I was extremely fortunate to be able to pick up all three of Hasbro’s Motorvators from 1991 in brand new, sealed condition at last year’s TFNation convention. I’d had Lightspeed back in the day, which was an all-time favourite. So to find all three was a very joyous surprise, and since I was already intoxicated by the general convention atmosphere I simply couldn’t not get them.
Shortly thereafter someone looked at my new purchases and joylessly told me that, actually, the Motorvators weren’t “as good” as their Takara counterparts, the (combining) Brainmasters. They had indeed completely missed the point!
Nostalgia plays a huge, huge part in my hobby of collecting vintage Transformers. Each new find is like a time capsule to my past. I have no desire whatsoever to return to my childhood or even the 1980s/1990s, but it’s nice to visit and it’s nice to be reminded of cherished moments.
Sometimes the Takara versions of Hasbro Transformers may very well be objectively “better”, for example, the Motorvators/Brainmasters, Powermaster Optimus Prime/Super Ginrai, and Onslaught’s and Silverbolt’s working launchers. But here’s the thing, I didn’t grow up with Takara’s Transformers, I grew up with Hasbro’s. And that’s why, now, I like to track down the likes of the Motorvators rather than the Brainmasters.
The packaging itself is a huge part of that nostalgic feeling. To me, the packaging is almost as big a deal as the toy inside. And that’s why, now, I like to track down sealed vintage Transformers rather than “loose” ones.
When I was younger, and received a Transformers toy for Christmas or my birthday I usually had no idea which one I was getting. I kinda knew it was a Transformer because of the way it was wrapped. That notorious “box flap” of many boxed Transformers must have been the bane of present wrapping parents everywhere!
So the packaging was the first thing I saw in that split-second of excitement as it dawned on me actually which character I’d received. Superion! Menasor! Starscream! Onslaught! are all names I’ve unabashedly squealed out loud in the past. The package illustration (or “boxart”) was always what my focus honed in on first, with the character reaching out and coming to life in my shaking, electrified hands.
On those special occasions, the packaging landed as a colourful and intense direct hit. I didn’t get new Transformers very often during my childhood, so the arrival of a new one was a rare and indescribably exciting treat.
Trips to toy shops were also a rare treat. I would spend hours in toy shops (or more often, toy departments of larger stores), taking Transformers toys off the pegs or shelves and just holding them as though I’d just found precious gold. Even though I knew I couldn’t afford them, I still studied each one from all sides and angles. I willed my young brain to memorise as much detail as I could. I’d read and re-read each of the bios on the back, out loud sometimes to try to get the information to sink in. I could always be found, sat cross-legged on the floor with an Autobot or a Deception in my clammy hands.
Then suddenly, I’d be grabbed by the back of my collar and dragged back to the clothes department. We were supposed to be looking at a new PE kit or new shoes for school? Sorry I must have forgotten, what with staring so intently at the battle scene on the back of a Transformers toy. Even now, I still have those scenes burned on my retinas.
On very rare occasions there was enough money spare for a Mini-Autobot. If there was, I was suddenly debating with myself which one to get… Powerglide or Warpath? Tailgate or Swerve? My eyes darted across the boxart and tech specs and my heart raced. It was a decision as important to me as which wire a bomb disposal expert should cut.
The bus journey home was always torture on those days when I got a new Transformer. In that hour I’d already memorised the tech specs and the instructions.
I didn’t have the room to keep the boxes and cards of my burgeoning Transformers collection back then. Instead, the boxart (if it hadn’t been ripped in the excitement of tearing the bubble from the backing card) and tech specs were put into my scrapbooks. I even went as far to cut the tech specs up so I could have a little museum-style namecard/information plaque to go with the toy robot I had on display.
Back in those days, the packaging was a promise of what was to come. And I was never disappointed! Opening a new Transformer, exploring its modes, appreciating the tactile nature of the puzzle of its transformation, reading the instructions, applying the stickers, putting it on the shelf with the others (after a bedroom carpet based battle, of course)… was a holistic experience that made Christmas or my birthday or a very rare Saturday afternoon an utter delight.
Nowadays one of the reasons I seek out sealed vintage Transformers is to recreate that experience. Hunting down loose toys or even getting reissues just doesn’t seem to wholly complete the experience, it feels like a battle half won. To be able to hold the entire Transformer again, in its box or on its card, and then be the one to open it and apply its stickers, is a pure hit of nostalgia.
Of course, this is not an inexpensive or quick way to collect Transformers. But I’ve already been down that road before, scrabbling with loose toys to quickly fill perceived gaps. I much prefer this slower, more considered pace. I can have Transformers in my collection that are complete, that feel whole, and that take me back to some of the best moments of my childhood. For me, nostalgia is the whole package.
May your luster never dull, and your wires never cross!