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On the Move with Big Jim International

Mattel’s Big Jim Action Figure line started in the US in the 1970s but continued to sell in International markets until the mid 1980s.  While Big Jim is only 9 ½” tall, the GI Joes and the time were  only 10 ½”. But both were very posable and dressable.   Big Jim was included by many of us in our backyard adventures. Even though Big Jim had some very nice vehicles in the US, there were many more made and sold only in International markets.  The vehicles in this article describe the last set of vehicles that Mattel sold.

Big Jim Condor patrol vehicle

Making a large vehicle like this is very expensive. The tooling can run $50,000 or more. Big Jim vehicles are also typcially large, so they were often manufactured in Italy to cut down the expense of shipping large boxes from China. Since labor is much more expensive in Italy, the customer was required to do most of the assembly.  Detailing and added color breaks are usually just found on a sticker sheet which can change per language.  I am pretty sure that the base part of the vehicle is the same vehicle going back as far as the black camper for “Big Jim’s Pack” and the later “Land Rover.”  The factory keeps making small tooling adjustments and adding different parts to the base that change the siloutte or play pattern.  On this Big Jim vehicle, the styling and size are very well done.  Once again, shooting weapons would have been nice, but firing missiles was more of a Kenner/Hasbro effect and the Mattel Boys Toys group seldom used projectiles in that era.  Once the missile from the Battlestar Galactica Viper became lodged in a child’s throat, in the early 1980s, Mattel was hesitant to incorporate any firing missiles. 

This truck has panels that open in the back for storage. It has guns you can pretend to shoot and even cruise missiles on top you can detach and fly around the room before hitting their target to explode.

It is interesting to note that Mattel had an unofficial plan that all vehicles would be about 7/8 scale to the figures. That base truck was also used for Barbie. That version came with a horse trailer.  For Barbie, it seemed a little small, but it helped drive the point that the figure is the prominent part of the play.  Since Big Jim was an inch and a half smaller than Barbie, when those vehicles were repurposed, they were a very good size for Big Jim.

Big Jim New Attack Vehicle

This vehicle is stylish but seems more like a  bobsled than a tracked vehicle.  I would bet this was something else originally, but I cannot find the exact reference showing it. It is just so plain. It has front guns, back jest, but its only real feature is rolling on the ground. This is a great example of Marketing and/or Sales wanting to sell to a particular price point, whether they can design a good option or not.

Big Jim Secret Central Operations Center.

It is not much to speak of except it was not expensive. One of its features is to use the rescue cage from Big Jim’s airplane and helicopters. This is attached to the winch so you can wind it up and bring a figure to the top like an elevator. The set is mostly glorified sticks and a few base pieces that stick together.  It does have a few guns to use on top, but a bookcase can make just as nice of a central operations center.  If you combined several Command Centers for a more grand scale, it would be more fun. 

Big Jim Helicopter 1985

It is very common to use the same expensive tooled vehicle but change the colors and visual cues every couple of years.  The original version of this was yellow, and this version sold at the end was made in white with different labels. This is similar to the GI Joe Adventure Team helicopter being yellow for several years until turning black with a grabbing claw to be a “Capture Copter.”  This version also has a winch and a rescue cage.  The Big Jim figure fits in well. It is a nice solid design.  To avoid the striking power of about 24” diameter blades, these were made to pop backward when hitting any real force.  Fortunately, they are easy to reset.  The helicopter was available in yellow for sure, but I suspect it may have had some other colors also; I have not finished all of my research to be sure yet.  This white version has the smokey windows, and it also includes a small pen lite that can be attached on the bottom.

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Big Jim Motorcycle 1985

This final Big Jim motorcycle uses the same base tooling as other motorcycles, but they gave it more futuristic colors and labels.  This version also has a big front cover makes it seem less like a dirt bike and more like a crotch rocket.

Big Jim Command Mobile

At the Mattel headquarters in Hawthorn and later El Segundo, the International salespeople often mentioned that household room in Europe was much smaller than in the US so accessories could not be too large and they are even better if they can collapse.  To answer this dilemma, one odd trend I have noticed in big accessories for the European Market is that they sometimes change function.  The Big Jim Command Mobile vehicle is one of those accessories.  It is a very compact vehicle – even smaller than the any of the trucks Big Jim has had over the years.  It is a fully contained mobile wagon that opens for more play, but it also transforms into a vertical “mission control centre.”

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The vehicle holds only one figure in the front cabin with windows that split open to place and remove the driver.  The back end opens with room to hold gear and reveal all the scientific equipment on the inside.  There is a radar dish on top (or you can pretend it’s a pulse laser).  When you flip the set up on its end to be vertical, it opens to be a headquarters. There is even a ladder for climbing levels and some laser cannons at the top that Big Jim can use for defense.  In this position, the split opening windows look like shielding and also allows for more access to the inside.

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This set reminds me of a later European Action Man vehicle which has a section which could slide out to be more like a headquarters and also has a large gun for fending off the enemy. In this case, the center would be used Action Mans nemesis, Dr. X, to fight off instead of Big Jim’s Dr. Obb.

Big Jim Star Stalker Mission Spacecraft

The Star Stalker is one of my all-time favorite vehicles.  The styling itself is sleek and futuristic and manages to disguise the fact that the vehicle is actually very small. There is a nice big smoked plastic canopy which fits well with the blues and grays.  From a toy company point of view, it is also very well designed as it is so small yet fun.  The best part is the play feature. In normal resting mode, the rockets on the side wings are pointing down like the jets on a Harrier Fighter Jet or the props on a Marine Osprey.  Those jets give you vertical lift.  When you squeeze the handle on the back, the jets flip up to aim backward for fast speeds. There is even a small button you can push to keep the jets in a horizontal position. If you release the button, they flip down.  The handle on the back makes it so easy to run around the house, flying it. So, you can have your Big Jim climb aboard, pretend to blast off vertically, then squeeze and turn the jets to fly away. For landing, you ease back on the jets to land, and a previously unnoticed front landing skid pops down.  The only thing that would have made this better would have been shooting missiles.  Frequently, I used this on GI Joe space adventures as a drone or putting Big Jim inside and thinking he looked smaller since he was far away. Fortunately, my mother never had to tell me to stop flying this around the house… but my wife had to say it a few times.  It was a very sad day when I finally sold mine.  But once I decided to sell off the all the Big Jim figures, sets, and vehicles (at least a hundred). It needed to follow its friends to new homes since I cannot keep every toy, and they were starting to take over.

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Based on good fan feedback, this will not be the last post.  There are still more parts of the Big Jim line that many US collectors have not seen, and the International collectors would enjoy the stories and pictures.

What is your favorite Big Jim vehicle?

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