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By Thomas Wheeler

As part of the 25th Anniversary G.I. Joe line, which is revisiting favorite characters from the original Real American Hero concept in a new figure format, Hasbro has been releasing upgraded versions of some of the most popular vehicles from the original series. One of these, dating all the way back to 1982, is the VAMP jeep.

When G.I. Joe first came on the scene, it was touted as a "Modern Army Action Figure" line. As such, no plain old Jeep would do for this team when it came to basic vehicular transportation. We all knew what an Army Jeep looked like. Even those who had never seen a war movie had probably caught at least a few seasons of M*A*S*H in the 1970's and early 80's. There were Jeeps all over the place there, and they were World War II surplus even then. And M*A*S*H took place in the 50's. You're not going to give that to a "Modern Army" Action Figure in the 1980's.

And so the VAMP jeep was created. Its abbreviation, which stood for "Vehicle Attack: Multi-Purpose". A bit of a stretch, true, but no worse than some over the years. It looked like a modern army attack vehicle. It managed to take some of the basic ideas of a standard military Jeep -- with a somewhat open drivers area, rugged tires, olive drab in color -- and update them to the modern day. I'm not saying that soldiers were actually driving around in anything like a VAMP in real life -- but they probably could have. It wasn't at all an implausible-looking vehicle.

The VAMP was popular, and over the years certainly lived up to the last two letters of its name -- that "Multi-Purpose" part. The VAMP returned in 1984 as both the VAMP Mark II and the Cobra Stinger. That version of it was redone and incorporated into Tiger Force as the Tiger Sting. Another version was assigned to the Street Fighter toy line several years later. From 1998-2006, there were probably nearly half a dozen versions of it released at some point or other, including a Convention Exclusive version in 2007. It didn't always have VAMP in the name, and it might have been a G.I. Joe vehicle or a Cobra vehicle, but it seemed to turn up with considerable regularity.

There was even a Canadian version, that had "Canada" stickers on it and a maple leaf flag rather than "United States" and the Stars & Stripes. This version was a slightly lighter tan than the VAMP Mark II, and seemed to almost be a VAMP 1-1/2 -- sharing design components from both vehicles. No great surprise, there was also a distinctive European version assigned to Action Force.

The vehicle has even turned up in India through Funskool toys, and not always specifically associated with G.I. Joe in that country. One was a blue police-type vehicle, the other one was red, and intended for racing, of all things.

I think it can be fairly said that out of the huge repertoire of vehicles that have been part of the G.I. Joe line since its inception in 1982, the VAMP has seen more versions than anything else. I'm not sure any other vehicle even comes close, numerically.

So, for the VAMP to appear in the current G.I. Joe line isn't really much of a surprise. And I was more than happy to add this latest version to my collection.

The VAMP is not a flashy vehicle. Never has been. It's intended as the G.I. Joe team's basic combat vehicle. It's about eight inches in length, and is rather angular in appearance, but not boxy-looking. A Jeep is sort of boxy-looking to be. The VAMP has a lot of straight lines in its overall design, but many of them are at angles, making the VAMP look distinctly sleeker than its real-life predecessor.

The VAMP has no doors or roof, although later versions did occasionally have these features. It is well-armed with large twin machine guns mounted high in the back, and a smaller machine gun up front near the hood. At least I'm reasonably sure that's what that's supposed to be.

The new VAMP has some distinct differences and upgrades from its 1982 original, some of which came to pass along the way across its various versions, some of which began with this newest incarnation. I'm not trying to put down the original VAMP here by any means -- it's a cool vehicle, and it certainly started one heck of an unmatched vehicular legacy in the world of G.I. Joe. But let's consider some of the differences.

The new VAMP has a shovel strapped to the right front fender. This actually first appeared with the VAMP Mark II, but it was molded to the vehicle. Here, it's actually removable.

The new VAMP has some sort of fabric-looking bundle tied to the hood. This also first appeared with the VAMP Mark II, but the VAMP Mark II dropped the small machine gun on the hood that the original VAMP had. The new VAMP has both features.

The bar across the front of the VAMP has its own, smaller set of headlights. This also first appeared with the VAMP Mark II, but here, they are painted white. The new VAMP also has clear plastic headlights and taillights. The original VAMP, and for quite a while along the way, only had stickers placed within indentations on the body. The new VAMP's taillights have an area of red paint underneath them. It's really a nice feature.

The new VAMP has a hood which can be raised, so the engine can be seen. This development came along a while back, but not during the original run of the Real American Hero.

The seating area of the new VAMP has been redesigned. The seats look more comfortable (upholstered?) and have been painted. Most of the interior of the VAMP in black. The seats are a pale tan in color. The dashboard is more detailed, as is the steering wheel.

The labels for the new VAMP -- okay, here's where I need to offer a little more explanation. The original labels for the first VAMP were fairly straightforward. Large lettering that had words like "CAUTION" or "WARNING" followed by a few straight lines that imagination dictated were an explanation of whatever it was the G.I. Joe in question was supposed to be careful about.

The new VAMP labels have actual printing rather than the straight lines. And maybe if I was 3-3/4" in height and my eyes were concurrently attuned to that scale, I could better tell you what these labels say. I wouldn't care to hazard a guess as to the point size of this lettering, but it's probably measured in microns. That Hasbro could do it at all is a testament to modern printing techniques that probably weren't even possible in 1982.

About all I could make out on any of the labels was that "Serious injury or death" could occur if someone wasn't careful about something or other, and on others, that the "Safety Manual" should be referred to in the event of -- whatever. Maybe if it had been printed in all capitals I could've read it all.

The labels are certainly well printed, and stick well, but the material they're printed on is a little on the lightweight side and should be handled carefully. They all fit well, and I didn't have any trouble sticking them in place, with one exception -- one of the "Caution" stickers is supposed go on the dashboard. Had this VAMP come packaged as they did in the 1980's, where you put it together yourself, I'm sure I would've applied this particular sticker before assembly. That, however, was not an option. And maybe a little kid's hands could have accomplished this, but I don't know any little kids. I managed to get it in place with a pair of tweezers.

Why there would be a "Caution" sticker on the dashboard I have no idea, unless the VAMP is now equipped with air bags. Either that, or it's a warning about what a maniac the driver is, but we'll get to Clutch in a few paragraphs.

One change that's not an improvement in my opinion are the two cables attached to the machine gun system in the back. While this adds an interesting new bit of detail, and might make the machine gun system seem a little more plausible from a real-world standpoint, they also unfortunately severely hinder the rotating and pivoting ability of the machine gun unit.

The original VAMP's dual machine gun system could turn all the way around in a circle if it had to, and could raise high enough to take down approaching aircraft. The new VAMP's machine gun assembly can barely turn to the eleven o'clock and one o'clock positions, and the degree to which it can raise up -- well, if it's going to shoot at a plane, it had better be a pretty low-flying one.

The new VAMP does, however, still have the two gas cans in the rack in the back. They still don't stay put terribly well, either. Some things never change... :)

The other major difference, although it's not an entirely new one, is that the wheels are mounted to plastic spokes. The early VAMPs had metal axles, and maintained them for quite a few years. This, for whatever reason, gave all the early VAMPs very squeaky axles. They made a heck of a racket rolling along the floor. While I am sure that the plastic spokes are more cost effective, and the new VAMP rolls along just as well as the original, I almost miss that noise. It had become sort of traditional, in a weird way.

One other new development in this G.I. Joe line is that now, vehicles are given file cards right along with figures. I'm just sorry it took 25+ years to get around to this. The file card for the VAMP reads as follows:

Designation: Ground Vehicle
Weapons: Machine Gun

VAMPs are the G.I. Joe team's rugged, all-purpose ground vehicles. They can be outfitted for battle with a rear-mounted machine gun and can tow larger weapons. Tough and hard-working, VAMP vehicles can roar into battle with guns blazing or provide a protective escort for valuable cargo that Cobra wants to get their hands on. When the G.I. Joe team launched a direct assault on Cobra Island to rescue a kidnapped physicist, a VAMP had a direct and decisive part in the action.

Of course, a vehicle needs a driver, and in the VAMP's case, that's Clutch, technically referred to in this toy set by the name "Double Clutch", a code-name he picked up doubtless courtesy of some situation with Hasbro's legal department.

Clutch was the original driver of the VAMP in 1982, and he carried over into the VAMP Mark II in 1984. After that, the character disappeared for a number of years, finally returning, somewhat oddly in my opinion, in the 1993 Mega-Marines special team. Since that time, he's turned up here and there, sometimes under the name "Double Clutch". His most recent incarnation prior to this set was in the 2007 Official G.I. Joe Collectors' Convention Set, called "Tanks for the Memories", where Clutch was joined by a number of longtime G.I. Joe team members, including Flash, Grunt, and his good buddy, Rock & Roll, as well as several others, going up against a contingent of all-female Cobra troopers.

Knowing Clutch, he probably would have tried to charm his way out of that one. His original file card indicated that Clutch was a die-hard grease monkey, and when he wasn't under the hood of some vehicle, he was trying to put on his cheap charm with the ladies, greasing his hair with motor oil and referring to women as "chicks". This was carried over into the comic book in the early issues, where Clutch actually tried to charm his way into Scarlett's life. Given her relationship with Snake-Eyes, it's a wonder he survived the experience.

The new Clutch figure is a capable rendition of the original Clutch in the new design style. Since Clutch was one of the "Original 13", sold with the original VAMP, it's not surprising that he shares a lot of body parts with some of the other "Original 13" characters that have also been rendered into the new line. It's only appropriate, I suppose. Clutch is dressed in basic olive dram, with brown boots. He has a knife holster strapped to his upper right leg, and a small pistol holster strapped to his right boot, and his accessories do include these weapons. They're very nicely made, but also very small. They seem to stay put well enough, but if your plans are to simply display most of these figures, I'd recommend either a small drop of glue for a little added security, or "disarming" the figure and getting some Ziploc bags.

The original Clutch did have a distinctive torso that was not shared by any of the other figures at the time, and that has been duplicated on the new Clutch in the form of a separately molded, but non-removable vest which significantly resembles the original. Clutch also includes a helmet.

The headsculpt is very nicely done. Many of the original G.I. Joe figures from the first year even shared heads, and Clutch ended up with the same head as Breaker and Rock & Roll, with differently colored hair, of course. Clutch still has his black hair and beard, and his expression is reasonably serious, but there's a bare hint of a wiseacre grin on one side of his face, like he's just waiting to play a game of "chicken" with some idiot Cobra trooper in a Stinger vehicle.

Clutch's file card, of course, calls him "Double Clutch", and actually does away with most of his cheesier habits. Maybe he didn't want that sort of thing on his official profile, who knows? Anyway, his file card reads as follows:

File Name: Steinberg, Lance J.
Primary Military Specialty: Transportation
Secondary Military Specialty: Infantry
Birthplace: Asbury Park, New Jersey

Double Clutch was a mechanic at Manny's Mean Machines and was heavily involved in racing street machines prior to enlistment. Naturally gravitating toward anything with lots of horsepower, Double Clutch can drive any ground vehicle so that you get where you're going fast and in one piece - and with as much engine roar as possible. The street racer in him comes our when Cobra forces are closing in on all sides. That's when Double Clutch slams the VAMP into high gear, leaving the enemy eating dust ten miles back and wondering what happened.

"I can drive in and out of a hot spot before Cobra even has a chance to shift into second gear."

Somewhat curiously, the display base that comes with the figure reads, "CODE NAME: CLUTCH". Either somebody forgot, or they were able to get away with it on the base and wanted to give a nod to people who knew what the character's original code-name was.

So, what's my final word here? The vehicle is a more than capable rendition and update of the original VAMP, which is certainly one of the signature vehicles of the entire G.I. Joe series. Even if you have the original, this is a nice new version to have. If you have a dozen assorted versions of this vehicle, you'll want to add this one to it. And if for some reason you never owned the original VAMP, you certainly won't be disappointed with this one. It's an excellent vehicle for any fan of G.I. Joe. And the Clutch figure is a good likeness of the original character in the new figure format.

The G.I. JOE VAMP Vehicle definitely has my enthusiastic recommendation!