Heroic Vehicles

Road Ripper – Warrior Carrier (1984)

road ripper graphic

I remember getting the Road Ripper as a present when it came out in 1984. I want to say I got it at the same time as the Dragon Walker.  It didn’t blow me away like the Dragon Walker did, but it was a memorable vehicle and I sent it speeding across the kitchen floor on many Saturday mornings.

The Road Ripper seems to have been the brainchild of Mattel designer Roger Sweet. I believe that an early working name for the vehicle was the Tri-Trak. As described in the December 1982 MOTU Bible, the Tri-Trak was “a three-wheeled motorcycle which He Man uses whenever he needs a fast ground transport. Tri-Trak travels most of the places the Attack Trak goes only much faster. The motorcycle bears two very deadly photon machine guns.”

An early version of the vehicle had a much smaller figurehead on the front of the vehicle, a couple of small fins on the back, and control handles for He-Man to hold on to. This early concept was colored red rather than green, and had a comparatively narrow front end.

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Image Source: The Power and the Honor Foundation

A subsequent revision to the design was much closer to the final toy, which its enlarged figurehead and green color scheme. It was more highly detailed than the final toy, with additional orange and yellow triangular patterns and green mechanical details, but otherwise it’s very familiar to anyone who owned the production vehicle.

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Image source: The Art Of He-Man/The Power and the Honor Foundation
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Image Source: The Power and the Honor Foundation Catalog

A somewhat similar concept was illustrated by Ted Mayer on September 29, 1983. It has the twin guns mentioned in the description of the Tri-Trak, although it seems to have four wheels, not three. It would have used a launcher base as a means of propulsion, with a similar ripcord feature. However, given that the Road Ripper was trademarked on August 22, 1983, this may have been a related idea and not a version of the Road Ripper itself.

Image Source: Tomart’s Action Figure Digest

According to the Power and the Honor Foundation catalog, Roger Sweet got the idea for the Road Ripper from the Evel Knievel Super Stunt Cycle.

The final toy features a rubber seat belt (similar to the ones used in the Attak Trak and Dragon Walker), rather than the clip featured in the concept artwork. The sculpt work is well executed, and it’s augmented by a number of brightly colored stickers. It came with a long red ripcord, that, when pulled through the back of the vehicle, set a heavy rubber wheel hidden underneath the vehicle in motion, propelling the whole thing forward.

Road Ripper Catalog Fr

The cross sell art closely mirrors the toy, but it lacks some detail in on the back area of the vehicle:

road-ripper cross sell

The Road Ripper was sold individually and in a gift set with Battle Armor He-Man. The artwork on the front of both boxes was done by William George.  They both have a sense of speed to them, and feature the artist’s usual desolate landscapes and fearsome little creatures:

Artwork for individual Road Ripper packaging, by William George
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Road Ripper line art, by William George. Image via He-Man.org

Artwork for Battle Armor He-Man/Road Ripper gift set, by William George.
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Gift set line art by William George. image via He-man.org

William George also illustrated the Road Ripper in this 1984 MOTU poster:

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Argentinian manufacturer Top Toys produced a version of the Road Ripper in blue, although they retained the artwork on the packaging that depicted it in green:

Errol McCarthy illustrated the Road Ripper for a T-Shirt design:

The vehicle makes a two appearances in the Filmation He-Man cartoon, in “The Time Wheel” (thanks to Dušan Mitrović for pointing that out) and “The Energy Beast.” It doesn’t last long in the the latter story, as Orko starts up the vehicle and quickly crashes it, destroying it. Man-At-Arms remarks that he had spent six months working on it.

Road Ripper Model Sheet

It also makes a single appearance in the mini comics. It shows up in a single panel in Temple of Darkness, illustrated by Larry Houston.

Temple of Darkness
An off-model red version of Road Ripper shows up in Issue 71 of the UK MOTU magazine, which in turn originates from Ehapa MOTU issue 7 (thanks to Dušan Mitrović for pointing that out):

UK MOTU 71
Image via He-Man.org

It also appears in the first issue of the US MOTU magazine, in the short comic story, Maddening of the Monstones. He-Man uses it as his primary means of transportation:

The Road Ripper never had the kind of permanence and ubiquitousness that other vehicles like the Wind Raider and Battle Ram had, but it was a fun little racer and I think it fit in well with the other Masters of the Universe vehicles. Surprisingly, Tonka even made a Road Ripper-themed crossover tricycle. I suppose that makes sense given the fact that the Road Ripper also has three wheels, but it’s an interesting choice given the general lack of exposure of the vehicle otherwise.

Tonka Road Ripper Matt Butcher
Image source: Matt Butcher

The general formula for MOTU vehicles really seems to be angular, Star Wars vehicle-like bodies, combined big engines and animalistic figureheads at the front, which is as good a description as any for the Road Ripper. In fact, it reminds me in many ways of the Battle Ram, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it were a major source of inspiration.

Heroic Vehicles

Dragon Walker -Sidewinding Beast/Vehicle (1984)

Dragon Walker Grapic

The Dragon Walker is one of my all time favorite Masters of the Universe vehicles. I don’t recall if I had seen the Dragon Walker at the store and begged my parents for one, or if they surprised me with it for my birthday. I just remember getting it and frantically searching the house for a pair of C batteries. As I recall we didn’t have any and I had to wait for my parents to buy some. What an agonizing wait that was.

I realize some fans find the sidewinding locomotion concept to be so impractical that it has soured them on the toy. Not me. I thought of the Dragon Walker as the Eternian equivalent of the G.I. Joe Bridge Layer – a vehicle built for getting the good guys across rivers and crevasses.

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Image via Yo Joe

The main elements of what would eventually be the Dragon Walker are present in this concept illustration by Ed Watts. The coat of arms design is different from the final toy, featuring a cross and dragons rather than the stylized H from Battle Armor He-Man’s costume. In this concept the driver stands rather than sits, and holds on to a red laser canon mounted on the dragon’s head. The concept was also quite a bit larger than the actual toy.

Ed Watts Dragon Walker Large
Image source: The Power and the Honor Foundation

Ed Watts designed a number of produced and unproduced vehicles for the Masters of the Universe line, including the following (note – all of these Ed Watts concept illustrations originate from The Power and the Honor Foundation):

Ball Buster – an early version of Bashasaurus. The action feature concept is identical to the latter, but in this incarnation the vehicle is purple and green, with no dinosaur theme (or indeed any animal or mythical creature theme). It was envisioned as a vehicle for the evil warriors:

ball buster ed watts
Image Source: The Power and the Honor Foundation

Battle Bones – a unique creature that works as a kind of action figure carrying case:

battle bones ed watts
Image Source: The Power and the Honor Foundation

Turbosaurus – a design that shares some aesthetic similarities with Dragon Walker. Turbosaurus looks like a kind of mobile command center in the form of a dinosaur. There appear to be two characters in this illustration that are dressed like Man-E-Faces, one without a helmet:

turbosaurus ed watts
Image Source: The Power and the Honor Foundation

Cyclo Marauder – had it been produced, this would have been the only sea vehicle (aside from the Wind Raider, which ended up being portrayed as an air vehicle in published media) produced for the Masters of the Universe Toyline. It had an interesting double shark motif and was apparently intended for the heroic warriors:

cyclo maurauder ed watts
Image Source: The Power and the Honor Foundation

Three-headed beast – a bizarre steed concept with no name attached to the illustration. From the looks of it I don’t think Skeletor will be arriving at his destination any time soon:

weird thing ed watts
Image Source: The Power and the Honor Foundation

Torton – another great-looking vehicle that looks distantly related to the Dragon Walker. The Torton would have held five heroic warriors and had a fun looking grabbing claw at the end of a crane arm:

Ed Watts Torton Large
Image Source: The Power and the Honor Foundation

The final Dragon Walker toy was a bit smaller than Ed Watts’ concept, no doubt to keep costs low:

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From the 1984 Mattel Dealer Catalog

William George painted the packaging illustration, which features Battle Armor He-Man riding the Dragon Walker through a prehistoric-looking landscape. One hallmark of many of George’s MOTU illustrations is the presence of little dinosaur-like creatures off to the side of the main action.

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William George Art

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Original William George line art. Image via He-Man.org.

The cross sell art for the Dragon Walker was very true to the design and look of the toy:

The Spanish version was released without the cellophane window, and included an additional William George illustration and some product photos. Judging by the inclusion of the Land Shark vehicle in the background, I would guess that this box was released in 1985 at the earliest:

(Images via Masters Unbound and 20th Century Toy Collector)

And here is line art:

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A US version of this packaging was planned, but never released. Here is a picture of the proof sheet from Grayskull Museum (thanks to Tokyonever for the pointer):

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William George also painted a poster featuring the Dragon Walker for Kellogg’s as part of a promotion they were running with Mattel. Mattel designer Ted Mayer tells this story:

There was stuff I did not know about, because Mattel kept us designers isolated, regarding other departments, or outside stuff. I remember that one day the He-Man posters appeared out of nowhere that were done for Kellogg. Apparently Marketing just went out and did them without consulting us. We were pissed off, because we considered ourselves the main reference point.

As it happened, they hired Bill George to do them, and we were good buddies. Funny story. Bill came to me and said “I have to do these paintings for Kellogg’s, but they said I can’t sign them.” Because they were for such a big company he wanted the exposure. I had the same problem with the aircraft illustrations I used to do. I told him to hide his signature inside the illustrations, but do them upside down so they where not obvious. That’s what he did, and they never found it.

Kellogs Poster 2

Kellogs Poster upside down signature - Copy
William George’s hidden signature

The mechanism of the Dragon Walker is rather ingenious. Rather than a vehicle moving along a track, the track and the vehicle move one after the other. A patent was filed for it on January 10, 1984, crediting Michael Gurner and Herbert May as the inventors. From the abstract:

A moveable toy consisting of a base and a motorized vehicle. The base includes a track having a central groove ending in openings at either end. The track includes teeth which cooperate with a drive gear held in the vehicle to drive the vehicle along the track. Rotors having notches on the top surface are rotatably held in openings at each end of the central groove in the track. Upon actuation, the vehicle travels along the track until it arrives at either end of the track, where the vehicle rotates the base to allow the vehicle to continue along the track end for further movement of the toy in the same direction.

The concept is demonstrated in this video on the Grand Illusions YouTube channel:

From the video description:

The other one is made by Mattel, and Tim remembers the crowds of people watching this with fascination, the first time it was shown at a toy fair.

The character drives his dragon vehicle along the track; once he reaches the end of the track, the track swivels around, so that the section of track that was behind him is not in front of him, and he can set off again, along the track. This keeps repeating, and so he can cover quite large distances quite quickly, on his amazing ‘never ending’ track!

The inaugural issue of the US release Masters of the Universe Magazine included a blueprint-style poster of the Dragon Walker. I hung this on my wall as soon as I got it and studied every detail:

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Image courtesy of Jukka Issakainen

Curiously, the poster doesn’t identify the Dragon Walker by name, but instead calls it the Heroic Warrior Carrior. Man-At-Arms is said to be the inventor. Notice that the color version at the top is off-model. It resembles the Filmation version, but it’s not clear if there is actually any place for the driver to sit!

Poster DW - Copy

Errol McCarthy created a few illustrations of the Dragon Walker for licensing purposes (images via He-Man.org):

The Dragon Walker made an appearance in the background of the mini comic, Mantenna and the Menace of the Evil Horde!

It also plays a role in several Golden Books stories, such as The Rock Warriors and Maze of Doom:

The Dragon Walker shows up a few times in the Filmation Cartoon, in episodes like “Attack From Below”, “The Time Wheel”, and “Fraidy Cat”:

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Animated GIF from He-Man Reviewed
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Image source: He-Man and She-Ra – A Complete Guide to the Classic Animated Adventures

As shown in the above GIF and model sheet, Filmation increased the size of the seat so that it could fit multiple characters.

Heroic Vehicles

Attak Trak – Battle Machine (1983)

Attak Trak Graphic

The Attak Trak, released in 1983, is a vehicle with a unique action feature and an interesting design history.

I saw the Attak Trak in the wild only once as a kid. I remember being at another kid’s house. I believe my mother was friends with his mother, and while they were visiting I spent some time getting to know her son. The first thing he did was show me his He-Man collection, and I remember distinctly being introduced to three toys I had never seen before: Evil-Lyn, Faker and Attak Trak. Unfortunately he had worn out the vehicle’s batteries, and I didn’t get to see it in action.

The Attak Trak was designed by Mattel visual designer Ted Mayer, who also designed the Battle Ram, Wind Raider, Eternia Playset, and many other MOTU toys.

In my interview with Ted, he had this to say about the Attak Trak:

[The Attak Trak] started out as a mechanical toy submission that Mattel bought from an outside inventor. It was given to me to make in to a He-Man vehicle. I did about four different design directions, of which they picked one.

Ted didn’t specify who the outside inventor was, but I believe it was Marvin Glass and Associates. They filed a patent for a four wheel drive toy on August 10, 1981, and it was published on April 19, 1983:

Notice the mechanical feature is identical to the Attak Trak’s. The visual design, however, is a fairly generic-looking toy tank.

Ted Mayer stepped in to give the vehicle a Masters of the Universe feel. He submitted the following drawings, which featured an elongated fantasy beast head on the front,  and an option for a canopy on top:

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Attak Trak without treads. Image courtesy of Ted Mayer.
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Attak Trak with treads. Image courtesy of Ted Mayer.
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Attak Trak with canopy. Image courtesy of Ted Mayer.

In my interview with Ted Mayer, he explained:

The canopy was dropped because it costed out quite high, so they looked at dropping as many extras as possible. By this time I was also doing all the control drawings, so when they went to the engineers, things were final.

Ted submitted the following control drawings for consideration. “For some reason marketing didn’t want the gargoyle type head,” he explained. So the second design was chosen for final production.

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In a Tomart’s Action Figure Digest article on the origins of Masters of the Universe, another Ted Mayer concept drawing of the Attak Trak appears, along with a black or dark brown production sample that features sticker designs not used in the final version:

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Final painted prototype in red and blue

The final toy was produced in a bright red and blue color scheme:

Monogram produced a model kit version of the Attak Trak. It featured the canopy that Ted Mayer had originally designed (or something very close to it), as well as other unique details. The model was not motorized, but it was in scale with the vintage figures:

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Rudy Obrero provided the artwork for the Mattel Attak Trak packaging. He has stated in interviews that it’s the least favorite piece he did for the vintage line. In the interview I conducted with him in March of this year, Rudy had this to say about the process:

It’s the last piece I did for Mattel. I started to think the art direction came from a committee, seemed as though everyone in Mattel wanted in on package art because of its success as a toy line. These pieces were done in oil paint so changes were a pain to do.

attak-trak-restored

The artwork for the Estrela Toys Attak Trak was modified for unknown reasons. The Brazilian manufacturer and licensee did the same with their versions of Castle Grayskull and Battle Ram:

There was also an orange version of the Attak Trak. This one was released in Europe – I don’t know if there were any orange versions released in the US market:

Interestingly, the cross sell artwork for the Attak Trak was also orange, and the vehicle was colored orange or sometimes brown in early mini comics:

Attak Trak

Artist Errol McCarthy produced several pieces of artwork featuring the Attak Trak:

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Attak Trak line art used in advertising

Early on in the mini comics, the Attak Trak was represented as having a “mind of its own.” That was expanded upon in the Filmation cartoon series. The vehicle could undertake complex tasks on its own and had a voice and personality. The Attak Trak also underwent a radical redesign:

There was, however, a more toy accurate version called the Small Trak that made an appearance in the Evilseed episode:

Small Trak

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Filmation model sheet by Fred Carillo. Image source: James Eatock/The Power and the Honor Foundation
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Image source: He-Man and She-Ra, A Complete Guide to the Classic Animated Adventures, by James Eatock and Alex Hawkey

Also released in 1983 was the Big Jim Spy Series All-Terrain Vehicle. The body shape was completely different from the Attak Trak, but it used the same track-flipping concept, and even shared the exact same tread design:

Some of my favorite Attak Trak-related artwork comes from MOTU artist R.L Allen:

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Illustration by R.L. Allen
Attak Trak RL Allen
Illustration by R.L.Allen

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