When the casual observer hears the word “Voltron,” he definitely thinks of the famous robot that was formed from five lions; however, those of us who watched the show religiously every afternoon know that “Voltron” can be either one of two robots: the famous lion robot and one made of many vehicles (and the truly hardcore know there was a third Voltron, but I’ll get to that later).
The vehicle Voltron snuck up on the country as quickly as the lion Voltron did. One day, we were sitting down to watch the mighty Voltron fight King Zarkon and Prince Lotor and the next, there were a bunch of people we’d never seen and a completely different robot. This one had fifteen characters to follow, all of whom made up a Voltron force that fought against the Drule empire. It was kind of like a mash-up between Voltron and Robotech, and it would have made sense if it seemed like it had anything to do with the other series (like Robotech did — each series took place after the other), but there didn’t seem to be much of a connection except that both robots were named Voltron and the people who piloted the vehicles were cheap knock-offs of characters on the other show.
So the introduction of the vehicle Voltron after the lion Voltron never really actually ended seemed abrupt, like they were interrupting everything to push something else on me, or trying to Coy and Vance me. I think that’s one of the reasons this one never caught on; the other was that with fifteen characters behind fifteen parts of Voltron, it was really hard to remember who was who. Sure, there was a land, sea, and air team that altogether formed the mighty robot, but whereas I could recite the entire lion transformation scene and knew exactly who I wanted to be when we “played Voltron” on the playground, telling my friends that I wanted to be “Cliff” from the land team seemed really awkward.
But I did watch it and I did have at least a couple of the toys that Matchbox put out. One was a small vehicle Voltron that was about the size of Optimus Prime. It didn’t move at all and had one removable part–the red glider on the front came off. I’m pretty sure I lost that red glider right after I took it to a kid’s birthday party and accidentally dropped it on the slate floor of his foyer and knocked its right leg off.
The larger-sized Voltron with fifteen separate pieces was a little more versatile because not only could you form the large robot, but each of the land, sea, and air teams had their own deluxe “team” vehicle that could be formed. And it was plastic instead of the die-cast metal that the lion Voltron was made of, so it didn’t weigh a thousand pounds and I didn’t run the risk of denting a hardwood floor if I dropped a piece.
However, there were still no figures (and because it wasn’t as popular as the lions, Panosh Place, to my knowledge, didn’t put out a vehicle version), and aside from forming Voltron and the vehicles, there was very little you could do with the toys. His feet were made of cars, so he rolled on the floor, and his hands had firing fists, but for the most part it was just a very stiff giant robot.
Additionally, the individual pieces proved to be a complete pain in several regards. The helicopters that made up Voltron’s shoulders, while cool, had flimsy blades that broke easily. The plastic clips that held the glider to the robot’s chest usually broke so if you really wanted to pretend that you had a full Voltron, you held the glider in front of it until your hand got tired. And most of all, the pieces usually got stuck together. The “land” team deluxe vehicle, which basically looked like two fists on top of two cars, was easy to put together but the fists would always get stuck and you would have to use every single ounce of force in your body in order to get them off of the piece that held it together. In fact, in getting those fists off, I believe I broke one of the plastic clips and rendered the toy nearly useless after that. Not that it wasn’t useless before.
And you have to admit, that even though there were rocket ships, planes, helicopters, cars, and submarines, most of the vehicles in the Voltron vehicle force were pretty lame. I mean, some of the vehicles really didn’t look like any vehicle that existed in the real world, and the fully formed Voltron was so damn huge that it towered over the lion Voltron, so if you wanted them to fight one another, the lion Voltron could probably kick the vehicle Voltron in the shins or maybe stab him in the crotch with his blazing sword until he fell over. Vehicle Voltron faded away as quickly as the “Lionbot” toys did in favor of G.I. Joe and a re-interest in my Star Wars toys (because they were the same size as my Joes), and to this day, the toys were a bit of a disappointment and to me represent wasted potential.
Post-Script: Voltron II?
So at some point in my childhood, I was in one of those also-ran toy stores, like Child World, and on an aisle endcap was a shelf full of something called “Voltron II” that had a weird-looking robot. I never owned it, although I was always curious about it, especially since when Matchbox put out their vehicle and lion Voltrons, they called the vehicle Voltron “Voltron I” and the lion “Voltron III,” which was even weirder because the lion cartoon came out first.
According to Wikipedia, the Voltron II toy was also going to have a series and that series was going to be based on a Japanese anime series called Lightspeed Electro God Albegas. The premise was:
Three talented students of a technical high school, Daisaku, Tetsuya and Hotaru create award-winning robots as part of a school competition. At this time, the evil Derinja race that plans control of all space extends its ambitions to Earth. To combat this threat, Hotaru’s father, Professor Mizuki, takes the three robots and modifies them for battle. Albegas, a super robot, is born.
But the show never aired because the lion Voltron was hugely popular and nobody gave a crap about the vehicle Voltron, the company distributing the American Voltron cartoon simply ordered new lion cartoons. A quick search for “Voltron II” on eBay sees a complete, boxed set starting at $100.