great robots & toys
from the space age

Gang of Five/ Mars Patrol

Gang of Five

planet zero

Above: Robot artist George Eisner created new ‘50’s-themed box art for the “Gang of Five” wind-up robots, available through Rocket USA. Shown are three members of the gang. L to R: Sonic (Train) robot, Non-stop (Lavender) robot, and Target robot. At around $20, these brightly-lithographed wind ups were a robot bargain.

L to R: Machine Man witth the Masudaya Box. The original Machine Man, a large, skirted, batttery operated, bump'n'go robot from the 1950s is one of the rarest robots in the world. In 1997 an original Machine Man went for a whopping $74,000 at an auction at Sotheby's. The Masudaya box has all Japanese writing except for the robot's title in English. They were also alternately packaged with all six robots in one box.
C: The Gang of Five are really six. Shooting Giant Robot, on the drawing board but never produced, made his debut as a Masudaya wind-up. Shown with the Rocket USA box.
R: The original Radicon Robot was billed in the 1958 issue of Popular Mechanics as the first radio- controlled robot. Shown with the Masudaya  box.

At just under five inches, Masudaya's Gang of Five tinplate wind-ups vividly recreate the halcyon days of robots. Each is a miniature replica of one of Masudaya's now rare, colorfully-lithographed, battery operated tin toy robots of the 1950s. These Masudaya wind-ups originally sold for under $20 each and were imported from Japan. Masudaya entered into an agreement with Rocket USA to distribute them in the US in English language boxes with retro art by robot artist George Eisner. The box art was also available as decorative signs and signed fine art prints.

Tin toys were eventually outlawed in the USA as kids' toys because of the sharp, folded over edges. Thus, any tin toys sold today are marked "for collectors only". However, these Mausdaya robots are far better made than many tin toys being cranked out today and have plastic pieces covering the metal seams.

While the original Masudaya robots are scarce and rare, these wind-ups are numerous and affordable and probably the best bargain for the budget robot collector. It's a great credit to Masudaya that they would make these wind-ups available at such an affordable price, bringing their brightly- lithographed, fascinating robots in reach of everyone. We think Masudaya should get the Nobel Prize for bringing peace through robots.

Above L: Radicon ready to recharge at the robot power plant, built from an early '50s no. 6 1/2 Erector Set and  GeoMag pieces.
R: The primitive power plant delivers a jolt of juice.

Mars Patrol

"Go into Space!" read the motto of Rocket USA's Mars Patrol series. This battery operated bump'n'go flying saucer features retro styling reminiscent of the tin toy lithographed saucers made by Masudaya and other companies in the '50s and '60s. Like them, it lights up as it runs along the floor. The plastic martian driver is a bit of an update, as is the plastic undercarriage.

Retro space toys
Rocket USA saucer

In 1998, Rocket USA designed a ten inch, friction powered retro-styled rocet ship called "MP1" (Mars Patrol One), which was "produced in Japan by quality manufacturers" in a limited edition of 12,000 rockets. Each collectible rocket included a numbered certificate (the one shown is # 2040). A second rocket was designated as a "member of the Inter Galactic Space Pirates and an enemy of Mars Patrol". This rocket, suitably emblazoned with a Jolly Roger skull, was also produced in a limited edition of 12,000 rockets (this one is number 1982).

Mars Patrol retro tin toy

Rocket USA friction tin toy

In 2006, Rocket USA created this wind-up Space Race. Shown are wind-up saucers in the Mars Patrol design, but they were also available as space pirates. The wind-up saucers travel on a figure eight loop over a ten inch by six inch lithographed background depicting the saucers, as well as the above friction space rockets and the Mars Explorer saucer, which has the logos of both Mars Patrol and the Inter-Calactic Space Pirates. The track is labeled "Made in China".
Mars Patrol tin toy wind-ups

Tin toy wind-up flying saucers

Planet Zero