If you were a child in the ‘80s, you probably remember Transformers. Heck, even if you weren’t, you probably know what they are and that they were one one of the biggest toys from about ’84 to ’86 or ’87. Thanks to various reboots, movies, comics and the like, Transformers are bigger now than they were all those years ago! However, like anything affected by nostalgia, there are some things that maybe get a bit distorted when looking through rose-coloured glasses.
Most people who liked Transformers probably had some of the toys. Today, names like Megatron, Optimus Prime, Bumblebee and Soundwave are still fondly remembered and maybe even revered. (Except by me. I hate Bumblebee. Always have.) Many people remember the first couple waves of toys that were the old Diaclone toys, with die cast metal and realistic alternate modes. However, as the toyline went on, the designs, and colourations, became more fanciful and less anchored in the present time and place. More fantastic altmodes ruled the second half of the Transformers toyline, with futuristic space fighters, weird H-Tanks and out-there future race cars.
There was, however, an exception to this. This exception was the Decepticon “double targetmasters”. These three toys were the second wave of targetmasters, and I use the term “double” because each came with two guns that turned into little, totally non-posable and pretty much useless guys. The Autobot double targetmasters were construction vehicles. They may or may not have been real. I can’t tell. However, the Decepticon ones were for SURE real. Quake was a Leopard 2 MBT, Needlenose was an F-16XL single seater and Spinister was an Apache attack chopper.
Now, their colours weren’t realistic, and there were some liberties taken with the proportions, but for ‘87/’88 models, having altmodes this realistic was pretty darned impressive. It would actually be about the last time we’d see anything that realistic until the G2 reissues came along. So, you ask, what does this have to do with modelling? Well, the answer is another question. The question is: What would these double targetmasters look like in real life?
Thanks(?) to Michael Bay, we have a good idea what a Transformer would look like in real life. However, G1 Transformers don’t look like Terminators wearing car or plane parts to a Hallowe’en party. That, and their unscrupulously perfect altmodes just don’t satisfy my need to see how a late G1 guy would look in ‘real life’. The only way I could think of to simulate it would be to actually build a model of one of the Decepticon double targetmasters, in their real (i.e. toy) colours. I decided to go with Spinister for my first trial, although I will admit I have an F-16XL and a Leopard 2 in 1/72 to go with him at a later date.
To make my “real” Spinister, I used the excellent Academy 1/72 AH-64A Apache. Like many modern Academy kits, this thing is very nice, goes together well and has some excellent detail. It’s not their best kit (I mean it’s not up to the Stuka, but what is?) but it is more than halfway decent, and it’s cheap. This is really a bonus when you’re thinking of more-or-less bastardizing a kit. I got mine for $5 at a model show, but they’re not a lot more when you find them new in hobby shops.
The kit comes with a full complement of weapons, including the Longbow radar pod, Hellfires, rocket pods and even, if I remember right, Stinger tubes. I didn’t take any pictures of the box or kit at the time, because I made Spinister long before I’d ever thought of starting the Sprue Lagoon. If you want to know what the kit’s like, I’m sure there are lots of reviews of it online elsewhere. Short story: It’s a good, cheap kit that is perfect for the job.
Makin’ it Real:
The thing with Spinister is that while he’s an Apache, he has to transform. That means his toy has various panels that have to open, separate, swing out and so forth. Real Apaches obviously don’t have panel lines where a Transformer toy does. So, the key was to scribe lines in appropriate places in order to simulate the “moving parts” that would be on the “real” Spinister, assuming he transformed at all like the toy.
This meant first dividing the nose of the Apache right at the back of the sponson, right behind the wing. On the toy, this entire “front half” flips forward through 180 degrees to be Spinister’s lower legs and feet. NO, I don’t know how he uses half-cockpit glass for feet. It was the ‘80s, man. Deal with it! Regardless, this was the first division, and the simplest, that had to be made. It was, however, not the last, and the rest were a bit more demanding.
Spinister’s arms are made from the side of the fuselage behind the “feet” section, just under the engine nacelles. In fact, the arms attach to a plate that hinges on the nacelles, with some of the nacelle pivoting with the arms. So, this “arm plate” had to be etched into the sides of the fuselage. The tricky part was keeping a thin ribbon between the “feet” at the nose half and the “arms” in their plate. Why? Well, on the toy, this forms the back of Spinister’s waist, and is there to give structure to the toy. Since this is a model, it has to be realistic, right?
The etch to be made was for the tail boom. The entire tail boom folds down Spinister’s back (as on so many helicopter Transformers and GoBots) and thus is hinged behind the arms. I etched a panel line all the way around the fuselage to simulate this. Then I made a square up on the body, in front of this line. This is to represent the back of Spinister’s head, which protrudes from the chopper in his toy form.
The final etching was on the engine nacelles. The front and rear sections had to be etched because they are separate pieces, and move with the arm flaps, in the toy. Then, the centre section had to be divided in half horizontally, since the top half is part of the body, and the lower half is a screwed-in retainer plate for the arm hinges.
With these mods done, I could fill in the holes on the stub wings. I wasn’t going to have Spinister carry any weapons. He only carries his two Targetmaster partners, and I wasn’t going to try to fab them up. Thus, I assumed they were just off getting a coffee or something, and that allowed me to simplify matters considerably.
One thing you cannot say anything about is Decepticon late-G1 cammo. While the Combaticons were grey, green, dark blue and olive drab, later toys were, um… brighter. Neon was almost about to be a big thing, and to keep the toys exciting, they often used much brighter shades than were necessary. Spinister was a big proponent of this, as he was darkish blue, purple, black and BRIGHT magenta. Yeah, one of those doesn’t go with “stealth”. Still, that’s what he was moulded in, and his cockpit was a bight light blue and his blades were grey. So were his wheels.
In getting ready for painting, I decided to strike a balance. I figured that if Spinister was real, and did favour colours in the non-traditional spectrum, I couldn’t see them being as bright as the toy depicted them. Thus, I went with colours that were more muted, but on the same part of the spectrum. I used Model Master Acrylics for all paints, and all but the black (which was Aircraft Interior Black) was mixed.
I did the nose in a dark blue, based largely on the MMA Dark Sea Blue. I did the purple using a mix of Tamiya Purple and MMA Light Ghost Grey, Gunship Grey and Flat White in order to get a purple that was still “Decepticon-y” but more muted. I don’t even really remember what went into the “dusty magenta” colour, but it was definitely some Guards Red, Light Grey, Tamiya Purple and oddly, perhaps, some International Orange (but just a hint).
After primering the kit with Walmart’s now-extinct Colorplace Grey Primer, I hand painted on all the colours. You can see them in the pics I used above to show the different “sections” and how I broke them up. The “head” square, stub wings and tires were painted black (because grey tires make no sense). I used Jet Exhaust on the exhausts, and steel for the vents. I wanted to get and keep some realism so I washed the exhausts and chain gun. The rotor mast and controls were painted MMA Steel and washed with both a Baddab Black and Devlan Mud wash to give them a used look.
The big issue was the canopy. I needed it to be light blue. I could have painted it solid from the inside, but that’s cheating. If Spinister was real, he’d have human-size seats in him, and you’d be able to see them. I assume the two targetmasters would ride in him when not strapped on as weapons. So, I took some blue food colouring, added it to Future and then airbrushed it onto the canopy surfaces on the inside. I was very nervous about this, but it worked like a charm, and this is still one of the only canopies I’ve ever tinted. I’m glad it worked, though, because it really makes the model come alive.
With the paint on, I outlined all details with a filed-down mechanical pencil. Unusually for an aircraft model, I used a black Gundammarker to outline the “transformational” panels. This adds interest and makes them stick out, in case the wildly changing colour scheme didn’t, of course! I then Futured the entire model and applied homemade Decepticon decals. I made these with the Testors Ink Jet decal paper and decal bonder kit. They worked great, printed on a white background, but needed two applications to really have the right density. With the decals on, one more Future coat was applied, and then the entire thing was satin coated using Delta Ceramcoat Indoor/Outdoor Matte Urethane Varnish cut with Future, water and 99% isopropyl alcohol.
This kit was done for fun. It was done to make people look and go “What the? Why is that Apache pink?” I wanted to freak out both Sci-fi guys by having a model of a real plane in their category at shows, and freak out plane guys by having an Apache that looked like no other. I think it worked great.
It wasn’t an overly complex project, but it’s neat to see a “Transformer” sitting on my display shelf among other “real” aircraft. The fact that Spinister is not famous in any way, and is a toy most people have likely forgotten makes it that much better. He’s basically the EXP of the Decepticon air forces!
The wild colours and weird patchwork application of therein is a trademark of later G1 Transformer toys, and it really works quite well when toned-down a bit for the “real world”. I had a good time building this kit and painting it as if it were a mech, rather than a plane, and I even got to tint a canopy for good measure! The fact that it has Decepticon symbols on it is just icing on the cake.