Motu Variants 101: An Introduction into the world of Masters of the Universe Variants

Written by James Reid
(IG @Variantsdownunder)

Introduction

Welcome to the world of Masters of the Universe variants, where at least 18 countries are confirmed to have had factories that produced toys for the line.

A total of 72 individual figures from 1981-88 including 4 European exclusive releases in the 2 Giants and 2 Laser Figures were created for the Masters of the Universe toyline. Every figure, bar one was made in at least 2 different factories. The exception was the giant Megator which was only made in Italy. No factory produced every figure, and there is no consistency in which factories produced which figures and continued to manufacture as the line progressed through the years. Mattel claims that no production records were kept from this time period so knowing which factories produced which figures has been up to research from collectors such as myself. While Mattel stopped production completely in 1988, companies with licenses such as Top Toys in Argentina and Leo in India continued well into the 90s. Some of these figures became even further away from the Mattel standard paint applications and this is where arguably some of the best and rarest variants came from.

Along with the figures many vehicles, playsets, and other accessories were all made in the same factories. The only known factories that didn’t produce any figures were in Australia, where a few of the larger items, Castle Grayskull, Snake Mountain, and Battle Bones were manufactured for local sales, Canada which is known to have made the Battle Bones and Castle Grayskull, and Korea which produced the Beam Blaster and Artilleray. Molds were shared and shipped around the world to different factories, sometimes altering the COO markings and sometimes not. Much of this is due to various country import taxes, trade laws, and tariffs in place to promote or protect local manufacturing.

Types of variants

Variants can be classed into categories.

  • Production changes, deliberate, within the same factory
  • Production differences between multiple factories ie Malaysia, Taiwan, Mexico all had a version of He-man for the same market.
  • International Production for release only in a specific country- Rotoplast, Leo, Top Toys.
  • Production Errors. Factory errors that were released in significant numbers.
  • European Production, Spain, France, Italy, and Greece all contributed to manufacture for release in European countries.

MATTEL STANDARD

Production for export. Sold in the US, UK, Canadian and Australian markets. Mexico/USA, Malaysia, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and China are considered the Mattel Standard, although there are variations, these are not considered international variants. There are however differences between these countries and even production changes in the same factories.  

Taiwan (22*)

The very first releases came from Taiwan. The original 8 figures, known as 8 backs, all had slight differences when they were re-released, usually a change in paint application and armor strap length. They were released again with 1982 markings along with other figures being added to production over the years. 

Motu Taiwan
Taiwan Vintage Variants || From the Collection of James Reid

Mexico/USA (20/2*)

Figures made in Mexico came from the MABAMEX factory located in Tijuana, and their accessories were for the most part made in the US. Only 2 figures are known to have been made in the USA, a 1982 marked He-Man and 1983 marked Battle Armor Skeletor. The rest all were manufactured in Mexico.

Motu Mabamex
Mabamex (Mexico) Vintage Variants || From the Collection of James Reid

Malaysia (33*)

Another major supplier was Malaysia. They had differences from Taiwan production in that some figures were produced with hard heads. These were often released on Euro cards and a few figures had unique Euro runs.

Motu Malaysia
Malaysia Vintage Variants || From the Collection of James Reid

Hong Kong/China (29*)

It appears that Hong Kong and China had very similar, if not the same production.

The only figures marked China were the Commemorative series released in the year 2000.

No vintage figures were marked China and only a few were ever marked Hong Kong with cards initially printed made in Hong Kong, then with a sticker that covered over the top of Hong Kong that said made in China. Eventually, China cards were printed. Was this a political issue of the time or were there in fact two separate factories? Mattel has no archives of which factories they used so we can only go by the information from carded evidence. Having opened several MOC from both China and Hong Kong of the same figure to do a comparative analysis, I can say there are small differences, but whether these are production changes within a factory or changes due to being made in a different factory I cannot say for certain. It is my belief that Hong Kong and China did have separate production. Some cards outright state “Figure made in China, Accessories made in Hong Kong” .This is a clear indication of 2 separate factories, perhaps working together, with excess Hong Kong cards being used by China with sticker in place.  Another interesting piece of MOTU history, the Meteorbs were made in Macau which is now also back under the control of China.

Motu Hong Kong
Hong Kong Vintage Variants || From the Collection of James Reid

Japan

Japan was not a source of manufacture but did have a very limited release by Takara. These were simply regular Taiwan carded figures with a Takara sticker on the back. Originally they were to be released by MABA, a deal between Mattel & Bandai, and several boxed examples were created with unique artwork. This deal did not eventuate and they were never released. 

EURO PRODUCTION

While many figures sold in European countries were simply regular Taiwan/Malaysia/Hong Kong figures on Euro cards, several European countries were involved in production.

France (37*)

There were two factories in operation which made all figures from series 1-4 excluding Teela and Evil-Lyn. Many slightly different paint apps from the Mattel Standard.

Strange oddities include the rare SUPER series, the Rubber boot variations, and the clear leg band variants. Most things are marked France however it appears that excess parts from Taiwan were used for some figures.

There a several types of France cards, with the Yellow Border being the most well known. It should be noted that not all France cards contain France-made figures. 

It’s possible the cause of many France variations is due to multiple factories making the same figure.

Motu France
France Vintage Variants || From the Collection of James Reid

Spain Congost (67*)

No country made every figure but Spain did come close, producing all figures except Ninjor, Faker, and Sorceress, and the giants Tytus and Megator. Only some figures produced in Spain are marked with the SPAIN COO and they often used molds from other countries, but all figures on a Masters Del Universo card are made in Spain, regardless of what the figures COO molds say.

Many variants came from Spain and some are extremely rare and hard to find, and there are multiple variations of the same figures. The later "reeditions" are generally marked France (having used the France molds) and for the most part use clear leg bands. 

Spain also produced their own variants of the two Laser Light figures.

The first wave came on Congost marked cards, whereas future waves omitted the Congost logo, though documentation seems to point to Congost being responsible for the entire Masters Del Universo run.

Motu Spain
Spain Vintage Variants || From the Collection of James Reid

Italy (13*)

While only a handful of figures on Euro cards were produced here, 4 major additions to the MOTU line came from Italy. These are the giants Megator and Tytus in 87 and Laser Light Skeletor and Laser Power He-Man in 1988. The other figures are Blast Attack, Mosquitor, Blade, Gwildor, Battle Armor He-Man, Sorceress, Saurod, Ninjor, Scareglow.  Some used clear leg bands and the figures themselves have subtle differences when directly compared to standards of Hong Kong or Mexico.

Motu Italy
Italy Vintage Variants || From the Collection of James Reid

Greece (2*)

 Only confirmed to have produced 2 figs, Skeletor and Terror Claws Skeletor.

The Skeletor is marked Spain and has very soft and translucent accessories and uses clear bands. Terror claws has an un-chromed matt-pink finish. 

Motu Greece
Greece Vintage Variants || From the Collection of James Reid

INTERNATIONAL PRODUCTION

Licensing deals with local manufactures were the cause of many variations in the Masters of the Universe line.

India LEO (31*) 

Leo was a licensing deal between Blowplast and Mattel to manufacture and release MOTU in the Indian market. They continued into the 90s creating some of the more interesting, rare, and now valuable variants, including the most well-known variant of all and considered the crown jewel amongst collectors, LEO Faker.

Most figures and accessories are marked India which is useful for their identification. LEO used regular cards to begin with and NA cards towards the end of their releases. 

Motu Leo
Leo India Vintage Variants || From the Collection of James Reid

Argentina Top Toys (40*) 

Top Toys had the license to manufacture and release MOTU in Argentina. Initially, most figures were sticking close to the Mattel script but standout variations were created. Kobra Kahn Camuflado was almost an entirely new creation and Modulock was given green limbs. As time went on and presumably to cut costs figures became further from the Mattel standard. Accessories and paint apps continued to change as Top Toys re-issued figures well into the ’90s. These re-issue figures have unique leg sculpts, where the muscles are more defined. The torsos tend to be bigger than their initial releases as well and for the most part have square arm pegs. 

Top toys used molds from other factories and erased the country name. The only figure to have an Argentina COO stamp is Trap Jaw. No Top Toys accessories have a COO stamp.

DISCLAIMER: Due to the ease of altering Top Toys figures by the removal of paint, its important to highlight that not all figures represented in the following images have been verified factory variants. This applies especially to figures that are indistinguishable from standard TT releases, except for un-painted parts. 

Motu Top Toys
Top Toys Argentina Vintage Variants || From the Collection of James Reid
Motu Top Toys
Top Toys Argentina Vintage Variants || From the Collection of James Reid

Venezuela Rotoplast (25*) 

Rotoplast was the company that manufactured and distributed MOTU in Venezuela.
Some figures released used a soft bendable rubber material for the figure’s arms and accessories. Many of the figures which came from Venezuala were variations from the Mattel production standard. 

Only the Rotoplast released Battlebones and Blasterhawk had a "made in Venezuela" stamp. No figures were ever marked with COO Venezuela. Instead, Rotoplast used molds from Spain and other countries, erasing the mold COO or sometimes leaving the original COO in place. 

Motu Rotoplast
Rotoplast Venezuela Vintage Variants || From the Collection of James Reid

Brazil Estrela (18*) 

The only company other than Mattel to have their company name on the figures.
These were made for the Brazilian Market. Figure names were localized. While most of the figures themselves were close to Mattel’s standard paint applications they did produce a standout version of Merman. Renamed Aquatico he came with all orange accessories. The first run of 7 figures were unmarked. All other figures (except) Tung Lashor were marked "Estrela S.A".

Motu Estrela
Estrela Brazil Vintage Variants || From the Collection of James Reid

Mexico Aurimat Los Amos (28*)

Masters of the Universe was also released locally in Mexico. The license was given to Aurimat, an alliance between Auriga and Mattel, and the line was renamed Los Amos del Universo. Figures manufactured by Aurimat are different from the Mabamex Mexican/USA factory, in Mexico for domestic release. They became known as the Los Amos variants and came packaged in boxes. Molds are known to have come from Mexico, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and France so only a limited number were marked Mexico. There are many rare and interesting variations in the Mexican collection. 

Motu Aurimat
Aurimat Los Amos Vintage Variants || From the Collection of James Reid

RARITY 

Not all figures are created equally. Production numbers varied massively between manufacturing plants, countries and individual figures. This creates dramatic inconsistencies in figure numbers and makes some highly rare. These rare figures may then even have significant variations which make them highly desirable for collectors to acquire.  Rarity must be evaluated on a figure by figure basis. 

CONCLUSION

With many factories producing figures for the Masters of the Universe line, over so many years, and so little official information available from Mattel it is almost impossible to put a number on the total count of variants. International manufacturing contracts, mold changes, paint mask variations, re-releases of figures, rolling changes through production have all contributed to the total of many hundreds of individual figure variants. It is mostly through a worldwide network of passionate collectors that information and evidence has been brought together over many years to collate, categorize and share this knowledge with all collectors. 

 

 

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