We’re kicking off Dungeon Reviews with one of the most iconic action figures of the 20th century: the original Optimus Prime.
Optimus Prime was released in the first wave of Transformers toys in 1984, repurposed from the Diaclone Battle Convoy figure as the leader of the heroic Autobots. For this review, we’ll be looking at the 2019 Hasbro reissue of the classic toy, paired with a vintage trailer.
Optimus transforms into what TFwiki claims is a White Freightliner WFT-8664T, the sort of snub-nosed tractor trailer truck you’d see on any American highway in the 1980s. These types of trucks are rare in the modern era, such that any sighting of one makes me feel like I’ve spotted the Autobot leader himself.
The cab is mostly plastic. The upper front part is die-cast, as well as the rear end which becomes the robot feet. The headlights, grill, bumper, rims, smokestacks, and external air filters are all chrome silver, and the wheels have rubber tires. The truck is more-or-less scaled to the two-inch Diaclone pilots.
The front of the cab can swing open to admit two Diaclone pilots. Since Americans didn’t get the pilots, we’d often use this interior space to store the robot mode fists (or pretend it was for the Matrix).
The rear hatch of the trailer can open to deploy whatever or whoever Optimus is carrying into battle. The interior of the trailer can comfortably fit a couple of mini-vehicles or one regular Autobot car, though Roller has to be removed first.
The transformation from cab to robot is quite simple. The hips are on a spring-loaded ratchet which tends to wear thin over time, so many older samples of Optimus Prime have very loose hips.
The only separate component for robot mode are the fists, which many young Transformers fans tended to lose.
Optimus Prime strikes a commanding presence with his wide chest and strong-looking arms. He stands about six inches tall. As long as the hips aren’t frayed, he stands up well.
Robot mode reveals a few new mechanical details, in particular his head and the geometric details on his forearms.
From the back, Optimus looks pretty plain! There’s almost no sculpted detail. But that’s to be expected from a toy of his age. His purpose was to command the Autobots (and whatever Gobots and Convertors you’d inducted into your Autobot ranks), not stand on a shelf and be admired – especially not from the back.
Much imitated, never surpassed. Optimus’ original head sculpt features some details that are rarely seen on later adaptations of the character, such as the bright yellow eyes and the small vents on the mouthpiece.
Articulation / Accessories
Optimus has articulation at the shoulders, elbows, hips, and knees, which is quite a lot for a vintage Transformer! Thanks to his fists being on a post, they can also swivel. He can point his toes, too, if he needs to do some ballet moves.
Optimus comes with a black rifle. Notably, this rifle was available in two variations, a “normal” version (right) and a “bloated” version (left). The 2019 Hasbro reissue came with both, so we get to see both of them.
A strange feature of this rifle is how Optimus can’t hold it by its actual grip, which is molded behind the 5mm post that goes into his fist. Also, later versions of Optimus added a little lip at the top of his fist so he can hold the rifle more securely.
The underside of the trailer has these two blue pinions.
The pinions can swing out to stabilize the trailer’s base mode, or they can swing all the way forward to stabilize the trailer when separated from Optimus.
When opened, the trailer converts into a base mode for Optimus and the Autobots. His bio describes it as “Autobot headquarters,” but this feels a little optimistic for what the base mode accomplishes. I’ve always seen it as more of a field command center.
At the rear of the base is the “auto-launcher,” which extends upward on an articulated arm.
This fella has several play features for battling Decepticons and repairing damaged Autobots.
On one side is a little radar dish that can raise and lower. By spinning the disc at the auto-launcher’s back, you can spin the radar around, simulating it scanning the region for Decepticon activity.
The auto-launcher’s claw can open and close, allowing you to take Wheeljack’s latest invention out of his hands before he accidentally blows up the command center.
True to its name, the auto-launcher can also launch missiles. These would normally fire via a spring-loaded mechanism triggered by small black tabs on the sides of the launcher, but most American versions of Optimus Prime had the springs weakened or removed. The figure came with a total of four rockets in case you lose some of them.
The launcher canopy can also open up to admit a Diaclone pilot.
As a kid, playing with Generation 2 Optimus Prime, I always pretended auto-launcher was a sentient character, using the idea of the three “modules” described in Optimus’ bio.
That’s not all the trailer can do, though!
At the back of auto-launcher’s base is this little tab.
Pressing the tab causes the black plastic ejector piece underneath auto-launcher to spring forward, sending Roller – or whoever is docked – rolling down the trailer’s front ramp.
Like the missile launcher, this feature was severely weakened for the American release of the toy.
Speaking of Roller, here’s the little guy. He is molded entirely in one color, with his gold headlamps created by foil stickers. His six black wheels roll freely and came detached, meaning you sometimes find Rollers on the secondary market with missing wheels. The two pegs on his rear bumper attach to the command center’s ejector.
The little guy has a variety of functions. The 5mm port on top lets you mount the included fuel pump for refueling missions (mine has a hose salvaged from a G.I. Joe figure) or Optimus’ rifle if he needs to blast a ‘con.
Roller can also admit up to four Diaclone pilots when they need to go out for drinks.
Roller had a notable variation in which he could be either navy blue (pictured) or gray. The gray version was used as a basis for the TV show model.
Stickers provide the detail for much of the command center’s interior. There’s a lot of mysterious, intriguing stuff going on here – we have stuff like a solar system chart, vehicle schematics, and robot diagnostics. It’s easy to imagine that the command center is keeping tabs on both its assigned troops as well as the activity of Decepticons on the planet and maybe throughout the galaxy.
It’s a little hard to actually play with this, though, since the majority of the Autobots are too large to interact with the sticker details. The mini-vehicles can almost manage, or you could load the base out with Micromasters.
The base also has two seats or control centers for Diaclone pilots. These seats have absolutely no purpose for the Transformers toyline other than making 80s kids wonder if they were missing something.
The base mode can comfortably accommodate up to three Autobots. You could probably squeeze in six mini-vehicles if you laid them bumper-to-bumper. The heavier Autobots tend to weigh down the trailer’s side shells, though.
Finally, the trailer has this seldom-seen repair bay mode. This was an official mode for Battle Convoy, though I believe it was left out of the American Transformers instruction manual.
Optimus Prime is a character who is both vital and now ubiquitous. If you just need any old version of the guy, you can walk into a Wal-Mart and probably find at least three.
For me, growing up in the early 90s, Optimus was vital and scarce. I missed the 1988 Powermaster Optimus Prime and I couldn’t afford (or locate, probably) the 1990 Action Master Optimus Prime. By the time 1991 rolled around, the guy was nowhere to be found.
My first Optimus Prime was just a trailer scavenged from a fleamarket, purchased at the incredible price of 25 cents. Since then I’ve owned quite a few iterations of the figure, including the G2 version, a couple of G1 versions, and even the one that could carry a bottle of Pepsi in his trailer.
The design has been improved on through dozens of incremental updates and reinventions through the years, but there’s a certain quality that’s only present in the original. There are small details like the yellow eyes and the decals on the forearms, and there’s the simple weight of the die cast and the smell of the rubber tires. It all started here, and it’s always wonderful to return.
Many have already said thousands of better words about this toy, so I’ll sign off here. Autobots, transform and roll out!