Daily Prime - Happy Birthday! The First 20 Years of Optimus Prime Toys

The Daily Prime wishes the Optimus Prime toy a very Happy Birthday! If you have ever looked at the US Patent for the original "Reconfigurable toy assembly", you will see it was officially recognized on May 14, 1985, as Patent 4,516,948 for the toy design by inventor, Hiroyuki Obara of Tokyo, Japan. Surely, the character has other origins, but this is technically where most of our relationship with the action figure began.

Today, I am going back 20 years to where my relationship began with Optimus Prime in the articles I wrote for Super7 Magazine back in 2003. Long before they made toys, there was a Super7 magazine that many local San Francisco, Bay Area collectors contributed to. I started seriously collecting Optimus Prime back then and have been rolling out ever since, with over 1,000 Prime items in my collection today.

In celebration of the May 14, 1985, patent date, I have reproduced the part 1 of 3 (see links below for parts 2 and 3) of the "20 Years of Optimus Prime" main article from Super7 Magazine Issue #3 below for your reading pleasure. The images of the toys are in the page scans that follow in the gallery. Optionally, can read the just original article alone in the 20 Years of Optimus Prime Article PDF or the entire Super 7 Issue #3 OTFCC 2003 Exclusive Edition PDF by clicking the links.

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The First 20 Years of Optimus Prime Toys

In the Beginning There Was Prime

I have to wonder: did Hiroyuki Obara ever dream his design for the "Reconfigurable Toy Assembly" would become one of the most celebrated and beloved toys of all time? Over the course of more than 20 years, the toy would go on to become the star of an ultra successful Transformers Generation 1 cartoon that would debut in America in 1985. It would be the leader of a faction of robots from a planet named Cybertron. With his motto "Freedom is the right of all sentient beings," the character would become synonymous with "A fighter of good" to millions of youth the world over. In America, he was known as Optimus Prime, the leader of the Autobots. To the children of Japan he was Convoy, the leader of the Cybertrons. To all of them, he was the incarnation of a type of heroism never before seen, and would return reborn again and again, year after year.

On February 28, 1984, the design for the original toy we all know now as 01 Optimus Prime was filed with the United States Patent Office as application number 584,460, under the title "Reconfigurable Toy Assembly:* On May 14, 1985, patent number 4,516,948 for the toy design was awarded to the inventor, Hiroyuki Obara of Tokyo, Japan. This unique design was for what looked like a truck and trailer. But this was more than just another toy truck. The cab and trailer could be manually reconfigured into a separate robot toy and base. It was a new idea that added considerable dimension to the toy's play ability. The design was described in the patent abstract as follows:

"A reconfigurable toy assembly having foldable portions to allow the toy assembly to simulate a toy combination vehicle having a tractor unit and a trailer unit separately connected to each other. The tractor unit when separated from the trailer unit is reversibly reconfigurable into a robot humanoid form, while the trailer unit is reversibly reconfigurable into a play space for the robotic humanoid."

Hiroyuki Obara would go on to design a number of other toys, including what would later come to be known in the Generation 1 series as Wheeljack, Tracks, Skids and Ultra Magnus. In a sense, this truly makes Prime and Magnus brothers, since they were genuinely born from the same designer.

On September 17th, 1984, "Transformers: More Than Meets the Eye" made its debut on TV sets across America, introducing kids to an all-new cartoon. The three-part miniseries depicted the ongoing battle between good and evil - Autobots and Decepticons Optimus Prime and Megatron. The show centered on the Autobots' struggle to save the Earth from the evil exploits of the Decepticons. After a three-episode pilot, the popular new show that found a place in kids' hearts would return for its first full season on October 6th, 1984, with the episode "Transport to Oblivion."

The overwhelming success of the first season of "Transformers: More Than Meets the Eye" not only established it as the top cartoon with kids; it also established the leader of the Autobots, Optimus Prime, as the single most iconic figure in the cartoon's history. Even today, Optimus Prime is the most recognized character in the Transformers universe. Moreover, kids loved him. I am not kidding when I say not only kids were really attached to the Transformers. Stories of parents hunting store to store in search of (and at times resorting to physically fighting over) their child's "must have"Transformer were not uncommon.

The real measure of the love for Optimus Prime came when "Transformers: The Movie" was released in 1986. Hasbro "killed off" the leader to revamp the bulk of the Transformers line with new characters. In this case. Rodimus Prime was next in line. "There was immediate reaction," says Alfred C. Carosi, corporate vice president of marketing services with Hasbro. "We got a lot of phone calls and letters from kids. We were frankly surprised at the number of letters. When we killed off Optimus Prime, I thought they might be a little upset, but we had new heroes for them in the movie. That didn't seem to matter." It was this reaction to Prime's death that created a bond with kids that would encourage Hasbro to bring him back again, continuing to lead the Autobots from series to series, year after year, and without any sign of letting up.

It is now 2003, and more than two decades have passed since the first real Convoy toy appeared in Japan before the Transformers was even an idea (don't worry, we'll get to that in a bit). More than 100 toys, 12 different shows, and several disparate comic series later, Optimus Prime is still the #1 Autobot and Transformer, with an average of five Optimus Prime related figures being introduced in every Transformers series since. None of the other Transformers characters, even Megatron, has garnered the kind of attention Prime has consistently retained all down the line.

What is it about Optimus Prime that continues to capture the fans' attention in such a big way? To find out, I spoke with one of the most avid Optimus Prime fans and collectors around, Elvin Pena, who has been collecting nothing but Optimus Prime toys for over four years. When asked, Mr. Pena explains that his passion for collecting solely Optimus Prime figures is partially because of the character himself:

"I collect Optimus Prime toys for the simple reason that he's my favorite Transformer and has continued to be my favorite across all the various series that have existed thus far. As a character on the show, Prime commanded respect and always lead the Autobots to victory, When I thought 'good guy,' Prime would always be the first character to pop into my head, and I'm sure many others will corroborate this fact. He was my childhood hero, of sorts, and I loved watching him as a kid. I still do, by the way,

While that would be enough to support almost any character regardless of the toy, the figures themselves also embody a look and attention to detail that are rivaled by few others. Elvin goes on to comment about the character as an action figure,

"As a toy, the Prime/Convoy toys across the multiple generations/series that have existed have always been some of the most detailed and revered. Besides, what kid/adult wouldn't want to own one of the main characters of any show/toy line? I love Transformers in general, and all toys associated with them, but Optimus Prime/Convoy and all of his variants will be the only toys gracing my shelves. After all, he is my favorite. I have a long road ahead of me and many variants to track down, but I'm looking forward to it and hope to someday own them all"

Compared to the Transformers and Optimus Prime, there are few toy properties that span the decades like this one has in quantity and quality. Not content with being just an innovative concept in toy history, Optimus Prime has continued to grow and develop with the most contemporary trends on the television screen and in the toy aisles. Over the years, an astounding number of Prime products have been developed to bring the character to life for kids and adults everywhere. The number of actual products for Optimus Prime is in the hundreds for just the toys alone. I would not be one bit surprised if it were more than 1,000 items when things like Halloween costumes, pencils, shoes, and underwear are added to the list.

It would take an entire book to cover all that is Optimus Prime. Therefore, this article will focus primarily on the toys from a collector's perspective. However, I have also made an effort to cover aspects of the show and comic character where needed. To keep things simple, I will refer to the toy as Optimus Prime in a general sense, but will reserve the name Convoy for the specific references to the Japanese editions. With that said, join us on a trip through the history of Optimus Prime, from Diaclone to Transformers Armada, as we examine this wonderful world of one of the most celebrated action figure toys of all time. As the old tagline goes, there's "More...much more than meets the eye:'


DIACLONE BATTLE CONVOY - 1982

It may come as a shock to many a Transformers fan, but the Optimus Prime toy introduced by Hasbro in 1984 was not the first incarnation of the Generation 1 toy. Halfway around the globe, kids in Japan were trashing their Battle Convoy as early as 1982. The Convoy figure was actually developed as part of Takara's new Diaclone toy line, a spinoff from their successful Microman line. The Diaclone series combined cool science fiction concepts with rotators and trucks that were popular with kids at the time.

The Diaclone Battle Convoy is close to the exact same toy that was introduced in the United States as Optimus Prime in 1984. However, there is one major difference. Because the Diaclone story was developed around a team of humans who acted as the drivers of common looking vehicles, there were accommodations made in those vehicles for the drivers to sit and stand. Thus, the drivers could spy on and ultimately foil the activities of the evil Waruders. In 1983. Takara repurposed the Japanese Diaclone line for Hasbro's Generation 1 line. Even though the "driver" concept was dropped for this transition, the toys' accommodations were left in place.


GENERATION 1 OPTIMUS PRIME - 1984

From his head down to his toes, the many facets of the Generation 1 (G1) Optimus Prime would serve as the template for all Primes to come. More than anything, the robot's head assembly with its gladiator styling would remain as the most consistent element throughout the character's many incarnations regardless of their form, be it mechanical or organic. The G1 color scheme and tractor and trailer configuration would also become a prominent theme over the years.

The G1 figure was issued in the now familiar tractor and trailer configuration, resembling a Freightliner COE (Cab Over Engine) Dual-axle semi tractor and trailer. The set would transform into a robot (cab) and base/repair station (trailer).

The accommodations for the Diaclone drivers are prominent throughout the toy. From the seats behind the folding forward cab to the various control panels and cockpits that are revealed when the trailer is in base mode, one can easily see the original intent for interaction with smaller humanoid figures.

In 1985, the "More Than Meets the Eye" cartoon debuted in Japan, re-dubbed as "Fight! Super Robot Life Transformers." In this Japanese version, the leader of the Cybertrons (known in the U.S. as Autobots) would be renamed Convoy. The name would become synonymous with the character throughout the Transformers series shown in Japan.


GENERATION 1 ULTRA MAGNUS - 1986

Ultra Magnus and Optimus Prime could be brothers in more ways than one. The original toys not only share the same mold for the cab; Hiroyuki Obara also designed the rest of Ultra Magnus. The mold was originally made for Takara's Diaclone series. When Megatron kills Optimus Prime in 2005, Ultra Magnus takes the matrix of leadership from him and serves as Autobot leader for a short time. While they were made into different characters in the show, the fact that the toys are so similar gives them a certain appeal to Prime fans and collectors alike.

What would eventually become the Ultra Magnus toy was originally made in 1983 for the Diaclone series in Japan as a variation on the Battle Convoy figure. Named Powered Convoy, the toy took the truck and trailer concept in a whole different direction. While the truck cab molds were nearly identical, all similarities between the two end there. The Powered Convoy was issued in a warm blue color. The cargo trailer was replaced with a transforming multi-function car carrier that could be used to transport the other Diaclone vehicles, be converted into a catapult weapon, or act as a Cybertronian preparation base. The third and most compelling difference between the Battle and Powered Convoy toys is the addition of a super robot "powered-up" mode. The truck and trailer joined to form a super robot that was over 10" high. The set even included a larger super robot head that gave Convoy an enhanced look with its enlarged helmet and extended antennae.


GENRATION 1 POWERMASTER OPTIMUS PRIME - 1988

By 1988, interest in the Transformers cartoon was starting to decline. In an effort to revive the series, Hasbro introduced the Powermaster concept from which Powermaster Optimus Prime (PMOP) was born. Prime was now enhanced via a "Powermaster" process that created a binary bond with Hi-Q, a brilliant humanoid technician from the planet Nebulos. Optimus was reformatted with considerably more power and mass, resulting in a hybrid character that could function as a single or three separate robot entities. The first true Optimus Prime figure that would be conceived specifically for the series, PMOP was all Prime. Retaining the basic color scheme, tractor/trailer, robot and base configuration established in the Diaclone version, everything else about him was radically different. The biggest change was in the size of the figure's vehicle and robot modes. A super robot mode would reintroduce Optimus as a whopping 10" tall robot. The new figure was also outfitted with a bigger weapons arsenal that could combine with his expanded trailer and command base as well. True to the show character, PMOP also incorporated the HI-Q figure as a tiny robot co-pilot that could transform into Prime's engine in Super Robot and Vehicle modes.


MASTERFORCE GOD GINRAI - 1988

While the interest in Transformers was waning in the states, it was booming in Japan. 1988 saw the introduction of the "Transformers Masterforce" series that would present the characters as Godmasters.The Powermaster Optimus Prime toy was incorporated into the Masterforce series under the name Super Ginrai. While it is not actually a true Convoy/Prime incarnation, the Super Ginrai figure is often considered a Prime toy because of the basic form that Super Ginrai and PMOP share. Later in the series, a Japan-only character known as Godbomber would be created to merge with Super Ginrai to form God Ginrai. A HUGE figure at a hefty 12" in height, God Ginrai (the combination of Godbomber and Super Ginrai) was loaded with even more weaponry and a souped-up new look that returned a good deal of the chrome vacuum metal that was left off from the PMOP design. Super Ginrai and Godbomber were later issued as a set (C-310) that would go on to become a highly sought after item by collectors until Takara reissued the set in September 2001.


RETURN OF CONVOY STAR CONVOY - 1991

After being destroyed in the Japanese "Headmaster" series, Convoy was brought back to life in the "Return of Convoy" series as Star Convoy. The Destrons originally revived him as Evil Convoy. The Evil version would later be defeated by the Cybertrons and reformatted into the Star Convoy form via the use of Zodiac energy.

Like his predecessors, the Japan-only release of Star Convoy returns in the now classic tractor/trailer/base configuration, accompanied by the Micromaster sidekick Hot Rodimus. The trailer, which also doubles as a Micromaster base, is equipped with treads to allow Convoy to travel over even the most challenging terrain. With his extended antennae, gold star, and sleek futuristic styling, this is one of the most exotic Convoy renditions yet, exchanging the big blocky truck look for a streamlined appearance. Because it was never released in America and with no TV show supporting it, the figure was not very popular at the time. Today, however, Star Convoy is quite rare, highly sought after by collectors, and can run a few hundred dollars for one sealed in the box.


GENERATION 1 ACTIONMASTER OPTIMUS PRIME - 1992

Believing the Matrix was the only way to stop the menacing Unicron, Optimus Prime gave his life by flying with it into the planet-sized Unicron to destroy him. However, just before the event, Prime released HI-Q with hopes that he would escape the pending destruction. After the battle, HI-Q was able to tap into his Nebulan powers and, as a result, accidentally merged minds with Optimus Prime. In this union, HI-Q was able to contact the Last Autobot, a mighty figure that had the power to revive Cybertron and even dead Autobots. The outcome of the Last Autobot's actions would return the melded minds of Optimus Prime and HI-0 to a thriving Cybertron as Actionmaster Prime.


GENERATION 2 OPTIMUS PRIME - 1993

In 1993 Hasbro decided to revive the Transformers with a Generation 1 style series that would be based on a comic book series. Generation 2 offered repackaged and later repainted versions of the classic figures. The Generation 2 toys were packaged in space age looking clear blister cards. There were several innovations in the G2 line that yielded the first new Prime figures not to be based on the series. Unfortunately, low sales that were likely attributed to an absence of a cartoon influenced Hasbro to discontinue the line in 1995.

It is a little bit of a disappointment that we do a complete U-turn and go back to the Diaclone/G1 Prime mold for what's supposed to be the NEXT generation. Even though he talks, comes with additional accessories, and the trailer is re-colored in black, the Generation 2 Optimus Prime is generally seen as little more than the first reissue of the toy. Reintroduced with a new Autobot symbol design, the toy came in a taller black display box. While the basic G1 figure was retained, the G2 robot was upgraded a bit with some new features not known to Prime before. The most dramatic of these was the addition of an electronic sound pack that served as a backpack for the robot or a windbreak for the trailer in vehicle mode. Pushing the buttons would play back the phrase "I am Optimus Prime," truck engine, or laser firing sounds through a tiny speaker inside. Prime was also fitted with two handheld firing weapons that also served as side cannons on the trailer in vehicle mode.

I had only heard about the legendary Giant G2 Optimus Prime when I started working on this article and was lucky enough to hunt one down. There is a good bit of debate on whether this toy is an official product. Released in Korea in 1997, this oversized Prime was supposedly made for the Korean production company Toon Town, licensed through 3D International to accompany the Transformers cartoon. The plastic is thin and there are no die-cast parts. The size and rarity make this guy a highly sought after item regardless of its origin.


GENERATION 2 AUTOBOT HERO OPTIMUS PRIME - 1993

The Hero Prime toy is kind of hard to explain. Beginning a tradition we still see today, this was the first Optimus Prime toy to break away from a known incarnation of the character in a cartoon or comic. The vehicle, based on a Kenworth truck design, was scaled down enough to fit on a blister card and shed the traditional red and blue color scheme, replacing it with a more colorful white truck with bright yellow, orange, red, and blue highlights.This is also the first Prime made without a detachable trailer and base. However, the enormous air-powered rocket-blaster more than makes up for it. Numerous other color schemes on this mold that were never released until very recently have surfaced over the years (see part 2 of this article).


GENERATION 2 LASER RODS OPTIMUS PRIME - 1994

According to the tech specs, the Laser Po ds Optimus Prime's form is the result of severe damage inflicted in the battle with Megatron in Sector 17 of the Mirtonian constellation. During his repairs, Prime was upgraded to be faster, stronger, and ready for combat! Based on a Western Star Constellation truck cab and oil tanker trailer, this time he comes packaged with cool artwork on his trailer that was done by UK comic artist Geoff Senior.

The second part of the Generation 2 line introduced a number of new molds and features, including increased articulation, large-scale firing weapons, air pumps, and electronics. It was a big leap forward, and Laser Rods Prime showcased all these new features. With a battery in place, his eyes, laser gun, headlights, and sword could light up. The oil tanker trailer was something else too; it transformed into a deluxe trailer base mode that came with massive load of artillery, including ripple missiles, armor piercing discs, and a giant air powered laser-targeting missile launcher. Even today, this toy remains one of the most popular Optimus Prime figures with Transformers fans.


GENERATION 2 GO-BOT OPTIMUS PRIME - 1997

The Generation 2 toy line also introduced a new vehicle format known as the Go-Bots. These Hot WheelsTM sized cars were often referred to as flip-changers because of the simple transformation that involved flipping down the car's hood and pulling out the doors to expose the robot figure. The G2 Go-Bots line featured twelve new cars/robots based on six different molds that were repainted and named after popular Transformers characters. An interesting feature of these Go-Bots was that they were fully compatible with any Hot Wheels'" track or set. While the trans-formations were nothing impressive, this compatibility was a boon to those who enjoyed and owned Hot WheelsT" sets.

The Go-Bot Optimus Prime shares the same mold with Firecracker, only Prime is a solid red instead of a translucent red. The vehicle form, based on a Lamborghini Diablo, is available to Prime via his internal reconfiguration matrix. By accessing this matrix of various vehicle modes, he can reach speeds that approach the sound barrier on earth.


Optimus Prime In the Comics

Over the years the evolution of Optimus Prime has been tightly coupled with the character in the comics. His many incarnations have been depicted in numerous languages the world over through the many series and sagas that featured his Primeness. From the early Marvel comic and Japanese manga stories to the most recent revival of Transformers by Dreamwave, on the printed page the Autobot leader has continued as the Transformer in command.

There are many artists who have had the opportunity to pen Optimus Prime over the years, but few have been faced with the daunting task of rendering all forms. From Generation 1 to Armada, Dreamwave artists Pat Lee and Don Figueroa have been sliding a mean quill, casting Optimus Prime in all his majesty. Few will question that their love of Optimus Prime radiates from their work, If you've ever laid eyes on one of Don Figueroa's drawings of Prime, you know what I mean when I say he captures the character with a religious fervor. Don describes what he tries to capture when drawing Optimus Prime:

"His Strength, basically, because that's all you can translate visually. Prime is a very imposing looking character but not fearsome. He relies most on his strength, but he's also a very smart character."

Scan any of Prime's tech specs and you'll see that he's all about power, something that Pat Lee really focused on in his work, adding mass and dimension to the figure like we've never seen before.

Make no mistake about the way the character has been brought back to life in the modern day. He is definitely all Prime and then some. While maintaining all the character's majesty, Pat and Don have added their own touches to the comic book they have built around these classic robots. It's quite amazing that one figure can be developed in so many ways and by so many people, simultaneously reflecting the might of Optimus Prime and the work of the artist. Every artist has a different approach to drawing him. Keying off character aspects of the robot, each artist renders the leader in their own way. Don explains his approach to accentuating the features he finds most important:

"I try to keep a sense of realism when drawing a TF based on an earth form. With Optimus, I will try to keep his torso more truck-like. I'll draw windshield wipers on it, side mirrors...etc."

When it comes to artwork, Pat Lee is all about Prime's role as a leader:

"I try to show as much emotion in his eyes as possible. To make him stand out from other characters, to make him look bold and strong."

Not that they sit around drawing Optimus Prime all day; there is a deep familiarity that has been developed with the figure. Pat Lee describes what it is like drawing the character compared with otherTransformers:

"I've drawn him so much I can't tell anymore heheh! He's one of the characters I can draw blindfolded. He's different from other characters because he is simplistic in design and no matter how you draw him, he still looks like a leader."

Either Prime is really easy to draw, or someone just got a lot of practice. Maybe both. Don tells us it's not so easy to do:

"There's always a challenge to drawing Optimus Prime. It's tricky to convey emotion in a character that basically doesn't have a face. Still, the G1 version is still one of the easiest TFs to draw. The newer versions are fun to draw since they're much more detailed and complex."

If you've been keeping up with the Transformers comics, you know there's a lot of good stuff in the pipeline. An intense new GI series, the recent "Armada," and a very interesting crossover in which Prime and his cohorts team up with G.I. Joe in a World War II-style adventure.The WWII Prime is something else. Thick and knotted with armor, his artillery trailer will blow you away. And if that's not enough for you, the gang over at Devil's Due who have been heading up the G.I. Joe comics) are offering up their own serving of "The Transformers meets G.I. Joe." Are you ready for Cobra Optimus Prime?


20 Years of Optimus Prime Part II

This protect originally started out to be just one article. As I talked to people, I too learned there was more to Optimus Prime than I ever imagined. Through the good graces of a lot of people all over the world who supplied everything from artwork to toys, it was soon clear we could not fit everything Into one issue. Thanks to guys at Super7 who insisted we do it all, the article will be presented in two parts. This being Part I in Super7 Issue #3, Part 2 will continue in Issue #4 with Optimus Prime and Primal as he evolves though the Beast Wars, Car Robots, Armada, Takata PVCs, and a few other surprises you won't want to miss

Editors note: It actualy grew to 3 parts that you can download the other issues for from the following links, 20 Years of Optimus Prime: Part 2 - Part 3

Authors

Jack Hurwitz - Techie/Artist/Writer - is a cyborg who lives in the San Frandfsco Bay Area. He collects humans for fun and profit. He can often be found programming his Transformers news website at TFormers.com

Aleck Au Yeung (Remy) - Artist/Collector/Photographer - lives in Hong Kong. He maintains one of the biggest Optimus Prime toy collections around. See more of Rerny's toy collection on his website at TFKenKon.com

Elvin Pena - Collector/Techie - lives in NewYork City and keeps up one of the most complete Optimus Prime collections at www.geocities con/elvinpena2000/

Acknowledgements

This article could not have happened without the efforts of many people who contributed to this article. t want to give my sincere thanks to these people: Matt Moylan and the folk at Dreamwave for all the wonderful stuff they contributed. Taber and Josh at Devils Due for the pics. Christo for the marvelous copy editing. Felix at FantAsia toys for the crystal Magnus. The Professor for hooking me up with the giant white G2 Prime, Glen for kickin' it with me when I was losing it during the writing of this article. All the fans. and collectors out there. this one's for you!

Sources

The following sources were used in the research a development of thls Tne Cybertronian Transformers Guides from Antarctic Press, Ben Yee's Transformers World (www.bwtf. corn), BotCollector (www botcollector.com), Rob Jung's Transformers Page (www.digiserve comieescapeltf/Transforrners.shtml) Prime Targets by Lars Pearson and Stanley Liu's Online Transformers Encyclopedia (www.geocities.tom/Area51/Stationi6563!)

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