1987 Hardtop

1987 was the last year I was fully invested in GI Joe. I collected some of the carded Cobras and most of the Joes, but I didn’t go as deep into the vehicles and playsets as in previous years. The only vehicles I owned were the Mobile Command Centre and the Eliminator, so although Fast Draw, Law, Lt. Falcon, etc. became key parts of my Joe army, few of the drivers from 1987 even registered with me.

I remember seeing the GI Joe space shuttle, Defiant, in the Sears Wishbook, in the fall of 1987. It had been built up in the comic book throughout the year, starting as a mystery underneath the Joe’s desert base in Utah that the new recruits, Chuckles and Psyche-Out, had tried to uncover.

The Defiant was a massive playset – similar in magnitude to the USS Flagg and Cobra Terror Drome. But after having my heart broken by the Flagg in 1985, and accepting missing out on the Terror Drome in 1986, I wasn’t even bothering to ask for the big GI Joe playset in 1987. Besides, the theme of modern-day space travel didn’t get me remotely excited. Battle Force 2000 notwithstanding, my Joe play was firmly grounded on earth.

I was underwhelmed by the vehicle assortment that year: oddly shaped tanks (Persuader, Maggot) and oddly shaped helicopters (Mamba), weird trailers (Road Toad, Coastal Defender), useless, motorized action packs, and a giant shuttle for flying into space to do what, exactly? There wasn’t a space station to dock on, or a Cobra shuttle to duel with. And I didn’t have any aliens in my toy collection to fill that void, apart from Star Wars figures I had retired years earlier.

The two Joes included with the Defiant were impossible to find. Two of my friends had the USS Flagg so I knew Keel Haul well enough, but no one owned the Defiant, so I had never even seen Hardtop or Payload in real life.

As you can imagine, the Defiant’s crew took on mythical status during my childhood. I’m not sure I even believed Hardtop or Payload existed, anywhere. I thought of the toys as produced on demand, and since I wasn’t even interested in the Defiant, and no one I knew owned one, I projected a belief that Hasbro hadn’t sold many of the playsets.

I should include the obligatory note that my exposure to some of the GI Joe line was limited by living in a small town with only two local retailers carrying toys. We got all the carded figures – in low volumes – and many of the small playsets and medium-sized vehicles, but none of the giant, grail pieces would have made their way to town, unless some parent had ordered them through Sears or picked them up on a shopping trip to Edmonton or Calgary.

So I had never even seen the Defiant box in-person, let alone the toy, and the only place I could imagine it existing was in a distant warehouse.

To this date, I’ve never even touched a Defiant. I’ve been in the same room as one – at Toy Traders, outside Vancouver – but most of what I know about the playset has been gleaned from Yo Joe!, 3D Joes and GI Joburg.

Because of Hardtop and Payload’s early appearances in the comic, they fit into a small group of characters that were introduced during the last big Joe year in my childhood, became part of the storyline I was following in the comic, and yet were non-factors in my Joe world because no one I knew owned them.

The 1987 Hardtop figure has solid moulding, with fine detailing on his shoulder harness, belt, holster, cuffed pants and boot knife. His face also shows some character – serious, as I expect most of my Joes to be. But the shirt’s collar and placket are poorly moulded and the paint application on his helmet looks powdery. I’ve owned two now, so I don’t believe mine has been repainted or touched up, but it isn’t the smooth, glossy finish I would expect from Joes, and it doesn’t have the feel of the white paint on his shirt, belt, holster and boots.

The blue is decent, though it could have been a touch darker, a little stronger. And it always reminds me of a baby-blue shirt I used to wear to the bars in my early-20s. He also has some black and orange splashes on him, the latter of which adds some pop to his look.

It is interesting that his lower arms are a different blue than the rest of his body. I’ve heard that some figures have different plastic in their forearms to strengthen their hands for holding accessories. And different forearm colours on certain figures are far too rampant and ubiquitous to be the impact of sun exposure.

It’s also notable that Hardtop’s hand colour is closer to his undershirt than his skin colour, so he may, or may not, be wearing gloves. I know that’s the kind of topic Joe collectors love to debate so let me know if you have an opinion.

He also has padding on his upper arms, stomach, and the sides of his legs, somewhat reminiscent of the straight-arm version of Flash. I don’t know enough about spaceship crawler drivers, in general, to comment about the relevance. Maybe that’s a standard element to their outfits…

Overall, Hardtop is a good figure – not exceptional, but well designed and well executed.

As an adult collector, the last two 1987 figures I acquired were Hardtop and Payload. I added them through separate transactions in 2016, having found the other three hard-to-find 87s in 2015.

I demonstrated a rare patience and waited to buy the Defiant’s crew until I found them at the right price, not willing to pay $100+ for 3.75” chunks of plastic. And I didn’t expect to ever complete their full accessory sets. I was watching eBay, ready to pounce when lower conditioned versions of each appeared at reasonable, buy-it-now prices. And I waited 2+ years to find them that way, patient to check the last 1987 figures from my list.

But, being a completionist, once I acquired them, I started looking for better conditioned versions with more of their original accessories.

It was around this time that I created a new collecting mantra: No half measures. I didn’t want to ever pay a premium for anything incomplete that I was going to want to complete later.

In practice, that meant I shouldn’t have bought Hardtop without any equipment, and I shouldn’t have bought Payload with just his helmet, because Hardtop’s microphone and pistol, and the control arms from Payload’s backpack, would prove elusive and eventually force me to pay premiums on more complete figures anyway.

With one fair conditioned Hardtop already in my collection, I spotted a better conditioned version on eBay Canada that came with his US filecard, pistol and impossible to find, microphone in the summer of 2017, during the months-long haze caused by zero sleep after the birth of my twins.

A guy was selling a high-quality, comprehensive collection through a series of auctions for complete figures. There was a ton of bidders and I lost out on every auction I competed on. But I lucked out when the seller contacted me about Hardtop later, the figure I had been hoping to win the most. I was the second highest bidder, and the guy ahead of me had walked away. I asked a few questions about the microphone – trying to get a sense for its authenticity – before committing. If nothing else, I thought the value of the filecard, pistol and figure covered most of my cash outlay, just in case the microphone turned out to be a phoney.

No regrets. I like having Hardtop in my collection, knowing he was a mythical figure from my childhood, and knowing how rare his pistol and microphone are. I enjoy looking over and seeing his serious, unblinking glare, and that little, white, wormy piece of plastic poking out from his earpiece, the most valuable accessory I own. But I also know that only hardcore Joe fans would recognize and appreciate this. So Hardtop hides in plain sight, the complete opposite of Tiger Force Blizzard.

7 replies on “1987 Hardtop”

I like the powder-blue get up Hardtop is wearing. He’s an odd figure, because he’s well detailed, but like you mentioned, he’s got some fairly soft sculpting. The lower arms are interesting, I’m guessing the reason the blue doesn’t match is they’re cast in flesh-tone plastic rather than blue?

My only interaction with a Defiant was at a toy store, outside of Calgary. I was surprised at how large it was, I’d never had any interest in the Defiant, and seeing it in person confirmed it, because it didn’t look like it would’ve been much fun.

The Defiant was introduced in such an interesting way in the comic and yet its big storyline was one-and-done. I can imagine seeing it in person, like you did, would have confirmed the lack of interest I felt when I saw the toy in the Wishbook.

I think I’ve grown to appreciate it more than I ever did, thanks to an excellent review on GI Joburg. The designers were clearly trying to do something epic. And I was still totally interested in toys, but GI Joe, Transformers and even some of the more recent Lego sets weren’t quite hitting me in the same ways at that time (~10 years old). If I was two years younger, maybe I would have been all-in on the Defiant.

I saw the Defiant once in the isle of our little Walmart. The box was huge! Having acquired the toy and box later in life, they are as big as I remembered. I got a reproduction mic and pistol and I’m happy with that.

I was into space Joes from the first Star Brigade. So, tracking down Hardtop and Payload were priorities for me in the late ’90’s. I got a couple of complete Hardtops for $10 each which was a mint back then. But, no one cared about them, yet.

My plan was to build a crew of 6 or 8 of them to man a Defiant. I kept just missing complete Defiants on Ebay then (they always included the figures for about $120 total!).

But, that never came to be and I have still never seen a Defiant in person. Some day, maybe. But, at this point, that would require a lottery win or something.

Great plan on the Defiant crew! That’s too bad it didn’t work out. It’s frustrating when you have a price ceiling that you think is reasonable and you’re being patient, but someone else is willing to pay just a little more. I’ve mostly backed away from going in on auctions now. Competitive nature + poor impulse control = bad combination. Maybe you will win the lotto, or you might decide to sell some foreign figures for the Defiant fund. Best hope for me is a classified listing or the local collectibles store. Of course, I’d have to find a new house to fit it in! So maybe I would have to pass…

$120 for a Defiant! $10 for Hardtop! I love hearing numbers like that. But it makes me a little sad that I didn’t go heavier into collecting earlier in life. My solace is seeing how the prices have been going up over the last few years and feeling relieved that I didn’t wait even longer.

Hardtop is a mystery to me. I was working at Toys R Us when the Defiant was released, and I made sure to buy the first one off the truck. I swear Hardtop’s lower sleeve matched the blue of the rest of his uniform, because that is def something I would have made note of. Unfortunately, I sold him in my Great O-Ring Purge of 2009. The one I have now has faded lower arms, and every single one I’ve seen since are the same. Blue seems to be a notoriously unstable color for plastic, but I’ve never seen fading as uniform between all figures as it is with Hardtop.

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