This past Christmas I asked my wife for a Kenner Batmobile from 1984. I wasn’t even particularly into DC superheroes in the 1980s or the Super Powers Team cartoon, but I liked the toys a lot. I believe I’ve mentioned on here before that my mother kept a reserve of action figures to give me when I was home sick, and for some reason most of them happened to be DC action figures.
I didn’t seek out many accessories for these action figures, but one that I did receive was the Batmobile. I loved the look of it; it’s sleek looking but not over the top gothic like the version from 1989 Batman (although I loved that look as well). It has a playfulness that hearkens back to the 1960s TV show. The headlights flip up, there’s a battering ram on the front, and a snare that shoots out the back!
I loved this car so much that I received it for two Christmases, once in the mid-1980s and again two weeks ago. Having the Batmobile again inspired me to look at some of the other great action figure vehicles of my childhood. What follows are a few of my favorites.
G.I. Joe Bridgelayer
Bridgelayer popped up once on this website before when I watched a compilation of toy commercials. I have no problem talking about it again because it rules. In fact, we should always be talking about it. Whenever Bridgelayer’s not onscreen all of the other toys should be asking, “Where’s Bridgelayer?”
If you owned both Bridgelayer and a set of Lincoln Logs you might as well throw all of your other toys in the trash because you don’t need anything else, babies! What’s that, a bunch of logs fell off a truck and are scattered across a roadway? It’s a good thing I brought my own dang bridge to this party. With Bridgelayer you’ll be doing so much forging you might as well be in an X-Factor comic from 1995.
The U.S.S. Flagg also ruled, of course, but I didn’t have one because I wasn’t a kid millionaire.
Is this one fair? I say yes. The show was called Voltron. The big robot was called Voltron. The little dudes and lady dude that fit inside of the lion parts were called Keith, Pidge, Lance, Hunk, Sven, and Allura. Voltron was a vehicle, and in its 1980s die-cast version it was a rad one. Voltron is one of the only toys based on a cartoon that I liked a lot more than the cartoon itself. The show was a distressing preview of a life spent despising all anime. The toys felt substantial. There was a quality to them that I wouldn’t see in other toys in subsequent decades or in later Voltron incarnations, for that matter. Voltron stood shoulder to shoulder (metaphorically, since Voltron is over 300 feet tall) with my beloved LJN Wrestling Superstars. Even a little kid knows that the metal version is superior to the cheap plastic makeup of most toys.
Masters of the Universe Road Ripper
Here’s the thing: Masters of the Universe vehicles were terrible. The best one was Battle Cat, and it was both a vehicle and a faithful companion, which is great but it was leaning heavily on the companion aspect. Look at those half-assed stickers slapped on the Road Ripper. They look terrible, although they do provide some useful information: clearly the engine is located in the back. Good to know, but unfortunately the vent is located right behind our hero’s head. Not only is this presumably insanely hot, He-Man’s luscious mane going to blow in his face the entire time once he starts cruising. And cruise he will, because the reason I’m highlighting this toy, the ripcord, makes this bad boy fly. The humble ripcord was a simple way in the 80s to make something that spins do it better or make a vehicle go faster. It accomplished what my weak little kid arms couldn’t.
I have a tendency to underserve traditional girls’ toys on this website since I didn’t have them, so I asked my wife Amy to weigh in with her favorite vehicle to finish up this article.
Barbie has had a lot of vehicles throughout her tenure – Corvettes, Jeeps, Formula-1 Race Cars, Ferraris. Growing up, I really wanted a Barbie camper van/motorhome but, alas, I had to make do with only two convertibles. Upon my frantic googling for a picture of the hot pink convertible my sister and I shared, I learned that our beloved Corvette was not, in fact, a Mattel branded toy but rather a generic “can fit a 12″ doll” car. It had no real features or accessories but it looked cool as hell. Ken sort of struggled to fit in the passenger seat and the sibling dolls (Skipper, Kevin, etc) were a little too small so they’d slide into the wheel well but Barbie looked flawless behind the wheel as we shoved her back and forth across the playroom carpet.
The second car wasn’t much more exciting in terms of functionality but it was customizable. The Barbie Paint N Dazzle car came with pre-cut sheets of fabric and fabric paint so you could design the exterior of your convertible. Being an anxious child who didn’t want to ruin her car, I never touched the paint but instead left my Barbies with a pristine white convertible to match the pink ‘Vette.
What were your favorite action figure vehicles? Let us know in the comments or on Twitter.
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Great article. Missed your writing earlier this week.
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I love that Batmobile! It has its’ touches very much taken from ’80s concept cars – that slim beltline ridge was everywhere and even saw production on the Fiero and indeed the C4 Corvette like your “Barbie” car, it’s very much of the ’80s, yet it jibes well with the car seen in the ’60s Adam West TV show that was still absolutely everywhere in syndication 20-25 years later.