"Are ya smokin' yet?!"

Can a robot have a raspy voice and hacking cough?
Can a robot have a raspy voice and hacking cough?
Photo: Justin Gibb

Back in 1980, Japanese toy company Takara created Diaclone, a toy line of vehicles that could turn into robots as part of a spin off of their popular Microman line (which was being sold in the US by Mego as Micronauts, but that’s another story...). In 1982, Takara added the Car Robots sub-line, which added relatively detailed modern vehicles to the franchise, which were later picked up in 1984 by American company Hasbro and brought to the US as The Transformers.

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One of those Car Robots was styled after the 1975 Group 5 Lancia Stratos HF #539 in Alitalia livery, and was later incorporated into The Transformers as the Autobot Wheeljack. Takara slightly retooled the toy and redeco’d it as the #589 Marlboro car, but Hasbro never included it in their offerings, and it languished in obscurity on this side of the Pacific.

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In 2003, Takara/Tomy introduced the Masterpiece line, featuring large, more detailed (and thus expensive) toys that more closely resembled the characters from the 80's cartoon. Masterpiece toys featured diecast and/or machined metal parts as well as rubber tires, realistic decos, and were licensed by the original manufacturers whenever feasible to assure that they were as accurate as possible. In 2014 MP-20 Wheeljack was released, faithfully recreating the Alitalia livery and markings. As was the case with several other designs, T/T followed up with a retool/redeco as a new character featuring an unused Diaclone deco, and thus MP-23 Exhaust, which reproduced the #598 Marlboro livery also from 1976 (The original car had been destroyed that year after (ironically) burning down due to the engine overheating) was born.

And then came the shitstorm.

In the intervening decades you see, smoking had become very socially unacceptable (and rightly so, for many reasons), and it had been made illegal for toys (even very expensive ones clearly meant for adult collectors!) to be emblazoned with marketing of or logos for smoking companies, even misspelled (the original Diaclone release transcribed the name as Marlboor, as would the Masterpiece design). This did not mollify Philip Morris’ lawyers, and cross-Pacific lawsuits were threatened against Takara/Tomy, Hasbro, and Toys-R-Us Asia, amongst others, alleging copyright infringement. Takara reworked the deco to distance it from the original, and even then toys bound for the US were opened and further altered (a similar fate befell Masterpiece Megatrons some years earlier, in which orange plugs were hastily, sometimes sloppily, glued into the toy’s barrel and the boxes were resealed.)

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The original deco of the MP-23 prototype
The original deco of the MP-23 prototype
Photo: Takara/Tomy

Being the stubborn, ornery cusses that we are (the phrase “ruined FOREVER!” was in common TF fan use at least a decade before Lucas started work on the Prequels), a cottage industry of replacement decals soon sprouted up on various sites allowing disappointed buyers to make their Exhaust look more like the real thing.

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Which is a lot of words to say “Hey, check out this pics of a replica Stratos HF I took!”:

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