My passion for all things Transformers didn’t come into its own until early summer 1986 when Hasbro announced its new range of Special Teams; four themed groups (aircraft, cars, military, emergency) of combining Autobots and Decepticons.
There was something about these groups of robots–actual teams–that really sparked my imagination.
From what I’d seen of the 1985 range, specifically the Dinobots, Insecticons, and Constructicons, I’d already fallen in love with the idea of teams of Transformers. I don’t mean sub-groups here (such as Autobot Cars, Mini-Autobots, Spy Cassettes, or Strike Planes), I mean teams of Transformers with a specific theme (and often a uniform colour scheme). The Dinobots, Insecticons, and Constructicons perfectly fit that definition. (Teams of dinosaurs, insects, and construction vehicles; the clue is in the name if you were struggling.)
Despite seeing the Dinobots and Insecticons on toy shelves (and the [imported] Constructicons one time on a market stall) in 1985, I didn’t actually come to own any. (I did get Snarl for my birthday in 1986 though!)
When the Special Teams came along in 1986, I immediately honed in on them!
One afternoon early in the summer of 1986 I was leaving a toy shop empty-handed, having had an hour-long look at all the Transformers I couldn’t afford. As I passed the till I spotted something: a large glossy leaflet that featured two massive robots with cars and planes for limbs that I’d never seen before. The leaflet opened up into a poster showing photographs of all of the “Special Team” collection.
For the rest of the summer that poster was stuck on my bedroom wall and ritually stared at, gazed upon, and otherwise scrutinised. Of particular interest to me were the Aerialbots, especially Silverbolt. I had a thing for aircraft as a kid (both my dad and his dad were in the air force) and already had quite a collection of Airfix models.
Two of my all-time favourite aircraft were/are the SR-71 Blackbird and the Concorde. I also loved the design of the Space Shuttle orbiter. Seeing Silverbolt and the other airborne characters on that poster, was a revelation. I was magnetised. (Yes, Devastator had been out. But, you have to remember, he wasn’t officially available in the UK at the time.) As far as I was concerned, these new Special Teams were a must-have!
As my 9th birthday approached I was given the latest Argos catalogue and there, on page 296, was Superion–the entire Aerialbot team! At £22, it was a lot to ask for. But, you know what, I’d been a good boy all summer!
It was a big decision and it did cause a bit of a collecting dilemma; I was also painfully desperate to own the Dinobots, and the “future” cast of Transformers The Movie/”Target: 2006″; all of which were in the same Argos catalogue!
On the morning of my birthday I opened up the Superion gift-set. And, oh boy, what a gift it was! Five (no six!) new Transformers characters all on the same day. That sort of thing was unheard of! (Incidentally I’d received Snarl and Runamuck that same birthday, but didn’t open those on the day itself.)
I spent the entire evening of my birthday applying the stickers to the Aerialbots and getting to know the characters via the bio & tech specs cards on the back of the box. A flying leader who’s scared of heights? A jet fighter more interested in books? Another one who’s a terrible pilot? That was the genius of Bob Budiansky right there.
So from there I was hooked on the Special Teams. I asked for, and received, the Stunticon/Menasor set that Christmas and it took me the entirety of 1987 to collect the Combaticons. Of note was Blast Off, the first Transformer I bought myself with my own* money! (*50p per week less 32p for the weekly Transformers comic over six months… You bet I splashed out from time to time!)
By the time I got round to the Protectobots, they were no longer on the toys shelves (I only managed to get Streetwise) so I started on collecting the Technobots and Terrorcons (just Lightspeed, Strafe, and Cutthroat) before the Seacons (only Seawing and Snaptrap) came out.
In 1990 and 1991, when the Classics reissues were released, I tried to track down as many missing Protectobots as I could! (I only found Blades though.)
I think what I liked the most about the Special Teams was that the Autobot/Decepticon balance was perfect… one leader and four warriors per team on both sides. And for the first time it felt like there was a point, or a goal, to my Transformers collecting. I felt like it was all somehow building towards something greater than the sum of its parts.
Damn, Hasbro knew how to sell robot toys to children!
While the Special Teams lasted from 1986 into 1988, the other Transformers didn’t seem to fit my definition of what a Transformers team was and I just wasn’t as interested. I only had limited funds, after all. I had to prioritise!
Sure, there were sub-groups. But most of them didn’t feel like teams to me. You could argue that there some crossover with shared gimmicks or similar vehicle/beast modes, but I don’t think that same cohesion was there.
The likes of the Dinobots and Constructicons, and the Special Teams, felt separate and distinct and autonomous from the main Autobot and Decepticon forces. In fact, in much of the fiction at the time, they were often portrayed as acting and operating as splinter groups.
In 1989 Hasbro released their Micromasters sub-line and I was hooked once again on the idea of Transformers teams. Each of the Patrols were just like the Special Teams. Well, aside from the combining thing. The Air Strike Patrol (aircraft)*, Battle Patrol (military), Rescue Patrol (emergency), Sports Car Patrol (cars) each reminded me of the teams I loved.
(*My favourite; just like the Aerialbots!)
By the time I saw Micromasters in the shops, my passion for Transformers had cooled somewhat. I was now at secondary school (I was too old for toys, I was frequently told) and no longer reading the comic (not by choice; my local newsagent had stopped stocking it). But I was still drawn to the Micromasters, and as a kind of cross between the Mini-Autobots (small size) and the Special Teams (themed teams) I found them to be extremely collectible.
I did get the Battle Patrol sometime in late 1989 and the Air Patrol in early 1991 (both on secret toy buying missions!) and numerous others in the mid-1990s when they seemed to overrun the likes of Jolly Giant alongside imported Action Masters and the Generation 2 range.
When I learned of Takara’s Microtrailer teams in the late-1990s I began a collection side-quest but they were hard to find and I only managed to track down the Rescue Patrol Team and the differently coloured Battle Patrol Team. Even now, the Super Car Patrol Team remains in the ether of my dormant collecting urges as a grail of sorts.
In the mid-2000s I tracked down the Takara versions of Onslaught (along with the four smaller Combaticons) and Silverbolt, mainly to have mint versions of two childhood favourites, but also to have them with their spring-loaded launchers intact. Since then, I’ve always had half an eye out for team members of the likes of the first four Special Teams, and the Terrorcons, Technobots and Seacons.
In 2014 I randomly found Generation 2 Swindle, and just last month I came across Classics Fireflight. Seeing Fireflight again opened up the nostalgia floodgates, that’s for sure!
Countless teams have come along since those halcyon days of 1986 but that first one, Superion/the Aerialbots–the set that had everything I wanted from a Transformers team, from fantastic alternate modes to wonderfully flawed characters–with all the fond memories I have associated with will always be my favourite.
May your luster never dull, and your wires never cross!