Dungeon Reviews: Autobot Mini-Vehicles (1984)

Small but swift Autobots who act as messengers and spies!

“The least likely can be the most dangerous.”

Six figures were released in 1984 to populate the mini-vehicle (or “minicar,” depending on what marketing felt like that day) range. These were intended to be the entry-level characters in Transformers, with the cheapest price point and the simplest designs. But despite their simplistic nature, many of them have gone on to be some of the most popular characters in the property. Today we’ll look at all six.

Bumblebee

Autobot Espionage

We’ll start with Bumblebee, the most well-known character in the minicar range. His vehicle mode is a cutesified Volkswagen Beetle in a bright yellow color scheme.

This figure is a mixture of the 2018 “Vintage G1” reissue (which featured additional paint applications on the headlights and bumpers, as well as an alternate head) and an original G1 Bumblebee.

Rear View

Bumblebee was originally part of the Microman Microchange toyline, where he was intended to represent an actual-size toy from Takara’s Choro-Q/Penny Racers, a line of small pull-back race car toys which featured a slot in the back to store a penny. The weight of the penny would make the car pop a wheelie when you launched it forward. The tab on the back of Bumblebee’s vehicle mode (which hides his head) is meant to represent the penny slot.

So, in other words, Bumblebee’s alternate mode is intended to be a literal toy. This is why he (and some of his brethren) look so different from the other Autobots.

Rear View

The penny slot tab has a foil sticker detail depicting a turbine that calls to mind the fiery exhaust of the 1960s Batmobile. It also implies that Bumblebee goes hella fast in his car mode.

Despite his small size and price point, Bumblebee features many of the trappings of the larger figures from 1984, like rubber tires, chrome rims, and some die-cast.

Comparison

Pictured:

  • MP-45 Bumble
  • War for Cybertron Trilogy Bumblebee
  • MP-21 Bumble

Bumblebee has been adapted probably hundreds of times into other figures. When he gets to be a VW Beetle, the designers sometimes use the actual Beetle’s proportions as a basis (such as in MP-21 and the WFC version) and sometimes they take the more cutsified show model as an inspiration (such as in MP-45).

Robot Mode

Transformation involves pulling out the legs, rotating the feet, pulling the arms out to the sides, and popping up the head.

Bumblebee is articulated at the shoulders. Thanks to his transformation, you can aim his head up or down a little, or point his toes. The chest sticker on mine wasn’t present on the original G1 figure, but it featured in his package art. I added it from a set of ToyHax reprolabels.

The rounded edges of the Beetle mode serve the youthful Bumblebee character well, I think. He looks softer and weaker than the other Autobots, even the other comparatively small mini-vehicles.

Head Close-Up

Bumblebee’s original face design differed quite strongly from the animation model, featuring an angular face plate and a rather Soundwave-like visage. The head sculpt is flattened on the back thanks to needing to fit on the flat chrome tab.

The original owner of this Bumblebee figure applied blue paper over the visor and forehead crest to make it better resemble the animation colors – I removed the visor paper, but left the crest detail in. I like the little pop of blue.

The 2018 reissue had an alternate head sculpt that more closely resembles the animation model. I like the original head better, so I swapped it out.

Comparison

Pictured:

  • MP-45 Bumble
  • War for Cybertron Trilogy Bumblebee
  • MP-21 Bumble
  • Two mini-figures whose origins I forget

Bumblebee’s animation model abstracted out the wheels on his wrists and shoulders, which causes later iterations of the design to fold them up into his feet or his backpack. Very rarely do you see homages to the original face shield design, though some do present it as an alternate “battle mask” type head.

Cliffjumper

Autobot Warrior | “Strike first, strike fast, strike hard.”

Cliffjumper’s alternate mode is a Porsche 924, a vehicle that would look very similar to Jazz’s alternate mode if presented in its real-life proportions.

Rear View
Sticker view

Cliffjumper originates from the Microchange toyline and sports the same chrome tab / penny slot on his rear bumper. The sticker here is more abstract than Bumblebee’s and seems to feature gauges and a pair of mysterious ports – speakers?

The only paint application on Cliffjumper’s vehicle mode is the black bumper and the chrome deco on the tab. Like Bumblebee, the vehicle shell is molded in one color of plastic while the windows are molded in another to provide contrast.

Side View

The tires feature prominent “DUNLOP” branding. Unlike some of the slightly misspelled brand names on other 1980s Transformers, Dunlop is an actual tire brand. I’ve no idea if the brand actually licensed its name for the Takara Penny Racers or what.

I like the cute little fuel port molded just next to Cliffjumper’s bumper. It’s a fun detail that’s present on the actual Porsche 924 – although Cliff features one on each side. Perhaps we can chalk this up to a small error in the Ark‘s reconstruction program.

Robot Mode

Cliffjumper transforms in exactly the same way Bumblebee does, and has the same range of articulation. Mine is an original G1 model, which is why he’s got a light coating of dust. I mentioned the Bumblebee figure having die-cast – Cliffjumper’s got it too, in the same place: the small panel on his back.

Front View

The head sculpt, like Bumblebee’s, is on a flat panel, so it’s really only half a head. The face design with the prominent mouth, nose, eyes, and head horns seems to have been what the animators used as a basis for Bumblebee’s animation model.

Cliffjumper also had a small chrome sticker on his chest/roof in his original Microchange version. Mine has a rubsign applied on his chest, and there’s not room for both, so I decided to let him keep the emblem.

In his bio, Cliffjumper is presented as a rough-and-tumble warrior, the type to really get into the fray with the Decepticons. As most of the battle-ready Autobots are in the more expensive range, I like that the mini-vehicles give a couple of options for filling out the warrior ranks.

Comparison

Given how many Cliffjumper figures in Transformers have been straightforward redecos of Bumblebee, it may come as a surprise to some that the G1 figures are fully unique from each other.

However, although these were the official colors, both Bumblebee and Cliffjumper were released in each others mold colors, so you could obtain a red Bumblebee or a yellow Cliffjumper.

There was a third mold based on a Penny Racer. This mysterious yellow Autobot was packaged on Cliffjumper cards and transformed into a Mazda Familia. Since he had no name, fans called him “Bumblejumper,” which was later officially shortened into “Bumper.” The figure is extremely rare, so I don’t have one in my collection.

Windcharger

Autobot Warrior | “Quick action equals quick victory.”

Windcharger’s vehicle mode is a Pontiac Firebird Trans Am, an iconic sportscar of the 80s and one that’s surprisingly not more well-represented in Transformers. I suppose it’s only a matter of time before we have a TF / Knight Rider crossover.

My Windcharger is (as far as I know) a vintage original.

Rear View

The vehicle body and windows/tires are molded in contrasting plastic colors, but there are no paint apps in vehicle mode.

Side View

For many years, fans assumed the other four mini-vehicles had their origins in Penny Racers. They did appear in that toyline, but they were apparently designed for an earlier, never-released series known as Mysterians.

The other four mini-vehicles do exhibit notable differences from the first two – for example, the tires are plastic rather than rubber and there are no die-cast parts.

Robot Mode

Windcharger’s transformation is a simple matter of pulling his arms out and flipping the rear windshield over. He’s articulated at the shoulders and, thanks to transformation, the knees.

The gray color of his underside is revealed in robot mode, as well as the chrome details on his legs.

Front View

The figure’s head sculpt is an extremely simplified design with a simple faceplate and a black visor. The faceplate is a silver paint application that has a tendency to be rubbed off when rolling the car on the floor.

Like Bumblebee, Windcharger’s animation model featured distinct eyes, nose, and mouth.

Huffer

Autobot Construction Engineer | “Molecular structure is the key to success.”

Huffer’s alternate mode is a tiny, generic semi truck cab.

The front grille has a silver paint application and the smokestacks stand out in chrome silver. The tires have notches for a rugged appearance and the orange plastic is quite vibrant, particularly among the other first-year Autobots.

Rear View

The rear of the semi has some abstracted mechanical detail, but wasn’t designed to attach to anything in particular.

Side view

Visible on the door is a stylized “M” which was thought to stand for “Microchange,” but apparently is a reference to the cancelled Mysterians line.

Robot Mode

Huffer’s transformation is unique among the mini-vehicles. His cab slides forward, his smokestacks become “arms,” and his legs slide out. The blue/orange color scheme is beautiful, and some more mechanical detail is provided by stickers on his torso and waist.

Close-up

Huffer is articulated at the shoulders. Because of his transformation, the positioning of his arms is rather awkward, but it’s not hard to imagine him using the ends of the stacks as claws to lift heavy machinery at Autobot headquarters. (Complaining the whole time, of course.)

The head design is, again, a simple face plate and visor, which was turned into a more human look in the cartoon.

Haulin’

In one memorable scene in the Transformers cartoon, Huffer offers to tow a wounded Optimus Prime’s trailer. Due to the huge difference in sizes between the toys, this isn’t really possible in reality. But it does look funny.

Brawn

Autobot Demolitions | “Might over microchips.”

I always took Brawn’s alternate mode to be a Toyota Land Cruiser, but TFwiki claims it’s a Suzuki Jimny.

Brawn features a chrome front grille and no other paint apps in vehicle mode. There are unpainted side windows, but the black windshield and orange winch give some much-needed color variety.

Rear View

The back of the vehicle mode has a molded-on spare fuel tank.

I love the blockiness of this mode. It’s probably a big reason why I love Jeep Wranglers nowadays.

Front View

The black panel on top of Brawn’s hood (covered up with an Autobot emblem) bears the same “M” visible on Huffer’s door.

Robot mode

Brawn’s transformation involves rotating the sides of the vehicle mode down to become legs and popping out his doors to reveal his tiny robot mode arms. Thanks to this transformation, Brawn is the tallest mini-vehicle.

He’s the most articulated of the six, with joints at the shoulders and hips.

He’s also the strangest looking. The tiny arms, spindly legs, wide hips, and door wings all work to give him a unique silhouette, and do not seem to match the macho character described in his tech specs.

Front view

Moreso than most of the other minibots, Brawn’s character design was totally overhauled for the animation model. He was heavily simplified and given a more human face.

I like both of these designs quite a lot, and as of this writing, there’s not been a toy update of him that totally satisfies me. I’ve had this Brawn since I was a teenager. Even before I bought him, the chrome paint application on his right arm was already worn completely off. I could replace him with a nicer one, but I don’t think I will.

Gears

Autobot Transport/Reconnaissance | “Nobody wins a war – somebody loses.”

Gears’ vehicle mode is a generic pickup truck. The grille is chrome silver, and the bumper and hardtop are molded in red, contrasting nicely against the light blue body.

My Gears is a G1 original, as evidenced by the caked-in dust. Sheesh!

Rear view

I enjoy the molded details on the running boards and the hardtop. Gears doesn’t have much of a rear bumper to speak of thanks to his transformation.

Front view

Like Brawn, Gears has a raised panel on his hood that features the Mysterians “M.”

Robot mode

Gears transforms identically to Windcharger, with the arms pulling out of the sides and the rear flipping over to become legs. The hardtop doubles as Gears’ knees and feet, which explains its odd shape.

The robot mode reveals more red plastic and chrome silver thighs. Gears is articulated at the shoulders.

Front view

The face features silver paint applications which have been partially rubbed off on mine. I like the diagonal red bands that cross his face – they give him a unique look and were even carried into the animation model (which, like the others, gave him an eyes, nose, and mouth).

Conclusion

“Autobots, start your engines!”

The minibots have long been important to me. Beyond just being fun and unique visual designs with evocative character bios, they were among some of the very first G1 figures I was ever able to buy for myself. Since I didn’t grow up in the 80s, I had to find these toys any way I can, and even in the mid-to-late 90s it was difficult to obtain 1984 Transformers.

So Brawn, Gears, and Huffer have been in my collection longer than nearly everything else I have from the first year of The Transformers. I distinctly remember picking up Brawn at a vintage shop on a visit to Salem, Massachusetts and feeling like I fulfilled a childhood dream (even if childhood wasn’t too far past at that point).

A range of small, cheap Autobot vehicles would go on to be a staple of the Transformers toyline for nearly every year of its life, and the concept of making these entry-level figures as unique characters with their own defined names and roles is one of my very favorite things about Transformers. In a vacuum, these toys are less interesting than most GoBots, at least on an engineering level, but with the power of the fiction behind them they gave kids a reason to breathe life into a weird green Jeep guy with spindly legs.

Who’s your favorite mini-vehicle? Do you like these weird little dudes at all? Leave a comment!

4 thoughts on “Dungeon Reviews: Autobot Mini-Vehicles (1984)”

  1. Pipes is the best minibot, followed closely by Cosmos. The rest of them are all pretty good in their own way but they are miles behind Cosmos, who is miles behind Pipes. Those are just the facts and facts don’t care about your feelings, snowflake ^__-

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I only ever had G2 Bumblebee, but he went a LOT of places with me. Funnily enough, I sometimes pretended he was a toy disguised as a robot! Who knew that was the original intended purpose?

    Out of these, I like Gears the best. He came out recently at Wal-Mart, right? I should have gotten him.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, he did, and yes, you should have!

      I didn’t either, and even though I already had Gears, I should have anyway.

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: