Bumblejumper, or Bumper, is one of the oddest little Transformers toys ever produced. There's nothing particularly unusual about his design—indeed, he's markedly similar to two other well-known and widely-produced Mini Autobots—but what makes him so unique is the fact that even though he was packaged and sold as an official Transformers toy, his entire existence went completely unacknowledged by Hasbro!
A little history is required to fully appreciate the significance of this toy. Most fans already know that all of the original Transformers toys from 1984 came from two different robot toy lines produced by Takara in Japan. The vast majority of the original Transformers originated from Diaclone, a toy line featuring scale vehicles with tiny driver figurines. The other toy line was called Microman, which was a little different from Diaclone in that the transformable toys , part of that line's "Microchange" assortment, were meant to represent real-life objects at 1:1 scale—microscopes, guns, combination locks, and digital watches that all turned into tiny robots. All of the Mini Autobots were actually intended to represent toy cars—specifically, three of them were modeled after the Penny Racers (also produced by Takara), motorized super-deformed cars that could do tricks when the extra weight from a coin was added behind the plate in the back of the vehicle. The transforming Microman versions weren't motorized and couldn't hold a penny, but their styling was identical to the Penny Racers, right down to the fake coin slot in the back of the car that revealed the robot's head. Of the seven Microrobot Cars produced, three of them—the Volkswagen, the Porsche 924 Turbo, and the Mazda Familia 1500XG—all shared the same vehicle-to-robot transformation sequence. Unlike the others, these three toys were sold in multiple color schemes; each of them was available in a blue, yellow, and red version.
Hasbro made a handful of changes to the Japanese toys for release in the Transformers line. They assigned names and team allegiances to each of the robots (who previously had unimaginative designations like MC-02 Jaguar or Attack Robo Jet Type), including the addition of Autobot and Decepticon symbols to each toy. They also established the back story that these were living alien robots from another planet (which necessitated the removal of the Diaclone pilots, despite the fact that many toys were designed with obvious cockpits). Not every toy from Diaclone and Microman was used for the Transformers line; many were left out because they may have lacked play value (there were toys that turned into binoculars and a working flashlight) or were a bit redundant (there was a police car version of Sunstreaker that Hasbro never used, and differently-colored versions of Wheeljack and Skids with alternate head sculpts). By far the most important contribution Hasbro made, however, was the creation of the unique personalities and abilities for each character, which really helped to breathe life into the toys and made each one unique and distinct from each other. Jim Shooter and Denny O'Neil, both editors and writers for Marvel Comics, were assigned the task of creating 28 different characters for the toy line's initial launch in 1984. The only problem here is that there were actually 31 toys available when the toy line made its debut!
It's possible that the confusion was due to the fact that several Transformers toys were sold together (Soundwave came packaged with Buzzsaw, while Ravage/Rumble and Frenzy/Laserbeak were sold in two-packs), essentially making each package a single product for Hasbro's purposes. You only had to make 28 different purchases to collect the entire set, after all. In any event, there were three toys that were not assigned their own names or personalities. Hasbro had approved five of the nine Microrobo color variations—the yellow and red Volkswagen, the yellow and red Porsche, and the yellow Mazda. The yellow Volkswagen became Bumblebee, of course, and the red Porsche became Cliffjumper, but the other three toys were somehow forgotten about. They didn't get their own package artwork—in fact, they didn't get their own packaging, period. My theory is that Hasbro had originally intended these toys to represent different characters, just as they had done with Ironhide and Ratchet or Prowl and Bluestreak. If unique names had been assigned to these toys at one stage, we may never know what they were. Instead, Hasbro just sold the red Volkswagens in packaging that had been created for the yellow Bumblebee toy; they did the same thing with the yellow Porsche, selling it in packaging created for the red Cliffjumper. The lonely Mazda Familia, however, had no other equivalent in the Transformers line. Hasbro could have delayed the toy's release until proper packaging was prepared, but instead they snuck the Mazda into the existing assortment by stuffing it into Cliffjumper packaging; the shape of the cars was similar enough that they were able to reuse the same plastic bubble. (The name "Bumblejumper" implies that the toy was sold in Bumblebee packaging as well, but this has never been confirmed.)
A lot of fans believe that these three toys were overstock from Japan, unsold Takara toys that Hasbro stuffed into Transformers packaging—pointing to the lack of a Hasbro copyright stamp on the early toys as evidence. In fact, all the original Transformers toys lacked a copyright stamp, even toys that we know were never sold in Japan. This includes the green version of Brawn, whose Microman equivalent was tan; the modified version of Soundwave, whose original Japanese toy had a logo that said "CassetteMan" on the tape door; and Skywarp, a Hasbro creation who had no Diaclone equivalent. (Hasbro copyright stamps didn't begin to appear on the toys until late 1985 following a lawsuit with a rival toy company, who claimed that the lack of copyright information on the early Jumpstarters gave them a free pass to copy the toys.) Further discrediting this theory is the fact that there are no examples of other Takara toys in Hasbro packaging—if overstock had been used, surely there would be some leftover blue Bumblebees and Cliffjumpers as well, but no such packaged examples exist.
What's interesting is that Hasbro never acknowledged Bumper in the 1984 toy catalog, which was supposed to showcase the entire product offering for that year. (The red Bumblebee and yellow Cliffjumper were conspicuously absent from the catalog, too.) Furthermore, in 1985 when Hasbro initiated a marketing campaign to set their product apart from competitors and knockoffs in order to identify their transformable robots as the only "true" Transformers, the entire first year's product line was revamped to include the heat-sensitive rub symbols—except for Bumper! Even the red Bumblebee and yellow Cliffjumper saw production that year, complete with rub symbols and new packaging with photographs showing the toys in the correct colors (even if the package artwork was still wrong). It's almost as if Hasbro realized their mistake, and quietly swept poor Bumper under the proverbial rug. Needless to say, he never appeared in any cartoon episodes or comic books during the limited time the toy was in stores—why advertise a toy that, for all intents and purposes, doesn't exist?
There's a lot more to say about the toy's history than about the toy itself. Bumper is superficially similar to Cliffjumper (and shares the same sticker on the back of his head plate that Cliffjumper's got), although the large black front bumper and much larger side windows are quite distinct. His transformation is identical to that of Bumblebee and Cliffjumper—though unlike Bumblebee, the way his arms are designed prevents them from rotating until they're pulled outwards. His helmet design is interesting—while a lot of the Mini Autobots had fairly nondescript faces with featureless masks, Bumper has a more human-looking face. Indeed, he already fits the design aesthetic from the Transformers cartoon so well that it's difficult to imagine that his face would need to be significantly redesigned in order to fit in. Had he appeared in the cartoon, the wheels on his arms would no doubt have been absent, and it's quite likely that his black colors would have been depicted as grey (which was also the case with characters like Cliffjumper and Wheeljack), but he certainly wouldn't have suffered from the complete disparity between the show and the toy that befell characters like Brawn or Ratchet or Megatron.
Bumper is comparatively rare these days, due in no small part to the confusion that his very existence creates. He's frequently identified on eBay as yellow Cliffjumper by sellers who simply don't know any better (and the fact that Cliffjumper was retooled into Hubcap, who's also yellow, doesn't help matters much). In a way, Bumper is more of a collectible than a character, since he's largely absent from the Transformers lore (he did appear in some of the Dreamwave comic books before the company went bankrupt), and we don't even have an official Hasbro biography to give us a hint of what this character might be like (indeed, Hasbro has stated that they have never assigned an official name to the toy, not even retroactively). Despite this, he's one of the cutest of the Mini Autobots, and no collection is truly complete without him.
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