Name: Powered Convoy
Company: GiG (under license with Takara)
Year of Release: 1983-84
Accessories: Powered Buggy figure, Blaster, Rockets x 4, Rocket launchers x 2, Hitch/Waist pieces x 2
In the 1980's, Hasbro was responsible for unleashing Transformers on the world, but in the early days it only ran the line in the United States. In other countries such as Italy, the toys that would come to be known as Transformers first made their way onto the market via the toy company GiG as Diaclone toys utilizing a license from Japanese toy company Takara, instead of Hasbro. As Transformers started to spread around the world, GiG eventually added the word "Trasformer"[sic] to their Diaclone toy packaging, but the toy inside were still based off the Takara Diaclone figures. One such example was the "Trasformer" release of Powered Convoy, better known to Transformers fans as Ultra Magnus. You can read more details about the relationship of GiG to Diaclone and Transformers on the TFWiki.
Many years ago when the Transformers usenet newsgroup alt.toys.transformers was the main form of communicating with other fans, a fan in Italy posted an item for sale that he claimed to be an Italian version of the Japanese "Goodbye Convoy" set. He was asking a little over $100 USD (which would be about $158 in today's dollars) for this set. Now, back in those days, you could not just snap a photo on your camera and zap it to someone, so he kept describing it as "It looks like Optimus Prime with another smaller car.". Taking a leap of faith, I made a deal with the guy. Fast forward over a month later and I received the package. What greeted me inside was not the "Goodbye Convoy" set from Japan, but something even better: the Italian release of the "Trasformer Diaclone" Powered Convoy! This was a delight and to this day this figure is one of the most precious parts of my collection. Since the figure straddles an odd middle ground between Diaclone and Transformers, I decided to do a write up on it in the style of "Ben's Toy Box" for your enjoyment.
When the "Powered Convoy" figure was released for Diaclone, it included an additional figure: Powered Buggy (also known as "Super Buggy" when he was released individually by GiG). This is a very basic figure, consisting of six parts: a head, body, two arms and two legs. This figure transformed from a robot to a dune buggy of sorts. Powered Buggy is roughly the size of a modern day Scout Class figure but in a much more simplified form. The figure transforms by taking all the pieces apart and rearranging them into the alt-form. Basically Powered Buggy is a glorified accessory, but he is one that I think many Transformers fans would have welcomed as part of the US Ultra Magnus release in the 80's. Powered Buggy does not have a weapon of his own, but you could give him Powered Convoy's weapon to hold in his fist.
In vehicle mode, you can attach Powered Convoy's weapon to the top of the vehicle and have a Diaclone driver sit in the driver's seat in the middle. The ability of pilots to interact with these figures was a significant part of the Diaclone play pattern and it is cool to see it worked into this figure.
Powered Buggy is cast in red plastic with some silver deco on the head. The wheels are cast in black. There are some nice sculpted details such as vents on either side of the chest that could have used paint to help accentuate them, but overall it is a fun looking little figure.
In 1986, a promotional reel for "Transformers: The Movie" was being shown to the public. I personally saw it at a Creation Star Trek convention in New York City. This was less of a trailer and more of a way for the studio to introduce the concept of the movie to various audiences. For Transformers fans however, the most significant aspect of this footage was that almost none of it actually made its way into the final movie (indeed, even most of the background music came from "Star Trek"). Among the bits of footage that were made just for this promo reel was a shot of Ultra Magnus in distinctly different colors than the red, white and blue colors he would eventually be released in. Instead, the animators had used the Diaclone figure for reference. This has made this color scheme for the Ultra Magnus sculpt a particular point of interest for fans over the years. Check out the promo reel below courtesy of The Space Bridge on Youtube:
Powered Convoy's vehicle mode has a very different visual tone than Ultra Magnus. Instead of being bright with colors popping everywhere, Powered Convoy is much more muted. The cab section is largely a darker shade of blue with some black parts. Meanwhile the trailer features a heavy dose of silver, dark blue, black and red. These are not colors you always see together, but here the combination works and there is a very "industrial" feel to the vehicle. This is appropriate since the Diaclone robots were not meant to be sentient beings, but rather robots driven by smaller pilots. To really punctuate where this figure belongs in the world of toys, the word "Diaclone" is printed on a sticker where the license plate would be on the cab section.
There are some signs of deco that would carry over to the Transformers toy line. The sides of the wheels are vacuum metallized silver. The headlights, the cylinders on the sides of the cab, the front grille, smoke stacks and bumper are also vacuum metallized silver. Also the cab has a thick silver stripe that runs along the sides and then wraps around to the front. Fans familiar with the original Optimus Prime toy will find all these design elements familiar.
Like G1 Ultra Magnus, the trailer can hold up to four G1 Autobot car sized Transformers (such as Sunstreaker or Ironhide). In the photos above I actually pulled out a Diaclone Skids and Ironhide I own for the top, while the bottom features Takara's Road Rage figure. You can swing the panels in the back down to "unload" the trailer, and the top row can then swing down to unload the vehicles on the top. You can also pivot the top section pointing up to "launch" a jet. A photo on the packaging shows the figure that would eventually become Starscream sitting on top of the truck. For its later release as Ultra Magnus, Hasbro used Silverbolt instead.
To drive home the "driver controlling machine" aspect of the line, the front of the cab can swing open and you can seat two Diaclone pilot figures inside. Need to defend them? Connect the rocket launchers to the pegs above the cab section on the trailer. Now, interestingly the rockets that came with this figure feature a big rubber plug at the end. No doubt this was done for safety reasons since these launchers can actually launch these rockets (unlike the United States release of Ultra Magnus which removed the launching capability). Aesthetically this may not be the most pleasing thing but it is fun to have a functional launcher on this figure.
One fun thing about Diaclone toys was the way Takara worked hard to make them feel like part of a larger "unviverse" of characters and robots. To that end, a variant on the vehicle mode actually winds up having the arm joints extended and bent at the elboows. This creates his "Base Mode". Attach the larger robot head and the chest armor together to form a mini-vehicle for a Diaclone pilot. This also forms a part of the Base Mode on top, almost like a control center of sorts. Meanwhile you can have vehicles rolling out from the opening at the front. I love this form and while it is a tad goofy looking, it is very much an example of how Takara really used their imaginations for play value back in the day.
In robot mode, you would be right to think this figure looks like Optimus Prime painted himself blue and black. The torso and legs are blue while the head, fists and lower legs are black. Vacuum metallized silver is used for the thighs. The crest on the head is painted silver and the eyes are yellow. Some of this deco was used on Optimus Prime as well including the vacuum metallized thighs and the stickers on the top of the forearms.
There are ten points of articulation on this figure, which is quite a lot for the time. Either fist can hold the blaster weapon included with the figure.
When combined with the trailer, this figure takes on more of the "Ultra Magnus" appearance fans are familiar with, but the colors completely set him apart. The same colors as the vehicle mode carry over here with a few stickers included for extra details. Silver paint is used for detailing. I really love the look of this color combination. It is worth noting that despite the "Trasformer" logo on the box, there are no actual Autobot or Decepticon symbols anywhere on the packaging or figure. The look of the "Safety Rockets" on his shoulders takes a bit of getting used to, but I've owned this figure for so long now it does not bother me at all.
There is not a lot of articulation in this form to speak of. Basically his arms can move up and down at the shoulders, bend at the elbows and swivel in and out. The rest of the body is pretty much a brick. However, back in the 80's this was not a big deal at all. I loved my original Ultra Magnus figure and I have a special affection for this one.
Modern Day Homages
It is interesting to note that in 2001 Takara did release a limited edition version of Ultra Magnus in the Diaclone deco as the "Movie Preview Version". However, since he was still intended to be Ultra Magnus, the release did not include Powered Buggy or a Diaclone pilot. According to the TF Wiki, this figure was exclusive to Toy Festival 2001, held on February 26, 2001 in Tokyo, Japan. It was limited to 1,500 pieces. Since that time, Takara Tomy released a color variant of Masterpiece Ultra Magnus using the Diaclone colors and naming him Delta Magnus. It is cool to see that even after all these years, the Diaclone roots of the Transformers have not been forgotten.