Tuesday, December 2, 2008

1985 SMS - Sears Exclusive

It is hard to remember now, but there was a time when Sears was the go to retailer for toys. They were world's largest retailer and used that clout to secure holiday exclusives that they could sell both in their stores and from their catalogs. Hasbro, wisely, worked with Sears from the beginning on their Joe line and produced a cardboard base that was exclusive to Sears in 1982. This "Missile Headquarters" wasn't much of a toy, though. In 1984, Sears was able to secure some of the 1985 Joe toys early for release during the '84 holiday shopping season. In 1985, though, Sears took on a whole new element when they produced exclusive repaints of existing Joe toys. There were two sets that year: the C.A.T. (a repainted MOBAT) and the S.M.S (a repainted HISS and MMS) that shared a common, Crimson theme. Most collectors know these items as expensive aftermarket acquisitions made as adults. I, though, was a lucky kid who found the SMS under our tree on Christmas morning in 1985. As such, this item was a special part of my childhood collection and remains one of my few nostalgic pieces that I own today.

During the holidays in '85, my parents frequently took us to the mall. It's likely this was due to the fact that it was a cheap way to keep us occupied during the cold winter. They would simply drop us into the toy aisle of various stores and let us browse while they shopped for whatever it was they needed that day. (Odd that writing that statement in 2008 makes me think my parents were irresponsible. But, in 1985, such a thing was not only commonplace, but it was both accepted and safe.) As such, my brothers and I spent hours scanning over the toy aisles, looking at all the awesome new toys we wanted for Christmas. To this day, I know that I visited other aisles while I was browsing. But, my only detailed memories are of the G.I. Joe toys that lined the shelves. The items that always absorbed the most of my attention were things I did not own. That year, it was the Moray and, of course, the USS Flagg. But, also on the shelves were two toys that were somewhat odd: the CAT and SMS. These items were not available in any other store and featured box backs that were drawings rather than the full color photos that were the standard of the reverses of Joe vehicle packaging of the day.

Of these two, the SMS was the more intriguing item to me. I had always hated the MOBAT and had no interest in it with new colors of red and black. The SMS, though, looked kind of fun. It was a red Hiss Tank and a red and black version of the MMS. The MMS had been one of two vehicles I had received for Christmas in 1982. At the time, I had not appreciated it as it was towed behind my VAMP (the other vehicle I got that year) but could not hold a figure. So, though I had three vehicles and only four figures as I entered 1983, I did not have enough room on my vehicles to hold all four members of my Joe team. So, this had soured the 9 year old me on the MMS. Now, at 12 years old, though, the usefulness of a mobile missile launcher was much more apparent to me. I saw the tank as an elite HISS tank that was more powerful and faster than the standard, black version. But, more importantly, I saw the SMS as a way for Cobra to level the playing field against the Joes.

The SMS started as simply a mobile missile system that Cobra would cart around. They would, occasionally, shoot down Skystrikers or Dragonflies. But, that was about it. As 1986 progressed, though, Cobra took to missiles to a different level. They became a secret weapon that could be unleashed against Joe bases from short ranges: but outside the scope of the standard Joe base security. They were fast and hard to shoot down with the limited weaponry that was attached to the Joe HQ. By the end of 1986, these missiles were now Cobra's most powerful weapon. They were used with great affect against many Joe bases and had even managed to kill a few Joes. At this point, the Joes got desperate. They needed to find a way to shut down the missiles without have to surround their bases with tons and tons of stationary defenses. (This occurred anyways, though, as things like the SLAM and the LAW became standard installations around my Joe base.) By accident, Mainframe discovered that the missiles had deactivation codes. If the Joes could find the right numerical code, it would shut down the missiles in mid flight. But, due to the proximity from which Cobra could launch the missiles and the short time it took for them to reach their target, this wasn't a great solution as it was improbable that the right numerical code would be broadcast before the missile struck.

The Joes were thus forced to set out and find a missile station before the missiles had been launched and the onboard computers destroyed. There were a few close calls, but the Joes always found the launchers after they had self destructed. Finally, though, a hasty mission using unnamed Joe recruits (These were the repaints from the Mission to Brazil set. I used them as unnamed army builders who specialties mimicked those of their mold counterparts.) managed to capture a launch station. Cobra valiantly tried to defend the station and destroy the base. But, the Joes held them off long enough for the Science Officer (aka, Mission to Brazil Mainframe) to download all the codes. With this, the Joes rendered the missile stations useless. Anytime a missile went up, the codes were broadcast and it came right down: unarmed and harmless. The side effect of this was that I managed to render my SMS toy useless, too. So, it got packed away and forgotten about for a few years. Around 1988, I pulled all the pieces out of a box of junk and put the entire SMS away. Here it sat for many years until I pulled it out and brought it back to my collection. Today, it remains one of the few vehicles that are part of my use collection.

The SMS you see pictured below is my original. By late 1985, I was able to keep most of my Joe toys in very good condition. Despite the amount of use it got, the SMS didn't get worn down like some of the other high profile vehicles in my collection at the time. As such, it has survived, relatively intact, to today. Really, the 2nd half of 1985 was my line of demarcation. Anything that I purchased during that summer or later survived in pretty good shape into my adult collection. The figures I purchased in the first half of the year, though, did not. I guess it was a maturation process, but that seems to be the point where my collection became something important to me and I kept my items in much better shape. That isn't to say that I didn't still use them roughly or leave stuff outside for days on end. But, on the whole, I was much more cautious with my toys as the year wore on. There are precious few items from 1986 and forward that I lost from my childhood collection. And, most of those items can be traced to specific instances where my younger brothers or their friends got into my Joes and lost accessories when I was not around.

As a kid, though, items like the SMS were among my favorites. The main reason was that not everyone had them. While that statement comes off a bit snobbish these days, the reality is that it was the distinct items that made my collection different from that of the kids down the street. The fact that I had items like the SMS, the Dreadnok exclusives and the Mission to Brazil set allowed me to have some items that were unique to my childhood experience. As such, I didn't have to stay within the confines of Snake Eyes and Flint. I had some options. Frankly, I think that's why Joe still stays with me today. Joe was something that set me apart from many other kids. We all had toys, but I only had Joes. (Well, up through the first part of 1983, I did have Star Wars, too. But, those were all but gone by 1984 and totally replaced by Joes.) If you wanted to play with some toys that not everyone had, you came to my house. It's odd to think something like the SMS was that kind of draw. But, when everyone had the same toys, even something that was a different color was enough to be a draw. To this day, the items that most interest me are the ones that set a collection apart. It's not the rarity or the value, it's the distinction that comes from having something that not everyone owns. It has lead to a greater appreciation of the line's nuances and is a large part of why I still collect today.

The MMS mold had quite a history. After the original green version was discontinued in 1983, the mold appeared in Europe as part of the Action Force line. There, it was released in a combo of black and grey. Hasbro then used the mold for this exclusive in 1985. Sometime around here, Hasbro also produced the M.S.V. exclusively for the Canadian market. This item featured an all black MMS. (In fact, the base, missile bracket and legs for the MSV are identical to those of the SMS. Only the missiles are a different color.) The MMS mold then seems to have died in India. Funskool produced an MMS for a very short time and it is one of the rarest Funskool vehicles today. This MMS was similar in color to the American version. But, there are rumours of Funskool also making oddly colored MMS's that may or may not have been part of their Joe line. As Funskool discontinued the MMS rather early in their history, it is not known if the mold still exists. It would make an excellent add on as part of a larger vehicle set (like the ASP in the Crimson Sabotage set) but would likely not work as well on it's own. At this point, though, collectors can get an MMS in enough colors to satisfy them. The prices might be higher than most collectors would like, but there are nice, alternate MMS options out there.

When you look back at the vintage Joe line, there were precious few exclusive items that were ever offered. You would think that the toy market of the time would have lent itself to many exclusives since just about every retailer sold toys and most of them sold them year round and would not have to discount any leftover Christmas stock. But, as modern collectors, we are probably fortunate that these exclusives were so uncommon. Today, the priciest pieces from the vintage line are exclusive figures like Night Force and vehicles like these Sears pieces. Imagine if the line was also littered with other exclusives that were only available at a regional retailer, through a catalog or by attendance at a specific event. The result would be many more items that would likely carry price tags that would trump even these Sears pieces. If you look at the exclusives that collectors deal with today, it is unfathomable how, if the toy market were to be the same with a large, new generation of collectors coming on in another decade, anyone would keep up. Fortunately, the modern toy market is heavily geared towards collectors so this won't be an issue. But, we are equally fortunate that the toy buyers of the mid '80's were not more aggressive in their pursuit of exclusive toys. Lest, the Joe line would be dramatically different today.

The SMS is fairly pricey. Being a retailer exclusive, it saw a severely truncated production run. On top of that, it's a fairly distinct toy and one that most collectors would like to have in their collections. The legs for the missile base and stand for the control panel are easily lost and the actual spinning missile bracket breaks frequently. To top it all off, the missile are fragile and the tips are easily broken. A nicely conditioned version, with the Hiss Tank will run you close to $100. You can get the missile launcher separately, but it is often substantially higher priced than the Hiss Tank. Even at those prices, you won't see too many of these at any given time. Personally, if not for my childhood piece, I would not likely own the SMS. As an adult acquired item, it would have some cachet, but little value beyond monetary. As this was an important piece in my childhood, though, I still hold the SMS in high regard and can not imagine my collection without it. For others, the mileage may vary on this piece. It is expensive. But, it also has an inherent exclusivity to it that might make a high dollar purchase worthwhile.

1985 SMS, Sears Exclusive, MMS, Hiss Tank, Crimson Guard, 1991 Crimson Guard Immortal

1985 SMS, Sears Exclusive, MMS, Hiss Tank, Crimson Guard, 1991 Crimson Guard Immortal

1985 SMS, Sears Exclusive, MMS, Hiss Tank, Crimson Guard, 1991 Crimson Guard Immortal

1985 SMS, Sears Exclusive, MMS, Hiss Tank, Crimson Guard, 1991 Crimson Guard Immortal

1985 SMS, Sears Exclusive, MMS, Hiss Tank, Crimson Guard, 1991 Crimson Guard Immortal, 1984 Firefly, 2002 Crimson Fast Blast Viper

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