really inspired me to start collecting MB Transformers after I read his article on said subject matter. He is also partly responsible for me picking up the gauntlet and publishing my own articles that you can find on this website. One of the most humbling experiences for me is that Maz’s original article on MB Transformers has been updated now to reflect new information that has come to light because of my research and contains references to this site. That’s so über cool! Please check out Maz’s new article on Joustra Diaclones here and his updated article on MB Transformers here!

“Joustra-Diaclone.com”

But that’s not all. The Joustra Diaclone party is not over, because yesterday a brand new website has launched that is devoted exclusively to Joustra Diaclones, aptly named Joustra-Diaclone.com. This website is a labour of love of another very, very good collector friend of mine, RPChristophe. RPC hails from France and is the most devoted Joustra Diaclone collector I have ever come across and is one of the nicest human beings I have ever had the privilege of knowing. His website is available in both French and English and contains scans of all the Joustra Diaclone catalogs and of nearly all the Joustra Diaclone packaging ever released. This guy even has a direct line to the Brizzi brothers, the French/Italian artists who were responsible for the wonderful art work for the Joustra Diaclone series!

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“Mostly Transformers”

And last, but certainly not least, I’d like to draw your attention to another blog that I make sure to check out at least once a week and that’s Arkvander’s Mostly Transformers Redux blog. Although he lives across the pond I consider Arkvander a very like minded collector. His blog postings are well written, a joy to read and accompanied by great photography. I try to stay focused on collecting G1 Transformers, but this guy’s blog is testing my resolve. One of these days I’m probably going to cave and buy more recent TF stuff and it will all be his fault! :-)

So, is there anything my lazy ass has to offer today, you might wonder? Not yet, unfortunately. I am working hard on the 6th installment of my MB Transformers series of articles. Besides that, I’ve been extremely lucky in scoring some cool TF and GI Joe items that I was after (that’s on top of the stuff I mentioned in my previous postings). So collection wise, there is no shortage of cool stuff that I hope to photograph and publish here as soon as those packages have arrived safely here in the low countries. Have a great Sunday (or what’s left of it) and see you soon!

posted by 20th Century Toy Collector in Joustra Diaclone,Transformers and have Comment (1)