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FLASHBACK REVIEW: THE HISTORY OF THE G.I.JOE VAMP
By Thomas Wheeler

It's common knowledge that any number of G.I.Joe figures over the years have received multiple incarnations based largely on the same set of molds. The Cobra Viper has turned up a dozen times or so since 1986, probably the record. Tiger Force, Python Patrol, Night Force, and Slaughters Marauders were all based on previously-released Joes and Cobras.

But some vehicles have put in multiple appearances as well. And of all the G.I.Joe vehicles in existence, I think the one that has turned up the most times, admittedly under a wide range of names, has been the G.I.Joe VAMP.

First introduced in the very first year of G.I.Joe, 1982, the G.I.JOE VAMP was the basic "Jeep" for the G.I.Joe team. A rather squared-off looking vehicle, it was at once fairly simple looking, and yet managed at the same time to look decently military and maybe just a little futuristic. It wasn't anything from Star Wars or Star Trek certainly. It wasn't at all sci-fi or in any way implausible. But neither did it look much like standard 4-wheeled vehicles seen in World War II footage on in reruns of M*A*S*H.

The vehicle had no doors or roof, really. Just an open framework around the driver/passenger area. It was a two-seater vehicle with a double- barreled gun mount in the back that, according to the comic-book storyline, was remote-controlled by the driver.

The driver that came with the VAMP in 1982 was named CLUTCH, and indeed, this figure might've been one of the main reasons the "Swivel-Arm Battle Grip" was devised in 1983. Without it, with his arms just able to point straight out, Clutch couldn't quite grasp the steering wheel with both hands. Once he'd been fitted with the swivel-arm feature, he was able to drive much more safely.

The VAMP was a sturdy little vehicle, not needing a lot of assembly. It had metal axles (which to this day create a horrific squeaking noise in just about any VAMP-based vehicle they've ever been used on), and was generally seen by kids and collectors aloke as a basic, but very cool and very modern attack jeep. A legend had begun.

The VAMP would next return in 1984, in two different forms. And technically, there was a third that was a variant on one of these two.

First up was the VAMP MARK II. An updated version of the original VAMP, the new version had a roof and doors, a pack of equipment strapped to the hood where a small machine gun once had been, a shovel molded to the hood as well, and a missile launcher in the back, taking the place of the double-barreled gun. The VAMP Mark II also came with a Clutch figure, a recolored version of the original.

But COBRA had apparently gotten its hands on the VAMP blueprints, because in 1984, the COBRA STINGER also rolled out for battle. Based on the VAMP molds, the Stinger had a somewhat different roof-and-doors addition, half a barrel in the place of the equipment pack on the hood, and an entirely different missile-launcher. It was also molded in black. It came with a figure known only as "Stinger Driver". It was a recolored Cobra Officer.

But apparently right around this same time, a third version of the VAMP was produced. I wouldn't learn of this until quite a few years later, at one of the first G.I.Joe Conventions, when Hasbro brought some of their international merchandise to sell.

G.I.Joe was almost as popular in Canada as it was in the United States. To that end, sometimes they received some distinctive equipment. One of these was a VAMP variant, although in some respects it's closer to the VAMP Mark II. It has a hood and doors, and the VAMP II's missile launcher. However, it kept the little machine gun up front instead of the equipment pack, and doesn't have the shovel molded to one side. It's a paler tan than the VAMP II, and instead of the "United States" labels with US flag, it has several labels that read "Canada", with the Canadian flag. It's an interesting addition to the collection.

The VAMP also put in an appearance, more as a Cobra Stinger variant, in a SEARS Exclusive set around this time. Sears decided to give the DREADNOKS some vehicular hardware, and one of the sets, called DREADNOK GROUND ASSAULT, included recolored versions of the RAM Motorcycle and the VAMP/ Stinger Jeep, done in dark blue and burgundy with color-changing light green panels, that turned a darker green when exposed to sunlight, not unlike Zartan himself.

The VAMP would next appear in the United States in 1988, but really, it was more of a variation of the Cobra Stinger version of the VAMP. Brought into the TIGER FORCE Collection, the TIGER STING is easily the most colorful version of the VAMP, with the distinctive tiger patterning. However, although the vehicle is for use by the Joes, in keeping with the concept that some of Tiger Force's vehicles were captured from Cobra, the Tiger Sting has the hood and door configuration of the Cobra Stinger, as well as the distinctive Stinger missile rack.

The VAMP wouldn't appear again until 1994, when a variant of the vehicle would turn up in the STREET FIGHTER line, for use by Colonel Guile. This was the movie-based line, not the initial Street Fighter series which was loosely tied into G.I.Joe. Of course, it all works together, and it's still a cool version of the VAMP, this time with a spring-loaded missile launcher atop the VAMP II-style missile rack. The vehicle was done in dark green with silver trim.

In 1998, the VAMP returned again, and had switched back to COBRA. It was also given a very controversial name. Apparently unable to call it the Stinger this time around for some reason, Cobra assigned the vehicle the name Cobra Rattler, which had previously been the name of an extremely popular airplane assigned to Cobra in 1984. Technically, the full name of the vehicle was "Cobra Rattler 4WD", but it still upset a number of fans.

Whatever it was called, however, it was still a cool vehicle. It had been given a blue-and-black camoufage paint job, making it look distinctly sinister, and it came with a driver named VYPRA, who was a recolored Jinx who was also given a blue-and-black camouflage paint job. Any relation to the twin Vypras of the more recent Arashikage Ninja six-pack is probably entirely coincidental.

In 2000, the VAMP got a major overhaul and was released as the DESERT STRIKER. A fair amount of its structure was redone, but it was still obviously a VAMP variant. An entirely new hood design was added, as well as some extra framework, including a huge, separate front grill. This very cool vehicle came with a FLINT figure, recolored (for the better) from his Eco-Warrior days.

The most recent version of the VAMP was released in a special vehicle set to Toys "R" Us in 2004. This version bore a strong resemblance to the Desert Striker, and yet had gone back to looking a bit more VAMP-like. The massive front grill of the Desert Striker had been removed, and the rollbar framework looked more like earlier VAMPs. However, it still had the hood structure of the Desert Striker. An interesting hybrid, as much as anything. It was molded in a very dark green, and came with the towable weapons platform known as the Whirlwind Twin Battle Guns, as well as figures for Pathfinder, Big Brawler, and Torpedo.

Two additional notes here: There have certainly been some interesting international versions of the VAMP. Funskool in India especially had some fun with these molds, creating two different "Police" versions, a dark blue one and a more standard blue one, both with white trim and a little snap on transparent siren light, and a red one that wasn't even listed as part of their G.I.Joe products, but which was sold simply as a "Racing Jeep". I have little doubt that there's probably a VAMP or two somewhere in the European Action Force collection.

Secondly -- for customizers, the VAMP is an excellent vehicle. The entire upper body is a separate piece, and can, as such be spray painted in whatever color scheme might interest you before you assemble it to the rest of the vehicle. I've done an all-white arctic version, and a camouflage jungle version, myself.

So -- whither the VAMP today? In all honesty, I don't anticipate its return. G.I.Joe has been using official HUMMERS lately, with three different versions known to exist -- Jungle, Desert, and Night Ops. That's not to put down either the VAMPs or the HUMMERs. They're both excellent vehicles.

Certainly, in the annals of G.I.Joe vehicular history, the VAMP has earned its place as one of the most highly-regarded, most often-used vehicles in the entire line. And it has well-earned that place. YO JOE!