1985 Armadillo

Growing up, selecting a group of friends to invite to a birthday sleepover was always a juggling act.

When I turned ten in 1987, I decided to only invite three friends, starting with my best friend, Donny. I also invited Carlos, who had been a friend for as long as I could remember. He was one of the smaller guys in our class, funny, social and generally just fun to be around. And I invited the coolest kid in our grade.

Brent was the youngest of four brothers, the best hockey player our age, had a babyface, and could cut people apart with jokes about their mom. But it wasn’t a big stretch for me to invite him. We were in the same grade three class, the year before, and sat together, becoming good friends. We still hung out at recess frequently, and I had been to his house. I remember he had access to a weight bench in his basement, and we talked about how much we could bench press. You know, just like all nine year olds do.

For my birthday, I planned what we were going to do: eating pizza, watching movies and playing with GI Joes. We went to the store and picked out three flicks: Grunt, Terminator, and something called Annihilators. But after pizza, cake and a few minutes of our first movie, my agenda was thrown out the window. I was not great with spontaneity but I learned to roll with the punches that night.

Our GI Joe battle was interrupted for extended periods while we watched Hockey Night in Canada and Saturday Night’s Main Event, and we only finished one movie (Terminator) before pulling out our sleeping bags.

My friendship with Brent ebbed and flowed over the following years. We were only in the same class twice, and that had an impact. We also never played on the same hockey team. We hung out together at a few parties with girls in grade six, but those parties always seemed to evolve into the boys picking on someone for laughs, and the mean-spiritedness was sometimes grating.

By the time my family moved out of town, in grade seven, we weren’t particularly close anymore. He was nice enough to me, but I never got the impression us being friends mattered much to him, and there was always going to be a shelf-life on our friendship, with my family moving to Yellowknife in 1990, and his family leaving the territory a few years after that.

Regardless of changes in plans, my sleepover party was fun. Brent seemed more mature than us, though, the impact of having three older brothers, I’m sure, but at times that night we were just kids scrounging through a toy trunk full of GI Joes and trading the vehicles and guys between ourselves.

He and I were a team, setting up our bases, watchtowers and snipers in the hallway outside my bedroom. And Donny and Carlos were the opposition, with the TV room in the basement as their team’s home base.

I’m not sure Brent still played with toys, or ever had before, because he didn’t know anyone’s names or what guns went with which figures. But he contributed something more valuable to the mythology of my GI Joe-centric childhood. Before that day, my creativity was mostly limited to drawing pictures, creative writing in class, playing with Legos and coming up with play scenarios for my Joes.

As Brent and I were setting up our defenses, he asked me if we had any masking tape.

He used the tape to attach unrelated parts and weapons to the Killer Whale, which was just a junker by then, the black float with the top part detached. The other vehicle he modified was the Armadillo mini-tank. He popped out the turret and used the tape to reattach it an inch or so higher, resting above the main vehicle. It no longer had access to rotating cannons, but the tank was small and nimble, and simply rotated whenever it needed to fire on a target. And it created better cover for the figures we placed on the pegs, behind the driver.

It was arguable that his creation was any better than the original tank, and after he left I may have removed the tape and slotted the turret back down in its original location. But it opened the door for future modifications, such as putting a hatch over the driver, and various kitbashes of other vehicles from broken and spare parts. Even just playing with toys, he was a trendsetter.

Although he was a friend for years, opening my brain to more creative inspirations for my Joes was one of his biggest contribution to my world.

The Armadillo was almost famous from its first comic appearance, hanging from the Dragonfly as Flint sprung onto a roller coaster to battle Xamot in GI Joe #37.

GI Joe’s mini-tank arrived in my collection on Christmas morning, 1985, part of an embarrassingly epic Christmas haul that year, along with the Transportable Tactical Battle Platform and Silver Mirage, and the giant Autobot, Omega Supreme. The Armadillo became a staple of every land-based mission – part of the armada that usually included the Mobat, Toss ‘n Cross, Mauler and Havoc. But it also fit into sea battles, through a position on the TTBP, and it flew across enemy lines underneath the Dragonfly or Tomahawk.

The most frequent drivers were Footloose, Bazooka and Lady Jaye, but it was also a great vehicle for sneaking inconveniently dressed Joes like Quick Kick and Blowtorch onto the battlefield. And it found a revitalization in my collection after my 10th birthday party, when it was already one-and-a-half years old.

As a toy, the Armadillo is fun, just like the Ram, Polar Battle Bear, Sky Hawk and Devilfish. It has a sportiness to it that not all tanks demonstrate, being open-air (like a convertible). It’s four cannons provide solid firepower in cramped spaces and it can carry more figures than some of the bigger vehicles, like the Mobat, through its footpegs.

The front moulding is the highlight, and the level of detail is something that was destined to disappear from similarly sized vehicles in future years. There are some issues about practicality and realism, but the muted military colours helped suspend my disbelief.

Looking back, it’s almost a shame that it didn’t make more waves in repaints, apart from the modified, Slaughter’s Marauders version. It would have looked great in Tiger Force colours. But everything looks great in Tiger Force colours, and they couldn’t repaint the whole toyline for one subset…

The unmoving tracks on the side, and the motion provided by wheels on the bottom, reminds me of the Wolverine. And I have no objection to cutting those kinds of corners on some of the smaller vehicles. GI Joe was a giantly ambitious toyline, and there had to be some lower priced toys with high play-value.

The Armadillo was always one of my favourite vehicles, from the time it entered my collection on Christmas morning in 1985, until the day it left my collection, when I sold off the bulk of my Joes for hockey card money in 1991. It had been played with hard during that time, but it hadn’t aged a day, apart from some remnants of masking tape around the turrets. And it was also one of my first purchases when I started collecting again, 20 or so years later.

It’s just been here, in my office, on one of my display shelves ever since. And I think of one of my childhood friends whenever I see it.

7 replies on “1985 Armadillo”

I got the Armadillo in early 1985. Before I even had a Flint. But, on the night I got Tomax and Xamot, the Armadillo rolled out as the only choice to battle them.

From there, it remained a pretty constant presence in my collection. It was durable, transportable and packed the type of firepower I preferred when playing. So, it went along on voyages to my grandparents’ homes and even on small vacations. As late as 1987, it was still a staple and played a major part in the final adventure I had with my two friends down the street that fall. The following spring, when we were playing soccer, I found an Armadillo with Heavy Metal in the bushes that we had forgotten about when we cleaned up the massive battle several months prior.

As for the memories with friends, in 1985, I had two good friends with whom I could play Joe. One lived near enough to ride my bike over and we had epic battles. The other was too far for a ride. So, I went there less often, but we talked on the phone daily.

In 1986, though, it all faded away. The closer friend’s mother decided he was too old for toys and gave all his Joe away. He went to cotillion and had other interests. The other friend kind of kept his figures. But, his parents focused him on tennis and piano. And, that took all his time.

I remained casual friends with the tennis player through high school. But, the other friend went to the same college as me and I didn’t know it until I ran into him between classes.

I replaced them with two kids down the street from me. We played Joes through 1987 and kind of outgrew them at the same time. (They actually left their entire collection at my house as they didn’t care about it any more.) We saw each other every day. But, as we all got to high school, we drifted apart, too. Despite their parents remaining great friends with my parents (to this day, in fact!), I haven’t seen either of them since, probably, 1992.

One thing about Joe, though, is that is helps retain those memories. I can look at the cover of #51 and remember a friend spending the night the week it came out. I remember reading issues #12-#15 at a friends right after Christmas when he and his brother had all the G1 Transformers they had just gotten (it was the whole line!) laid out on their bedroom floor. The toys help me recollect people and events that, otherwise, would likely be long gone. And, that’s a big reason why they remain important to me.

Absolutely, Mike. Thank you for sharing!

I sometimes wonder if any of my old friends are back into collecting GI Joe the way I am. I don’t really know any of them, anymore. I’ve changed so much and I imagine they have too. But I love how the toys help me recall the memories of how we all were as children, before all the shit that goes on with being an adult.

I recently picked up the Armadillo from my local vintage toy store. It was a toy my friend owned when we were kids. We played with it constantly. It was perfectly deco-ed for backyard adventures/missions. This tank is tiny. And dwarfed by things like the Havoc. But…two weeks since I bought it…I can’t put it away. It is pure nostalgia. I’m sure the little boy version of myself couldn’t tell how tiny the tank was. And that’s okay. I was poor. My folks were never going to afford the Mauler. But with the Armadillo in hand, I never knew what knew what I was missing.

Like you, I have always wondered if any of my childhood friends are into collecting Joe nowadays. Seems unlikely to me. This is a very niche hobby. And I’ve lost touch with .my old buddies. But maybe one of them found their way back to the hobby. 🤷‍♂️ And maybe one of them picked up the Armadillo and remembered all those backyard missions too. I can only hope. Nostalgia is a powerful (and wonderful) time machine.

The Armadillo is one of the better vehicles in the line. Sure it’s comically undersized, but it’s A. incredibly fun as a toy and B. is dressed up in the military “realism” of G.I. Joe that it’s not looked at the same way the LCV Recon Sled or Battle barge are looked at as.

I love the way you have the TTBP set up, too!

It’s funny, I don’t remember playing with G.I. Joes with friends from school too much, it would happen sometimes, but nobody was as crazy about as I was. I do remember playing hockey with a kid, who while we didn’t play Joes together, we did talk about them a lot.

He was the only person I knew who had a Dragonfly (I still haven’t ever had one!), and his description of it really made me want one. He wasn’t fooling either, because he showed me the blueprints and Wild Bill, so it wasn’t just some bragging that wouldn’t ever be called upon.

Thanks for stopping by, as always.

I think I was lucky being in a small town with a neighbourhood full of kids my age, and we all influenced each other and what we were into. I had one friend that was as obsessed as me and we would play whenever we got together, a few in the next tier down who liked and collected GI Joe but it wasn’t necessarily their favourite toyline, and I’d drag others into it whenever they came to my house. I don’t remember too many kids bragging about what they had at school, although there was a kid who lived a few blocks away who apparently had a Night Raven. Never saw it, myself, but I also never went to his house, so who knows for sure. Even with a Night Raven sitting on my shelf in front of me right now, I’m not fully convinced it exists.

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