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By Thomas Wheeler

For my money, the G.I. Joe vehicle whose first designation was the VAMP is a superb example of an axiom that any number of toy lines, toy companies, and for that matter a wide range of consumer goods producers would do well to take to heart -- "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."

In its initial form, the VAMP was the primary method of automotive transport for the G.I.Joe team - a jeep, without using the actual term (which is after all trademarked), it was a four-wheeled, car-like, two-seater vehicle, with a double-barreled machine gun in the back that could be controlled by Clutch or whomever happened to be driving the thing.

The vehicle was a cool, modern, effective design, looking entirely up to date but not at all implausible. It WORKED, not to put too fine a point on it, and proved to be an extremely popular item.

So it's no great surprise that just a couple of years after its introduction in 1982, the first year of G.I. Joe, that the G.I. Joe team would bring in the VAMP MARK II in 1984. Tan in color, rather than olive green, the VAMP MARK II had some added features, including doors, a roof, and a missile rack in the back.

But somewhere along the way, Cobra had apparently stolen the plans to the VAMP, because all of a sudden, the G.I. Joe team was faced with Cobra getting around in their new COBRA STINGER, which looked a heck of a lot like a VAMP, except it was entirely black. It also had doors and a roof, of a different configuration than the VAMP II, and it had an even bigger rack of missiles in the back!

The Cobra Stinger proved to be an abundantly popular vehicle. It was doubtless helped by the fact that the driver figure that came with it was a trooper, not a distinct individual. You could have as many Stingers, and drivers for them, as you wanted -- or as you could afford and had space for, at any rate.

The basic VAMP vehicle would continue to see use throughout every incarnartion of G.I. Joe. The Dreadnoks got a blue and green version of it as part of a Sears exclusive set, and some of the parts changed color. It would return in 1988 as the Tiger Sting -- a captured Cobra Stinger repainted for use in Tiger Force. A VAMP-like vehicle would be part of the Street Fighter line. In 1998, a camouflaged VAMP would be assigned to Cobra under the designation of Rattler 4WD.

Over the years, a number of modifications have been made here and there. Probably one of the most extreme was the Desert Striker, part of the 2000-2002 line. And yet there's still no denying the fundamental VAMP underneath all the bells and whistles. There was even a Convention Exclusive VAMP a couple of years back, as a side-piece to the "Tanks for the Memories" set.

There's even been a couple of foreign VAMPs. Canada got a vehicle that I might be inclined to call the VAMP 1.5. It's tan like the VAMP II, but a slightly different shade, and it has Canadian markings on it. I'd have to do a major tally, but if there's any less than a dozen vehicles out there that in some significant way are based on the VAMP, I'd be surprised, and at a guess, that estimate is probably low. It's likely the most versatile and frequently used vehicle in the entire G.I. Joe line.

It was no great surprise when the VAMP came along as part of the vehicles intended for the 25th Anniversary line. It was, after all, a first-year vehicle. It made sense. And Hasbro did a really magnificent job with the vehicle, adding a few new details, while keeping the core of the VAMP clearly evident. I was sincerely impressed, and am glad to have it.

At the same time, I was hoping that, with the arrival of the VAMP, we'd also see the Cobra Stinger at some point.

Then it was announced that Hasbro WAS planning to release a Cobra Stinger as part of the modern collection. Okay, it would probably be slightly different from the original, just as the VAMP is, but at least I'd have a Cobra Stinger back in my collection. I was delighted.

So, I finally got my Cobra Stinger! And -- I'm glad to have it back, and much as the VAMP had a few new "bells and whistles" on it -- so does the Stinger!

For starters, there's the headlights and tail-lights. No longer just stickers, Hasbro has molded actual headlights and tail-lights in place, out of transparent red plastic. While that may sound a little strange for headlights, well, it's probably effective for sneaking around in the dark, and the Stinger is a predominantly BLACK vehicle, after all. Of course one could just as easily make the argument that Cobra doesn't know whether they're coming or going. Conversely, red headlights could be an interesting battle tactic. You think you see a bunch of Stingers retreating, and all of a sudden -- surprise! They're right in your face!

Some of the area around the hood has been painted, and it is this area that differs the most from the original Stinger. There's what looks like an external tank of some sort, and a grill and another detail area have been painted in silver. There's also a rifle mounted to the hood, which can be removed and used by any convenient Cobra trooper (interestingly enough, on the VAMP, the removable accessory is a shovel.

Unlike the VAMP, which has an open driver's area, the Stinger has a roof and doors. The doors swing upwards. Both the Stinger and the original VAMP II had this feature, structured somewhat differently. I am personally hoping that a bit of a modification has been made here, as both the VAMP II and the original Stinger, as well as the Tiger Sting, were prone to breakage of the door hinges over time, as the plastic -- well, I'm not sure quite what it did, but it tended to sort of wear out and crack. Nobody said these toys were meant to last forever.

While I can't quite make an authoritative comparison, it does feel as though the doors of the new Cobra Stinger are somewhat more flexible as far as what type of plastic is used, and are a better fit on the frame. Perhaps they will be more durable. Ask me in about fifteen years.

The Stinger rolls superbly well. One thing about most VAMP/Stinger incarnations -- they have metal axles. One hallmark of most of these vehicles is that when you roll them along the floor, the axles squeak in the plastic like a mouse on steroids. I'm sure that was a joy and delight to many parents in the early 1980's. The new Stinger is surprisingly quiet in this regard.

The Cobra Stinger has its traditional high-rise missile rack. This differs from the VAMP's machine guns, and the VAMP II's lower missile rack. This missile rack is large and very apparent, with four bright red rockets ready to just ruin somebody's day. Hey, it's a Cobra vehicle. They've got this sort of attitude. And I would think that a higher-level missile rack would also tend to get better range.

Interestingly enough, when I set my Stinger next to my Rattler 4WD, which is really just a renamed Stinger with camouflage paint, I noticed that the new Stinger's missile rack is higher. There's been some sort of modification to the base of the post where it fits into the vehicle. Precisely why this was done I don't really know, and it's not a big deal. Just worth mentioning.

Let's talk labels. There are a great many of them, only a few of which -- the Cobra insignias and a Stinger emblem -- have actually been applied (and personally, I wouldn't have minded doing the whole thing). The rest are a few logos, and generally a host of warning labels. Good luck with the one label that actually has to go on the dashboard of the vehicle. I had to use tweezers to get it in place.

Most of the labels fit well where they're supposed to. About the only one that doesn't is a "CAUTION" label that's supposed to go on a silver detail on the front of the vehicle. It's a little too large in height. It can be trimmed down a bit, but be careful you don't lose the printing.

One feature that Hasbro has been doing with a number of recent vehicles, of which I most heartily approve and wish they'd done a quarter-century ago or so, is file cards for the vehicles, just like they've done for the figures. The file card for the Cobra Stinger reads as follows:

Type: All Terrain Assault Vehicle (ATAV)
Designation: Light Tactical Ground Vehicle
Weapons: Ground-to-air rockets

Smooth, aggressive mobility - that's the hallmark of the Cobra Stinger off-road vehicle. It moves over rugged terrain with the lethal focus of a tarantula bearing down on its next meal. The vehicle's wishbone suspension allows it to maintain stability and speed over the roughest ground. The rocket launcher rotates a full 360 degrees for maximum battle effectiveness. The V-12 twin-turbo engine has the stamina and power for sustained combat deployment in the capable control of a Cobra Stinger Driver.

The Cobra Stinger does come with a Cobra Stinger Driver figure as well. In 1984, the Cobra Stinger Driver was a recolored Cobra Officer, given a pale grey uniform as opposed to the original dark blue. The new 25th-style Cobra Stinger Driver follows a similar pattern, but with a few differences.

Although the figure pretty much uses the same body molds as a number of basic Cobra troopers Hasbro has inducted into this line, and is molded in pale grey, there are a few additional features. He's wearing a large harness around his chest that has a great many narrow pouches on it. Ammo clips, perhaps? There is a Cobra emblem on the center of his shirt, under the harness. He also has a Cobra emblem on the left upper sleeve, but especially interesting is the fact that he has a Stinger insignia on his upper right sleeve! That's certainly different, and rather cool in its own right. Also somewhat unusual is the helmet, which has simulated netting on it, which if memory serves was used for the Cobra Bazooka Soldier figure, an individually carded figure from a little while back that was outfitted in the standard blue color.

The file card for the Cobra Stinger Driver reads as follows:

Code Name: Cobra Stinger Driver
File Name: Various
Primary Military Specialty: Infantry Vehicle Driver
Secondary Military Specialty: Artillery, Intelligence
Birthplace: Various

Cobra troopers begin in the anonymous ranks of the Cobra army. They then try to get noticed (in a positive way) by Cobra Commander, hoping they'll be selected for a higher rank and advanced training. Cobra Stinger Drivers are some of the lucky ones who trade in their "grunt" gear for the driver's seat of a prime attack vehicle. Cobra Stinger Drivers are trained in ultra-aggressive driving tactics that prepare them for every battle environment from urban areas to remote wilderness.

"G.I.Joe team, consider yourselves warned: Never underestimate us! We'll hunt you down and drive you into the ground."

One small note on the packaging. The painted illustrations on the ends of the box -- one of the vehicle, one of the driver -- are really superbly done, and are worthy tributes of the original style.

So, what's my final word here? How about -- WOW! Okay, for starters. I'm just sincerely pleased to have a Cobra Stinger back in my collection. It's been way too long and I just hope I can snag a few more of these at some point.

However, even setting my personal motivations aside, this is an immensely cool vehicle that is a very worthy tribute and/or successor.

I'm not saying it will be easy to get this vehicle at this point. Most of the online outlets offering the particular assortment of vehicles that included the Stinger sold through them in pretty short order. It's a shame that it didn't turn up at retail. Between this and the Cobra Arctic HISS, I think it would've been the best vehicle assortment of the entire 25th-style series.

However, neither should it be impossible to get this vehicle, and certainly, it will be a superb part of any G.I. Joe collection. If you're able to find someone who has a supply, buy one! Buy several! Just -- save a few for me... ;) The new G.I.JOE COBRA STINGER vehicle most definitely has my highest recommendation!