Transformers always seemed to have a reputation for being the most “expensive” of all the transforming robot toy ranges that appeared in the mid- to late-1980s and I had a hard time convincing my parents that they were worth it.
Budgets were very tight at home when I was a kid. Phrases like “single parent family” and “free school meals” haunted me throughout term time and, coupled with the odd spell of bullying, school was generally hell. But Hasbro provided the silver lining to that particular dark cloud with their pocket money sub-range: Mini-Autobots!
While it often felt like school-mates were getting Optimus Primes and Megatrons just for behaving themselves at the dentist, I was actually just happy and so, so grateful to receive a Mini-Autobot for my birthday or Christmas or while on holiday.
I got Bumblebee for my birthday in 1985, Powerglide that Christmas and after that, in the summer of 1986, Seaspray at Hunstanton beach. (He was the only Transformer you could find at the seaside!)
Up until the end of 1986 (when I got Pipes, along with Menasor for Christmas) I amassed a staggering 8 Mini-Autobots (before turning my attention to the rest of the Special Teams). And, boy, did I love them! They were small, easy to transform, and a lot more durable than their more expensive counterparts.
(You’ll notice only 7 Mini-Autobots in the photo. I did get Wheelie one Saturday and took him to school the following Monday. He was stolen out of my cubby hole during lunch. No one owned up. That was a bad day.)
The brilliant thing about the Mini-Autobots was that they sported a decent range of vehicle modes, not just cars like the larger Autobots. Seaspray, one of my favourites to this day, was a fun little hovercraft.
And it wasn’t just the range of alternate modes, but the range of personalities, too.
Beachcomber was another favourite: a little beach buggy who suffered mental stress and was a loner who liked to escape? That bio alone–on the back of a toy–was worth more to me than any value an adult could perceive or appreciate.
It was always disappointing that the Decepticons didn’t have an equivalent to the Mini-Autobots. Sure there were the Spy Cassettes but they were packaged in pairs and were thus priced out of range. (Not to mention they were a lot harder to find.)
Having access to only the Mini-Autobots taught me some valuable lessons early on. I realised that my own imagination (and that of the people who created the Transformers characters) gave me just as rich an experience with the likes of Bumblebee and Tailgate as I got with any of the more expensive Transformers. My parents may have known the price of Transformers, but they never knew their value.
Since last summer, having rebooted my Transformers collection, I’ve tracked down four Mini-Autobots: Bumblebee, Seaspray, Beachcomber, and Warpath. Of those, Warpath was the first I’d never owned before (reissue aside).
Finding MOSC versions of these wonderful little robots made all those fond memories come rushing back.
As is inevitable with a collecting hobby, a wish list forms, a desire to collect the others.
Over the first three years of their Transformers range, Hasbro released 18 Mini-Autobots. So wouldn’t it make for an excellent “sub-group quest” to track down them all. Ideally in MOSC condition… but that may well be impossible!
I’m four down, with a MOSC Powerglide on its way as I speak. So I’m 28% of the way there already. Of course, there are the versions that came with Mini-Spy pack-ins. Oh! And the variants with iron on patches, and the first year ones packaged in vehicle mode, and the variant colours of Bumblebee and Cliffjumper, and the variant versions from around the world like Huffer in Pipes’ colours and–
You know what, let’s just take it one little robot at a time. After all, a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single Mini-Autobot!
May your luster never dull, and your wires never cross.
What are your current Transformers collecting goals? I’d love to hear about them in the comments below!