Tuesday, October 24, 2017

1984 Clutch - VAMP Mark II Driver

All G.I. Joe vehicle drivers have to live up to Clutch.  I state this as fact only for the simple reason that, in the fall of 1982, Clutch was the coolest figure that my brother got for the birthday that introduced G.I. Joe into our lives.  While he was a vehicle driver, the awesome factor was mostly driven home by the complexity of his design and the fact that his chest was not shared with other figures from the time.  So, it is my own bias that puts Clutch as the standard for vehicle drivers.  But, through the line's early years, vehicle drivers often showcased designs that were equal, if not superior to, most of the carded figures from the year.  As the original Clutch's chest was not shared with other figures, Hasbro had less chance to recoup their costs from his design.  So, in 1984, when they produced an updated VAMP, Hasbro took a bit of a cheap way out and gave kids a newly repainted Clutch as it's driver.

As a kid, this Clutch was the only Clutch who really saw use.  Both of the original VAMPs from my childhood were acquired in 1982.  So, the standard Clutch figures were both straight arm.  By 1984, straight arm figures were used for parts or cannon fodder since they couldn't measure up to the swivel arm versions.  So, the only real representation of the character for me was this Clutch release.  And, as a kid who read the comic more and more as 1984 wore on, I simply had to have a Clutch figure.

Clutch was one of those characters that simply stuck with you.  Larry Hama did a great job with Clutch's development.  And, as Clutch remained a mainstay of the comic for many, many years, it's likely that he was a favorite of Hama's.  Clutch was the guy who everyone should hate.  He was slightly misogynistic and completely full of himself.  But, he did it in a way that people liked him.  Scarlett felt that Clutch was relatively harmless and that made his swarm charming.  It's difficult to create a character like this.  Usually, the dichotomy is too much and the character ends up actually being unlikable.  But, Clutch retained his comic popularity and is a collector favorite to this day.

The VAMP Mark II is a solid vehicle.  It didn't live up to the VAMP in my childhood.  But, it was OK and served its purpose.  All of the original Joe vehicle drivers really just "fit" with their vehicles.  As such, Clutch was really the only choice to drive the updated VAMP.  Putting anyone else behind the wheel would have been disingenuous to the character and to the kids to associated the two together.  So, in this case, such an early repaint was entirely forgivable.  And, since I didn't have a good version of the original, it was an excellent way to keep Clutch in my collection.

As the VAMP Mark II didn't last all that long in my collection, I often found this Clutch figure other vehicles to drive.  There weren't many desert vehicles back in 1984 and 1985.  But, Clutch was the perfect driver for my APC.  This vehicle lacked a true driver.  So, Clutch was a good choice, especially if his jeep was out of commission.  In 1985, my younger brother got a toy jeep (non-military) that was a golden brown color.  It was slightly too large for Joes.  But, the fit well enough.  Clutch and Dusty had many an adventure in that jeep.  Clutch was Dusty's personal driver for the few weeks when Dusty was my newest figure and was the main focus of my play.

Like all the pre 1985 Joes, though, Clutch's days were numbered.  Starting in the second half of 1985, I became much more careful with my figures.  While I still played with them: I was more cautious and conscientious about keeping my figures nice.  The Joes who pre-dated this turn in my mindset found themselves on the outside looking in as the newer, nicer versions of figures became my focal point.  But, by 1986 and into 1987, the reality was that Clutch was dated.  He was a smaller, less detailed sculpt than the new offerings.  And, I was heavily swayed by recency in my collection so the newer figures always took precedence over the older models.  So, Clutch went into a box and became an afterthought.

When I first started up Joe collecting as a adult, though, Clutch was one of the first figures I sought out.  I remembered him vividly from my childhood.  A friend of mine at the time, who was only casually interested in G.I. Joe, could still recite Clutch's filecard: more than a decade since he had last read it.  That was the impression the Clutch character left behind.  So, now, both the original and this desert Clutch are vital parts of my collection.  You will often see them around as background characters in photos.  They may be driving a VAMP or other vehicle.  But, they may also be involved in general combat duties.  I'd viewed Clutch as a field trooper since day 1 of Joe in my life.  So, he remains more than just a driver to me.

Despite this early repaint, Clutch didn't see too much use.  After the original release and this 1984 repaint, the mold disappeared for about a decade.  Both the VAMP and VAMP Mark II were staples of release around the world with notable variants in Brazil.  Yet, Clutch didn't make the journey.  In the early 1990's, though, Clutch finally reappeared with his jeep when Funskool released their version of the VAMP.  There are several versions of the Clutch figure: all in various shades of green with a few instances of the Clutch body with a Short Fuze head: but with black hair.  The Funskool figures are very hard to find: especially in good condition.  But, they are very similar to the U.S. release and don't offer anything outside of different shades of what we already got through Hasbro.  Both the VAMP and Clutch appear to have gone out of circulation in the mid 1990's.  That implies that Hasbro may have gotten his mold back when they re-acquired the Funskool figures that made up the bulk of the 1997 and 1998 Toys R Us exclusive figures.  But, the Clutch mold was either not among the returns, was too damaged to be used again, or simply dropped into a Hasbro warehouse where it was forgotten again: never to return.

I'd love to see a factory custom Clutch.  While the Clutch character could be repainted into Night Force, Tiger Force and every other sub team imaginable, his parts would have other potential.  (If you want to see the potential for Clutch repaints, check out Chad and Matt's Clutch customs.)  Clutch's chest and arms could be combined with Cobra Trooper waist and legs and a Hiss Driver or Cobra Officer head.  This would be a great Cobra driver for Stingers or Hiss Tanks.  Again, the repaint would lend itself to a panoply of colors.  The head could be used for new Breaker or Rock and Roll figures.  Or, repainted into a color the head never appeared in and used to make a new figure in early Joe style.  In short, the possibilities are endless.  Hopefully, one of the factory custom makers is listening.

In the vintage line, Hasbro really didn't do too much with repaint until the very end of the line.  Sure, there were Tiger Force, Night Force and Python Patrol.  But, they were always supplements to the main figure line rather than parts of it.  As an adult collector, I lament the fact that Hasbro didn't do the entire original 13 in a desert scheme to make a variant, unified team.  As a kid, though, I probably would have hated it since I would have lost out on other figures.  (Though, getting the gear I had lost from the original figures would have been a welcome perk.)  In the collector era starting in 1997, though, Hasbro really had no reason to not revisit the original 13 Joes and do some sort of specifically themed team.  The 1997 Stars and Stripes and the comic packs from the mid 2000's were the two closest attempts.  But, the Stars and Stripes was more about getting the molds out to appease collectors.  The comic packs were closer.  But, the odd greens and mix matched parts from different eras created a mis-match that's probably worse than the Stars and Stripes set.  I keep hoping that factory custom Joe producers will look to bring some desert variants of original 13 Joes into the fold. More and more parts are available.  And, I'd love a tan Flash, Grand Slam, Hawk, Stalker and the rest.  But, since I've played with and collected Joe since 1982, I have a more nostalgic bent to these original figures and my preferences may not play well in a larger market.

The desert Clutch is about middle of the road as far as Joe figures go in terms of price.  Mint and complete with filecard figures can be had for $10.  But, dealers will charge $20 and you'll see more sell at that price than they should.  But, you don't see as many desert Clutch figures as you used to.  And, the lower supply leads to more dealer sales.  For $10, this figure is a no-brainer.  You buy him and move on.  He's a great companion to the Tan Grunt and his parts can be used in conjunction with that figure to make a perfect Tan Breaker, too.  When these guys were cheaper, they were desired for the custom possibilities.  Now, though, they are desired for the figure itself.  Collectors like Clutch and they like his desert repaint.  It's awesome to get an iconic character in environmental themed colors.  It's just too bad we didn't see a few more of the early Joes get this treatment.

1984 Clutch, 1982 VAMP, 1997 Grunt, 1984 Thunder, Zap

1984 Clutch, 1988 Desert Fox, 1983 Rock and Roll, Steel Brigade, Mail Away

1984 Clutch, 1988 Wild Card, Mean Dog, VAMP Mark II
Clutch doesn't take kindly to Wild Card stealing his parking spot.


  1. As you may gather from my moniker, Clutch is my favorite Joe. I had the '83 version and he drove both my VAMP and APC all the time. Hama's frequent use of the character during the comic's early years made him stand out, starting with his team-ups alongside Breaker and Steeler in issues #3 and #5, his crucial role during the Oktober Guard two-parter in #6 and #7, and his turn as field leader in Special Missions #2. Steven Grant seems to have liked Clutch as well, given his co-starring turn in #9 and for being the first Joe to have a solo spotlight issue in #20. As for the figure reviewed here, I never had the Vamp Mark II as a kid and I only acquired a Tan Clutch after obtaining the Takara version of the '82/'83 VAMP which oddly enough, includes Tan Clutch instead of his predecessor. Lastly, I love that last panel with Wildcard. It's classic Clutch all the way. On behalf of Clutch fans everywhere, thanks for featuring him.

  2. I would love to get a tan Clutch to drive my Desert Fox. Larry Hama put so much character development into those Original 13 Joes it's really a shame that more of them didn't get proper updates during the vintage line. I've tried to make the 1993 Mega Marines Clutch work for my collection but there's nothing about him that says "Clutch" and his armor is so specialized that he might as well be part of Star Brigade.