In the “Transformers” series of films, the titular robots mostly transform into General Motors cars or vehicles of Western make. Although they were originally based on two Japanese toylines, Microman and Diaclone, most of the Transformers are vehicles that are more recognisable to Western audiences, like Volkswagen Beetles (Bumblebee) and Porche 935s (Jazz).
Since 2003, there have been several lines of Transformers which had them turning into accurate, licensed models of real world cars, like Transformers: Alternators/Transformers: Binaltech and Transformers: Alternity. Those lines saw more Transformers turning into vehicles of Asian make, like Nissan GTRs (Optimus Prime in Transformers: Alternity).
But how about the original series of Transformers? Here are some Transformers from before the movies who turned into distinctly Asian vehicles. Bet you never noticed them!
1. Hino Brandlier fire truck
Optimus Prime from Transformers: Robots in Disguise (2001)/Fire Convoy from Transformers: Car Robots
Otherwise known as Fire Convoy in Japan, Optimus Prime transformed into a distinctive, boxy fire truck of Japanese make. As this was many years after the original series, car Transformers no longer had rubber tyres (they were replaced with plastic ones instead). However, Optimus Prime was notable for having rubber tyres in this release, although they don’t hold up well with age.
2. Nissan Fairlady 280Z-T police car
Prowl from Transformers: Masterpiece
You might recognise Prowl as being one of the Autobots (the protagonists in the Transformers) from the original 80’s series who transformed into a police car. He was given a recent remake in the Transformers: Masterpiece toyline, which is a toyline aimed at adult collectors. He transforms into a Nissan Fairlady 280Z-T, and he’s still a police car in this incarnation. Prowl is usually the security officer of the Autobots.
3. Mitsubishi Fuso fire truck
Inferno from Transformer: Masterpiece
Inferno is an Autobot fire truck from the original 80’s series, and he was also given a remake in the Transformers: Masterpiece line. He’s incredibly screen accurate, meaning that his toy looks just like he does in the cartoon, whether he’s in robot or vehicle mode. Inferno transforms into a Mitsubishi Fuso fire truck, which is a popular brand of fire truck. It is made by the Mitsubishi Fuso Truck and Bus Corporation, one of the largest truck manufacturers in the world.
4. Mazda RX-7
Siren from Transformers: Generation 1
Siren is a Headmaster Transformer from the original series, meaning that his head can detach and transform into a tiny robot. It was the feature of the Headmasters Transformers in 1987, and is the also the main feature of the current Transformers: Titans Return toyline. In “Transformers: The Last Knight”, the toys for Cogman and Nitro Zeus also feature similar removable transforming heads.
He transforms into a Mazda RX-7 “fire car”, meaning that he was meant to accompany a fire truck and other firefighting vehicles. In Japan, he was given a different colour scheme as a new character, Goshooter, who transformed into a police car in Transformers: Masterforce.
5. Datsun Vanette C120 ambulance
First Aid from Transformers: Generation 1
First Aid belonged to a sub-team of Autobots known as the Protectobots. The five Protectobots each had their own unique transformations, but they could combine into a larger robot known as Defensor. As they were a rescue vehicle themed team, each member became a civil defense vehicle. First Aid, in particular, transforms into a Datsun Vanette C120 ambulance.
6. Nissan 300ZX Turbo police car
Streetwise from Transformers: Generation 1
Streetwise was a Protectobot as well, and transformed into a rescue vehicle like his teammate First Aid. Streetwise became a Nissan 300ZX Turbo police car, and looked distinctly Japanese in his vehicle mode.
7. Zero Shinkansen bullet train (Shouki from Transformers: Headmasters)
8. EF-65-1000 Electric Locomotive (Getsuei from Transformers: Headmasters)
9. 200 Shinkansen bullet train engine (Yukikaze from Transformers: Headmasters)
10. Tokai-type 153 Express locomotive (Suiken from Transformers: Headmasters)
11. 485 Limited Express Electric Locomotive (Seizan from Transformers: Headmasters)
12. DE-10 diesel locomotive (Kaen from Transformers: Headmasters)
Exclusive to Japan, the six Trainbots were Autobots who transformed into various types of trains, many of them being Japanese bullet trains (shinkansen). They appeared in the Transformers: Headmasters series, and being an Autobot sub-team, they could combine into a larger robot form, Raiden.
Since they were all trains, the resulting combiner had a lanky look to him.
13. Tanuki (Japanese raccoon dog)
Heinrad from Transformers: Beast Wars Neo
While transforming into a tanuki might not be all that special (and neither is it a vehicle), Heinrad became a rather anatomically correct tanuki. You see, in Japanese folklore, tanuki are frequently depicted as having extremely large testicles. As a result, Heinrad has visible testicles on his toy itself, and is the first Transformer to have prominently featured genitalia (the second would be Devastator from “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen).
Will “Transformers: The Last Knight” have Transformers with Asian vehicle modes? It’s unlikely, since the previous few movies have mostly had Western vehicle modes for its characters. Still, with a distinctly Japanese character (Drift) as part of its main cast, its possible that we will see one of them transforming into a Japanese car soon.
“Transformers: The Last Knight” opens in cinemas:
– 22 June, 2017 (Singapore)
– 22 June, 2017 (Malaysia)
– 21 June, 2017 (Philippines)
I’m a a Singapore television scriptwriter who’s written for Crimewatch, Police & Thief, Incredible Tales, and Point of Entry. I’m also a Transformers enthusiast and avid pop culture scholar. You can find me on social media as Optimarcus and on my site.
Send me an email if you want to get in touch!