Tuesday, March 24, 2020

1987 Road Toad

My childhood Joe memories are vast.  I spent copious amounts of time playing with my toys and use them as a proxy to recall places, events, feelings and emotions from that time of my life.  I've mined those memories for nearly two decades to tell tales of the joy these toys have brought to me.  In looking back at the items from my childhood, there are items that simply took ahold of me and became hugely important to my adventures.  In some cases (Hovercraft, Hydrofoil, Skystriker) the reason for the toy's importance was obvious.  But, there were smaller items that appear insignificant and unimportant that also became vital to my collection at various points in time.  Battlefield playsets were an excellent way to augment my Joe headquarters.  Even stupid items like a rope walker became a pivotal plot point on afternoon when the Joes had to pursue Stormshadow across a city.  The driving force of these toys is that many of these small, cheap playthings were given the same attention to detail and care in design as went into larger, more profitable vehicles.  That consistent quality is one of the key factors that drives the legacy of the Joe line.  In the spring of 1987, one small vehicle that seemed rather dumb appeared on the market.  I picked it up as it was the only new item on the shelf of Toys R Us one day.  But, once in hand, the Road Toad found a niche as a vital part of any Joe mission.

The story of the Road Toad really begins with the S.L.A.M.  As a kid, I loved Star Wars.  A friend of my father's had recorded the movie on HBO sometime in the very early 1980's and given the tape to us.  I watched the movie at least once a month, maybe even more frequently, for years.  I loved the final battle sequence.  And, after dozens of viewings, I saw all the small details of the Imperial gunnery stations and wanted to expand upon that idea in various play scenarios for both Joe and Cobra.  The introduction of the S.L.A.M. brought a new element to this dynamic.  The S.L.A.M. was a cool toy that could hold two gunners (a feature I loved) that had powerful cannons and was even armed with missiles.  It became a quick favorite.  But, it had a fatal flaw I couldn't get past.  The S.L.A.M. was supposed to be self propelled and even included a tow hook to drag other trailers behind it.  This didn't make sense to me and I couldn't get my head around the S.L.A.M. driving around a battlefield.  I felt it needed to be towed, like the Whirlwind before it.  The toy was limited because I couldn't haul it behind my existing vehicles.  So, the S.L.A.M. was a disappointment.  Then, the Road Toad entered my world.

At its core, the Road Toad is meant to be a tow truck.  It could serve as a battlefield recovery vehicle or mechanic's platform, too.  But, really, it's a cheap, thin, glorified tow truck.  But, this was exactly the type of thing that the Joe line needed.  While big combat vehicles were the core of the toy line, having options for some support vehicles took Joe to another level beyond any other toy line of the era.  The Road Toad wasn't meant to be the focal point of play.  It was designed to interact with other vehicles and bring a different element of play to G.I. Joe.  Of course, it was armed so that you could use it in combat if it was the only vehicle you had.  But the real fun was that kids now had a way to deal with disabled, captured or destroyed vehicles (read as broken toys!) in a more realistic way.

For me, the Road Toad quickly became a central part of any story.  I was big on defining both capabilities and limitations for my toys.  So, a VAMP could tow a heavy weapon.  But, that slowed it down considerably and left it exposed to enemy attack.  This meant that heavy weapons like a S.L.A.M. had to be towed by Maulers or Havocs.  These larger, armored vehicles were not always available.  Nor, were they always practical.  So, the Road Toad was invented to help out smaller vehicles.  My Road Toads would be synched to the engines on the VAMP that was towing them.  The Road Toad would then augment the VAMP's power while it was towing a S.L.A.M. or H.A.L.  It would even allow a VAMP to tow a disabled Mauler or Havoc.  In short, the Road Toad was designed to allow VAMP's to keep their speed while also allowing them to haul weapons to places where a Havor or Mauler could not go.  But, even when a Havoc was tasked to haul a heavy trailer, the Road Toad would be included.  

There were a few reasons for this.  First, the Road Toad provided the crew another vehicle that could move.  So, if the main vehicle's engine was damaged or destroyed, the Road Toad still gave the crew a working vehicle to aid their escape or objective.  Second, the Road Toad brought additional capacities into the convoy.  It had a tow hook that was far more versatile than the standard hitches on the big vehicles.  (The rope was dropped down into a hole on more than one occasion to pull out a stuck crew member.)  It also brought some additional firepower.  While the Road Toad only had a small, mounted twin gun, that gun could elevate almost 180 degrees and could swivel 360 degrees.  This was hugely beneficial to something like a Havoc where the main guns only pointed forwards and the smaller guns also had limited range of motion.  The Road Toad could serve as back up anti-aircraft weaponry for vehicles that were designed to be anti-armor or anti-infantry.  The final reason was more a pet peeve of mine as a kid.  To me, the value of the Joe line was the figures.  I always lamented that few vehicles could carry more than a basic crew into battle.  This became more of an issue as the line evolved and characters from 1986 and, especially, 1987 started including more accessories.  There was simply no place to store all these items on most vehicles I had.  The Road Toad introduced some additional storage space on its platform.  Sneek Peek's telescope was a staple of the deck.  Fast Draw's missile rack was another.  And, in rare cases, additional Joes would ride on the platform, holding onto the rope strung from the winch to the back.

The Road Toad's life was short and forgotten.  It was only released by Hasbro and never saw any international releases beyond Hasbro controlled territories.  While it would have been nice to get a gun mount that wasn't orange, the rest of the Road Toad's colors were well done enough that there's no real reason for a repaint.  In the 2000's Hasbro kind of shied away from items like the Road Toad.  But, truth is, items like the Night Landing Craft were just as silly as the Road Toad.  They were just poorly executed.  While collectors of that time would have left a repainted Road Toad to rot on the shelves, I would have enjoyed at least one more take on the little platform.

Road Toads are cheap.  Boxed versions can be had for around $20 or so.  Loose versions can be purchased for as little as $5. The missiles are easy to lose and the gun is easy to break.  But, that's about it.  You can even supplement the include short rope with something longer if you're so inclined.  But, there's not much to the Road Toad and the cheap modern pricing also pretty much insists that every collector own one.  For me, the Road Toad is the quintessential toy.  It's fun to play with, has lots of uses and really makes no sense.  But, it was these little items that allowed for so much latitude in the vintage Joe line and are the primary reason why it still resonates so well today.

1987 Road Toad, Dodger, Battleforce 2000, 1994 action Sailor

1987 Road Toad, Dodger, Battleforce 2000, 1994 action Sailor, Rumbler, Knockdown, Sneak Peek, Backstop, 1983 Wolverine


  1. Yes! Finally some appreciation for the Road Toad. I've long viewed this vehicle as essential to any GI Joe vehicle collection. Sure, it's nothing as fancy as, say, a Mauler or Mean Dog, but it has flair and a clearly defined role. Cool to see you picked this as your new weekly profile!

    1. Glad you liked it! It's a great toy. I need to find a couple of others just to have a few of them available. But, to me, it was little toys like this that made the bigger vehicles that much more useful.

  2. I've had a major soft spot for the Road Toad ever since I acquired it in a trade in college. Paired it with a Desert Fox I acquired a little while afterwards.

  3. The review of the Road Toad reminds me of this out of place editorial comment on the derelict fan site call yojoe dot com regarding the commercial for Buzz Boar, Road Toad and Coastal Defender:
    "This commercial features three of the most ill-conceived, worst vehicles ever created during the initial twelve year run of G.I.Joe. Even still, the strength of the exciting commercial almost makes you forget that these toys are awful."

    What the heck is that?

  4. This is definitely a forgotten vehicle! I have no recollection of it. So it's basically a tow-able battle winch? Wow.