Saturday, 21 September 2013

G1 Cliffjumper (My First Autobot!)

I can remember, back in the day, being torn between Bandai's Robo-Machines (aka Go-Bots) and Hasbro/MB's TransFormers line. On balance, Robo-Machines tended to have better looking, more realistic vehicle modes for their size... but their quality control wasn't so great and their robot modes often looked terrible. One fateful day, when I had a small collection of both toylines, I made a decision to give up on Robo-Machines and focus entirely on TransFormers... And the beginnings of that decision can be traced back to my very first TransFormers purchase, Cliffjumper, bought with my own pocket money, around the age of about 10.

Vehicle Mode:
The most obvious disadvantage with some of the earliest TransFormers Mini Autobots - those originating in the Microman Microchange line - was that they were based more on 'Penny Racers' (aka 'Choro-Q' cars) than on realistic car models. On the other hand, I'd collected a few Penny Racers when I was younger, since I had a fascination with their pull-back motors, and the fact that a suitably heavy coin (a UK penny was too small!) could make them 'pop a wheelie' when released.

Cliffjumper is a kind of Porche, allegedly, though the exact model is up for debate. TFWiki claims it's a 924, but that front bumper makes it look more like a 944 to me. Either way, it's a very squashed-up, 'super-deform'-type vehicle. What it lacks in realism, it very nearly makes up in detail: the front bumper, headlights and bonnet feature a decent amount of detail, there are panel lines around the doors and windows, the rear lights protrude from the back end of the vehicle... he even has molded (stumpy) wing mirrors and petrol caps (one on each side, strangely). The bulk of the vehicle is molded in the kind of bold, rich red that Hasbro seems incapable of reproducing these days. The rest - including the windows - is molded in black, with chroming on the back panel and on the hubcaps. His rear bumper is painted black, and he has two whole stickers - one of  technical detail on the chrome panel, the other - his Autobot insignia - on the roof.

One of the coolest features of this style of toy is that it features rubber tyres and, just for fun, they're Dunlop-branded. This sort of detail was removed for all the keychain versions of the G1 Mini Autobots, including BotCon 2002's Tap Out, since it's another fine example of the unlicensed toy modelling that went on back in late 70s and early 80s Japanese toylines like Diaclone and Microman Microchange.

Robot Mode:
OK, so robot mode is just as simplistic as vehicle mode... Despite its diminutive size, Cliffjumper has just about the same level of articulation as most of Generation 1 - nothing but the shoulders are mobile. One could argue that the feet are articulated but, since that's largely for transformation, it's not a very strong argument.

No additional plastic colours or paintwork are visible in this mode, but a quick look at the back reveals the one and only piece of die-cast metal on the model - a panel a little less than 2cm square.

The head sculpt is probably the most unusual of all the first set of Mini Autobots, since he's the only one with a humanoid face. While all the cartoon Mini-bots had faces, Bumblebee, Brawn, Gears, Huffer and Windcharger had the robotic kind of face that have more recently become regarded as 'battle masks'. Also, while more recent Bumblebee heads have been considered (by Hasbro, at least) to be adequate representations of Cliffjumper, about the only thing they had in common was their horns... so it's nice to see that they have become a prominent feature in the most recent incarnation of Cliffjumper, in TransFormers: Prime.

I've always found it a bit curious that the clenched fists on this model - and Bumblebee, since they use many of the same parts - are molded horizontally, as if captured mid-punch, rather than in the more usual vertical 'weapon holding' position. Obviously, back in those days, Mini Autobots almost never had weapons (I believe Outback, released in 1986, was the only one), so one had to simply imagine that Cliffjumper's 'Glass Gas' came out of his hands or some invisible handgun... All the more unfortunate because of the character's fascination with heavy artillery in the TV show's pilot.

Compared to the box art, Cliffjumper seems rather lanky but the longer legs do give him better overall proportions, given the size of his body.

The beauty of the earliest Mini Autobots is that their transformation is simplicity itself - on this basic type it was simply a case of pulling out the arms, pulling out the legs, straightening the feet, flipping out the head and then standing it up. Some others weren't even that complicated. It's testament to the strength of this design that, when Hasbro finally deigned to created an updated Bumblebee in the Classics line, the essentials of this model were retained, albeit enhanced, meaning he was instantly recognisable. The Classics model's vehicle mode seemed to suit Cliffjumper more than it did Bumblebee, however, so it's rather disappointing that it was repainted without a new head mold... Until the third parties got involved.

Naturally, mine is a little worse for wear and age - his minimal articulation is lost to floppy shoulder joints (an awkward thing, since the joint had to be loose enough to allow the tyre to roll, but tight enough to keep the arm in place, so it was often misjudged on this model), the chrome is rubbing off, his scuffed Autobot insignia sticker probably isn't the original as they all had a habit of peeling, and the rubber tyres are thoroughly perished and one of them has become quite damaged in storage.

But who'd have thought that such a humble model could lead to a collection approaching about 700 models, and spanning almost 30 years. For that matter, who'd have thought such a humble model - part of a toyline cobbled together from several different Japanese toylines - could have led to a toyline that will celebrate it's 30th anniversary in 2014?


  1. Nostalgia, my very first must have been G1 Warpath

    1. Hey Tomsche! Thanks for sharing that. It's interesting to note, looking back on the toyline in the 80s versus the way it's handled now, that one could start collecting with the smallest/cheapest option available and still pick up a unique character. Now... it's mostly the same characters in different size classes.

      Back then, if you'd been presented with Warpath in three different sizes (let's say Mini, Diaclone-size and something like the full-sized Headmasters from '87), which one - if any - do you think you'd have picked? And what set Warpath apart from the other options on the shelves/racks?

  2. Since we're sharing First TFs, Mine was Cosmos. As a Christmas Present. It's interesting, on the size idea. I feel that anything larger than a minibot for Cosmos would look weird.

    1. Oh, Cosmos was cool... That quintessential 'Flying Saucer' design, straight out of the B-Movies (or trick photography, at least). Definitely one of the most unusual TF toys of the time.

      If they were to remake Cosmos in his original form, in a larger scale, he'd probably end up being a shell-former... and most of the attempts to redesign him to a similar scale or larger have been a bit dull. I guess, with all our contemporary sophistication, we've lost the knack of imagining interesting flying saucers...