Machine Robo / Gobots

Machine Robo (Gobot/Machine Men/Robo Machine) are an early 80’s small transforming toy designed and made in Japan by the Popy division of Japanese toy company Bandai. They are Hotwheels/Matchbox type scale (roughly 1/64) and composed of diecast metal and high density plastic parts.

This transforming robot toyline was originally sold into the Japanese market in 1982 as Machine Robo, marketed simply as a familiar type of toy vehicle with the additional capability to transform into a robot. The transformation ranged from simple (a few steps), to more complex with more than a dozen steps, impressive for such a small scale toy. In Japan the Machine Robo toys were sold with simple names and model designation (i.e. MR-01 – Bike Robo, MR-03 – Jet Robo etc), in a small box with polystyrene insert and instructions, as well as a small comic strip depicting the character. Here are a couple of examples:

MR-37 – “Harley Robo”
MR-03 – “Jet Robo”

This was reasonably successful in Japan however required a different approach to successfully sell into the larger US market. In 1983/84 Tonka licensed the toys to be sold into the US as “Gobots” and created additional material to help market them, creating a cartoon series, factions (Guardians and Renegades), new names and additional accessories.

Gobot – Cy-Kill packaging (MR-01 – “Bike Robo” in Japan)

A short time later Hasbro took a similar approach, licensing a number of other Japanese transforming robot toys (from Takara) and selling them as “Transformers” with accompanying mythology. Hasbro was considerably more successful at this venture, having a stronger marketing machine and strategy in the US, as well as positioning the Transformers as a larger, more premium transforming toy. However Bandai continued to sell Machine Robo directly around the world variably as Machine Men, Robo Machines and Machine Robo, very successfully, with much of the rest of the world initially unaware of the corporate robot toy marketing war that was playing out in US toy stores, and by extension, school yards and homes across the USA. The Machine Robo line was counterfeited many times during the 80’s due to their widespread popularity and global distribution, and as a result there were varying levels of quality present in the market. The original Machine Robo toys (made primarily in Japan by Bandai) were actually very well made for a transforming toy of this scale.

Japanese toy companies have always created some of the very best & most interesting toys for many decades, and prior to the 90’s they were also predominantly manufactured in Japanese factories. Japanese toys from that era tend to have a higher quality and durability standard comparative to similar mass produced toys today.

In the regular (1/64 scale) Machine Robo/Gobots line there were 75 different models, covering cars and vehicles of different era’s, planes, motorcycles, construction & service vehicles, alien military craft, helicopters, even a submarine! An impressive range for a toy line that had a peak period of about 4 years at this time. They range in design standard quality, with many of the last to be released being prototype “b-sides” that were put to production just to keep up with demand and try to keep a competitive angle via the continuous release of new models. These later models were often not released in Japan under the Machine Robo line and have no “MR-” model number stamp or designation (as probably deemed not good enough). However even in those final releases there are some gems depending on your personal perspective of these things!

There were also “Super Gobots” released, for the most part upscaled versions of regular Machine Robo/Gobots to compete with the larger Transformers. However it was/is the small 1/64 scale of the regular Machine Robo that actually set them apart from the larger transforming robot toys, and Popy/Bandai were onto something there, arguably these are one of the best examples of a transforming toy line of this size and model range.

There is a decent amount of documentation on this toy line on the internet, and of high quality. There is also a growing amount of information out there on the repair and maintenance of these toys if you have any lying around that may need a little attention. I’ll attempt some of this myself with a few of my old Gobots and do some blog entries and the odd video if successful.

Here are some useful resources:

Machine Robo 1985 Catalog

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