Long before Bear Grylls ate anything and everything that moved in a jungle environ and constructed some impromptu overnight accommodation from his own spleen, Action Man was surviving in all manner of hostile surrounds. From the nation’s suburban back gardens and makeshift treehouses to school playing fields and the back of your dad’s MkII Ford Cortina on a trip to Rhyl Suncentre. And living to tell the tale; albeit once we’d put his head back on.  The one sporting his notoriously ‘flocked’ barnet that is, which was introduced in 1970 (as a birthday treat, perhaps), which was followed some six years later by the advent of Action Man’s ‘eagle eyes’; which were said to resemble real optical extremities. Yet the transformation wasn’t fully complete until 1978, when Action Man re-appeared with a new, muscular physique – constituting moulded blue trunks and a sharp tan – and could now manage more ‘complex’ poses thanks to its revised and increasingly versatile body.

action man

Unfortunately this isn’t the whole, unadulterated story though, because as a kid growing up in the late 70s I myself wasn’t allowed anywhere near Action Man, even with a barge pole. So you can imagine the restraining order that Barbie placed on me. It wasn’t because my parents were anti-war or owt you understand; just that they considered Action Man to be too expensive. Bit like BMXs. Hence them buying me a 1976-spec Chopper for Christmas 1982 rather than the Raleigh Chrome Burner I had explicitly asked Santa bollocks to deliver. Still, being packed off to my very northern nan’s each school holiday meant I met up with the her neighbour’s son. Who had Action Man coming out of his ears. More Action Men than he knew what to do with. Although that never stopped him placing them in all manner of peril-filled scenarios/compromising positions. I used to love stopping at me nans. She also had one of the country’s first BMX tracks nearby too, which was handy for me and my Chopper.

Anyway, apart from being a spooky, swivel-eyed loon dressed in camo and looking like Sly Stallone in The Expendables in EVERY ill-fitting guise, Action Man was afforded whatever vehicle he so desired. By his manufacturer, Palitoy that is, not by me, as I didn’t have an Action Man. Which of course you’d know if you had been paying attention. Me very northern nan’s neighbour’s spoilt brat of a son DID though, so once again I got my hands on an (army) surplus of military-inspired automotive kit and caboodle every time I was dropped off for my Easter, Whit and summer jollies. From Sea Wolf Submarines to Pursuit Crafts, I had access to some of the most adventure-encouraging means of transportation known to (Action) Man. However, one outstanding question remains on everyone’s lips to this very day, and one I seek to answer here and now. That eternal poser being just WHICH of the pube-haired man of danger’s all-terrain crossover vehicles was best. So here it is, for the first time anywhere (on MotorPunk anyroad), a sort of compendium of the Top 8 Action Man Vehicles, ever.

sea wolf

Sea Wolf Submarine (Action Man NOT included) – This baby could dive and resurface again courtesy of a small hand pump. And when I say ‘dive’, I mean having the ability to survive in depths well beyond those which a Casio Data Bank wristwatch could. Have you any idea just how much fun this was in a bath of a suburban semi in 1978? No, then keep your sarcastic opinions to yourself then.

beach head assult

SAS Beachhead Assault (Action Man NOT included) – Essentially a rubber dinghy which came complete with a tent canopy, two oars and an outboard motor. YES. An actual working outboard motor (albeit kiddie fiddling size). You also got some sort of assault rifle, an army issue life-jacket and a shovel thrown in for good measure too. Not entirely sure if the shovel was included for buried treasure unearthing or neatly disposing of Barbie’s long-time beau (and Action Man’s chief love rival), Ken.

amphicat

Amphicat (Action Man NOT included) – Originally billed as ‘Action Transportation for Daring Adventures’ there’s no denying that the Amphicat was pure boy’s own stuff and purported to be capable of transcending water and religion. Looked a bit like a golf cart only with 2 additional wheels and was of a similar construct to the more superior Power Hog (which has been overlooked on this occasion on the grounds that it was too obvious), minus the tail-mounted winch and bonnet-strapped pick and spade. Don’t be fooled by its simplicity though, as this roving rig could conquer ANY terrain (and Barbie’s heart).

scorpion tank

Scorpion Tank (Action Man NOT included)– This was the daddy of the Action Man military-inspired vehicular fleet in my book, and from what I vaguely recall afforded the positively beside themselves late-70s youngster a real hatch opening for two Action Man Soldiers, moving tracks and a revolving turret; which all-in-all added real excitement to the armoured division. In spite of the casual observing of the regulatory disclaimer on the packaging reading, ‘These illustrations are fictional and literal interpretation is not intended’ any 8-year old boy was still staring down the barrel of role play nirvana. Besides which, the flip side of the same Scorpion Tank box revealed the identity of the putative adversary that we had been advised were of a fictional nature. Who seemed to be driving some kind of semi half-track vehicle with a top-mounted missile or machine gun turret, and therefore posed no threat to our plans for domination. Fools.

pursuit craft

Pursuit Craft (Action Man NOT included) – This was like a micro-light before micro-lights had even been invented and was just ace. Not least because it was four different transporters in one fantastic multi-role play vehicle. Yet despite an identity crisis on par with that of a Talbot Matra Rancho, in the event the Pursuit Craft embraced the multifunctional disciplines of an exciting seaplane, rugged Land Car, VTOL (vertical take-off and landing, like dur!!) aeroplane and a sea craft. And ostensibly looked like a Bond car with wings. Yet if any vehicle was guaranteed to get Action Man some ‘hot chick action’ in the late 1970s, then THIS was the one.

Transport Command Motorcycle and Side Car

Transport Command Motorcycle and Side Car (Action Man NOT included) – Very Indiana Jones – and bolstered in its appeal by the inclusion of a sidecar-mounted Browning machine gun and ammo box – the Motorcycle and Side Car combo was ideally suited for the school playing fields, thanks to it being able to detach and subsequently being then secreted in coat pockets until play time. One of the bonuses of this package was that the bike came with a leaflet detailing the history of despatch riders and the role they played in wartime conflict. Which sounded really cool and brave and muddy and all the things it should be.

capture copter

Capture Copter (Action Man NOT included)– Action Man was as adept in the sky as he was on his preferred adventure surface, land or on sea, and if he had to be airborne for any reason then his transportation of choice in this instance was the Capture Copter. Complete with grab button and mechanism, this one-man flight capsule with rotary blades gave Action Man some real presence in the skies (providing your 8-year old arm was strong enough to maintain the Capture Copter’s presence up there for long periods of combat). Alas me nan’s neighbour’s son’s wasn’t, so instead it spent more time floating in his bath awaiting orders.

ferret armoured car

Ferret Armoured Car (Action Man NOT included) – Other than comprising the additional kit of a Browning gun and a tow hook (the former being perfect for killing ze Germans, the latter for towing 105mm field guns – also for killing ze Germans), Action Man’s Daimler Ferret scout car was pretty much regulation short back and sides in appearance, as opposed to being some all-singing, all-dancing interchangeable vehicle. But this didn’t make a jot of difference to its overall appeal to me and my (borrowed) be-hatted Action Man military mastermind as I circumnavigated unfamiliar northern territories every school holiday spent in County Durham.

space speeder nonsense

……..Elsewhere there were other methods of transportation which no Action Man of mine (or me nan’s neighbour’s son’s) would be seen dead in; such as the Willy’s Jeep-aping get-up which I’ve largely ignored. Although old fuzznut head was inspired by US toy soldier, G.I Joe, our brave boy was resolutely British; and on that basis wouldn’t drive something which you’d find being driven across a beach in a Britney Spears’ pop video a few decades later. Nor was I impressed when more modern incarnations of Action Man took centre stage some years on from the 1970s, especially not with such vehicles as the Space Speeder, which to my mind was pointless; as Action Man could barely utter a few comprehendible words so wasn’t going to pass his astronaut exams and buzz off light years into space. Plus both the Space Speeder and the Space capsule were produced in 1970. A time when Great Britain had no manned spaceflight programme, rather like today. Action Man also had a brief flirtation with Formula One, and for some inexplicable reason ended up in a Grand Prix racing car, which sadly didn’t make him James Hunt, instead making him look very much like his namesake.

By Bateman.

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