"Moichandising!" – Yogurt, Spaceballs
From The Lone Ranger and Lassie, to Friends and Seinfeld, as long as there’s been television, there’s been merchandising. And so it was with Automan. But if you lived in the United States in 1983, chances are you didn’t see any at your local toy store.
"A prophet is respected everywhere except in his hometown." - Mark 13:57
As a toy collector, there’s an interesting phenomenon I’ve noticed about 80s American action/adventure shows: they're vastly more popular and well-loved abroad than they are here. If only that were true about Americans in general. Maybe we should elect Mr. T as our next President.
I'm not sure exactly why that is, but the result is that many well-known - and some not so well known - 80s shows were extensively merchandised overseas and, yet, we saw next to nothing here in the States. In terms of Automan merchandise, it seems to have been primarily, if not exclusively, released in the UK. Here's a rundown of some of the more interesting items available.
The Automan action figure – Action figures have long been a staple of merchandising, whether it be movies, cartoons, or live-action TV shows, and it’s not just limited to genre shows like Automan. Even sitcoms like Happy Days and Welcome Back, Kotter had their own line of "action" figures (it was the 70s, gang).
Like most Automan merchandise, the action figure was only available in the UK. Manufactured by Acamas, it stood nearly 5 ½ inches tall, had nine points of articulation, and came with no accessories (fun!). The likeness is a bit closer to Lee Majors than Chuck Wagner, but, overall, the figure captures the electro-glow look of the character.
The card back tells us to "Look for the Automan range," which isn’t where the deer and the antelope play, but a promised (yet never delivered) line-up of other figures based on Walter, Capt. Boyd, and Lt. Curtis. There isn’t a photo, but there is an illustration and, as you can see, they look positively exciting.
The figure appears to be somewhat rare. A check of eBay showed two auctions here in the U.S., each for a loose (un-carded) figure, with one listed with a "buy it now" price of $149 and the other $225. Neither example was mint/near mint and showed moderate-plus wear. My guess is that would put a mint, loose figure somewhere North of $300.
There were two more examples available in UK auctions, each carded, with one being listed as being MONMC (mint on near mint card) with a buy it now price of $455 U.S.
The Automan costume – It looks like your standard boxed 70s/80s Halloween costume, but given that it's listed on the back of the action figure's card as an "Automan Costume Set", I'm guessing this wasn't so much a Halloween costume as a year 'round role play outfit.
I'm not sure if the costume is made with any sort of reflective material, but it is outlined in white to help give it that halo effect. An interesting note is that Acamas re-used their mold for the Luke Skywalker Halloween costume mask to save money. I'm sure a lawsuit by Lucasfilm is forthcoming.
Finally I have to mention the box art. It's really eye-catching, with the sharp Automan logo and a cool shot of the Autocar and the Autocopter, but take a look at the illustration of the kid in the costume next to the picture of Chuck Wagner. Is that Automan or Mr. Spock?
The Automan video game – Made by Bug Byte (that's cute) for the Commodore 64 system. An Automan video game seems like a natch, right? It must be fairly rare, as my searches only turned up a handful of main menu screen shots and no reviews or videos.
[Edit from Noel: I did manage to find a brief clip of gameplay. Go to the 6:21 mark in the video below and shudder in horror for the next couple of minutes. Seriously, this looks awful and has jack all to do with Automan.]
[Further edit from Noel: Gah, video removed. But still leaving my line above in as it's referenced in comments below.]
The Automan car – This appears to be the rarest of the officially licensed Automan toys; a 5" battery operated replica of the AutoCar. According to 80sKID, there are only two known examples in existence.
The rest of the merchandising seems to have centered around various role playing toys of dubious tie-in logic, such as binoculars, a briefcase, a watch that shoots a whirly helicopter blade, and a money set. "Hey, kids! Now you can make it rain just like Automan!" What a genius concept, eh? Paying real money for fake money.
These were manufactured by Ja-Ru, a still operating toy company that specializes in cheap toys sold primarily at supermarkets.
So as you can see, if you're an Automan fan, you've got some interesting collectibles to choose from. But you'd better have some Auto-cash, and a lot of patience, on hand.
- Automan, episode 1
- Automan, episode 2 "Stayling Alive While Running a High Flashdance Fever"
- Automan, episode 3 "The Great Pretender"
- Automan, episode 4 "Ships in the Night"
- Automan, episode 5 "Unreasonable Facsimile"
- Automan, episode 6 "Flashes and Ashes"
- Automan, episode 7 "The Biggest Game in Town"
- Automan, episode 8 "Renegade Run"
- Automan, episode 9 "Murder MTV"
- Automan, episode 10 "Murder, Take One"
- Automan, episode 11 "Zippers"
- Automan, episode 12 "Death by Design"
- Automan, episode 13 "Club Ten"
- Automan pilot novelization
- Automan, final thoughts