Inside the Anthill is a semi-regular feature brought to you by Fwoosher TheManInTheAnthill, focusing on unusual objects dragged into the Anthill over the years! Click ahead to read about vintage toys!
Mistakes. We all make ‘em. They might be little ones, like missing a birthday or forgetting to take the trash out. Or they might be big ones, like going Gallagher on the side of someone’s melon with a baseball bat. There are two essential truths at the heart of this article: 1. In the end, we’re all only human, and 2. If a guy in a star-spangled helmet and cape comes running towards you brandishing a Louisville Slugger, odds are he’s not looking for a pick-up game.
Legendary motorcycle daredevil and media superstar Evel Knievel once had it all. A unique, almost mythic figure in entertainment, his was a household name. More Elvis than athlete, the showman was known the world over for his death-defying stunts, which often ended in bone-crushing injuries. In his neckbrace and red, white, and blue patent leather jumpsuit, Evel personified the bicentennial fever which gripped the country for the early part of the 1970s. His image was everywhere–on posters, magazines, beach towels. and, of course, toys.
Ideal Toys produced a number of figures and vehicles between 1972 and 1977, including cars, vans, rockets, and, of course, the iconic motorcycle. The toys sold like gangbusters, reportedly earning Ideal 125 million dollars in a five-year period–but there was one problem. In 1976, at the height of the stuntman’s notoriety, Evel allegedly assaulted an unarmed man with a baseball bat. That the man in question, one Shelly Saltman, had written an inflammatory book claiming Knievel was abusive to his family and used illegal drugs did not sway the court of public opinion: overnight Evel Knievel went from media superstar to regrettable has-been, putting the skids on his career and Ideal’s most successful toy line.
Or did it?
Re-use of existing molds has always been a common practice in the toy industry. Starting with the first lead soldier, companies have always sought to get the most out of their tooling dollar. Ideal had invested a great deal of cash into the development and manufacture of products for the Evel Knievel world. But what to do about the loss of their star attraction? Well, it just so happened there was another up-and-coming star just waiting in the wings…
It’s OK. The terror and revulsion you feel is your body’s natural defense against the soul-chilling horror that is Honcho. Don’t fight it, accept it–only then can we move past it.
Brrrrrr–that doesn’t get any easier, does it? Whatever you do, don’t look him in the eye. He can taste your fear.
Honcho here was the “leader” of Ideal’s replacement toy-line TEAM AMERICA, although the only thing he seems capable of leading is the line at the local methadone clinic. Seriously, if William S. Burroughs were an action hero he would be this guy. Here we catch our hero just after he sold his helmet for a hit of smack, but just before he crashes his stunt-cycle on purpose to score a prescription for Vicodan. Seriously, what the hell were the owners of Ideal thinking when they sat down to approve this toy?
“Ghastly sunken cheeks? Check! Greasy pervert hair? Check! Gigantic brown bags under his eyes? Check and check!”
Honestly, you can get hepatitis just by looking at this guy. He makes Keith Richards seem positively robust. Harsh? Sure, but imagine all the kids who woke up Christmas morning expecting Evel Knievel but instead found this sad plastic abortion.
“Is he the one you wanted, dear? The man at the store said he’d be the one you’d want.”
“No, Grandma, NOOOOO!”
I’ve gotta wonder if this was just the company’s way of sticking it to Evel, replacing him with his backwoods inbred cousin. But lest you think our boy here was a gang of one –
That’s right–Honcho has a posse. Let’s take a closer look at these fine fellows:
So Honcho rides with the love-children of Conan O’Brien and Charles Bronson? I think Ma has been swimmin’ in the gene pool without a life preserver again. If you care, the ginger kid is known as R.U. Reddy (ugh) and his curly-haired pal changed his name from “and Oates” to the more menacing “Wolf.” Every time I look at these two clowns I crack up–it’s like they dressed some carnies up like leatherboys and set them loose on our nation’s highways.
OK, enough funnin’. Before the Fwoosh cuts me off in favor of more 3A coverage, lets take a closer look at Mister Knievel and the Eastern European war criminal he was replaced with.
For a start, Honcho is manufactured in a completely different fashion than his predecessor. Evel sported a rubber body with a stiff wire armature inside. This allowed the figure almost unlimited posing possibilities; in contrast, Honcho only moves at the big 5, and is made of the kind of hard, inflexible plastic best left for cheap houseware. Sure, it ended up being a surprisingly durable toy, but making this thing unkillable benefits no one.
Another notable difference is the suit. In the mid-’70s everyone got a fabric costume; it didn’t matter if you were a high-end 12” action figure from the top shelf or a Tomart cheapie hanging on the dollar pegs, you were guaranteed a cloth onesie. Evel was known for his trademark white jumpsuit and his toy did a fair job representing it, but this was far from his only “look.” Ideal found they could take advantage of this by offering the same basic doll in different outfits, creating a sense of variety in their product while keeping costs down. It was a good strategy and they decided to carry it over into the TEAM AMERICA line, but instead of cloth they opted for the cheaper alternative of a single basic sculpted body.
Cast in either red, white, or blue plastic, painted details were then applied to the figure in the two alternate colors and the frightful totems were released into an unsuspecting world. Obviously Ideal was unafraid of legal reprisal from Knievel, who at the time was bankrupt and drifting in and out of jail. They ripped off his patriotic jumpsuit design for the team’s uniforms and even gave Honcho Knievel’s distinctive hairstyle. It’s rather shameless but hey, toys aren’t all fun and games, kids.
If you’re old as sin like me, something may have clicked inside your head–as weird and unpleasant as these guys are, you just may have seen them somewhere before. Like some long-forgotten memory that skitters around the baseboard of your brain, the images of Honcho and company tickle your synapses with their furry antennae. No, you are not about to relive some horrible incident you’ve done your best to repress these long decades–you simply remember these clowns from their short-lived comic book.
Produced by Marvel Comics in the dark days of the early ‘80s, the book followed the teams “adventures,” which consisted of ugly guys standing around arguing when they weren’t jumping their motorcycles over things. Oh, there was also some nonsense about the team being mutants, which kinda makes sense if you look at them. I mean, what other explanation can you come up with? Anyway, Captain America briefly joined the team–he even got his own figure in the toy line–but it wasn’t enough to save this dogturd of a property. The book went to The Great Longbox in the Sky after 12 issues.
A number of different vehicles were released, but this is the only one currently in the Anthill.
Pretty slick. Any sane child would throw Honcho to the dog and stick Spider-Man or Fonzie behind the wheel of this sweet ride. My research has turned up very little about this car: Team America toys remain largely unexplored region of the Bronze Age and information about them is still very hard to come by. Close scrutiny reveals it shares the same engine as Derry Daring’s Wheelie Car but the body is rather different. It does, however, feature the same gyro-motor that powered all of Ideal’s Knievel vehicles. It comes with a blue launcher, which still works great after all these years. Both the car and the launcher remain in decent shape, examples of a level of quality sadly lacking in today’s toys.
It’s a solid little car, built to defy death repeatedly; cast in bright red plastic, it works great with Mego-scaled figures, which were also making their final bows around this time. A little film called STAR WARS had changed the toy industry overnight, and toys like Honcho sank without a trace in its wake. But the sun shines on even the dog’s ass occasionally, and you can be sure we haven’t seen the last of TEAM AMERICA. At least, not if I have anything to say about it.