The least likely can be the most cherished.
I received Bumblebee for my 8th birthday in September 1985. That particular birthday was remarkable for several reasons: it was the first birthday I had since my parents had separated and thus it was the first birthday I had since moving to a new country, a new home, and a new school. In fact, my 8th birthday fell on the day after the first day of the new school year.
Fully aware of all the costs involved in moving into a new place to live, getting new furniture, fixtures, appliances and so on, I wasn’t expecting a great deal for my birthday that year. I already had two Transformers toys at this point and while I would have been over the moon with a third (maybe a Decepticon this time!), I was fully prepared to, as stoically as an 8 year old boy could, act totally cool and mature about not getting a new one.
All of my other toys were in storage, so for most of 1985 I had just Optimus Prime (a gift from the previous Christmas) and Wheeljack (a trade for some Matchbox cars from the previous neighbour) to keep me occupied. I acted out my own version of Knight Rider, called “White* Rider” where Wheeljack played the part of KITT, on the living room carpet; specifically the scenes where KITT (Wheeljack) would disembark the FLAG Mobile Unit (Optimus Prime).
(*On account of Wheeljack being a white sports car. Clever, right.)
On the morning of my birthday I opened my cards, a few books and, of course, Bumblebee. I think my mum was a bit worried; the last Transformers toy she bought me was Optimus Prime, the top of the range guy, the big red lorry who I played with every day since. That was a lot to live up to.
Needless to say, I was over the moon with my new Bumblebee. I’d always loved the Volkswagen Beetle car. I’d seen, and loved, the Herbie movies and, having lived in Germany, I’d seen many of them on the roads. So to get one that could transform into a robot couldn’t have been more of a perfect gift!
As I had done with Optimus’s bio & tech specs (Wheeljack’s, with him technically being second hand, I’d never seen), I read and memorised Bumblebee’s personality. I liked him instantly. Small, eager, and brave.
Optimus Prime and Wheeljack were fantastic in their own right but Bumblebee was somehow better because he could fit in my pocket! He was a little car/robot spy I could take with me anywhere!
The first place I took him was school. I kept him in my pocket for the entire day. This was only my second day at my new school and I had yet to make any friends. Having that small toy Beetle in my pocket was almost like having a good luck charm. Bumblebee was my four-wheeled clover!
If the smallest Autobot could also be the most courageous, then so could I.
I didn’t tell anyone that it was my birthday that day, or that I had a Transformers toy in my pocket. I did eventually make friends over the coming weeks… actually through having a love for Transformers in common with some of the other kids in my class, including my soon-to-be best friend who would, a few weeks later, introduce me to the Marvel UK Transformers comic!
As with all of my childhood Transformers, Bumblebee was so played with and so loved that he didn’t survive. I “upgraded” him to his Throttlebot version, Goldbug in 1988, then to his Action Master version in 1990, and finally to his Generation 2 version in 1994. I missed out on the Pretender Classics version, sadly. (And that’s one of the few “G1” Transformers I’ve never ever seen in person!)
By pure good luck I unexpectedly came across a MOSC (1990s Chinese release) Bumblebee in a vintage toy shop in Leicester in 2018. Seeing him, as pristine and new as I did on that birthday all those years ago was a blast of nostalgia I just couldn’t ignore. I couldn’t not get him!
Bumblebee has been reissued numerous times recently, but I’ll always prefer his original “robotic” face because of his original toy and his appearances in the Ladybird books.
Bumblebee will always be the good luck charm of my Transformers collection. He takes me back to those days of my childhood when everything had been turned upside down and I had a new life to embark upon. My 8 year old self, navigating a new country and a new school, had a lot in common with Bumblebee: Small, eager, and brave.
May your luster never dull, and your wires never cross.
How many Bumblebees do you have in your Transformers collection? I’d love to hear about them in the comments below!