Sunday, May 31, 2009

Almost Vintage: 2006 Poof-Slinky (Ideal) Evel Knievel Super Stunt Cycle set

The Evel Knievel Stunt Cycle is one of the most famous toys from the 1970's. Ideal Toy Company began producing the stunt cycle in 1973. The toy enjoyed unheard-of popularity until 1977 when Evel settled a score in a parking lot with a baseball bat. Ideal stopped producing Evel Knievel toys once Knievel's reputation was sullied by the incident.

Ideal sold millions of the stunt cycle sets and went on to produce other sets that included cars, other cycles, and even Knievel's famous canyon-jumping Sky Cycle (all to be featured in later posts). You can view my thoughts on the original Stunt Cycle set HERE.

Evel Knievel toys are many people's most remembered toys from the 1970s and most everyone that was a kid in that era had at least one Evel Knievel Stunt Cycle. Because of this amazing toy's popularity and sentimental value, two separate companies have reproduced this set more recently. The first Stunt Cycle replica set was issued by Playing Mantis in 1998. It didn't use the original molds for the toy but did a great job of replicating the play experience and fun of the original. I'll cover the Playing Mantis reissue in a later post, as well.

In 2006, Ideal Toys (then recently acquired by Poof-Slinky...makers of the Slinky) began producing replicas of the original Stunt Cycle set using the original molds that were used to produce the toys in the 70s. This 2006 reissue is the subject of this post. Although different in color, the 2006 stunt cycle (at least on the outside) is a bang-on reproduction of the original. It even sports a 1972 copyright date (although it was released in 1973, I believe) on the side of the cycle. Because of this, it's important to be careful when looking for Stunt Cycles on Ebay because sellers (unknowingly...or at times, knowingly) have tried to sell the re-issue as an original. Some unwitting buyers have even payed a premium thinking the cycle they were buying was a pristine original.

I'm going to go over each of the components of the set and talk about the differences and similarities to the original 1973 toy.

CYCLE: The major difference, cosmetically, between the re-issue and the original is that the replica has been covered in a chrome paint application. The chrome makes for a striking cycle but does make it look somewhat different from the original which had a white plastic body with chrome or black tailpipes (and chrome handlebars and forks on early issues). It's easy to tell the difference if you know what to look for. It should also be noted that a front fender has also been added to the re-issue stunt cycle that was not present on the original.

The replica also includes pre-applied decals for some of the graphical accents on the cycle. The 1973 original included a sheet of small stickers to be applied to the cycle by the owner.

Mechanically, the replica reproduces most of the fun of the original. However, it does make a much louder noise when being "revved" on the energizer than the original. Although the sound is similar, it is much, much LOUDER. The replica cycle doesn't run as long as the original, either. The original's fly-wheel mechanism ran like "butter" and would seem to defy physics, at times, and continue to spin for ages. Part of this difference may be due to the replica's internal gears being made of plastic versus the metal gears of the original. The plastic gears tend to make the reissue not quite as durable as the original, as well. (Edit: It has been brought to my attention that the original cycle used plastic gears, as well.  It sounds like the way the gears are installed may be making the difference...thanks, 7-inch DD)  The replica runs for a decent amount of time and certainly runs long enough after release to make some spectacular jumps and tricks. I should also mention that it's almost a hit-or-miss ordeal with the replica cycle. I had one that ran poorly until I really revved it hard and "broke it in" somehow. Another one, just ran poorly and continued to do so. Some work great right out of the box. So, just be aware that your "mileage may vary" when dealing with this re-issue of the Stunt Cycle.

2006 replica (left) and 1973 original (right)

2006 replica figure (left) and 1973 original (right)

FIGURE: The replica Evel Knievel figure is a very close twin to the original. Without seeing them side-by-side it can be difficult to tell them apart. The primary difference is in the application of the stars and stripes on Evel's jumpsuit. The replica uses silk-screening for the "V" with stars graphic. The original used an applique method with a stitched-on "V" with stars. Everything else is a close match. The belt is almost identical between the two. The helmet is also very close. Although, the replica is a much softer, squishier plastic than the original. They both use the same bendy-type body with hard plastic hands and feet.

ENERGIZER (winding base): Using the original molds (including a 1973 copyright on the bottom of the unit), the replica energizer is an almost exact copy of the original. The original energizer was produced in a variety of colors including red. The replica was only produced in red... which looks nice and is probably the best choice of color. The replica also sports several Evel Knievel stickers on the unit. The original 1973 set did not include stickers or graphics of any kind for the energizer. Since the replica energizer uses the original molds, vintage Evel Knievel toys can be revved on the replica and vice versa.

BOX: The box for the replica set makes no attempt to reproduce the original toy's box. The replica's box features "updated" graphics and a cellophane window to show off the toy. The original was "blind boxed" (no windows to show the toy) like many toys of the 70s and featured some nice illustration work to show what the toy looked like. Part of me wishes that Poof-Slinky had released a more authentic version of this set using the vintage art and blind box. However, I do realize that they were most likely hoping to sell this set to kids, as well, and not necessarily always to middle-age nostalgic guys hoping to recapture a small part of their childhood.

The 2006 Poof-Slinky Evel Knievel Stunt Cycle set is a good reproduction and a fun toy. It's also a great way to reminisce and get your Evel Knievel jumping fix without spending hundreds on an original stunt cycle set that you probably would be hesitant to play with, anyway. This set, to my knowledge, is no longer being produced... although it can still be had affordably online and on auction sites like Ebay (the re-issue is starting to become more scarce, as well, but is still affordable).

Friday, May 29, 2009

Kenner The Six Million Dollar Man: Bionic Adventure Set #3

Bionic Adventure Set: Mission to Mars

This is, by far, the coolest of the 3 Bionic Man Adventure sets. This was the one to get if you had your pick of the three.

This is the Mission to Mars outfit for Steve when he's off-planet and visiting Mars. Obviously, we need a bionic man to explore Mars in case we're attacked by Martians while there. Steve can set 'em straight. On a side note, judging by the illustration, Mars isn't actually just looks that way through the red-tinted helmet bubble. Who knew?

This set includes: "Space Suit, Boots, Gloves, Helmet, and Life Support Pack."

If you look closely, there's even a hole in the blue backpack that allows access to Steve's action button on his back. That's thinkin,' Kenner.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Mego 8" Superman

, wgshMego Superman.

To me, this is the quintessential superhero action figure. Let me explain. Before this figure, my 6 year-old pop culture world revolved around things like Popeye, Sesame Street, and Disney characters. My toys mostly consisted of things like Sesame Street Puppets, Fisher Price Little People, Smokey the Bear bendies, Disney bubblegum banks, and even a real corn cob pipe and sailor hat so I could dress up as my favorite hero, Popeye. I even tried eating spinach right out of the can once to emulate my hero. Once.

One evening, my Dad returned from a business trip and presented a return-from-travel gift to me that would set my life off on a new and exciting course (cue rising music and angel chorus). My Dad gave me a Mego Superman. Now, before I go much further, I should mention that superhero action figure toys were not a part of the fabric of American culture like they are nowadays. This was something revolutionary. It was 1973 and I hadn't ever seen a toy quite as wonderful as that first Mego Superman that my Dad gave me. He was poseable. He had fabric clothing and he looked just like Superman...or at least how I thought Superman should look.

My love for superheroes began the moment I received a Mego Superman from my Dad. I distinctly remember a fascination that started at that moment and has, pretty much, continued on to this very day. I would even go so far as to say that my work in comics drawing and painting superheroes is due, indirectly, to my receiving that first Mego figure. My Dad handing that figure to me is "burned into my brain" like not many other moments from my childhood have been. So, now, every time I see a Mego Superman, I'm reminded of my own real-life Dad.

The Mego Superman in the photos is, sadly, not my original Superman. My original figure is long-gone and saw so much play time that he became very tattered and a loved toy in the hands of a six-year old should. The figure pictured is a more recent acquisition but is a vintage figure from the same year as my original.

Superman was one of the first four figures that Mego produced (along with Batman, Robin, and Aquaman) as part of the World's Greatest Super Heroes line of figures.

A Mego Superman should include his blue jumpsuit with cape and emblem attached (early emblems were paper stickers, later issues were fabric stickers), and two red plastic boots.

Lakeside Smokey the Bear bendie

Smokey the Bear. It's hard to believe this guy didn't have a TV show or something when you look at all the merchandise that's been produced with his image over the years. I guess it just goes to show how far a character can go towards promoting a public service message. Forest fires? Not for me.

This little gem was produced by Lakeside in 1967. I'm sure not many people will care about seeing this toy but it was a favorite of mine as a little squirt in the very early 70s. He's a classic bendie; about 6 inches tall, rubber over wire armature, down-and-dirty paint scheme, funny little holes on the back, etc. I seem to remember owning a few of these bendie Smokeys as they would get lost or break from time to time. My strongest memory of this bendie involves a hardware store in Aberdeen, South Dakota and a barrel. This particular hardware store was literally selling these, loose, out of a barrel. It was a "barrel of fun" (boo) getting to dig through, what seemed like, hundreds and hundreds of bendie Smokeys.

I think there was also a carded version that came with a shovel. Don't quote me on that, though.

Anyone else remember this guy?

Friday, May 22, 2009

Almost Vintage: Mattel Hot Wheels 1966 TV Batmobile 1/18 Scale

Occasionally, I'm going to feature a toy that is from the current era but is something that is in the spirit of a toy from the 1970s. It may be an actual replica of a 70s toy (like Megos or Evel Knievel) or it may just be something that is very similar to something we had in the 70s. At other times, it may be a current toy based on a film or television show from the 70s.

Today is such an occasion. This is the Mattel Hot Wheels 1/18 scale 1966 TV Batmobile. Sure, this car is technically from the 60s but it's popularity carried it far into the 70s (and into today) and many kids of the 70s played with a toy version of this car in one form or another. In a big way, this diecast model is the spiritual successor to Corgi's original diecast metal Batmobile from the late 60's and 1970s.

Now, Hot Wheels is giving us the ultimate die-cast version of this classic car (I believe this was released in 2008...maybe 2007). Hot Wheels released three different versions of the 1966 TV Batmobile in 1/18 scale: the basic edition (pictured in this post), the Elite (more detail, opening hood and trunk), and the Super Elite (even more detail, etc.). The Elite and Super Elite come with higher price tags and are suited for the more particular Batman or diecast collector.

For my money, the standard edition is just fine and comes with enough quality and detail to satisfy my need for having a version of this car on my shelf. The doors open and close and the front wheels turn with the steering wheel.

This is a great pre-built diecast model and I can't recommend it highly enough for the Batman or TV Batmobile fan.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Kenner The Six Million Dollar Man: Bionic Adventure Set #2

BIONIC ADVENTURE: OSI Undercover Assignment Set

This is another one of the Bionic Adventure outfits that Kenner released for the Six Million Dollar Man. This time, Steve's going undercover...for a 1976 JC Penney catalog photo shoot, I presume. He's wearing denim from top to bottom and he's ready for his close-up.

This set includes "Leisure Denim Suit, watch, brown shoes, and portable bionic system."

At least this time, the OSI had the good sense to not include the giant emblem on the chest. After all, Steve's undercover in this one. That's a good thing, too, because this outfit just screams "Regular bionics here...move along." This set always seemed like a such a gip compared to the much cooler other Bionic Adventure sets...and it was definitely the peg warmer of the three.

The cardback on this example has seen better days.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

KISS Radio

Love 'em or hate 'em, KISS was a force to be reckoned with in the 1970s. Their concert tours were like traveling circuses complete with pyrotechnics and over-the-top stage antics. With costumes and face makeup right out of a comic book, KISS (in the minds of many kids) rode the line between rock and roll musicians and living comic book characters.

KISS's stage show and persona were a perfect fit for the type of marketing that KISS began to employ in the mid-Seventies. At first, it started with the usual rock and roll merchandise items like posters, t-shirts, and belt buckles. Eventually, though, store shelves began to carry things like toys, games, puzzles, lunchboxes, school supplies, and sleeping bags. At present, KISS has left no stone unturned when it comes to KISS merchandise. Would you believe there's such a thing as a KISS branded house key? No joke.

In the 70s, things were a bit simpler when it came to music "on the go." There were no ipods, walkmans, or cell phones packed with music. There were, however, hand-held portable transistor radios. Most often, these small radios could only receive AM stations and would play music through a single mono speaker. Never leaving a marketing opportunity untried, the KISS transistor radio was born in 1977.

The KISS radio was only sold through mail-order and was promoted through low-budget television commercials. Cheaply made, the images of KISS on the radio are actually stickers that wrap around the four sides and top of the unit. The radio also features a hand strap to help the listener keep the radio from hitting the ground while dancing and grooving to the sweet sounds of AM radio.

I wonder... how many times did kids have to listen to "Muskrat Love" and "Copacabana" while waiting to finally hear "Rock and Roll All Nite" on these little plastic nuggets of audio AM bliss?

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Kenner The Six Million Dollar Man: Bionic Adventure Set #1


BIONIC ADVENTURE SET: Test Flight at 75,000 Feet.

In 1976, Kenner released 3 Bionic Adventure Sets for the 12" Steve Austin figure. Each set dressed Steve for a particular mission.

This particular outfit prepares Steve for a test flight at 75,000 feet. I appreciate Kenner being so specific. I'm sure Steve would have needed a completely different outfit if he were to be conducting a test flight at, say, 45,000 feet.

The set comes with Steve's orange jumpsuit, helmet, boots, goggles, altimeter (to be certain that the test flight happens at 75,000 feet), and a blue plastic non-functional parachute pack... which should come in very handy should Steve need to fool someone into believing he's wearing a parachute. Maybe OSI spent too much money on bionics to afford an actual parachute. I know for a fact that GiJoe was outfitted with an ACTUAL parachute around this time. Why not Steve? Come to think of it, there were scads of dime store quality toys with actual parachutes. You would think that Kenner and the OSI would have spared the extra 50 cents it would have taken to help protect the 6 million dollar investment they had in Steve. Ah, well... hindsight is 20/20.

I also wonder if the other Test Pilots are jealous that Steve has a Six Million Dollar Man patch on his jumpsuit? Show-off. Very covert, Steve.

I really like the vintage art on these sets. I especially appreciate the cardboard Steve Austin portrait to help the buyer visualize what the set will look like on the figure.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Kenner The Six Million Dollar Man: Bionic Bigfoot

Bigfoot was a star in the 1970's. He's fallen on hard times, more recently, but was a full-fledged phenomenon back then. These days, I imagine he's hanging out with other stars of the 70s like Burt Reynolds and Tony Orlando jonesing for the good ol' days when a killer "stache" meant something. He was in movies, books, comics, magazines, television documentaries, and even Saturday morning kids' shows. He was EVERYWHERE. America had a fascination with Bigfoot in the 70s like never before or since.

The Six Million Dollar Man TV show capitalized on the big fuzzy guy's popularity and added him as a recurring nemesis to Col. Steve Austin. We enjoyed all of Steve's exploits but none so much as the ones that featured the fearsome Bigfoot.

I remember being genuinely frightened by the creature on the show and felt sorry for Steve for being so powerful that he, alone, had the job of facing the terrible creature in hand-to-hand combat. I felt that Steve was never in greater peril than when he was trading blows with this terrible, mythical beast.

In the end, Bigfoot's origins turned out to be "otherworldly" and it was discovered that he was, at least, partially bionic... like Steve.

Kenner gave us the Bionic Bigfoot figure later in the life of the 12" scale Six Million Dollar Man toy line (1977, I believe). We were excited to finally be getting the furry nightmare immortalized in plastic but the figure didn't quite live up to the amazing figures that had come before in the line. In a line full of action features and cool accessories, Bigfoot is somewhat lacking. His sole action feature involved a chest panel that popped off when he was hit in the belly button (square button seen in photos). Under the panel was a look at what made Bigfoot tick. He was exposed for being at least partially robotic. A rectangular hole in the upper portion of the exposed robotics allowed the Steve Austin figure to grasp Bigfoot and lift him with his ratchet-action bionic lifting feature. Bigfoot's articulation is also lacking. He has ball-jointed shoulders and cut hip joints. That's it. This compromise, I'm pretty sure, was implemented to not interfere with the "hairy" sculpt too much. Toy companies, to this day, have trouble with furry characters and adequate articulation (Chewbacca, anyone?).

Bigfoot included no accessories unless you count the removable panel. It can be tough to find a Bigfoot with the panel included. So, in a sense, it can be a somewhat expensive "accessory" when viewed as an item to complete the toy.

The Bigfoot figure also includes an odd "speaker" panel sculpted under his right ear. This is purely cosmetic and doesn't function in any way. I guess Kenner was trying to drive home the point that Bigfoot was bionic (Question: If I duct tape a speaker to the side of my neck, will people think I'm a robot?).

No Six Million Dollar Man collection is complete without this guy. Despite his flaws, you gotta love 'im.

Go, Big Guy.