Friends, I am going to bet when you think about robotic toys in the 80’s that the first two toy lines that spring to mind will be either the GoBots or of course the Transformers. One of those reasons might be because for those of us of a certain age it was one of the very first times we felt we had to take stand – you either thought the Transformers were the best or GoBots, at least that was the way it was at my school. To be fair while Tonka hit the toy aisles first in 1983 with the GoBots, Hasbro quickly won the toy war thanks to no small part from the backstory co-created by Jim Shooter and Denny O’Neill as well as the character personalities crafted by Bob Budiansky of Marvel Comics. Obviously other companies tried to throw their hat into the rings of robotic toys that transformed from one form to another, which is why Buddy L toys released the Chargertron toys to the market in 1984.
The makers of the Chargertron toy line has an interesting history that dates back to 1920 – when it was founded by Fred Lundahl of East Moline, Illinois. Lundahl got his foothold in business with the Moline Pressed Steel Company in 1910, the company made automobile parts as well as farming machinery. It was when Fred had a desire to produce toys – spurned on by wanting to make better toys for his own Son, that the Buddy L toy company was formed. The company specialized in the manufacturing of various toy cars, trucks, and even train sets – all of them created using 18 and 20 gauge steel from the scrap pile of his Moline Pressed Steel company.
And while the Buddy L company did brisk business – selling their toys across the World as I understand it, the Great Depression in 1929 forced Lundahl to sell his company. During 1976 until 1990, the company was owned by Richard Keats, a toy designer that began working for the company as soon as he graduated from Brown University in 1948. So I assume it was Keats that saw how popular transforming robot toys were at the time and came up with something that Buddy L could manufacture – a combination robot and race car launcher. The Chargertron toys were actually two robots with a larger robot that revved up a smaller robot, a futuristic car in this case. Revving up the ‘car’ was done by pressing on the chest plate of the larger robot – when the plastic power gauge switched to red it was ready to race across the floor… assuming your house wasn’t like mine and still had shag carpeting. Another interesting feature of the Chargertron toys was that with a flip of a switch you could decide if the car transformed into a robot or stayed in ‘tracker’ mode.
Now I’m going to make a rather broad generalization here and say that most children in 1984 who were hoping to find GoBots or Transformers as gifts during that Holiday were slightly disappointed. However and I’m speaking for myself here – the imagination of a child should never be discounted, which is why I used my Chargertron as a spy when the Autobots were attempting to take back Cybertron from the villainous Decepticons. Even the Retroist had a Chargertron toy it would seem, sharing his own thoughts on the toy line back in 2008 in addition to pointing out that the commercial had a jingle that seemed worthy of Devo – but I haven’t seen too many spots online where the backstory for Chargertron’s were revealed:
“In all Galactic lore, there is no story as tragic and hard fought as that of the Twin Princes of the Rival Moons of Planet Robotron. Each Prince was to rule his own moon, with the most successful ruler eventually becoming the new Emperor of Robotron. One of the Princes chose evil and destruction as his means to power, and set out to destroy the Good Prince, with the aid of Antagatron, a giant mutant Robot with the ability to charge up and launch a Tracker that changes to Attacker.
Join this interplanetary combat by collecting both Antagatron and his rival Protagatron, the trusted ally of the Good Prince, and create your own Galactic adventures.”
In addition to the fact that apparently you could have visited a Pioneer Chicken restaurant and received a Chargertron toy free with the purchase of any chicken bucket and large Pepsi – batteries for either Antagatron and Protagatron not included of course.