When it came to Transformers, I had two types of schoolmate. The first type were generous with their toys and happy to share. The other type were mean with their toys and happy to gloat and show off.
My best friends at primary school were as enthusiastic about Transformers as I was. Often, after school, we’d meet up and stage almighty battles between our Autobots and Decepticons the likes of which the living room carpet had never seen before! Whenever they got new Transformers toys (which, I can tell you, was a lot more often than I ever did) they invited me over to show me and let me transform it myself and get a good look at the tech specs on the box. We’d also spend entire afternoons swapping Panini Transformers stickers.
There were other schoolmates, equally as enthusiastic about Transformers, who were the complete opposite. At the time, in 1986, I was the only kid at school whose parents had divorced. I dealt with it as best I could. That I qualified for free school lunches was something of a sticking point for some of them. This type of schoolmate was not a friend.
One particular boy sure did love to gloat whenever he got a new Transformers toy and brought it into the playground to show off. No one was allowed to touch it. “Look with your eyes!” he would sing, relishing our collective envy. Jetfire, Astrotrain, Blitzwing, Metroplex, Optimus Prime, and more, were paraded out every time it was “toy day” on the last day of term.
All I ever brought in was a tatty game of Scrabble with insulating tape holding the board together and half of the letter tiles missing. At least I could still spell out P-I-S-S O-F-F U B-E-R-K.
You learn to minimise contact with such people. Except the time you get forced to attend their birthday party (even though you threw away the invite on the way home from school but your mum somehow found out about it directly from his mum through some weird radio frequency only mums have access to) with no getting out of it.
Long story short, we were all gathered in his back garden one interminably long Saturday afternoon to watch him open all his presents. One particularly memorable present was the Transformer Hot Rod and as soon as he opened him, the cavalier birthday host’s eyes zeroed in on mine, locked on, and the boasting began in earnest. I had to be polite. I had to smile through the envy. Where were my Scrabble tiles to spell out now I really felt?
Hot Rod was pushed into my face at regular intervals for the rest of the afternoon in an attempt to torment me. “Bet you wished you had this one, Graham! Bet you wish you had a Transformer this cool!”
He was right: Hot Rod is indeed one of the coolest Transformers. So, yes. Yes I did wish I had him at the time. But not because of what happened that day.
After reading a handful of chapters of “Target: 2006”, committing to memory the full page “New Autobots” advert printed in the Marvel comic, and seeing Transformers: The Movie at the cinema, I was more than ready for a Hot Rod to call my own. Hasbro even had someone dressed up as Hot Rod visiting toy shops all over the UK! That was the thing with Hasbro’s multi-pronged marketing strategies–they worked extremely well!
Hot Rod was a sales success toy-wise. He sold out everywhere. I hunted high and low for him in toy shops but never found him. I lost count of the number of times I went into Argos to see if he had been restocked. Even when he was re-released as a Targetmaster, he was nowhere to be seen. By 1987 I was on something of a quest to own all the new Movie/”Target: 2006″ characters. I got Galvatron in a sale in WHSmith. I got Rodimus Prime during my summer holiday. Kup and Targetmaster Cyclonus were birthday presents that year, followed by Targetmaster Blurr that Christmas.
My best friend, the first type of schoolmate, was actually kind enough to lend me his Scourge for an entire fortnight so I could stage my own “Target: 2006” living room carpet battle royale.
Years and years later, in 1995, I tracked down a loose second-hand Hot Rod but it was in poor condition and with torn stickers.
It wasn’t until late 2000 that I finally, F-I-N-A-L-L-Y got my own brand new Hot Rod in the form of the Takara “15th Anniversary” reissue from the online store, Hobby Link Japan. I think I was actually more excited to see Hot Rod getting a reissue than any other Transformers toy.
In 2004, I bought the reissued Targetmaster Hot Rod and was equally excited to have his nebulan companion in my collection. (Both of these reissues were sold on in 2016, as I decided to only keep originals–not reissues–of the Transformers I couldn’t part with.)
Hot Rod is, to me, a central character in the Transformers mythos. He has been a core player across almost all media, from the Marvel comics, the animated Movie and cartoon series, to the recent More than Meets the Eye/Lost Light comic series. 1986 was the Transformers biggest year and Hot Rod was that year’s biggest character.
Currently, I have the 2002 Commemorative Series reissue of Hot Rod on my shelf. Mainly because tracking down an actual original Hot Rod would be an irrationally expensive endeavour and also because a good friend, Maz (http://tfsquareone.blogspot.com) (who I imagine would have been the first type of schoolmate), was selling one at the end of 2017 and I was drawn to it. It was serendipity.
That Hot Rod has found his way into my possession time and again always reminds me that friends who share their Transformers are the best kinds of friends!
May your luster never dull, and your wires never cross!