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This article is about unauthorised copies of Machine Robo and GoBots figures. For Johnny-Come-Lately copycat line, see Transformers.
Not the GoBots you asked for but definitely the GoBots you deserved.

In toy vernacular, a knock-off or bootleg is an unauthorised copy of a toy. Due to the illegality of said practice whoever produced the copy is unlikely to put their name on it, and they lack copyright stamps. They usually also avoid any sort of outright trademark infringement and sometimes made changes to the figures to further throw eagle-eyed lawyers browsing the toy aisles off the scent. Typically they were lower on quality than the real thing, though not always by a lot.

Is GoBots a knock-off of Transformers?[edit]

Eighties retailers didn't care which one you bought as long as you bought lots.


Is Transformers a knock-off of GoBots?[edit]



Both lines had the same theme - robots that turn into vehicles - but were entirely above board. GoBots used toys officially licenced from Bandai, Transformers used toys officially licenced from Takara. So both were based around existing lines, while transforming robot toys had already existed in Japan for years before, with Popy's Raideen considered the first to have some sort of transformation and Takatoku's Macross Valkyrie considered the first to have a bonafide vehicle mode. What was a bit underhanded was that it is widely accepted that Hasbro had the idea of importing one of these lines and crafting a Westernised mythos concerning warring sentient robots around it and Tonka got wind of it and attempted to scoop their rivals by fast-tracking GoBots, which seems to have arrived in stores around 9 months before Transformers. But as far as bootlegging or copying goes that seems to be about it, though the thematic similarity of both meant there were times when this wasn't especially clear.

In all seriousness, however much mileage lazy geek bloggers and YouTube idiots try to get out of the "rivalry", typically children in the 1980s were happy playing with the both unless they were spoilt brats, and the overgrown children who still like toy robots into adulthood are generally chill about the whole thing - a cool robot toy is a cool robot toy, which corporation marketed it decades ago isn't a big thing. Though again you still get the odd moron who lets trademark law dictate their tastes.

How to Tell a Knockoff[edit]

Does the toy have a copyright stamp? If the answer's "Yes" then it's official. If it's "No" then it's not. While what was on the stamps jumped around - Popy, Bandai, Tonka - but knock-offs don't bother with fake ones. If your GoBot has a stamp but a weird colour scheme make sure you check it's not a rare Japanese variant before you write it off as a bootleg, though - several, such as the Machine Robo Best 5, are relatively obscure but worth quite a bit!

Knock-off GoBots[edit]

To some degree GoBots insulated itself against knock-offs by being very cheap in the first place; carded GoBots figures retailed at around $3-4 and Tonka's stripped-down ethos for the line, with few sticker sheets, paper instruction manuals or biographical information, meant it would take a determined bootlegger to actually significantly undercut the real thing. Nevertheless in the mid-1980s toy robot boom several tried. While of little value today, they can make interesting curios for collectors to expand into considering the relatively small number of GoBots out there. Generally knock-off makers avoided figures that had a lot of accessories, such as Cy-Kill, while there are very few knock-offs of the toys from the last year of the line's life due to the high interest in toy robots having dropped off by that point.

Whether these are really knock-offs of GoBots or Machine Robo is debatable. Though said debate would probably be a massive waste of everyone's time.

Unbranded Knockoffs[edit]

Star of "The Battle for Genericon"

Perhaps the most notable were the Convertible Robots (which used an almost stylish minimal backing card for some releases)/Machine Robo Series and Machine Robot/Mr. Machinerobo (typically featuring a cardboard window box of similar proportions to those used for the Popy/Bandai Machine Robo Series but of nowhere near the same quality) produced by parties unknown and widely available in North America especially. Whether these were all the products of competing concerns or the name of the ranges was changed regularly to

What occasionally catches the interest is that several small GoBots in 'variant' colour schemes where produced: -

  • Block Head with blue plastic in place of the red.
  • Crain Brain with the diecast parts painted red rather than orange.
  • Crasher in red; whether this was based off the Machine Robo Best 5 version of Porsche Robo or was just a coincidence is unknown.
  • Dive-Dive in grey.
  • Flip Top in a notably lighter blue.
  • Hans-Cuff with the white and black on the car mode arranged vertically rather than horizontally.
  • Night Ranger in red.
  • Slicks with white parts as well as a fatter nose section and chunky tyres. See also Convert-Able below.
  • Slicks again with a blue and white scheme.
  • Spoons in all-orange version (easily told from Forklift Robo by having stickers that read "C-12" instead of "MR-34").
  • Water Walk with a red chest and blue legs.
  • Zero with USAF markings.

There were of course plenty of boring poor-quality straight copies out there as well, including of Dozer (don't tell anyone but this is a good source for his gun!), Dumper, BuggyMan, Fitor and more. Given the nature of the beast it is unlikely a complete list of bootlegs can ever be drawn up.


If nothing else they should have been sued for inconsistent spelling.

A bizarre episode came in 1985 when Pepsi ran a promotion for Convert-Ables, a line of three transforming vehicles made by Imperial Toys of San Francisco. Buying either four six packs or 2-litre bottles of a Pepsi product netted you a free Convert-Ables figure. Only problem is that Convert-A-Racer was the fat nose white/yellow version of Slicks, Convert-A-Plane was the red chest version of Water Walk and Convert-A-Jeep was a nigh-identical copy of Geeper-Creeper. No lawsuits appeared to have been filed and considering Pepsi were involved it was possibly an innocent mistake, with Imperial possibly only repackaging toys they believed to be from a legit source. Given the era, with no internet to amplify every little thing, it is likely the promotion came and went before Tonka lawyers were notified, if they ever were.


Amazing the creativity you can summon up when you're not spending money on licencing.

Mutante was a line produced by Glasslite Toys of Brazil made up of Machine Robo/GoBots figures. How legal it was is currently unknown; while Glasslite produced 100% licenced versions of toys from lines such as Thundercats and Star Wars the Mutante figures are distinctly low on copyright information on the packaging, not to mention avoiding any of the trademarks one might expect of a genuine imported line. It was also revived in the 1990s with all-plastic versions that were very cheap and nasty, which doesn't feel like the sort of thing an official licensee would do. It did have a superb bit of artwork and some fascinating figures, though.

  • Demolon (V1): Geeper-Creeper in his usual colours.
  • Demolon (V2): Geeper-Creeper in red.
  • Ergor: Crain Brain.
  • Flâmor: Pumper with different stickers.
  • Galian (V1): Hans-Cuff in his usual scheme with "Policia" stickers.
  • Galian (V2): Hans-Cuff in blue and white.
  • Mega Man: Hans-Cuff as a Fire Chief's car.
  • Rotron: Wrong Way.
  • Sonik (V1): Leader-1 in a very cool Thundercracker-esque colour scheme.
  • Sonik (V2): Leader-1 in a very cool red and blue colour scheme. Both are miles better than either of the GoBots colour schemes.
  • Traktor: Dumper.
  • Zardos (V1): Turbo in blue with a red head.
  • Zardos (V2): Turbo in his usual colours but with different stickers.
  • Zardos Super Máquina: Turbo in black with a red head; "Super Máquina" means "Super Machine" in Portuguese and was also the name given to Knight Rider in Brazil.
  • Zumor: Fitor.

The line also included the Mutante Master, which was the Robot Winch Truck; a blue version was advertised alongside the more usual red.


Rule #1 of getting fan approval for being a bootlegger: pick unusual moulds!

Convert was another Brazilian line, this time produced by Mimo. Like those of Glasslite, the packaging included no copyright information - that and the fact the lines were possibly available at the same time casts some question over their legitimacy. What is interesting is what doesn't overlap is the toys used - unnamed figures that were BuggyMan, Block Head, Water Walk, Road Ranger and Double-decker Bus Robo. These followed their Japanese colour schemes broadly but featured notably poorer quality paint applications and stickers.

That two different Brazilian companies were putting out two different sets of moulds at around the same time is certainly unusual; as such it seems conservative to classify both as knock-off lines until more information can be discovered.


Also like Dozer the cab gets lost easily.

In the mid-1980s boom every toy company needed its' own robot line. Beyond Transformers and GoBots few had staying power, but one that hung around for a while was Remco's Zybots. One interesting thing about the line was that unlike Hasbro, Tonka or many of their rivals Remco seem to have designed the toys themselves rather than licencing. This led to some... curious figures. However, one - Earthbreaker - saved some work by being an obvious lift of Dozer with some squarer edges. Whether Tonka or Bandai noticed this is unknown.

Power 5[edit]


Produced in 1989, what makes the Korean Power 5 bootleg of Battle Armor 5 interesting is that it was a tie-in to what can be described as a bootleg movie named Our Friend, Power 5. This combined some elements of GoBots/Machine Robo (i.e. Battle Armor 5) with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (knock-off versions of whom were included with the toy) and elements of typical Tokusatsu series insanity, with hilarious results. This curiosity likely came about through the complicated diplomatic situation between Japan and South Korea - while it is beyond being exactly summed up here, it basically boils down to the Japanese government's unwillingness to acknowledge various historical atrocities to the South Korean government's satisfaction. While their precise relationship is again best summarised by experts, for the most part it's largely resulted in a de facto ban on Japanese goods being imported. As such South Korean companies took to making their own TV series and toys, taking what they could get hold of from Japan as elements of these - given the precarious diplomatic situation being much bigger than toys, Bandai and the like were unlikely to sue. Where the American-owned Turtles came into this is that films like Our Friend, Power 5 were highly unlikely to be seen outside South Korea in the pre-internet age, therefore meaning Mirage Studios were not expected to see it and sue.

A similar set of factors led to the production of Phoenix-bot Phoenix King, where the title mech was played by the Transformers character Inferno. There could well be a ton more of this stuff that's just not come to the attention of Western fans too.

Robo Machines[edit]


The inverse of a knock-off line is Bandai's 1993 European line Robo Machines. Consisting largely of a selection of 1980s GoBots/Machine Robo figures with generic names, genericised stickers, relatively poor build quality due to mould degradation, low-effort packaging and no significant promotion, it ticks most of the boxes at first glance. However, it was actually just a poorly-made official Bandai line, the marketing of which was complicated the 1991 takeover of Tonka meaning the old trademarks all belonged to Hasbro by 1993. Quite why Bandai went to the effort of hooking out moulds up to a decade old, putting them back into production (the various changes make it highly unlikely that this was overstock discovered in a long-forgotten warehouse) and then put so little effort into the final result is unknown.

GoBots knock-offs today[edit]

Still a more plausible Construction than Load Hauler.

Sadly GoBots knock-offs seem to largely be a thing of the past. Like official toys, knock-off toys need to appeal to a wide audience, and sadly most GoBots are left behind by the average modern Transformers KO. G1 Transformers knock-offs tend to be precise facsimiles aimed at a narrow but sizeable audience; there simply aren't enough GoBots collectors out there to make a market (and a boxed mint Baron Von Joy costs considerably less than a boxed mint Sunstreaker anyway). However, occasionally something squeaks out - Dozer got another day out in Constructicon-green as a bonus figure in a Chinese slush-moulded Devastator a few years ago...


  • It should be noted that the world was a different place in the mid-1980s and many of the legal precedents and practices that many toy fans could give you a fascinating lecture on these days were less established at the time many of these figures came out. Processes were slower and legal departments were smaller, while even large successful companies like Tonka and Bandai had limited reach beyond their domestic markets. Transpacific business deals were a new phenomenon, often involving phone and/or written agreements that would go through a translator, which left plenty of negotiations open to either honest misunderstandings or outright buccaneering, depending on those involved. Thus a lot of weird stuff that seems impossible from the modern point of view tended to happen - it's easy to forget that Transformers and GoBots were just the two biggest transforming lines from 1984-1986 and there were numerous smaller legit lines mixed in with the bootleggers, meaning a lot to keep track of. Hasbro after all have still proven unable to actually stamp out Transformers knock-offs in the 21st century.
  • A fine example of the different climate and resources of the time can be found here, where Tonka basically hired a detective into stores to physically look at shelves and see what unlicensed products were being offered by retailers.