The main stars of the first series of Generation 1 were the Autobot Cars, and the author’s personal favorite among these is Wheeljack. Wheeljack transforms into the number 539 Lancia Stratos Turbo, a Group 5 endurance racing car driven by Sandro Munari and Piero Sodano in the 1977 Giro d’Italia.
Wheeljack, like all the Autobot Cars until 1986, was originally released in Takara’s Diaclone as Car Robot Lancia Stratos Turbo. This version included a small plastic and die-cast driver who could sit in the cavity in the center of the car’s cockpit. This version is virtually indistinguishable from the first Transformers release, except for minor sticker variations, such as featuring the large racing number 539 on the roof instead of an Autobot insignia. Wheeljack was invented by Hiroyuki Obara and the US Patent, titled Reconfigurable toy vehicle (aka Transformers G1 Wheeljack) was filed on September 20, 1983 (U.S. Patent No. USD279916 S).
Wheeljack’s white, red, and green deco closely resembles the Alitalia-sponsored paint scheme on the real Lancia Stratos Turbo car. Despite stickers providing a great level of detailing and realism, they have mostly been changed to prevent trademark infringement. In this case, the Italian airliner Alitalia has become “Alitalla” although “Lancia” remains unchanged. The car also features black-rimmed (the real car had red) wheels, with rubber tires, and transparent front and side windows. His robot mode is somewhat stockier than his peers, but his Diaclone heritage shows clearly in features like his non-firing shoulder-mounted rocket launchers. In lieu of a handheld weapon, Wheeljack comes with two clear plastic wing accessories. Though his car spoiler halves are also removable, they are intended to remain on his arms in robot mode. His face sports distinct silver-painted “ears” and a mouth cover, deviating from the other cars’ face-with-helmet appearance.
Date stamp location: Bottom of car, center or along rear edge of black panel
Rubsign location: None (1984), or right rear spoiler (1985-)
Wheeljack is prone to a handful of major and minor breakages. The most common problem is a broken car spoiler peg, particularly on the pre-rubsign version, where this peg is especially thin. Take care when removing or turning the car's spoilers. While not a particularly common problem, a thin plastic bar connecting his fists to his upper arms is weak when bent in a direction it is not normally folded. Also, it is not uncommon to find broken one or more of the clips that hold his shoulder-mounted rocket launchers in place. Luckily, many of his joints move on steel pins, a feature which helps his overall durability.
Wheeljack has several minor production variations through his run. The initial release of Wheeljack is distinguished by the type of pin used to attach his wheels, in this case having an indented hexagonal head, which more accurately recreates the real car’s single wheel lug. This early verison also features larger spoiler tabs and holes (meaning spoilers are not compatible between variants). The later release features a more common wheel pin with five raised dots to look like lugnuts, small spoiler tabs, a raised semicircle on the floor the cockpit (allowing a longer screw to attach his backplate), and reinforcing ribs running lengthwise on the four leg slider tabs on his backplate.
Wheeljack was available in the United States in 1984. Wheeljack was available again in the US, and debuted Japan, the UK, and continental Europe in 1985 with a rubsign applied to his right rear spoiler. This version received a revised instruction sheet (or tiny addendum slip). He was also available in Italy with GiG’s licensed line in 1985, sporting missiles with large rubber safety tips.
In the US, Wheeljack was available through almost all of G1 by mail-order from Hasbro Direct: in 1985’s “Have the Decepticons defeated us once and for all?”, in 1986’s “Can one boy, alone, hold back the evil Decepticons?” and “You Have Been Chosen”, 1987’s “Rodimus Prime remembers the Transformers greatest battle on Earth”s, and 1988’s “The Autobots are under attack!”
He was available again in Europe during 1990’s Classic Heroes line. This version is distinguishable from the rubsign variant only by its partially blocked (blotted out) date stamp. Despite the tremendous longevity of his availability, he has never been reissued, as his molds are reported as destroyed.
Case Assortments (Asst#/Item#): 1984: Autobot Cars Asst. 1 (E5760/5750), 1 per 12; 1985: Autobot Cars Asst. 3 (E5760/5766), 1 per 12
Mail-Order Price: $8 and 2 Robot Points (1985-1988) or $9.50 and 0 Robot Points (1986 “Can one boy...” only)
Packaging: Window box with top flap, inner plastic bubble sealed to cardboard insert, Tech Spec on back
Packaging (Hasbro Direct): plain brown mailer box
Packaging (Milton Bradley): Window box with top flap (with MB logo), inner styrofoam tray supported by cardboard insert, Tech Spec on back
Packaging (Classic Heroes): Gold window box with top flap, inner plastic bubble sealed to cardboard insert, Tech Spec on back
Robot Points: 2 Autobot
Paperwork included (1984): Instruction booklet without rubsign on last panel, sticker sheet, Tech Spec Decoder,1984 Catalog; (late 1984) “Reinforcements from Cybertron”, rubsign instructions addendum.
Paperwork included (1985): Instruction booklet with rubsign on last panel, sticker sheet, Tech Spec Decoder, 1985 Catalog, “Reinforcements from Cybertron”
Redecos & Retools
Wheeljack’s mold was first used to create his Diaclone counterpart, Car Robot Lancia Stratos Turbo. The mold has not been re-used since his Transformers release.