RoadBlasters – from Atari coin-op, to a forgotten toy line

A few years ago, we looked at the partnership between SEGA and the radio-controlled car manufacturer Tyco, which resulted in Pocket Power – a unique line of pocket-sized toys, varying from launchable cars to glow in the dark skeletons. This wasn’t the only unlikely partnership between a toy car manufacturer and a video game giant, as Matchbox and Atari struck a deal in the late ‘80s to capitalise on one of the latter’s recent arcade hits.

Released throughout 1987 and 1988, Matchbox’s RoadBlasters line featured the same branding as Atari’s vehicular combat-focused coin-op, based on the concept of toy cars armed to the grills with armour, guns, and missiles. Simply, each diecast model came with plastic clip-on armour that could be mounted with weaponry.

Two factions featured – Turbo Force and Motor Lords – with such names as Carpow, Tow Nailer, Barrel Bomber, and Stick Up Pick Up. In addition to sharing the RoadBlasters logo, packaging featured quintessentially ‘80s Vaporwave vector lines, giving it a futuristic theme.

The line was accompanied by four playsets, along with a racetrack featuring a loop. As well as being TV advertised, Matchbox also struck a deal with UK publication Eagle to run a RoadBlasters comic strip and give away a poster. Taking place in the year 2587, the strip appeared in 24 issues before being concluded in Eagle’s popular Computer Warrior series. Curiously, it rubbed shoulders with Kenner’s MASK, also being promoted in Eagle at the time. Talk about tough competition.

A couple of peculiar omissions stand out about this line. While it bears the arcade hit’s branding, the infamous Atari logo is curiously missing – and it wasn’t as if it wouldn’t lend additional brand recognition. Secondly, the line doesn’t include a replica of the coin-op’s recognisable red car. The closest here is a burgundy Nissan Datsun, known as Killer Zee. It’s a line connected by the name and logo alone.

It’s also difficult to say if the line was a hit. The concept of inexpensive toy cars with a handful of weapons to attach would have appealed to ‘80s children, riding on the coattails of Kenner’s MASK while also being a cheaper alternative. However, searching eBay and Google brings up countless images of cars still in their packaging, some of which have discount labels from various stores. In fact, it seems easier to find packaged RoadBlasters over loose.

It’s doubtful that the line was much of a gamble for Matchbox, as it reused existing vehicle models. Some people may even have Roadblasters in their collections without knowing it, and this may explain why so few results are found for loose models and spares on eBay.

You have to wonder if Matchbox had to contact the vehicle manufacturers to see if they would object to their cars being weaponised, perhaps fearing it would show their brand in a negative light – much like how some manufacturers object to their vehicles being shown as damaged in a racing game. Chances are though they just went in all guns blazing – pun not intended. This was the ‘80s, where rarely anything was questioned.