1990. After saving up two months’ worth of pocket money, a lifetime at 7 years old, I finally ride the escalator to the top floor of John Lewis and approach the display of Transformers Classics. There I select the toy that I’ve watched for seemingly endless weeks – Autobot Jazz.
Within two hours of getting home the joy is gone. Jazz’s projectile missiles are already missing when I snap the figure clean in half during transformation.
I am gutted. And yet the trail of destruction is only beginning…
Hot Rod is decapitated during play. Leadfoot breaks on first transformation, although my Gran steps in to exchange it for fellow G2 Autobot Manta Ray. Two consecutive Metroplex figures snap at the waist. Both were pre-owned, and the knock that broke the second was so slight that I’m astounded – but still.
Diaclone, G1 and by extension G2 Transformers remain stunning combinations of design and imagination for their time. Yet their fragility in my tactless hands marred the experience. As much as I love seeing vintage Transformers in mint condition, this is the reason why, when it comes to my own G1 collecting, my focus is set on a different and wholly subjective criteria.
The toys I’ve owned the longest are a G1 Hot Rod reissue from 2002 and a well-worn 1984 Soundwave. Both were gifts from my friend Tomsk, and despite broken parts, missing accessories and torn stickers, each figure holds an intrinsic personal value.
Owning a G1 Hot Rod again at the age of 19 was something special, let alone one in brand new condition. It wasn’t enough to re-open the floodgates of collecting at that point, but that toy has been with me through some of the biggest moments of my life. It may be more worn after living through my twenties – but then so am I.
On the other hand Soundwave was a junker even when Tomsk and I played with it as kids. He gifted it to me when I re-embraced collecting as an adult, a suitable bookend to the ‘wilderness’ years. It’s a little dustier but otherwise exactly as I remember it.
These two are the closest I have to a childhood collection and accordingly mean a lot. But then – that’s not the sole defining feature of subjective value…
eBay, and a listing in the wrong category. One bid later and I’m the proud owner of a Takara Transformers Collection G1 Inferno. The toy was a childhood favourite, but this version looks so good that I can’t bring myself to open it. Instead, I kid myself, I’ll just buy all the Takara reissues.
That doesn’t happen. Months later, and on a long weekend trip I swoon over a near-complete G1 Inferno on display in a vintage toy shop. My then-girlfriend buys it for me as a gift just hours before I get down on one knee and propose. Another toy that’s seen better days; another big moment of life.
If I ever had to choose one Inferno to keep there would be no debate.
I have a few other vintage Transformers for more idiosyncratic reasons. In 1996 my friend Trevor’s Beast Wars Insecticon left a big enough impression that I finally bought it for myself two decades later. The cab of Powermaster Optimus Prime was an old favourite picked up for a song at a car boot sale. There is no bigger meaning attached to either particular item, but each fulfils a nostalgic longing no more or less satisfying than I need. And that, right there, is my stance on G1 collecting in a nutshell.
The fact is that Masterpiece and 3rd Party companies deliver the most satisfactory modern collecting experience; meanwhile IDW has produced the current high watermark of Transformers fiction. With fingers crossed, the upcoming Bumblebee film may be the best live-action Transformers adventure yet. In short, in doesn’t matter how good G1 was. Objectively, there’s no better time to be a Transformers fan than right now.
I love seeing the result of the dedication that goes into building a mint G1 collection. These beautiful toys are the ones that started it all, after all. Yet if my own samples are a bit rough around the edges, careworn, even broken, that’s OK.
It’s the value we attribute that makes these things worthwhile – and a little scuffed up is exactly how I remember G1 at its best.