Solved mystery, personified rarity, fraud magnet, ridiculed hackney. But is the Finnish Diaclone "Black Tracks" now irrelevant and over-discussed because of attempted fraud, blurry Japanese images and crazy prices? Try telling every single Diaclone or Transformers car variant collector in the world minus ten that this toy is irrelevant, uninteresting and yesterday's news. Of course if you're not one of them, well, at least the pictures are nice. To me this is still the pinnacle, the embodiment of the appeal of this hobby. Welcome, the Finnish Takara Diaclone "Auto Robot" Corvette Stingray in black.
|Finnish Diaclone "Black Tracks"|
|"Diaclone" "Auto Robot" "Corvette Stingray"|
"Black Tracks" was released in 1984 and available through to 1985 in a special chain of kiosks in Finland called "R-Kioski" alongside a handful of other Diaclone Car Robots that were selected for the Finnish market - the Finnish market, not European, but specifically the Finnish market - and at least a Micro Change Series Browning. The other cars available that we know about, and were featured in an R-Kioski television commercial, are the Finnish Diaclone Auto Robot Ligier JS11 F1 (pre-Mirage), One Box Cherry Vanette (pre-Ironhide in red), Truck Crane (pre-Grapple) and Fire Truck (pre-Inferno). Apparently Ceji Joustra Diaclone and Diakron items were also seen at R-Kioski outlets. The packaging for all these Finnish releases had English writing on them, and were clearly marked as either "Diaclone" or "Microman", with Takara logos.
|Finnish Diaclone Auto Robots|
|Finnish Takara Corvette versus GiG Italian Corvette|
The Finnish Diaclone cars have very interesting box designs because they clearly borrow a lot of features from the GiG Auto Robot packaging, the "Auto Robot" lettering and logo for a start. There was no local branding though, they were straight up Takara releases which referenced the proper full name of the toy line "Diaclone", and the image of the Diaclone driver remained on all Finnish packaging, since Finnish Diaclones still retain virtually all first-run Japanese Diaclone moulding features (unlike a majority of the adjusted GiG/pre-rub era stuff) and Diaclone drivers. There's even reference made to the Corvette's triple-changing capabilities. Certain aspects of the Ligier's box make it clear that the Finnish template for that figure is an adjusted GiG template, but the Vanette retains a lot of Takara features. It's such a mixed bag and chronology together with direct lineage is hard to pinpoint.
|Note driver and long-stock handgun|
So the contents of the Finnish black Corvette's package are remarkably similar to that of the Japanese release, there are Corvette-mould missiles, the long-stock handgun from the box artwork and Japanese Corvette. a Diaclone driver and no giant crater dug out for safety bopper missiles. The toys come with instructions and stickersheets, no catalogue, no promotional material. The toys' copyrights are "TAKARA JAPAN" too, no dates.
|Finnish Diaclone black Corvette Stingray|
|Need more luck than any lucky draw...|
Ever since the Lucky Draw reissue Black Tracks came out, images of the Corvette pre-Tracks mould in black have lost just that tiny amount of their heart-stopping appeal, but when you consider that the number of perfectly intact Finnish Corvettes ever found number less than ten, and packaged ones less than five, the significance of what you're looking at should never be underestimated. This is still a completely unique and new colour scheme that Takara signed off for a country that could easily have remained totally untouched by Transformers, let alone Diaclone.
|Vintage G1 TF - Vintage Diaclone - Vintage Finnish Diaclone|
|TFC reissue TF - E-Hobby exclusive TF - Lucky Draw TF|
I still haven't gotten any closer to finding out why the colour scheme for the Finnish Corvette was changed. I understand why the Finnish pre-Ironhide would have been switched from black to red (Transformers production had already started by that stage and Italy had red Vanettes too), but unless this colour scheme was ready to go for the Japanese market and got canned, or released in microscopically small quantities (yet to be discovered), I have no explanation. Since red-cabbed chrome Powered Convoys were found in 2011, and an all black Japanese Diaclone Sideswipe in 2012, I feel the theory of a planned Japanese black Corvette gains weight.
|Clearly the inspiration for the reissue|
The light grey plastic of the launchers, legs, arms, accessories and robot helmet are signature features of this toy. What really catches the eye, though, is the turquoise robot face. The stickers are the same as that of all Diaclone Corvettes released in Japan and Europe, a "D" on the wings and "CS" (Corvette Stingray) on the flame stickers for the hood. The massive swirls in the light grey plastic are also a distinguishing feature of this release. Rockets fire a treat, the one that flew over my head and behind a 7 foot wardrobe bears testament to that.
|Lucky Draw reissue Black Tracks vs Finnish Diaclone black Corvette|
That turquoise face and much of the grey parts remain unique to the Finnish vintage Corvette, we can see that the reissue Lucky Draw Black Tracks has a gold face, grey collarbone section, black arms/hands, backpack and legs. The grey plastic is markedly different too. I won't rag on the rubsign, I like where it sits on all Tracks toys, and reissues being heavily influenced by - but not completely recreating the look of - vintage Diaclones is not something I would have a problem with. The reissue also has a much more green tint to the windows. I won't lie though, having a vintage black Corvette made it much easier to part with my reissue this year, a completely unthinkable scenario beforehand.
|Finnish Vettes + driver|
There have definitely been more Finnish Corvettes appearing in the last 24 months than ever before, of that there is no doubt. I have seen no less than four loose ones sold in the last year and a half alone. This is undoubtedly a result of the increasing globalisation of the hobby, the reach of the Internet into more people's everyday life and the continued rise of Transformers popularity, not to mention an increase in published material on the subject. The first one was spotted sometime in 1998/99 at a UK convention, that went to Fumihiko Akiyama and was MIB, the one that started it all, photographed in 2000 at BotCon Japan. Another loose one appeared in 2004 from a Finnish gentleman selling his childhood toy (although to my knowledge he still has it) but it was broken, however it confirmed the Finnish origin of the piece. 2005 saw another packaged one appear and it took me 8 years to procure that for myself.
|Vintage - reissue - vintage|
When I returned to the hobby in 2011 I found out a long time collecting buddy had secured one from a Finnish collector, again loose, without parts but undamaged. Another friend of mine purchased a well-known MIB specimen from a Finnish collector ahead of many other competitors in 2011, that made 5. A further boxed specimen was shown off but never sold, and four more loose examples surfaced and sold between 2012 and 2014. The total now sits at 11 by my count (we found another heavily damaged one in a Finnish collector's possession), with at least four of those damaged and four others being packaged. Amazingly, the Finnish "Black Tracks" has appeared more often - by a long long way - than any other Finnish Diaclone car. The closest competitors are the Ligier with 2 known boxed specimens and one loose, same for the Vanette.
|Believe it or not, this one's damaged|
So what is the appeal that I spoke of, then, and is it a universal appeal? No it isn't, not by a long way. To me, the fascination lies in the fact that a country previously not associated with any sort of heavyweight Transformers representation got a really special array of Takara products, all sold in a chain of small kiosks. So not just a regional exclusive, but a sort of store exclusive range of toys. And one of those toys was a very well-loved mould in completely unique and - to some - irresistible colours. There's no doubt that had Finnish collectors been more globally active in the TF community, and that if Fumihiko Akiyama had not been so secretive about the origin of his specimen, the mystery would never have had a chance to gather momentum and gain mythical status. But it did, and that mystique is inseparable from the Diaclone Black Tracks, the same way the Diaclone Blue Bluestreak remains a hallowed piece of history despite its obvious and well-known origins. The difference is, I don't think the appeal of a Blue Diaclone Fairlady could survive a reissue the way that of the Black Tracks has, but then I'm one of the few to which this toy will forever remain relevant and special. We have previous.
All the best