Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Ride Height, Race Pedigree and Rubber Tires.

- Leigh Gregurke in collaboration with Drew Merkel.

I reflect now from a perspective fully engrossed in the transforming robot experience. I engage actively with the comics, the literature, the toys, the media, the characters, the places and the culture. It was not always the case though. My road to Transformers was directed through my early childhood love of cars.

Growing up in a low socioeconomic status, poverty line experience I rarely had the money for new toys. It was always thrifty finds from the local market or garage sale, charity shops or school yard trades. My dad worked in the motor industry and had a background in motocross and mechanics, unfortunately also dealing often with less than savory people and the cultures associated with them. I don't have a lot of good memories of my dad but the ones I do were often related working on cars or watching racing. My early interest in film sparks from movies we would watch together. Vanishing Point, Bullit, the French Connection, Cannonball Run, Blues Brothers... Not all classics but a common theme drives through each.

I displayed an eclectic selection of toy cars from scattered Micro-Machines excavated often from friends couches to scuffed and scratched Matchbox/Hot Wheels. Sometimes I managed to plunder better examples and my collection included an odd mix of better detailed 1:32 and 1:24 scale die cast cars from the European and Japanese markets although scale was never important to me, I could not afford to be picky. Finding the cars I saw on the streets, in magazines and film and at Australian racing events in toy form was near impossible so instead the toys drove me to learn more about the cars and events. I liked Transformers at the time and read the UK comics more so than I watched the cartoon but I wanted Wheeljack because he was a Lancia group 5 in a mostly correct Alitalia rally livery. He would fit perfectly with my Peugeot and Renault's when I threw them into the sand pit to emulate the incredible feats of control I saw on television. 

The series 1 Autobot cars I think hit two key markets, toy cars and robot action figures. We can sometimes dismiss the importance of licensing, realism and proportion but those were vital to me. Rubber tires, ride height, racing pedigree. Accurate team stickers and the avoidance of panel lines on windows, Those were more important than articulation or cartoon accuracy to me. As I feel lazier "Cybertronian" modes and generic cars infiltrated the lineups my interest waned though. Even then I could identify the design challenge of creating a robot from an existing real life model rather than working in two directions with the potential for very arbitrary generic forms.

I think back and reflect that my early transformers team line-ups consisted of maybe a third being non transforming substitutes, if everyone was kept in alt mode it wasn't ever an issue.
That connection to the alt modes of Transformers made them less of an alternative and sometimes a focus. I set out to complete a Menasor as it was a lineup of cars that I loved. I remember the first time I found a Tyrrell P34 in a motor-racing Annual and drew the connection to the six wheeled Dragstrip, it was the incredible connection between reality and my own ability to control and own objects on a level that I struggled to even dream of being able to interact with directly. 

As a more adult collector I took some time out of the hobby during the Alternators line and missed what a lot would consider a golden period for collectors like myself. I own a few but I admit weirdly that I prefer a slightly small scale ( now it has become something I consider more often), I have a tiny number of the Takara Alternity Line and if it was not for the cost to import and source I think I could find my bliss in that direction. I am incredibly grateful that the Takara Masterpiece line has shown a dedication in most directions to ensuring the value of licensed and accurate vehicles, there is little as pleasing to me as feeling like I own not just wonderful robot design but a car that connects back to a passion that once drove my interests.

I asked my friend Drew Merkel to contribute some final words to this article. Drew and I have collaborated a few times including a creator owned comic 'The Knockoffs" which tried to distil much of our passion to its essence, a noir action sci-fi transforming robot drama against a backdrop of Tokyo's street racing scene. The cars, the racing culture, the streets and sounds were all characters of equal importance to the giant robots.

-Drew Merkel

The first toy I can recall owning was a toy car. I still have it, a blue Ford station wagon with faux wood paneling made by Yatming in Hong Kong. I've even had dreams where I owned this particular car, its presence in my formative years was so strong.

I knew what a penny racer was before I got my first Transformers figure. His name was Cliffjumper and he was based on that penny racer design and he was yellow. I can't say I remember what was discussed when my stepfather bought me the tiny thing, but I knew even then that it was the single greatest thing in the entire universe. Honestly, it still is. I just picked up the amazing Maketoys Downbeat. While he's not an official Transformers™ Product, this is Jazz through and through. The Porsche 935 slant nose Martini race car is slightly flawed, but still great. The robot mode carries all the things I remember about the premium Autobot cars from the eighties, blended almost seamlessly with accuracy to the media tie-in. By now you might be asking yourself how these things are connected. It's simple really. I have collected all of the Masterpiece cars, and I have only collected a few non-automotive characters. 

My connection to Transformers stems from a love of cars as a primary force. Universe Classics Sideswipe (and by extension Sunstreaker) and Silverstreak (Bluestreak) got me started collecting representations of my childhood heroes with beautiful, almost realistic vehicle models. Alternators made me stick around. We've all joked about toy reviewers checking a figure for whether or not it rolls. Truth is, to a few of us at least, it matters. 

Further entering the car culture of customizing, Drew added third party stickers to capture a more accurate look.

Follow Leigh on twitter at @AmbushThem

Follow Drew on twitter at @DrewsiferxXx where you can also find more information about his voice over work, podcasting and toy robot band @Close_Countach

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