Monday, July 8, 2024

1985 Crankcase

The 1985 series of Joe figures were released during the apex of my childhood.  Nearly every kid in my class played with Joes.  It was a binding force for boys of our year.  By the spring of 1986, though, most of the other kids were outgrowing toys.  But, 1985 was that magical time when you could find common ground with any kid of similar age by bringing up G.I. Joe.  Everyone knew the characters.  And, even  if you had most of the same toys, the line was vast enough that most people had something you didn't.  Among my friends, we had some not always friendly competition over finding new toys.  We'd then take them over to each  other's homes to both show them off and also enjoy the new items together.  This cemented the memories of many acquisitions and tied them to locations and people.  To this day, I can  remember the huge white cabinets at the bottom of my one friend's basement stairs where all his Joes were kept.  And, I haven't been in that house in nearly 40 years.  But, that's the power that the 1985 line had on me.

I found the mid-sized Joe vehicles in the summer of 1985.  I don't recall if I first acquired the Snow Cat or the AWE Striker.  But, they were both added to my collection during that summer.  While the Snow Cat would find itself in the thick of my Joe convoys, though, the AWE Striker didn't catch quite the same attention.  The reason for this, though, was entirely of my own doing.  Early in my ownership of the AWE Striker, I had it outrun some Cobra missiles and take cover under my younger brother's bed.  The clearance under the bed was just not quite the same as the height of the AWE Striker.   And, as I had the vehicle race the missiles and zip under the bed at full speed, I stripped the cannon right off the top of the jeep.  While the bracket on the gun's pivot wasn't completely broken, it was stressed badly.  And, after that, the large gun never did anything but sag towards the ground or the sky.  And, it fell off as I tried to move the vehicle around our toy room.  So, the AWE Striker didn't have much of a life in my collection.

Crankcase, though, did.  I'm not sure why he so resonated with me.  Clutch had been my favorite figure of the original 13.  Crankcase's role as a small vehicle driver was similar to Clutch's.  So, I might have given Crankcase some benefit of the doubt due to Clutch's importance to my early Joe playing days.  We also didn't have a swivel arm Clutch figure.  So, as I didn't use straight arm figures due to their limitations, I was missing an iconic vehicle driver who could operate the multitude of small Joe vehicles that now comprised my mechanized divisions.  As Crankcase was cool looking, featured nice colors, had decent accessories and had a memorable face, he fit into this niche rather nicely.  And, since vehicle drivers were often called into battle after their vehicle had been disabled, Crankcase found himself involved in most of the pivotal moments in any play scenario.

The real testament to Crankcase's quality was the fact that he was a rare figure in my childhood collection who was able to survive the loss of his accessories.  For some reason, the rifle that came with my childhood Crankcase was weak and the stock quickly broke off.  As the weapon was ruined anyways, I then snipped off the clip with a nailclipper in the vain hopes that I could repurpose it as a pistol.  This ruined it even further.  And, I lost one of the coolest guns of my childhood collection.  To make matters worse, I also misplaced Crankcase's helmet.  When I was a kid, my parents kept a brown plastic tub near the back door for dirty shoes.  For some reason, I had it in my head that Crankcase's helmet was in the bottom of this tub, mixed among the clumps of mud.  Since I thought I knew where the helmet was, I didn't really look for it for several weeks.  When I finally did, the helmet was not there.  And, my childhood Crankcase went bareheaded until he was packed away in 1988.  

Despite this, though, Crankcase endured.  He would drive the VAMP, Awe Striker, Silver Mirage and sometimes find himself in the 2nd seat of the Mauler.  In 1986, I discovered that Hawk's small pistol looked great with Crankcase.  And, it was of the right size to have been pulled from the holster on Crankcase's leg.  I was fortunate in that we had two General Hawks in my childhood collection.  So, we had a spare pistol I could give to Crankcase.  (I also happened to prefer Hawk using Leatherneck's M-203.)  To this day, I often photograph Crankcase with Hawk's pistol.  And, there is even a spare 1986 pistol sitting in my drawer of 1985 figures that is always meant for Crankcase.

I see Crankcase as a natural heir to the role that Clutch originally filled in the Joe team.  He has a design that both denotes a bit of casualness.  But, unlike the more reckless Clutch, Crankcase seems like he's more polished and professional in his duties.  You could count on Crankcase to get the job done.  But, he wasn't going to do something crazy that might or might not work.  This reliability made him indispensable to the team.  He was the perfect backup player to work with my preferred main characters as he wouldn't steal the spotlight.  But, was essential at crucial moments.  Plus, he looked good with the 1985 through 1987 figures that dominated my late childhood collection.

One area where I also found Crankcase was in the Action Force comic books.  My local comic book store had started stocking Action Force.  So, I had access to most of the issues of the run.  Action Force books all featured original stories that were exclusive to the book and not, otherwise, available in the U.S.  The fun part was that they often featured characters who didn't have the spotlight in the reprinted Marvel Comics that also comprised parts of each issue.  My first issue was #9.  In that issue, there was a unique story that focused on Flint and Lady Jaye.  However, Crankcase was there, moving blast shields around them to ensure only three people died if Flint couldn't defuse a bomb.  Seeing him featured like this was a treat since he didn't have a real role in the Marvel comic.  And, I suppose I've always had a thing for obscure characters who happened to have figures that resonated with me.

The thing about Crankcase is that, upon first glance, he looks rather basic.  He's got a green shirt and tan pants: nothing very special.  But, upon closer inspection, the figure features 8 different colors.  Even among vintage Joes, that's a high number.  He features a variety of small details that bring little splashes of color to him.  These paint masks would have make Crankcase an expensive figure to make.  His gear only adding to that cost.  But, this tells the story of how popular Joe was in 1985.  Hasbro could afford to make a vehicle driver as intricate as a carded figure that would have been available on a card.  This, of course, would change in just a couple of years.  But, the 1985 vehicle drivers might be best designed figures that were meant as packs in in the line's history.

Crankcase was available in 1985 and 1986 as the AWE Striker driver.  Starting in 1987, though, Crankcase began his life as a mail away figure.  Here, Crankcase found a long life.  In fact, massive overstock of bagged Crankcase figures were available from Hasbro Canada in 1999.  You can find mail away Crankcase figures bagged with a red backed filecard or with no filecard at all.  The retail figure and some mail aways feature different country of origin stamps, different rivets and slight color variants.  Crankcase's legs appeared on Major Storm in 1990.  In 2003, Crankcase's rifle appeared in gold on early samples of convention Major Storm figures.  There was also a listing that appeared in the Toys R Us computers that was named "AWE Striker with Crank".  When the toy appeared, though, Crank was long gone and replaced with a re-release of the 2002 Dial Tone figure.  

Crankcase figures have gotten pricey in recent years.  Mint and complete versions will run between $20 and $25.  Oddly, you can get a nicely conditioned AWE Striker along with a complete Crankcase for about $15 more.  So, that's probably the way to go.  Crankcase figures can be had for $7 or $8.  The real value seems to be in the rifle.  They usually run about $10.  That's a far cry from a couple of years ago when the rifles were a buck or two each.  But, Joe accessories have really climbed in price since 2020. So, you're now paying premium prices for even common gear. But, since Crankcase was such a large part of my childhood collection, I'd probably pay the prices for him.  As 1985 figures, he's still among the cheaper options.  And, if you don't want the rifle (you do, though, want the rifle!) his price makes him a no-brainer.  

1985 Crankcase, AWE Striker, Footloose, Flint, 1988 Swampmasher, Funskool Tunnel Rat

1985 Crankcase, AWE Striker, Heavy Metal, 2008


  1. Apparently there's early concept art that shows the figure that became Crankcase with radio gear, sans AWE Striker, and there are elements of his design (especially his helmet) that are similar to Sparks from the cartoon. Further, a Sunbow memo exists that states "There is no figure named Sparks anymore" which suggests that a Sparks figure was planned at some point. Add to that the fact that Crankcase is one of the very few 1983-86 Joes to never appear in the cartoon (he's briefly seen in the Movie, but never the show), and it's very possible that his figure was initially planned as a carded release for Sparks. Perhaps that would explain why he has a higher number of paint apps than even other 1985 drivers.

  2. Yeah, pretty crazy the price for accessories these days. Makes sense though, since they're smaller than a figure, thus easier to lose, and in your example, to break. Honestly, unless the weapon is extremely iconic to the character (Flash, Rock n' Roll etc.), I'm more than happy to order from They got some great gear over there, and the prices are a lot cheaper, than a vintage weapon, some less than a dollar a piece!

  3. Such a great figure. Later driver figures seemed like such low-efforts/low cost affairs. And so telling the first 25th/modern Crankcase release was such kitbashed junk. Hasbro phoned it in with pack-ins then, too.

  4. What a wonderful love letter to Crankcase. I especially enjoy these childhood stories.

  5. For the longest time, I thought the AP helmet was his real helmet, mainly for a lack of paying attention. Though, once I found out the right one was grey, I never really felt the need to replace it, since the brown helmet looks much more natural with him, oddly enough.

    The sweater is a little odd, but not displeasing. 1985 was 9 years before my existence, but I also feel like this was the apex of the line without having any nostalgia for it. As much as I love 'em, pretty much every figure released in 1988 looks worse than Crankcase, and that's mostly the case for '93 and '94 too.

  6. Very nice write-up for an overlooked and under appreciated vehicle driver! My most vivid memories of Crankcase were back in 1999/2000 when I went through my first cycle of becoming a vintage collector late in high school. I acquired the AWE Striker and Crankcase and was immediately drawn to the figure - the design and colors were great. He was a very versatile figure and for whatever reason reminded me of British troops from WW2 movies. I feel he could have been a vehicle driver, infantry, an officer, special forces just based on his design and accessories. His gun is one of my favorites from the whole run as well. I think it really is a testament to how strong that 85/86 run of GI Joe was that such a great figure chocked full of paint apps, details could go underappreciated.