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Omnibots - The best G1 Transformers you never owned

Omnibots - The best G1 Transformers you never owned

Posted on 08 May 2024

In the last few months I decided to change my display cabinets. It doesn't sound like anything monumental, but just a simple act of reorganisation not only forces you to reevaluate what you want to display, but also why.

Since 1984 I have collected Transformers. I've learned more about the brand, its roots in Japanese toy culture and even been fortunate enough to help with transcribing interviews with three of the toy designers themselves; Shoji Kawamori, Shinji Aramaki and Satoshi Koizumi. I've met the writers of the Marvel comics, Bob Budiansky and Simon Furman. I own numerous original comic pages by Nick Roche, Andrew Wildman, Alex Milne, Guido GuidiJeff Anderson and Jack Lawrence proudly framed in my house. I am a fan of this franchise.

Yet I've never really displayed the toys.

So with this in mind, I decided it was high time the original 1984 line - for which I have almost every release in original or official reissue form - was given prominent cabinet space.

I'm pleased to say that the office now has such a shelf, but there was something missing from the Autobot ranks. Three mail-away releases that were never available in the UK, restricted as they were to the US and Japanese markets. So I decided it was time to plug the gap and seek out the Omnibots.

Omnibots - Overdrive, Downshift and Camshaft

Overdrive, Camshaft and Downshift were originally Diaclone "Double Changers", able to switch between not only vehicle and robot, but also to vehicular attack modes, pre-dating M.A.S.K by nearly a decade. Featuring die-cast parts, rubber wheels and real-world vehicle modes, these seem like a natural fit for Transformers, almost a missing link in terms of scale, sitting between mini-bot and standard Car Robot in scale. 

The first of the team I discovered at Doncaster Toy Fair. Overdrive was with the other two, but they looked to be in rough condition, while curiously he was in almost mint. Costing me £90, I brought him home, eager to compare the figure with the recent XTB third party Masterpiece Overdrive (Fioravanti) figure. It was nice to see how the original toy had influenced this upscaled and reimagined figure, while also showcasing how needlessly complex XTB had made things for themselves. Overdrive is the tallest Omnibot in robot mode, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the likes of Bluestreak or Mirage, while his vehicle mode, a Ferrari 512 Berlinetta Boxer is noticeably smaller in scale. His attack mode involves folding out black wings from under the car and flipping out twin cannons from his bonnet to make a flying attack vehicle. The red and chrome look marks him out as a vintage piece, and very handsome he is too. The only issue is that his head is slightly lower than his bonnet chest, which makes him look like he's peeking out from between his own shoulders at some angles. Otherwise, it's a great little figure.

Omnibot Overdrive
G1 Omnibot Overdrive next to XTB Fioravanti, a Masterpiece scale third party update

Next up, I found Downshift, the white Toyota Celica. He was £50 on a Facebook sales thread, missing the weapons. What excited me (aside from the cheap price and lack of yellowing) was the fact that this was the first wave release, with "Celica" on the rear license plate. This was later removed when Toyota discovered the toy, but this makes the figure a little more interesting for its increased rarity. I picked up mint chrome weapons from eBay (£25) and some replacement stickers from Toyhax ($10) to replace the dog-eared (and largely incorrectly placed) vintage labels. Putting it all together the figure now looks almost brand new.

Omnibot Downshift
Downshift, fully restored and ready for display. The legs are very similar to Wheeljack and the Datsuns.

Finally, Camshaft. I found him on Ebay from the same seller who had a mint G1 '84 Bluestreak (my first Transformer toy as a child). With my original sadly in pieces, I picked up Bluestreak and added Camshaft to save on the hefty postage. This makes Camshaft easily the most expensive of the three that I've tracked down, but he's complete and in amazing condition. In order to complete a pretty minty set, it was worth the trouble. A gunmetal grey Mazda RX-7 Series 2 with dark blue translucent windows, he has the most ungainly robot mode, his arms awkwardly placed below the shoulders and his fists in plain sight as an attack vehicle, he feels like an afterthought in all honesty, but his unique (and I can see why) torso marks him out as an interesting design segway.

Omnibot Camshaft

All three were designed by Kōjin Ōno, who is pretty much the Godfather of Transformers at Takara, having overseen most of the G1 run, as well as the largest (at the time) Fortress Maximus toy and the Masterpiece line. All the trademark design elements of his early run are here, as well as elements you'll recognise from other characters - Downshift's legs/bonnet are eerily similar to Wheeljack, while Overdrive's bonnet chest and rear-end legs are highly reminiscent of the Datsun figures. 

The simplicity and unique vehicle scale make these an instant draw for the eye when sat on the shelf. In hand they feel slightly less elegant than the mainline characters, like a cross between Transformers and Gobots, the simpler engineering and thinner plastic making them seem very much like first drafts, and all the more charming for it. 

Picking up these characters has felt very much like discovering some ancient artifact. Familiar but unlike anything I'd seen before, a subset of something I thought I'd already thoroughly experienced. I often fantasize about how I might have reacted as a child to some of the amazing figures we have now, but to think about how I might have reacted to something available at the time is even more tantalising.

So many of my fundamental experiences are tied to Transformers, but none more so than one summer in 1985 at the age of six. We had very little growing up, so when my parents offered to buy me a toy at the Riceman's sale in  Canterbury and I excitedly picked up Trailbreaker. While I was holding onto it, I overheard my parents worriedly checking to see if they had enough money to buy it, so I put it down and selected the cheaper Topspin Jumpstarter instead (a pull back and flip Transformer). It made me appreciate my toys that much more and they were all kept in exceptional condition. Thundercracker sits happily next to more recent reissues and doesn't look at all out of place.

I can only imagine the reverence with which I would have treated rarities such as the Omnibots, and I like to think that kid is still in me, deep down, enjoying the thrill of handling these wonderful robot toys along with me. My wife and daughter may look on bemused, but if like me you're part of that last generation of children that played primarily with toys and not video games, you'll understand.

If you're a Transformers G1 collector, I can wholeheartedly recommend the Omnibots as a throwback to simpler times, a way to reminisce that's both familiar and new, especially to UK collectors who never had the chance to experience them the first time around. 

By the way, if you like that classic art at the head of the article, you can buy it from the original artists over at the Mark Watts Web Store.

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