So in case you missed it, this past week we posted our pilot for the Toy Detectives Podcast, where Chris and I talked about the history of advanced toy technology and the ways that Hasbro and Takara have come up with to reuse molds in varied and creative ways. And the response has been great and sparked fun conversations! We’re really grateful for that.
Two of the folks we wound up talking with about the episode were @Knightswords on Twitter as well as Anthony Brucale of TFU.INFO. And they both came up with something very obvious that escaped us: in terms of shared engineering, we forgot the earliest possible example of Bumblebee, Cliffjumper, and the G1 oddity known as “Bumper,” or sometimes “Bumblejumper.” Were they not examples of shared engineering?
We came to the conclusion: yes! They absolutely are. They just slipped our minds at the time. Because they predate the computer-based modeling and asset reuse that I picture as being a major part of how far shared engineering has been taken in recent years, it was easy to not think of them.
Anthony also asked if we thought they shared a casting, which I hadn’t really thought about before, but would explain a lot.
These were the first three entries in the Mini Car Robo subline of Micro Change, released in 1983. MC-04/01-03 featured very similar transformations and were released in Japan in three colors: red, yellow, and blue. All three cars were released in all three colors.
We mentioned during the podcast the concept of molds containing parts for multiple versions of a figure, with some “gated” off – that is, a simple blockage can be introduced into a mold to stop the flow of plastic to one area so that you don’t have to produce all the parts at once. But another way to use one mold for multiple figures is known as “gang-molding,” which is to produce multiple toys on a single mold or set of molds at once. Just to give the most obvious and definite example: the G1 Decoys had no moving parts, were all molded in one of two colors, and were packed at random with other figures. They were almost certainly gang-molded.
So my thought is that the very simple Micro Change trio probably also shared a single set of molds. One runner of color parts, one runner of black parts, a runner of rubber tires, a few screws, and you’ve got three small figures for the cost of one set of tooling. As with the MC cars, Bumblebee and Cliffjumper each appeared in the other figure’s color in 1984 and 1985. The reasoning for that given by a Hasbro executive is “to make the line look bigger,” but it could also simply be that it was incredibly easy and much more cost-effective to make them each in both colors because they were part of the same mold.
Meanwhile, Bumper is the Mini-Car that almost made it. I mean, he did make it; he’s a Transformers toy that was released. The Bumpers released on Cliffjumper’s card have a unique sticker used neither for the Micro Change equivalent nor for any other Hasbro Mini-Car. He has been found in one color, yellow, on one card, Cliffjumper’s. He never had a name trademarked nor was packaging created for him, but there was card art prepared that was eventually used in South America. But for years he didn’t even have an official name and no presence in the fiction. When Hasbro chose to revisit the original Mini-Car molds in 1986 to make new figures, they instead paid to modify the Cliffjumper mold and release Hubcap, leaving Bumper forever in limbo. How does a figure like that happen, but not quite happen?
I have an idea about that.
If you want to make a line look bigger, having it be bigger is going to be the easiest way, right? …well, yes and no. The original 1984 Mini-Cars assortments shipped in evenly-distributed cases of 24, with 4 of each figure. So if you have seven molds and an assortment that lends itself to six figures, Bumper is the logical choice to cut. He’s easily the least interesting of the original seven Mini-Cars, identical to Bumblebee and Cliffjumper in transformation but with a face and form factor less interesting than either of them. He’s very square and doesn’t even have any cool horns on his hat as a robot. But if you assume he’s still gang-molded with the other two, why not be as ready for a potential release as possible? So you commission some package art and design a third sticker set just in case you need him somewhere. And naturally, the stickers could be produced together on a single sheet for the same reason the figures are all produced together: it saves money and space.
And under those circumstances, it would be very easy for the factory to gate off the wrong third of the mold and produce, say, Bumblebee and Bumper in yellow for their inaugural run of Mini-Cars versus Bumblebee and Cliffjumper. Factory workers assemble parts from the runners marked 02, place the sticker marked “02” where the sticker goes on all these molds, discard an unused sticker as they would’ve expected to do, and an unspecified number of As-Yet Nameless Autobot Mini-Car get to market in place of Cliffjumper in limited quantities. By the time they get around to doing the first run in red the error has been found, and Bumper is properly gated off. This is possibly why Bumper only occurs in yellow and only occurs on Cliffjumper’s card – though he was once thought to appear on Bumblebee’s as well.
As to why he was never revisited, as I said he is kinda the most boring car of the three. But the mold’s right there, right, so why spend more money to create Hubcap if it’s not necessary? It’s possible the mold wasn’t there anymore. Molds degrade with use and have to be replaced. The subtle running changes on things like the Classics Seekers can in part be attributed to this. As the line’s mascot character, Bumblebee was easily popular enough to potentially break the mold. And if you were going to go to the trouble of recreating the tooling why would you bother committing to the gated-off part you never use? This could be why Bumper has never been reissued, resurrected, or included in an e-Hobby set of any kind: he’s just plain gone, discarded with a mold that was 2/3rds used up. Poor Bumper.
Sadly, I’m not even sure who could be asked about this at this point. Someone on the Takara side might be able to confirm some of the basic information – whether or not the three molds are in fact joined being the main thing I’d want to know. Even if they’re not, the basic path to market for Bumper doesn’t change that much. It means somebody likely grabbed the Bumper molds (02) instead of Cliffjumper (01) and got them ready for a run in yellow plastic. But given that gang-molding and a gating error could account for why Bumblebee and Cliffjumper were available in each other’s colors plus the precise circumstances of Bumper, it sure is an answer that appeals to me.
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