Bike Robo, the first Machine Robo out of the factoryThe story of Gobots began, like most of these things do, in Japan. It had pedigree right from the start. By 1982, legendary toy manufacturer Popy (who had blazed trails with their classic diecast metal Chogokin Super Robot figures – the likes of Voltes V and Tetsujin 28 are rightly still revered as masterpieces of the toy making art) had suffered a lean couple of years with the more science-fiction-based young adult-orientated likes of Macross and Gundam beginning to dominate the market. Whereas previously the company had attracted the most attractive anime and tokusatsu licences, this time they decided to cut costs by devising the robots entirely in house. Thus came the Machine Robo Series – small puzzle toys that transformed from vehicles to robots.

The 1982 Machine Robo rangeThe 2-3” figures retailed at ¥600 (the range would become known semiofficially as the '600 Series' as a result) and were made from a mix of diecast and plastic, with a dozen figures released over the first year. With their compact size and the infancy of 'pure' transforming figures, the toys were simple designs with only two or three stages to the transformations. Several figures also shared a play pattern. Generally the Machine Robo releases converted into futuristic of Popy's own design, though the fifth- Steam Robo - turned into a present day train engine. This would influence the next six figures, five of which had everyday vehicle forms.

Extract from the instruction leaflet of Highway RoboA basic mythos was constructed to support the series. The Machine Robo were protecting Earth from alien invaders in secret. The same aliens had destroyed their own dimension of Romulos and now they disguised themselves on Earth, revealing themselves to drive off threats. The story featured in several manga strips but most winningly of all was incorporated into the figures' instruction booklets, which typically started off with the vehicle under attack and ended with the transformed robot triumphant over the invader.

Commercial still showing Machine Robo DX PsychoroidAlso released under the Machine Robo banner was a curious remnant of Popy's license-driven past. They released a larger figure under the sub-banner Machine Robo DX, Psychoroid. Retailing at ¥2200 and around five inches long, this was a (rarely-seen) vehicle from the popular anime Space Cobra. However, instead of producing a simple model of the car Popy engineered a transformation and robot mode into the toy to tie in with their new line.

The first Machine Robo figures were a solid hit, and contained some of the line's most iconic figures - Cy-Kill, Cop-Tur, Fitor and Turbo were all reissues of Popy-designed toys and would feature strongly throughout the subsequent lines on both sides of the Pacific.