The Monster Squad

Monster Squad

Long before the phrase “virtual reality” was coined, wax museum caretaker Walter accidentally brought replicas of Count Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster and the Wolf Man to life with his “crime computer.” The trio of leading men from horror’s golden age joined Walter to form the Monster Squad, dedicating themselves to a new after-life of fighting crime.

This show’s tongue-in-cheek attitude was reminiscent of the 60’s Batman series, but The Monster Squad didn’t reach the airwaves until the 1976-77 season, which was heavily laden with live-action series. Like many of its contemporaries, The Monster Squad featured a hip vehicle—in this case the squad’s van—and high-tech gadgets like the team’s belt communicators.

Character actor Vito Scotti played one of the villainous foes our heroes faced, a mad scientist dressed as a man on one side of his body and a woman on the other. Walter was played by Fred Grandy, who went on to TV fame as Gopher on The Love Boat. After ten years on that show, Grandy spent eight years in the U.S. House of Representatives. Alas, The Monster Squad was not as long-lived, returning to the grave after only one season.

Kolchak: The Night Stalker

Kolchak

It was woefully short-lived, but this horror/sci-fi series has become one of the most beloved series of its kind over time. First introduced in a 1972 made-for-television film called The Night Stalker, Darren McGavin starred as Carl Kolchak, a crusty old reporter for the Independent News Service in Chicago. The film, which had Kolchak investigating a vampire in Las Vegas, became the highest-rated television film of its time, and its sequel, The Night Strangler, found similar success. ABC subsequently ordered a series, which began its run in September of 1974.

McGavin continued to play the role of Kolchak in the new series, squaring off against a new otherworldly menace. Kolchak cut an intriguing and distinct figure, dressed in a light-blue seersucker suit and a straw hat. His personality was gruff and sarcastic and always put him at odds with authority figures. Vincenzo was his editor, who was driven to the point of ulcers by Kolchak’s penchant for bizarre stories. Emily Cowles was a fellow writer at INS who was friendly with Kolchak and also happened to be the only person he trusted.

The plotlines followed a consistent pattern: Kolchak would stumble across a series of grisly and mysterious killings and realize that something non-human played a role in the murders. Inevitably, the local authorities would want to keep them quiet, and Vincenzo would not believe Kolchak’s theory. Kolchak would risk life and limb to get to the bottom of the story and fight off the villainous menace in the process. Of course, the evidence would always slip through his fingers and thus cause others to not believe his story.

During the series’ run, Kolchak faced off with everything from vampires and werewolves to aliens and androids. The biggest favorite among fans of the show was “Horror In The Heights,” in which Kolchak stumbled across a demon while investigating a story about a rash of deaths among the elderly. He quickly discovered the culprit was a Hindu demon called the rakshasa that tricks its victim by taking on the appearance of the person he/she trusts most before killing them.

Kolchak: The Night Stalker only lasted one season, ending its run in August of 1975. However, it has become a huge cult favorite amongst fans of horror and science fiction. Many people even consider it to be a blueprint for the later and more successful The X-Files, which shared much with Kolchak in terms of style and substance. Even Chris Carter, the creator of that show, has acknowledged the important influence this show had on his work. In the wake of The X-Files’s success, all of the Kolchak: The Night Stalker episodes have been released on video, including the two made-for-television films. As a long as there are viewers who like a good scare, Kolchak: The Night Stalker will always be in demand.

Beetlejuice

Beetlejuice

“Betelgeuse, Betelgeuse, Betelgeuse!”

These were the three words that launched the straggly-haired, bad-humored demon Betelgeuse (pronounced “Beetlejuice”) into the land of the living, to terrorize those with warm blood still coursing in their veins. Beetlejuice, Tim Burton’s darkly comic vision of the afterlife, included a “bio-exorcist,” menacing sandworms and a handbook for the recently deceased.

Barbara and Adam Maitland are a loving married couple who have the misfortune of being killed in a car accident. At first, they don’t even realize they’re dead, but a visit the offices of their undead social worker lets them know they must live in their New England dream house for the next one hundred and fifty-three years. To the Maitlands’ dismay, they come back home to find that their beloved home has been sold to an artsy New York family, the Deetzes.

Barbara and Adam try to get rid of their pesky intruders by haunting them, but they’re just too nice to actually scare anyone. The Deetzes, now aware of the supernatural presence in their new home, start making plans to turn it into a tourist attraction. Only the Deetzes’ sullen teenage daughter, Lydia, can communicate with the Maitlands, and the three of them become friends.

In despair, the couple turns to Betelgeuse, a troublemaking demon who specializes in getting rid of unwanted humans. By saying his name three times, Barbara and Adam launch him into the living world. But they realize too late that Betelgeuse is even more troublesome than the Deetzes, and also very dangerous. Complications and chaos ensue when Betelgeuse wants to marry Lydia and tries to stay in the world of the living forever.

Beetlejuice combined inventive special effects and Danny Elfman’s unique music into one of the most unusual movies of its time. Among the more memorable moments of the movie was a bizarre song-and-dance sequence, wherein the Deetzes and their guests were possessed and forced to sing “Day-O,” before their shrimp dinners jumped off their plates and latched onto their faces. Despite (or, more likely, because of) all the weirdness, Beetlejuice was a commercial success, earning an Oscar for Best Makeup and helping turn Michael Keaton (Betelgeuse himself) into a major star.

Burton created a strange world for the dead that seemed just as vibrant and alive as the world of the living, and from 1989 to 1991, that world lived on as an animated series, also titled Beetlejuice. In it, Lydia and Betelgeuse inexplicably became friends, taking part in adventures in the worlds of both the living and the dead.

Ghosts ‘n Goblins

Ghosts and Goblins

Ghosts ‘n Goblins took the baddie-battling, princess-rescuing formula and went Medieval, casting Knight Arthur in the hero’s role and pitting him against the combined forces of Hades. Strapping into his suit of armor, Arthur ran to the rescue, braving six levels of ghosts, goblins ‘n much more.

Designed as a scrolling action game, Ghosts ‘n Goblins only required three skills: running, jumping and firing. If it moved, it had to be killed. Arthur began the game armed with throwing lances, but new weapons—fire, axe, dagger and cross—were available by killing certain enemies (those carrying clay pots).

With those implements of demonic destruction, Arthur wended his way through a graveyard, a dark forest, a run-down town, a series of caves, across a bridge and on to the castle where the Princess was held. Each stage was filled with scary beasts of every kind—zombies, ghosts, giants, demons, skeletons, etc.—each capped off by a particularly hideous boss. And just to save you several hours’ worth of frustration, you can only kill that devil boss at the end with the shield weapon. Try anything else, and you’ll find yourself flying back to level one with a teardrop in your eye, bucko.

Ghosts and Goblins

Arthur began the game with the customary three lives, but that was where the suit of armor came in handy. The first hit on Arthur’s mortal body smashed the armor off, leaving Arthur alive but wearing nothing but his Medieval skivvies. Another hit cost one life, but extra suits of armor were conveniently stashed at certain points in the game if Arthur survived that long.

A hit both in the arcades and on the then-new Nintendo Entertainment System, Ghosts ‘n Goblins won players over with its fundamental action game play and its cartoony, yet somehow still creepy graphics. A sequel, Ghouls ‘n Ghosts, was released in 1988, adding flashier graphics and new power-ups (including the power-enhancing golden armor) to a brand-new story line. And yes, it did involve rescuing that perpetually victimized princess from the devil again (when will these royals ever learn?).

Sea Monkeys Were a Cool Concept

Sea Monkeys

There have been plenty of toys that allowed to children to put their natural creative energies to work. Legos, Erector sets, and countless other similar items let kids build elaborate kingdoms and complex machines to satisfy the need to create. Sea Monkeys took this process one step further and allowed more enterprising youngsters to actually create life. With the help of elaborate ads that seemed to appear in every comic book released during the late 1960’s and 1970’s, the scientific marvels known as Sea Monkeys became one of the most popular toys of all time.

Sea Monkeys are not actually monkeys, but they do come from the sea and are real living things (contrary to popular belief and urban legend). To be specific, they are “Artemia Salina,” or “brine shrimp” in layman’s terms. They were thought of as mere fish food for many years until Harold von Braunhut, a man who is famous among toy enthusiasts for inventing X-Ray Spex, discovered these marvels of the sea. He saw their potential as a pet and developed a simple, three-step kit that allowed aspiring young marine biologists to raise their own brine shrimp in a container of water.

Honey Toy Industries obtained the rights to Von Braunhut’s kit and began marketing it in 1960 as Instant Life. When it didn’t become an immediate hit, Von Braunhut came up with the brainstorm of advertising the kit in comic books. Von Braunhut also noticed that the little brine shrimp resembled monkeys when they grew to adulthood, so he added the phrase “Sea Monkeys” to the packaging of Instant Life. As a result, sales for the newly-named Sea Monkeys began to skyrocket, and Sea Monkeys ads became an ubiquitous presence in the ad pages of comic books everywhere.

By the 1970’s, Instant Life was one of the coolest toys a kid could own. As a result of its success, Honey Toy Industries changed its name to the more official-sounding Transcience Corporation. Also, Instant Life became known simply as Sea Monkeys, since the fanciful depictions of Sea Monkey families used in the ads had become the crucial selling point. Indeed, comic book-reading kids everywhere fantasized about raising their own kingdoms of these strange humanoid-looking creatures.


Check out Kirk Demarais’ Awesome Book, Mail Order Mysteries, For More Great Toys Like Sea Monkeys


Sea Monkeys gained additional hipness when they were packaged with special containers called Ocean Zoos. These mini-aquariums have since become the definitive home for Sea Monkeys. Sea Monkeys gained another home when the Deluxe Sea-Monkey Speedway was introduced in 1974. This device, which took advantage of the fact that Sea Monkeys swim against the current, included “tracks” so the Sea Monkey owner could raise champion Sea Monkeys. Another success, the Speedway led to follow-ups like Sea-Monkey Cycle Race, Sea-Monkey Ski Trails, and Sea-Monkey Fox Hunt. There was also the Incredible Sea-Bubble, a mini-aquarium on a chain that could be worn as a necklace.

The Sea Monkeys phenomenon had become an institution by the end of the 1970’s. Its success also inspired a follow-up pet from Transcience Corporation known as the Crazy Crab. They were actually hermit crabs, a land-dwelling scavenger species. Like the Sea Monkeys, they became a hit and inspired a craze. In the 1980’s and early 1990’s, Sea Monkeys moved on to new distributors like Larami and Basic Fun with middling degrees of success. They were no longer as hip as they were during their 1970’s heyday, but the novelty of Sea Monkeys remained strong enough to keep them selling on name-value alone.

In the mid-1990’s, Sea Monkeys made a triumphant comeback when they began being distributed by ExploraToys. Now that the toy was old enough to be retro-hip, both kids and the adults who grew up with the Sea Monkey phenomenon were buying Sea Monkeys. They have also transcended their comic-book ad origins to be sold in national toy-store chains. And as long as toy fanatics want to take their love of creating things to the next level, Sea Monkeys will allow them to “create life.”

New Kids on the Block – The Original Boy Band

New Kids on the Block

New Kids On The Block was the original ‘boy band’ of 90’s. They sold records by the millions with their r&b-inflected; bubblegum pop, filled concert halls with screaming girls wherever they went, and dominated teen magazines with their hunky yet clean-cut image. They also set the tone for future boy groups like the Backstreet Boys and N’Sync by introducing rap and funk elements to the teen-pop sound.

This group was formed by Maurice Starr, the music impresario behind the early success of New Edition. He chose the five members-brothers Jonathan and Jordan Knight, Joey McIntyre, Donnie Wahlberg and Danny Wood, all Massachusetts natives-and supervised them as they undertook a year of intensive voice and dance training. The group released their first album in 1986 and began touring the U.S, including a stint as the opening act for Tiffany’s 1988 tour. The non-stop concerts would pay off in early 1989 when “You Got It (The Right Stuff),” a rap-styled slice of dance-pop from their second album, Hanging Tough, became a #3 hit. The New Kids had officially arrived.

Hanging Tough quickly became a #1 hit album and stayed on the charts for two years. It also spawned two #1 singles: “I’ll Be Loving You (Forever)” was a sweetly harmonized ballad, while “Hanging Tough” was a combination of pop and rap spiced up with an infectious ‘Whoa-oh-oh-oh-oh” chant. The group continued to tour, including visits to both Disneyland and Disney World, as they began to dominate MTV and teen magazines. They scored additional Top-10 hits with “Cover Girl,” a remake of the soul classic “Didn’t I Blow Your Mind This Time,” and the Merry, Merry Christmas album.

1990 began on a high note for the New Kids when they won the Favorite Group and Favorite Album honors at the American Music Awards. They also scored a Top-10 hit with a lush ballad called “This One’s For The Children.” New Kid dolls were put out by enterprising toy company and sold by the millions as the group went on another highly successful tour. That summer, they released Step By Step, which quickly shot to #1. It produced another two hit singles in the danceable title track and “Tonight,” a typically smooth New Kids ballad.

By 1991, the New Kids were a phenomenon that had inspired books, comics, videotapes, a recorded-message hotline, and even a Saturday morning cartoon. Their next release was No More Games, an album of remixes (along with the original title track) that became a Top-20 hit. The New Kids embarked on their first international tour and scored major successes in England and Japan. In between all this activity, Donnie Wahlberg found the time to write and produce the #1 hit “Good Vibrations” for his brother, Marky Mark. Meanwhile, the New Kids continued their seemingly endless touring until late 1992.

After a well deserved break, New Kids On The Block (now renamed NKOTB) returned in 1994 with Face The Music. A new song called “Keep On Smiling” was also featured on the soundtrack of Free Willy. That summer, NKOTB stunned their international fan base by disbanding. Since then, Jordan Knight and Joey McIntyre have gone on to successful solo careers, while Donnie Wahlberg has found success acting in films like Payback and The Sixth Sense. But wherever they end up in the future, Jon, Jordan, Joey, Donnie and Danny will always be remembered for inventing the idea of “the boy band” with New Kids On The Block.

Xena: Warrior Princess

Xena

Xena, that raven-haired, armor-wearing, ancient-times heroine, first appeared in an episode of Hercules: The Legendary Journeys called “The Warrior Princess,” as “gasp” a bad guy. Er, girl. To be more precise, Xena was an evil warlord bent on killing Hercules. Fortunately for Hercules, she had an epiphany and reformed her evil village-destroying ways. She went from pillaging the innocent to protecting them, which just goes to show you, sometimes you can’t judge a warlord by her blood-covered battle-axe.

Where Hercules, a half-god, had brute strength, Xena’s bag was tactical warfare with a penchant for acrobatics and martial arts. Her weapons of choice were her sword and her chakram, a menacing razor-sharp Frisbee-style object. She knew where to pinch and jab pressure points of opponents, she was good with a whip, and best of all, she had got a real taste for her work-she enjoyed the rough and tumble with the bad guys. What else could you want for your fantasy heroine?

But there was a whole lot more to Xena than just the sword and girl power brawn. She had a son whom she rarely saw and used to have one true love who ended up murdered, but on the upside, she opened herself up to companionship in the form of the trusty Gabrielle-a small village girl who gave up a career as a bard to travel the world with Xena. Fans speculated about the exact nature of their relationship, but whatever the case, the chatty and warm Gabrielle made for a good foil to the all-business Xena.

Xena

Xena was set in what the show called the “Golden Age” of myth, before ancient Greece or Rome, probably around 1300 B.C. Episodes found her dabbling in the Trojan War, witnessing the Israelites and the Philistines getting their war groove on, watching David fight Goliath, and she also ran into Julius Caesar and Hippocrates in her travels. She and Gabrielle even time traveled to the 1940’s, where they played archeologists who recovered the “Xena Scrolls,” an account of a notorious warrior princess’ adventures.

The series was filmed in New Zealand, where unknown actress Lucy Lawless was plucked for the Hercules guest spot, and later for the series. She was the perfect combination of athleticism and humanism, of mythic hero-type and real lady. And any lady who expertly wields a chakram is just automatically cool, and of course, gives a whole new angle to the game of Ultimate Frisbee.

Retro Comic Book Ads

 A short time ago, my good friend Hoju Koolander over at Retro-Daze brought forth for our enjoyment, an article in which he looked back fondly at some retro comic book ads found within the pages of some vintage comic books. I myself had been working on the same kind of article, and while great minds think alike, I’m glad to see that he and I do as well! I personally don’t think we could ever get enough of this type of article, and am thankful that he doesn’t have a problem with me putting together the exact same kind of article, albeit, with different ads. If you haven’t done so, I highly suggest you go and take a look at his article on this subject, 5 Retro Comic Book Ads.

Flipping through pages of retro comic book ads is kinda like opening a time capsule. They are usually full of pop culture icons, products that are fondly remembered, and some that jar no memory what so ever in our brains. Being a big fan of retro advertising in all forms, I am especially fond of slowly browsing the pages of comic books looking for those ads that make light bulbs goes off overhead. In this edition, I found a couple of those.

All of the ads in this article are from the comic book, X-Men 2099 #2, cover dated November 1993, from Marvel Comics. I picked this issue up from a quarter bin at a comic book convention recently, with the sole intention of using the ads within it for an article.

X-Men 2099
While I never read a single issue of X-Men 2099, I was a fringe fan of the 2099 concept from Marvel Comics. I really enjoyed the Doom 2099 series, and thought the Spider-Man 2099 series was pretty good as well. I was just never a big fan of the X-Men comic books in general. I thought the mid-90’s cartoon was good and really well done though.
Kids Choice Oatmeal

The first ad I came across, was inside the front cover and is for Quaker Instant Oatmeal Kid’s Choice. It looks like it’s a variety pack that features four different flavors, that would hopefully please even the pickiest of us kids / pre-teens / teens or whatever you were in 1993.

I’ve written of my love for a bygone instant oatmeal in the past, and while I have always been a big fan of Quaker Maple Brown Sugar Instant Oatmeal, I don’t really remember this Kid’s Choice pack. It appears to be mostly just a variety pack that had been re-branded to appeal to a younger generation instead of the adults. A quick watch of a commercial for this oatmeal has enlightened me to the fact that at some point there was a “CinnaMagic’ flavor included that would change color instantly when water was added. I’m guessing that flavor came after the Cinnamon Graham Cookie that is featured on the box in this ad.

Above and beyond the cereal, check out the clothing on the models in this picture. You have the preppy kid up top in his khakis and sneakers, the cool street kid rocking the backwards hat, sweat shirt and sweat pants, and the best touch of all….the striped athletic socks with the sweat pants tucked into them! On the side it appears we have another Zack Morris wannabe, and with a ‘Daddy’s little angel’ on the floor next to him. And the best is on the other side of the box. Corporate America’s vision of what a 13 year old hippy chick would dress like.

 

Continue reading “Retro Comic Book Ads”

Dick Tracy Was a Colorful Homage

Dick Tracy

Dick Tracy was Warren Beatty’s ode to Chester Gould’s comic strip, a sharp, colorful world populated with handsome good guys, strange-looking bad guys, vampish vixens and damsels in distress. The film seemed like it had been actually set in a comic strip, thanks to the bright, bold set design, along with costumes and makeup faithfully translated from the printed page.

Warren Beatty stars as Dick Tracy, the square-jawed, yellow-suited lawman who fights and disposes of his city’s villains with ease. The mobsters, tired of always being sent to the big house by Tracy, decide to band together and rid themselves of him once and for all. But Dick Tracy has other problems at the moment. He has recently met an orphan named The Kid that he grudgingly cares for, but is not sure he can be the father The Kid needs. Also, his relationship with his girlfriend, Tess Trueheart, is strained because he devotes more of his time to crime fighting than he does to her.

And then there’s Breathless. Pop superstar Madonna plays the seductive Breathless Mahoney, a beautiful and blond nightclub singer reminiscent of Marilyn Monroe. She has her eye on Tracy, and despite his better judgment, he finds himself increasingly drawn to her. Tracy must find a way to fight the corruption overtaking the city and come to terms with his complicated personal life.

Dick Tracy

Dick Tracy featured an impressive array of cameos, including Al Pacino as Big Boy Caprice and Dustin Hoffman as the mumbling Mumbles. Beatty infused Tracy with a surprising quality of vulnerability-shown through his relationship with The Kid and Tess’-that is not often explored in one-dimensional comic strip heroes. In fact, beyond the car chases, explosions and gunfights that made Dick Tracy a kid’s paradise, the film also had heart.

Dick Tracy received seven Academy Award nominations, including a Best Supporting Actor nomination for Al Pacino. It won three awards, for Best Art Direction, Best Makeup and Best Song for Steven Sondheim’s jazz-tinged “Sooner or Later (I Always Get My Man).

Jem – It Was More Than Just a Girl’s Cartoon

Jem

Long before The Spice Girls, Jem and the Holograms had Girl Power and then some. Underwritten by Hasbro, who wanted an MTV-influenced doll line to rival Mattel’s Barbie, Jem came on the scene as part of the Super Sunday block in 1985. The segment proved so popular it was spun off into its own half-hour syndicated series the following year.

Pink-haired Jem was the alter ego of Jerrica Benton, head of Starlight Music and the charitable Starlight Foundation. Jerrica’s father, Emmet, created a hologram-projecting computer called Synergy to provide 3D accompaniment to Starlight’s music videos. After Emmet’s death, Synergy contacted Jerrica through a set of specially-designed earrings Emmet had given her. With Synergy’s holographic capabilities, Jerrica transformed herself into rock star Jem. Sister Kimber and a pair of orphans from the Starlight Foundation’s orphanage were holograpically disguised as Jem’s group, the Holograms (an additional member joined later on). Rival all-grrrl band The Misfits constantly sparred with the group.

Jem/Jerrica was a true 80’s woman. She had it all: two careers, a smart and sexy boyfriend named Rio, and the zeal of a social activist. All proceeds from Jem’s music business went to the Starlight Foundation, and episodes dealt with such topical issues as drug abuse, poverty, and illiteracy. The show also mixed in MTV-style videos from both bands (and later addition The Stingers), perfect right down to the group/title/label tags in the lower left corner.

The franchise became a mini-industry, including a line of dolls and accessories, compilation records and tapes, even a contest inviting wannabes to sing the Jem theme song over a special “1-800” number. She may not have had the staying power of Madonna, but for a few years, Jem was the most “Truly Outrageous” rock star in Toontown.

Also Check out What You Didn’t Know About Your Favorite 80’s Cartoons

Hypercolor: The Clothing That Made People Want to Touch You

Hypercolor

We have seen the future, and it changes color with heat.

Really, you practically couldn’t afford not to buy a HyperColor shirt. I mean, it changed color, right? That was like getting two shirts for the price of one. So that price tag you saw? Remember, that was 50% off what it should have cost you. You should probably buy two then, since you’re such a great bargain shopper.

What wasn’t to love about HyperColor shirts? Well, a few things, but we’ll get to those later. For now, let’s talk about how rad they were. Introduced by Generra at the tail end of those color-crazy 80’s, HyperColor promised a t-shirt revolution. A patented “Metamorphic Color System” caused the shirt’s color to change when it came in contact with heat. Press a warm hand onto your belly, and your purple shirt would have a temporary pink handprint. How cool was that?

Body heat, hot breath, blow dryers’ any heat source was enough to change green to yellow, blue to green, and so on. It was like a Mood Ring for the body, and matched up with acid wash jeans or Body Glove bike shorts, it made you the most outrageously outfitted fashion plate in your school.

Unfortunately (and here’s the “what’s not to love” part), there were some drawbacks. Like the fact that wearing a HyperColor shirt seemed to give everybody the right to put their sweaty palms all over you or breathe on you. Or the way your shirt reacted to all heat, including the kind produced by your armpits (no volunteering to answer questions in class on HyperColor t-shirt day). Suddenly, the idea of a heat-sensitive shirt just wasn’t all you had dreamed it would be.

The HyperColor craze faded like a bad tie-dye by the early 90’s, and Generra had to lay off one-fourth of its staff by the spring of ‘92. Apparently, the world just wasn’t ready for odd-colored sweat spots and rampant personal space invasion, even for the sake of a chameleon fashion statement.

Small Cars, Big Fun: The Short Story of Penny Racers

Penny Racers

At first, it seemed like kind of a rotten deal. You’d saved up every last penny you could scrounge to buy one of Takara’s Penny Racers cars, and here they were, asking you to give up another cent just to play with it. Oh, but it was worth it. Matchbox and Hot Wheels were great for driving fast or for zipping along tracks and playsets, but for the spin-crazy, wheelie-happy, stunt driving kid, only a genuine Penny Racers would do.

Takara’s dinky little toy cars were originally released as Choro-Q vehicles in their native Japan. Brought over to the States as Penny Racers in 1981, the cars grabbed the attention of many kids, who saw the amazing tricks executed on TV commercials and knew they had to have one.

At its core, the Penny Racer was just a pull-back motorized car, something that had been around in one form or another for years. The gimmick was in the penny. A slot in the back of the car let kids slide in a penny to shift the weight around. Slide the penny to the right, and the car would favor that side, hitting quick spins before taking off in a new direction. Put the penny dead center, and chances are you’d see some two-wheeled wheelie driving. The package gave a few tips on tricks you might try, but experimentation was always encouraged.

A wave of Penny Racers in several styles hit the market in 1981, taking names like Van Man, Baja Blaster, Grizzly Gasser and Z Machine. Unfortunately, the gimmick wasn’t enough to sustain an international career. Takara continued to make Choro-Q cars in Japan, but American kids had to content themselves with similar models from major U.S. die-cast makers like Tonka. The toy was reborn, however, as a racing game for the Nintendo 64 in 2000.