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Christmas Presents of Past Become Toy Collection of Present

Ron Ruelle

Ron Ruelle hobbyDB

Over the years, I’ve collected a lot of memories of Christmas that have shaped me in ways no one would have ever guessed when I was a little kid. While Santa is to thank for much of that, I should probably also thank my parents who at least took lots of photos along the way. So many fond memories.

Alas, a lot of those toys are only photos and memories, as they went away in the Great Yard Sale of 1974 before we moved from Wisconsin to Tennessee when I was eight. But some of those toys survived in my custody… and I still have a lot of them.

christmas race trackHot Wheels galore – Orange track. Maroon tongue connectors. And those oh so colorful cars. I was only two when these debuted, but had quite a few of the originals by the time I could start remembering those things. The track showed up under the tree a couple years later. I still have an original Rally Case full of my Hot Wheels cars that survived the sandbox well enough to still be recognizable.

Johnny Lightning cars – Speaking of track, one year I got the Cyclone 500 track set. JL made a surprisingly wise calculation on how to add speed to tiny diecast cars. Hot Wheels relied on gravity and motorized boosters, but the folks at Topper put hooks on the bottom of the cars that could be snagged by the drivers and slingshotted around a track and into towering loops with a flick of a lever. Yeah, I had that set. I don’t have it anymore, but a few of the cars are still along for the ride.

christmas tonkaTonka Crater Crawler – Tonka’s large scale construction vehicles are staples of many fond childhood memories. Like a lot of kids, I had several of them. But my favorite vehicle of that scale was a bit less utilitarian… it was the Crater Crawler, a moon buggy molded with gray tires and sparkle blue plastic body panels. Doesn’t sound Tonka tough? I still have it in remarkably good condition despite the fun play heaped upon it.

christmas sspKenner SSP cars – I’ve written about these several times for hobbyDB. I had about six different models of these gyro-wheeled racers, all of which got scraped and bashed on driveways and basement walls. I still have one original, the Sidewinder, from then. About twenty years ago, I worked on completing the collection… right now I have about 85 different models of them. I guess that got out of hand.

christmas tyco trainTyco Spirit of ’76 train set – My father had American Flyer trains since I can remember, and I wanted my own train set for just as long. To celebrate the American Bicentennial, I got this Tyco set with the very patriotic livery that Seaboard Coastline had applied to one of their real locomotives. And yes, I still have every bit of that train, although it hasn’t been set up in decades. Maybe it’s time to fix that.

comic book christmasPeanuts “Speak Softly and Carry a Beagle” – A surprisingly non-transportation related present. When I was a kid, Grandma Ruelle worked for a comics publisher, Gold Key, who did the Disney, WB, Walter Lantz, and Depatie-Freleng comic books. And I relished them, copied them, actually got sort of good at it. So my parents… I mean Santa gave me a copy of the latest “Peanuts” book by Charles Schulz. Mid-1960s to late ’70-s Peanuts is about as good as comic strip writing gets. Yeah, I still pull that one out and flip through it every now and then.

christmas legoLego Auto Chassis (Set 853) – Hard to believe the Lego Technic sets have existed since the late 1970s. This was game-changing stuff from Lego, a set with axles, universal joints, pistons, cams, and gears. The car was a huge model of a front-engine, inline 4-cylinder, 4-passenger car. I still have it, but, over the years, the parts got rearranged into this…

christmas lego indy carFive years ago, I brought a few of these toys to an interview for a role on the hobbyDB project. Let’s just say I almost didn’t need a resume after I pulled them out of my 1969 Hot Wheels lunchbox (which was not a Christmas present, so it doesn’t count here).

Those toys were great. Those memories were great. It’s especially great to still have both in some cases.

christmas toysWhat are your favorite toys you got for the holidays as a kid that you still have? Post some vintage pics in the comments if you have them!

Celebrate Independence Day With These Spirited July 4 Collectibles

Ron Ruelle

Ron Ruelle hobbyDB

It’s a long weekend for some folks, but collecting never takes a holiday! Fourth of July, Independence Day, whichever you want to call it, is a big deal for a lot of toys and figures. In this case, we are considering overtly patriotic collectibles, so even if they aren’t quite tied into July 4 events, you will still salute them.

july 4 hot wheelsThe diecast world has embraced the holiday quite frequently. Johnny Lightning did a series of July 4th cars in 2000 with special cards and graphics. Hot Wheels responded with annual holiday cars for the next several years, with July 4 being one of them. And as part of their 50th Anniversary, Hot Wheels did an extended Stars and Stripes series, which hit the pegs last summer. One thing they all have in common… they are all based on American marques, of course. Even Radio Flyer gets in on the action.

july 4 evel knievelThere are unabashedly patriotic things that aren’t related specifically to Independence Day but nevertheless feel right at home on this date more than any other. Stars and stripes: who wore it better, Captain America or Evel Knievel? Trick question… the answer is Elton John (so what if he’s British?).

july 4 patriots 76ersAnother question: Most patriotic sports uniforms… the Philadelphia 76ers or the New England Patriots? Both wrong!  It’s the Colorado Rockies (hard to top “purple mountains majesty,” right?).

July 4 hard rock cafeHard Rock Cafe has released numerous pins and collectibles related to July 4. If you’re looking to complete the set, there are over 1,500 pins in our database just for this occasion, so get going.

july 4 garbage pail kidsThe Garbage Pail Kids have also managed to find a way to commemorate independence in their own, umm, special way. Numerous cards fit the spirit of the day, not to mention their takedowns of various politicians over the years.

july 4 smash up derbyThe 1976 American Bicentennial was a year-long stars and stripes fest that produced some of the greatest collectibles and toys ever. Seaboard Coast Line Railroad created a special Spirit of ’76 locomotive which became one of the best selling electric train models ever. Not to be outdone, Kenner decorated their already marvelous Smash-Up Derby set with a red, white and blue motif for the most patriotic Ford vs Chevy battle ever. Buick offered a, ahem, subtle “Free Spirit” livery on the ’76 Century (or would that be a Bicentury?) And of course, many states got into the action with special Bicentennial license plates.

july 4 independence dayThe 1996 sci-fi flick Independence Day celebrated by blowing up the White House as well as half the other iconic buildings in the world. Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum versus aliens meant spectacular, explosive fun at the cineplex and on your shelf.

july 4 uncle samjuly 4 black catSpeaking of holiday explosives, fireworks may have been invented in China, but doggone it, The USA has certainly made them our own thing. Black Cat has one of the wickedest logos of any company in the world, and this vintage poster is pure dynamite.

Other icons of the holiday have foreign roots as well. The Statue of Liberty was a gift from France, of course, but she has made her home in New York ever since. The classic poster of Uncle Sam, oddly enough, was derived from a British character. Miss America on the other hand? She’s from here and drives a Mercury Comet, of course, at least in this ad.

However you choose to celebrate Independence Day, please be careful this weekend. Don’t want to damage the corners on those boxes and blister packs, right?

Got any other favorite July 4 related collectibles? Tell us about them in the comments!

Goodbye Movin’ Marvin: The Collectible That Got Away

Ron Ruelle

Ron Ruelle hobbyDB

I’ve been thinking about a toy from my childhood lately. A toy from my grown-up collection, as well. His name is Movin’ Marvin.

Marvin would be at home with the Hot Wheels Farbs, who were also humans attached to wheels and motors in various degrees of discomfort. Marvin rides on a small cart, and if you flip him over, there is a vestigial chassis-like apparatus. But he’s still kinda weird lookin’.

ssp movin marvinssp movin marvin comicMovin’ Marvin was part of the Kenner SSP (Super Sonic Power) series of gyro-powered vehicles from the 1970s. They were immensely popular toys in the first half of the decade. Most of the cars were about 1:24 scale, but Marvin was much bigger, while taking up the same amount of shelf space.

Unlike most SSP cars, I never even saw an actual Movin’ Marvin figure/car when I was a kid. He appeared in crude, cartoonish illustration form in some ads, and only as a “collect them all” afterthought (at right, near the bottom).

Some time in the late 1990s, I did begin to collect them all, to the tune of over 75 different SSP models and accessories on my shelf today. And about ten years ago, I found Marvin in an antique store. He was $125, which might seem like a lot to the uninitiated, but having never actually confirmed that this toy even existed up to that point in my life, the price was a bargain to me. He was missing the velocity stack assembly at the top of the engine, but was otherwise in great shape. So I took him home.

Collecting a particular vintage toy line can be tricky… Since SSP cars are no longer in production, there is a finite number of variants out there, but still in the hundreds. How much of a completist do I want to be? Do I need every model in every color? Or just the ones based on real production cars? Or maybe limit my collection to the Smash-Up Derby models? Marvin was part of a series called “The Stunt Men” along with Herk (who looks Roman) and Knight Rider (who does not look like David Hasselhoff). Marvin was kind of an oddball, by far the largest-scaled model in the entire SSP line, and one of the heaviest. He didn’t totally fit int, but he was still part of the family.

kenner ssp movin marvin boxTurns out Marvin is indeed as rare as suspected. One turns up for sale online maybe once a year, and they tend to go for a lot more than I paid. Some lucky duck even found one mint in a not-so-mint package recently. Holy grail stuff right there. But I was happy with mine, even missing that engine piece.

A few years back, I was between jobs (this was juuuuust before hobbyDB launched our marketplace), so I decided to thin out my collection a bit. I had a mint Plymouth Superbird model in ultra rare orange that someone snagged off my shelf for $500. (I kept a less perfect, less valuable green example in its place.) And then someone contacted me about Marvin. “Would you take $600 for it?” he asked… “How about $750?” At that point, these two toys could just about pay my mortgage for a month, so I had to go for it. The guy even made generous offers on a couple other models I had duplicates of.

kenner ssp movin marvin

I just now realized Movin’ Marvin kind of looks like Pete Rose!

I was sad shipping those toys off, but here’s a way to look at it: Would I have paid $750 for a Marvin that day? Probably not. But by turning down that money, in effect, I would have been doing so, if that makes sense. Or look at this this way: Would I rather have $750, or Marvin? More abstractly, would I rather have half a house payment, or a toy that I didn’t even have when I was a kid?

Now that things are better financially, I’ve kind of been looking for a replacement Marvin. Obviously, I would like to find one cheap again, so I have to be patient. I found a really nice one for about $300 recently, but still more than I can bite off. But an interesting realization hit me…

See, for many of us, the hunt is part of the thrill of collecting. I had kind of reached a point where I owned pretty much all the cars I wanted, so I wasn’t on the prowl anymore. I kind of missed it. So by letting go of a couple of real rarities, my interest in these toys is back. And that makes them fun again.

kenner ssp movin marvinDo you have a favorite toy or collectible you regret letting go? Let us know in the comments (with photos if you have them!)

To Collect and Preserve: Why is Toy Packaging Worth so Much?

Toy Story Stinky Pete

Ron Ruelle hobbyDB

In Pixar’s “Toy Story 2,” much of the movie’s plot was driven by the fact that the Stinky Pete action figure was priceless because he was mint in the package, as well as being rare to begin with. On the other hand, Mr. Pete (or is that Mr. Stinky?), led a bitter existence of resentment from being unplayed with, as well as for being the least desirable figure (hence his low production numbers and maybe why he never made it out of the box). So if he was going to live out the rest of his life like that on a museum shelf, he might as well make some other toys miserable as well.

Toy packaging has become a huge variable in the value of many collectibles. Some collectors don’t care all that much, but for many, the difference between “MIP” and “loose” is so big that opened toys may as well not exist. There’s even an industry catering to collectors who want to protect their packaging from the kinds of horrors the packaging was designed to protect the toy from.

So why did toy packaging become such a big deal to collectors? Here are some thoughts:

toy packaging kenner ssp mod mercer

Here’s a rare, mint Kenner SSP Mod Mercer in a less than perfect box. Well done, box!

Packaging protects the contents, obviously.

That’s kind of the point of packaging, right? Even the nicest loose Topper Johnny Lightning car is likely to have a few minor imperfections from handling and environment compared to one that has sat in a blister card untouched for almost 50 years. And yet, sometimes the ravages of time manage to reach inside that cocoon and cause paint to fade, chrome to rub off, and parts to come loose.

Ironically, in some cases, that perfectly preserved toy is hidden in a smoky, discolored blister with shelf worn cardboard, making collectors scratch their heads regarding the value of the packaging. The box or blister did its job, and now you want to criticize it for being less than perfect?

toy packaging kenner star wars jawa

The proof is in the packaging.

Packaging can be proof of authenticity.

The Jawa with the vinyl cape is the classic example: Kenner’s earliest “Star Wars” action figures included a Jawa sand creature with a stiff, ugly vinyl cape. They decided to replace it with a cloth cape that was better in every way, making the early ones rarer. But today, they’re only really valuable in the package, because the vinyl cape is so easy to fake on a loose figure. Same thing with stickers for early Hot Wheels cars, which are easily reproduced. Find one sealed in its blister, and you know it’s the real McCoy.

Packaging can be as cool as the actual toy sometimes.

Just look at the early history of Hot Wheels, and that’s all you need to know. As if the cars weren’t awesome enough, the imagery on those cards made them stand out from all the competitors. For something that was just a by-product of buying a toy, some companies really went all out in their package designs.

toy packaging johnny lightning

One letter makes a big difference for these Topper Johnny Lightnings.

Packaging can provide extra rarity via variations or mistakes.

Errors are fun to collect for many people, and often the only mistake is the wrong toy on the wrong card. Rip that open, and it’s worth no more or less than any identical model. As for variations, it’s neat to find multilingual packaging, or later/earlier versions of a toy that might include different information such as expanded checklists or different small print on the back. Another variation might be for legal reasons, such as Johnny Lightning having to modify “Beats Them All” to “Beat Them All.” Only one letter changed, but the early ones with the bold claim are much rarer.

toy packaging hot wheels riviera

Variants and Errors are part of the package for collectors.

Packaging can be incredibly rare for older, classic toys.

There was a time when not every single thing in the world was preordained as “limited edition,” “collectible,” or “exculsive offering.” Toys were just toys. If you were a kid in 1968, you couldn’t wait to rip open that new Hot Wheels car and send it down the track and into the sandbox. Which is why they are so beloved. And the blister card was a disposable afterthought.

toy packaging hot wheels protecto paks

The original Hot Wheels packaging is a treasure to be preserved in its own right.

Sure, the words “Collector’s Button” was on the package, hinting at the future of such toys, but very few kids probably made a conscious decision to collect every car to keep mint on the card.

So where did these pristine examples of that era come from? Maybe someone got a duplicate for their birthday and decided to hang onto it for later. Perhaps they bought it but misplaced it before they could open it. Maybe there was some lost store inventory that sold years later when the value was becoming apparent.

toy packaging hot wheels mongoose

The fun factor is increased out of the package.

toy packaging matchbox hi ho silver

The value of this Matchbox car is only slightly increased by the blister card. Should I open it?

Flash forward to the era of Beanie Babies, which were explicitly marketed as things to collect and preserve (but not to play with). Never mind that before those came along, most toys were designed to bring joy accrued during playtime. In fact, it’s almost rarer to find certain Beanies that have been played with. The point of these older toys was that they were fun, and finding one in the package today is an unexpected treat.

Ironically, the Toy Story franchise has given birth to many classic toys, including characters designed for the movie, as well as new life for some of the old classics that show up onscreen. The power of imagination in the movies made them fun for kids to play with. And yet, in many cases, collectors would buy them all, including the less popular characters, and preserve them in their original boxes, bags, and blisters, never to be played with.

Did we not learn anything from Stinky Pete?

What I Learned From Toy Motorcycles: I Shouldn’t Ride One

Ron Ruelle hobbyDB

Ron Ruelle hobbyDB

Toy Motorcycles hold a curious spot in the world of miniature vehicles. Consider this: A toy car or truck, especially one with a closed cabin, looks ready to drive, and requires no assistance to stand on its own when stationary. But a motorcycle? It looks weird moving without a rider, and it can’t stand alone without a kickstand, a sidecar or training wheels. In fact, without any assistance from such things, the only way to make one scoot around was to hold onto it the whole time lest it fall. That’s a lot to engineer into a small toy.

LEhmann Tinplate motorcycle

A typical tinplate motorcycle has at least three wheels, sometimes four. But it can’t go fast enough and far enough to sustain the momentum required to balance on two wheels for long. And that’s kind of disappointing.

matchboxcycle

Matchbox offered some motorcycle models in the 1960 and ’70s, but most had a permanent, fixed kickstand. Even this Honda cycle with posable kickstand was designed primarily as a trailer load. The message was clear: You can look, but you can’t ride.

Hot Wheels Rrrumblers Bone Shaker

Hot wheels eventually offered a series of freewheeling cycles, the Rrrumblers, which could do all the things their cars could do: zoom down orange track, go over ramps, get buried in the sandbox. And they had cool removable riders, too. But like the earlier toys, they still required some assistance in the form of clear plastic bases with training wheels. Some had two wheels, but their three wheeled choppers needed assistance, or they would get squirrelly on the track. (Eventually, I figured out they could go downhill backwards without assistance, but who wants to ride that way?)

Hot Wheels Sizzlers Chopcycle Triking Viking

Mattel upped the ante when they added similar trikes (These were all 3-wheelers to accommodate the battery-powered motor) to their self-powered Sizzlers line. Instead of going in a straight line down a hill with some difficulty, The Chopcycles could go in circles and figure eights at high speeds before crashing even more spectacularly. These also came with a sled-like removable attachment to keep them pointed in the right direction. It should be pointed out that most of the rider figures wore appropriate protection (except for the fancy lad who wore a top hat and the other fellow in the newsboy cap).

Kenner SSP Cycle Stunt Show

Kenner’s SSP line offered a few motorcycles in the early 70’s as well. With their gyroscopic flywheels, they demonstrated how to ride balanced and without restraint, no training wheels, no sidecars… until they came to a stop by either falling over as they slowed down, or by running into something and slowing down instantly. The full gold racing suit and helmet was pretty cool, though.

Evel Knievel Jet Cycle

In 1974, Ideal came out with a line of toys that boys of a certain generation consider the all time champion coolest thing ever: The Evel Knievel Stunt Cycle. The commercials were filled with promise… enthusiastic boys cranked up their motorcycles with fury, the gears whining to a loud, high-pitched shriek. And suddenly, the bike shot off at great speed! They showed it on pavement. And on dirt. And jumping!!! And perhaps as a warning, crashing, causing a floppy-limbed rider to go flying and landing in a heap!!!!! And when I got one for my birthday and tried it for the first time… It was even louder and more chaotic and more exciting than promised!!! And the harm that came to Evel was even more real. Mine even suffered a gash on his nose when his helmet ended up sideways on his head after a crash. Never mind the carnage Evel would inspire on a regular street bike, the series quickly expanded to include jet-powered bikes and dragsters.

ssp rockin rickIn the late ’70s, SSP offered a new series of cycles, this time resembling street bikes, with posable riders. The drive wheel was hidden in the middle of the bike, so they really had three wheels, (or four for chopper trikes) this time in a line. But the riders clearly cared more about looking cool than they did about safety. Sure, boys wanted to be Rockin’ Rick and girls wanted to be with him, but his long flowing hair and ill-secured guitar sent a questionable message about responsible cycling.

So what did I learn from all these toys? Ride too fast, you will crash. Ride too slow, you will crash. Training wheels look silly. Wearing a helmet is a good idea, unless you have long, flowing hair or a top hat, in which case, you ride at your own risk.

I’ve ridden a motorcycle exactly once since: It was a friend’s dirt bike, and I wore a helmet. The sudden acceleration from standstill caused the bike to do a wheelie, dumping me off the back in seconds. Somewhere Evel Knievel is shaking his head.