Masterpiece Tracks; A character retrospective

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As one of the 1985 toy releases, and a Season Two character (or non-Ark crew if you’re more of a comic-book guy), Tracks isn’t necessarily the first Transformers character that comes to mind for a lot of Transformers fans, and he tends to get overlooked by much of the casual TF audience.  This is perhaps strange when you consider he was the first Diaclone toy produced with the Western audience in mind, hence the choice of the incredibly iconic and personal favourite Corvette Stingray C3.

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Tracks Animation Model

A brief history of Corvettes in Transformers.

The Corvette, manufactured by Chevrolet, originally started life as a concept car in 1953.  Building cars and metal manufacturing is quite literally something in the water in Flint, Michigan, and that’s where the ‘Vette started life.  The C1 was produced through to 1962 before being replaced by the sportier C2, the first ‘Vette to sport the moniker “Stingray”.  Like the Firebird and the Trans Am, the Stingray was the souped up version of the car, capable of 360bhp with a big block V8 version hitting the market in 1965. Arguably the most famous and the most iconic of the Corvette’s, the C3 began production in 1968 and stayed in production for 14 years.  This version shot to fame when Chevrolet cannily gave their top-end Stingrays to all of the NASA Astronauts, who were as famous as movie stars and musicians in their day, during the infamous space race.  The C4 and C5 were also popular, and very mass-produced and are the easiest to find on the secondary market, but hold little allure to Transformers fans outside of a partial tribute in the almost cutesy racer of Throttlebot Freeway, who somewhat resembled a c4, and Euro 1.5 / G2 Skram, who transforms into an unspecified, modified Corvette from this era.

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Other Blue Corvette types that avoided the Tracks moniker

However, the Corvette C6, specifically the z06, released in 2005 was immortalised as Binaltech / Alternators Tracks, Swerve and Ravage.  Getting in on the act, the Movie franchise depicted Sideswipe as an unreleased Corvette Stingray concept car in Michael Bay’s 2009’s Revenge of the Fallen and also went topless for Dark of the Moon.  This car bridged the gap between the c6 and the now-current c7 model, who made his movie debut as Crosshairs in 2014’s Transformers Age of Extinction billion dollar mess movie.

Got all that?  Phew!  Back to Tracks.

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Confusing for 6 year old me.

Despite having an entire episode of the cartoon all to himself, and a few over co-starring roles, Tracks has had remarkably little impact on the franchise, other than reinforcing the notion that “Flames are cool” before Hot-Rod stole his gimmick, and then Sideburn stole his colour-scheme.  In fact, some people identify more with Red Tracks, or Road Rage, who predated Tracks in his blue deco (believed to have been exclusively in Transformers branded packaging) with the Diaclone release of the toy in red, and was featured on the rear box art for the 1985 assortment in red (pictured), as well as super-rare but confirmed genuine Milton Bradley European releases of Red Tracks in Transformers packaging (repackages basically, removed from the Diaclone boxes in the factory, Diaclone driver discarded, heatrub sticker applied, and put into the new, larger Transformers boxes in their original styro with spacers.  For more information, click here for an excellent article explaining packaging mix-ups.

 

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Credit to 20th Century Toy Collector – check his blog.

Tracks did very little of consequence in the comics (UK or US), was too late to the party to feature in the 1986 movie (which probably spared him from being killed), and has missed out on a G2 redeco (featuring in the comic looking much the same as in G1), a Beast Wars name homage (how difficult would it be to call a pawed animal Tracks for Christ’s sake), was overlooked as a name choice for RID Sideburn, missed out with Corvette re-appropriation going to other characters for the Bayverse, and has had very little recreations of consequence in any of the other Transformers re-

Tracksanimated
Looks great, no toy 😦

imaginings except for the Binaltech continuity (no fiction other than pack-in prose) and a lousy, lazy SG (which is basically borrowing Knock Out’s personality and dual-purposing the mold for use as both SG Tracks / Road Rage).  However, he does at least have an appearance in the awesome Animated cartoon, featuring an awesome design by Derrick Wyatt.  What’s that?  Did he get an awesome new toy designed by Eric Seibenaler like the other awesome Animated characters?  No.  He did at least get some dialogue courtesy of the awesome Townsend Coleman at least.  And he has an Action Master version AND a Kreo, so it’s not all bad, right?

Yet we still have a soft-spot for the character.  It helps that the LGBTQIA community have somewhat adopted him, assuming his soft Lloyd Grossman-esque lilt to be a sign of homosexuality.  And why not?  His name in Hungary (Vagany) translates to “Tough Guy”, which has a touch of The Blue Oyster machismo to it.  His voice-actor Michael McConnohie insists the character isn’t gay, but honestly, I don’t think it matters either way.  If young LGBTQIA kids in some way identified with this character in the barren world of cis-depicting eighties cartoons, all the better in my opinion.

Focusing on his G1 character, lets have a look at his toys throughout the years.

Tracks Toys

In 1985, Hasbro gave us G1 Tracks.  An awesome toy, with a great colour scheme, and flame decal with the Autobot logo replacing the “CS” of the Diaclone.  We’re all familiar with this toy, right?  He was reissued in gold packaging in Europe in 1991 as part of the Classics line, and in Takara “book” packaging in 2002 and in the US in much lamer Toys R Us commemorative packaging in 2003.   His very fun additional flying car mode offered extra play value which I loved as a kid.

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In 1991, he also saw release as another Euro exclusive as Action Master Tracks  hit the shelves (Europe seems to be the only place he was loved, but then again maybe giving a possibly gay-leaning character an Action Master partner called Basher was TOO homophobic for certain countries).  This is one of the harder G1 toys to come by, and commands a decent price on the secondary market.  His partner becomes a M.A.S.K. … I mean mask and backpack, so sort of retains his power of flight.  Sort of.  Maybe.

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In 2004, Binaltech Tracks graced our shores.  It’s not strictly a G1 interpretation of the character, although the lines on the bio fiction did blur sometimes, so we’re only showing him here out of a sense of completion, and because this was the first time Tracks was released in Corvette standard yellow.  There are not many cars I demand to see in yellow, and perhaps even fewer Transformers, but hot-damn do Corvette’s look stunning in yellow, especially from the C5 onwards (C3 should nearly always be black, but that’s my personal bias, and more on that later).  No alternative flight mode, but the head sculpt was great and the built in shoulder cannons worked great, but that chest / roof cheat never quite worked for me.

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Robot mode may look clunky and full of kibble years on, but that ‘Vette has not aged a day.

Moving onto the Classics release of Tracks, or for the pedants, Turbo Tracks in the Reveal the Shield line.  I should state, the figure pictured is the Japanese “United” version with the much nicer chrome paint-job.  Less G1 accurate sometimes works!  It’s a great mold with oddles of personality and a clever bit of re-tooling means he stands taller than his mold mate Wheeljack, as well as brilliant weapon storage.  However, over the years I’ve come to prefer this mold for TFCC Runabout and Runamuck, as there are better options for Tracks and WJ.  Also, the phoned in “flight mod” absolutely stinks.

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United Japanese, not the Western release.

MP-25 Tracks

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Finally we come to the MP release from Takara Tomy.  Arguably the best release of Tracks to date, right?  With a fully licensed Corvette branding and ultra-realistic styling and show accuracy details throughout, including accessories such as a mini-Blaster, his little gun from flight mode and even Raoul from Track’s seminal episode of the cartoon.  And a freaking flight-stand, for the most convincing flight-mode for a Tracks figure to date.

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There was much debate about this guy before release – as there always seems to be these days – as to whether he was any good or not.  I tried to ignore the noise and debate, but I still opened the figure with a sense of trepidation not sure what to expect.  The first impression upon opening the box is great, awesome presentation and packaged in alt. mode as is my preference, it’s an awesome licensed Corvette C3 Stingray, so what is not to like?

It’s easy enough to transform without instructions, but there are several steps that feel a bit floaty.  You can leave the backpack more of less wherever you want it once it flimsily “tabs” into the car doors which gatefold open to attempt to give the illusion of a torso for Tracks.  But that’s all it is; an illusion.  Tracks doesn’t really have a torso.  Just a chest, a floaty head on a neck-joint that just flops around, some car doors that loosely hold the backpack in place, and wings that never seem quite in the right place to me.

As a figure to display on the shelf, it is very pleasing, but as soon as you pick it up you can see the weaknesses, and while it’s not as hollow and cheap feeling as, say, a FOC or Beast Hunters toy, it does feel there is something missing to tie the head / chest, side and backpack together.  Something like a body.   To be fair, it feels like this is because the mold is trying really hard to make a sleek, sexy, elegantly tall robot mode without making any sacrifices to the awesome car mode, and there are some nice surprises in their.  It feels like the figure maybe over-reaches and doesn’t quite hit its end-goal, but that’s much better than feeling like the figure under-achieves due to laziness or cost-cutting, so in that regard it CANNOT be compared to any of the short-comings in the Hasbro mainline.

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Overall, it’s the best, most show-accurate version of G1 Tracks we’re ever likely to get and the head-sculpt is beautiful and very animation accurate, and at some points it’s cartoon accurate to the point of ugliness (but thankfully, you can turn around and hide the horrible yellow background logo in every mode).  But is it the best Tracks toy?
Tr1

In my opinion, no, but it does come DAMN close.   The G1 is still THE best Tracks figure ever released in my opinion, with a stunning alt. mode that holds up to this day and a very competent robot mode (it was thirty years ago and they weren’t working to an animation model, they were just making a cool robot) which is FUN to transform.  As a piece of engineering, I still place the Binaltech version above this, especially as a Corvette representation, I won’t even mention the diecast and rubber tyres / working steering except in this very awkward manor which mentions them whilst seeming like I’m somehow above that.  I’m not over it.  Binaltech were stunning pieces in their day, as was the G1.  Maybe this was too ambitious, but I feel like it’s not quite all it could be for 2015 toy engineering and that’s a shame.

I guess I’ve realised one thing though, I have talked myself into displaying this in flight mode, which is absolutely where this figure beats out all other versions of this character.

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Next:  A look at Road Rage

MP-25 Tracks was purchased from Masterforce.co.uk, courtesy of the awesome Morg.  Check out the site for some great deals!

 

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