80S TOYS That Will Make You Nostalgic
By Mark Nobes and Hannah Johnson
The 1980s may have been a decade of big hair and big dreams for adults, but they were also big fun for kids. And when it came to toys, the 80s definitely did not disappoint. From beloved classics like the Cabbage Patch Kids to the iconic Smurfs, there were plenty of 80s toys that defined a generation.
Action Man was a toy doll for boys, although no young lad was going to admit that it was a doll, of course! Many a happy hour was
spent in the 80s playing with my Action Man and all of his accessories.
He was actually launched in Britain in 1966 by Palitoy as a licensed copy of Hasbro's American "moveable fighting man" G.I. Joe. Action Man was originally produced and sold in the UK from 1966 until 1984 (Palitoy also offered sub-licenses to various toy manufacturers in various markets).
During the 1970s, the first models that came with "gripping hands", "eagle eyes" and fuzzy blonde hair were introduced. The 1960's and early 70's models had plastic hair and non-moveable eyes and hands. In the 80s, Action Man gained a dynamic body for "more action poses".
could also purchase many vehicles and accessories including a tank,
jeep, personnel carrier, along with various outfits. I had a diver's
outfit with mine.
Who remembers glueing their fingers together trying to construct an Airfix model?
I don't think I ever completed one of these as I just wasn't patient enough, although I had a friend who had several aeroplanes that he had completed, and he even painted them, so I became a little envious!
The James Bond Moonraker Spaceship was released in 1979 and became hugely popular. Military jet planes and war themes were also popular.
Founded in 1939, Airfix was owned by Humbrol from 1986 until Humbrol's financial collapse on 31 August 2006. As of 2007, Airfix is currently owned by Hornby.
Airfix models still seem to be very popular, but I can't help imagining there are many anorak-wearing men with beards and sandals buying them!
Barbie was originally created in 1959 by Ruth Handler for Mattel, but she became extremely popular in the 1980s. Barbie was a fashion icon and many girls loved to dress her up in the latest fashion trends. Barbie also had a wide range of accessories, from shoes and jewelry to furniture and vehicles. There was even a pull-out home office set with a desk and mini computer, which was ahead of its time. And, there was, of course, the Ken doll, which was her perfect companion!
The photo above features a Barbie Super Hair doll in presentation box from 1980.
The 2023 Barbie movie, which received critical acclaim, has definitely re-ignited interest in the franchise, and a Barbie Rewind 80s Edition doll is also popular today.
Created in 1979, Bigtrak was a futuristic six-wheeled tank (kind of) with a front-mounted blue photon beam headlamp, and a keypad on top. The toy could remember up to 16 commands which it then executed in sequence. It also came with a trailer that could be purchased separately. I never owned a Bigtrak but envied those kids who did!
Cabbage Patch Kids
Cabbage Patch Dolls, well, what ugly things they were! A bit like Marmite, you either loved or hated 'em, although there are many who found them cute. So what were they exactly?
They were unique dolls with a facethat looked like they had trapped wind. They were designed for kids to play with and each one was unique, with it's own hairstyle, clothes and facial features. Over 50 million were sold World-wide.
The dolls are based on the 1970s Little People dolls by American artist Xavier Roberts in 1978. Cabbage Patch Kids were so popular that there were often waiting lists to adopt them. In 1983, the Cabbage Patch Kids craze reached its peak when there were reports of people being trampled in stores during store sales.
These were a latecomer to the 80s toys scene, arriving around 1988. They were called Rock N' Flowers and cool for a short period, before quickly becoming rather naff in the 90s, just like shellsuits! Place the flower near a speaker and it danced in time to music. The downside was that they were battery powered. They were made by the Japanese company Takara, and there was a wide range of flower characters, each holding a different musical instrument . All of them wore sunglasses, and some wore a bow tie.
This toy was pretty fascinating to me as a child . The idea was that you could draw what you wanted on the "magic" screen using the two white knobs and then erase it by shaking it up and down.
The main drawback was that it was virtually impossible to draw a circle or a curve - they always had a jagged look, although this hasn't stopped people from creating some amazing artwork. The other problem was that your annoying little brother would shake the darn thing before you had finished your masterpiece!
Visit the Etch A Sketch page to see some great artwork and further info about this classic toy.
Stay Puft action figure from 1984
There was no escaping the huge array of Ghostbusters merchandise, which was particularly popular in 1984, after the release of the first movies. Toys included action figures, vehicles (such as the Ecto-1 toy car) and ghost trap. Many toys were based on The Real Ghostbusters cartoon.
The toys were distrubuted by Hasbro in the UK and Kenner in the U.S. Ghostbusters toy remain popular today thanks to partly the movie Ghostbusters:Afterlife.
Gremlins was a comedy horror movie released in 1984, which was a big hit (along with Ghostbusters in the same year), and, inevitably, the shops were swamped with merchandise and toys. The cute Gizmo character (who was a Mogwai) was particularly popular, and there were many plush toys and a wind-up toy that looked like him. The anarchic Stripe (often misnamed as Spike) also had a cult following, and the poseable figure (shown above)became popular.
Master mind Board Game
The picture above below features the 1984 version of the original Waddington's Master Mind. However, the game first became available in the 70s and on the version I had, the box featured a Japanese or Chinese woman accompanied by an intelligent-looking guy with a beard. As a child, I always wondered why Magnus Magnusson didn't appear on the box, but the game really has little to do with the TV series apart from the use of your memory.
The game was designed for two players and the first player had to set-up a row of four coloured pegs behind a screen. The second player then had nine attempts to try and guess the combination using their own coloured pegs. Player one would use a smaller black or white peg to signify whether player two had guessed the colours correctly or incorrectly.
I really like this game and it is still available to buy, although it comes in more than a dozen different guises!
Masters Of The Universe Action Figures
When you think of 80s cartoons, He-Man and The Masters Of The Universe often springs to mind. The toy line was also popular, particularly the He-Man and Skeletor action figures. These powerful toys were all the rage in the 80s. He-Man was created by Mattel in 1982, and his popularity grew quickly. He was strong, brave, and always saved the day, and was the perfect hero for kids to look up to.
Buttons G1 unicorn pony
My Little Pony
The original line was the My Pretty Pony range, which was launched in 1981 by Hasbro. However, it was unsuccessful, and the company then launched its first generation (G1)of six My Little Pony ponies, each with their own unique name and design, which was hugely successful. The original toys were produced from 1982 to 1995 globally. Since 2003, the franchise has become popular again, with a fifth generation of toys launched in 2021.
This is a 1983 My Little Pony called Seashell, who is a sitting-down earth pony from Year 2.
Paul Daniels Magic Set
The Paul Daniels Magic Show was a popular TV series throughout the 1980's, and almost every child wanted one of his toy magic sets so they could learn to become a magician, too!
Quite why a toupe-wearing, middle-aged man performing card tricks and telling lollipop stick jokes was so popular is a mystery, but he went down a storm. Okay, occasionally he would pretend to saw Debbie McGee in half, but he was no David Copperfield.
On 1st January 2012, Paul Daniels lost his left index finger & tip of his ring finger in an accident with a circular saw whilst building props for his act. Paul sadly died on 17th March 2016.
Portable Space Invaders Games
Invader From Space (shown above) was a particularly popular unit, although only had a four column display.
The Rainbow Brite franchise was created by Hallmark in 1984. The popularity of the cartoon and toy line rocketed during 1985. The poseable doll figure and soft plush toys were particularly popular. The TV cartoon series aired between 1984 and 1985, preceded by a special episode "Peril in the Pits".
Rainbow Brite follows a young girl named Wisp, who's mission is to bring colour to a grey, barren land. she is aided by a furry Sprite called Twink who she befriends, and her white horse with a rainbow mane and tail, Starlite. The sprites are tasked with managing the colour in the world.
For those parents who didn't want to fork out for expensive and official Transformers toys, there were many cheaper copycat toys such as the Japanese Robot Changers. Although not the real McCoy, they still looked pretty cool! The range included the Guardian Night Owl (see below), and Cosmic Racer, which turned into a Lamborghini style car.
A toy doesn't get any more 80s than the Rubik's Cube. Invented by Ernő Rubik in 1974, the puzzle toy went global in 1980, and just about every child was trying to solve it. There were also numerous geeks on various TV shows of the day who could solve it in ten seconds with their eyes shut! If you were one of the lucky ones who was able to solve the cube, then you were considered a genius.
After the Cube, came the Rubik's Snake, which could be turned into an almost infinite number of shapes.
Scalextric is the ultimate boys toy, and whenever I invited my friends around for tea back in the early 1980s, they always begged me to get my Scalextric set out! I only had a fairly basic figure of 8 Grand Prix set , but it was immense fun racing your friends, although the cars often flew off the track whilst cornering!
Scalextrik was actually introduced in 1956, but it was during the 80s that the slot racing car sets became even more exciting, with a wide range of new themes, including the Austin Rover Class Championship Set with MG Metro Turbo cars, shown above.
Set themes in the 80s included the aformentioned Grand Prix, Blowout!, Le Mans 24 Hour and Metro Racing, to name but a few. There were also many accessories that could be bought to enhance your experience, including the C706 pack which had many mini figures and accessories (such as cones)you could place around the track, although they came unpainted.
The award for the coolest toy of the 80s goes to Transformers (robots in disguise). Transformer toys are robots that can change into vehicles or other objects, and they were very popular with kids of the 80s - they quickly became a must-have item!
But just why were they so pupular? Well, because they were so unique and different from anything else that was on the market. Children loved being able to transform their toys into something else , and they loved the action-packed adventures that the Transformers went on.
Transformers were also in comic books, movies, and TV shows, and they had a lasting impact on popular culture - the franchise is still popular today.
During the late 70s and into the 1980s, National Benzole petrol stations in the UK were the only place to get hold of a Smurf figurine, and for a while were the No.1 toy.
If I remember correctly, these were either given away in promotions or could be bought in the forecourt shop. I remember collecting about a dozen of them and distinctly remember Papa Smurf, Drummer Smurf and Brainy Smurf, but there were dozens available, as well as a smurf house and village for those kids with wealthy parents! These figures have now become collectable items - now what did I do with them?
Tiny Tears Doll
Tiny Tears was the first doll on the market to cry and wet itself, giving young girls a more realistic experience of looking after a baby. Some dolls also came with a milk bottle that gave the illusion of the doll actually drinking milk. There's no doubt that this doll was loved by both parents and kids, and the doll's unique functions helped to generate huge sales.
A rare purple GAF (Model J) View-Master from 1981
There was a huge choice of reels available, with many being based on popular TV shows and movies of the time, but there were also sports, cars, animals and many other themes.
The early models of View-Master were made by Sawyer's from a heavy bakelite, but the newer version which became hugely popular (the Model G) was made from a lighter plastic, and was first released in 1962. They came mainly in red and grey colours.
Sawyer's was acquired by General Aniline & Film (GAF) in 1966.
Knight Rider 3D reels set from 1982
We hope you have enjoyed taking a look back at popular 80s toys. We have many more pages on the subject for you to enjoy...