The Top 10 G.I. Joe Vehicles

What are the ten top G.I. Joe vehicles and playsets? I know that question is driving you into a mad frenzy. Look, put that shard of glass down and I’ll tell you!

This list is a bitter different than the usual top ten G.I. Joe toys of all time type lists, because the Defiant, the Flagg, and the Terrordrome were purposely left off. How could I be so insane?! Well, I ate a bunch of mercury, but also those three almost always crowd the top three spots. What would the list like without them? My bold experiment will tell all!

10. Cobra BUGG (1988)

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While the BUGG certainly is one of the most bizarre looking G.I. Joe toys that features some very un-Cobra like colors, it still is a pretty cool vehicle. This beast is a strange mixture of water/land craft. One of it’s best aspects is its removable front sub. It also has a cool bubble turret on the back, some room in the back for a couple of extra Cobra troops, and detachable jet skis hidden in the top compartments!

Despite its strange shape and colors, there’s a lot to enjoy about the under appreciated Cobra BUGG.

9. Rolling Thunder (1988)

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While the Rolling Thunder lacks some of the artistry found in the earlier Joe vehicles and it throws realism out the window completely (really what roads would this fit on?), it makes up for it in size and power! Nothing says power like a billion lasers and missiles galore. It even has a small ATV that has a cannon on it! You know the Joes mean business when they mount a missile on the barrel of a gigantic two person cannon. Seriously why do two people need to operate this thing? One to turn side to side and another to go up and down?

The best feature of the Rolling Thunder is it’s two gigantic missiles that rise out of it’s center. Some call these ICBMS, but I doubt the Joe force is authorized to use nukes. And like everything else about the Rolling Thunder, the missiles have smaller missiles inside of them. Insanity!

The military budget in the world of G.I. Joe must account for 90% of government spending. That is the only explanation possible for the Rolling Thunder.

8. Transportable Tactical Battle Platform (1985)

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The Transportable Tactical Battle Platform is an odd duck of a playset that often goes overlooked. While it certainly looks like it’s a water based base for the G.I. Joe team, you could throw it on land or water bringing it’s versatility score up a notch.

What makes this thing great? Well, it fits a ton of figures for some great dio action. It’s got a nifty crane, missiles, and a big laser cannon. I’m a fan of the computer console/command area, but my favorite feature has to be the “helipad” which is perfect for the small Skyhawk (one of my favorite small sized vehicles in the G.I. Joe line). The Tactical Battle Platform also hold another small vehicle like a motorcycle, or an Armadillo (which is featured on the box art).

There’s a very strange, yet neat detail to this sucker that is often over looked. It’s called “Transportable” for a reason. If one were to have 4 Dragonfly helicopters, the tow hooks can attach to hooks on the platform allowing it to be moved. I’m willing to bet no kid had enough Dragonflies or had friends that had enough of them to do this. Still, cool detail if a bit misguided.

Park a Killer WHALE next to this sucker or set it next to the FLAGG (if you have all the room in the world) and you have a great vehicle / playset combo!

7. AWE Striker (1985)

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The AWE Striker is one of those Joe vehicles that takes cues from real life and then amps it up a notch.

First up there’s room for four Joes (more Joes per vehicle is always a bonus in my book). Then there’s the fact that the AWE Striker has got an impressive ass cannon on the top. The two long antenna give it some nice symmetry and style. There’s also a a removable engine cover. Neato!

6. VAMP (1982), VAMP Mark II and Stinger (1984)

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While the VAMP looks a tad plain and it only features one offensive weapon, it holds a high place in the minds of G.I. Joe fans. It looks just close enough to a real military vehicle to be realistic, but far enough from a Jeep (the standard military vehicle at the time) to perfectly suit it for the world of G.I. Joe.

The VAMP has a tow hook so it can tow several other vehicles. There’s also a couple of gas tanks on the back, for added realism.

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I’ve included the VAMP Mark II and Stinger here because they’re essentially the same vehicle, except with different weapon load outs and a hard top. That kind of versatility is exactly why the VAMP is an excellent G.I. Joe toy. The VAMP and its kin weren’t ultra fancy, but that went to their benefit. They could fit almost any scenario that a kid could come up with, making it a nearly indispensable addition to the G.I. Joe (or Cobra) army.

5. Mobile Command Center (1987)

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Full disclosure: I have never owned nor seen a Mobile Command center in person. How do I know it’s cool enough to add to this list? Well, I’m going by pictures I’ve seen of this sucker. The Mobile Command Center reminds me of the G.I. Joe version of the Jawa Sandcrawler, but much cooler. I hardly ever see it on any top ten list, but any time I’ve seen pictures of it in dios I’ve always been impressed. It’s like the original HQ… but mobile!

Sure it does look a little silly when opened, as no real life military would want their command center to split open to enemy artillery strikes, but I’ve always seen it as more a of symbolic thing that would allow you to see the inside of this puppy.

What do you get? A nifty service bay with a crane… and a fuel hose! There’s even a replacement engine for a “Jeep”. How about the command center with one of them cool clear tactical displays? On top there’s a missile bay that includes a small helicopter pad (probably best suited for the Skyawk) and a working elevator. And don’t forget the small holding cell for a Cobra prisoner.

Crap, now I really want one.

4. G.I. Joe Headquarters Command Center (1983)

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Most of the G.I. Joe bases are pretty damned cool (yes, even the later ones), but the first G.I. Joe HQ gets the prize here. Why? Well, first of all I’m writing the list. Secondly, it’s iconic. It sticks in your head when you think of the G.I. Joe HQ, particularly if you were a fan of the cartoon.

The G.I. Joe HQ Command Center has some great play features, from the main cannon that seats a figure to the turret, to the computer console, to the mechanics bay with a vehicle lift… this sucker has a lot to love, including a prison! And who doesn’t love a military prison?! Thanks to laws allowing detainment forever without trial, those Cobra bastards are going to regret getting captured alive!

If that’s not enough to sell you on G.I. Joe HQ, how about the fact that it’s compatible with nearly every Joe vehicle released up to 1984. Not only does it feature a helipad for the Dragonfly, but its got spots for the other vehicles as well:

3. Cobra Moray (1985)

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You might have noticed a theme here… almost all the vehicles and playsets are from the G.I. Joe team. Well, the Cobra Moray earned it’s #3 spot in spades. This sucker has a lot going for it. It’s big, can fit a bunch of figures, and it’s got features galore. How about a missile rack that pops up? Or depth charges that launch from the back? There’s even cool torpedoes! A turret on the top! Storage compartments in back! A removable engine cover for those necessary vehicle repair moments in any G.I. Joe adventure!

And to top it all off, the Moray isn’t just an ordinary boat, it’s a hydrofoil! Hot damn!

2. Tomahawk (1986)

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While I acknowledge and sometimes love the more sci-fi elements of G.I. Joe, the best of G.I. Joe tends to lean towards more realistic military routes. The Tomahawk is one of the most realistic vehicles in G.I. Joe while still being one that doesn’t exactly exist in real life. The Tomahawk was easily one of my favorite G.I. Joe Christmas gifts and is highly prized by Joe fans today. It’s a versatile vehicle that has a lot of class.

What’s not to love about the Tomahawk? It’s got a super cool 80s era camo paint job, room enough for a squad of Joes to send on missions, a cargo hook and line, a rad ass mini-gun mounted on the chin, a moveable rear propeller, removable seats and a rear door that opens to turn the chopper into a cargo carrier! If that’s not enough, the Tomahawk has removable panels in several places so your Joes can work on engine components. Yo Joe! Get me a 1/16th inch size ratchet! We gotta get this bird up and… sorry I just started writing a G.I. Joe fan fic there.

1. Killer W.H.A.L.E. (1984)

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The Killer WHALE is another G.I. Joe vehicle that’s semi-realistic, yet fantastic enough for the G.I. Joe universe. I never really thought about the Killer WHALE a whole lot until I got one that was 99% complete in a rummage sale find. After assembling it, I realized that I had really missed out on this great vehicle.

Hasbro managed to pack a lot into this thing. It’s big, but there’s a reason. There’s a bridge area that can fit a few figures and a below deck area for Joes to chill or for storage. What would G.I. Joes need storage for? American flags and bullets, dummy.

And the weapons! Holy crap, this thing is ready to blow the hell out of Cobra on sea or land. There are cannons, laser turrets, missiles… but even with the large number of offensive weapons, I don’t feel like it’s over weaponized (see Rolling Thunder).

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There’s some really great extras that push it from great to amazing, which include a small “sled” that shoots out of the front and a tiny collapsible motorcycle for when G.I. Joe wants to look down right silly. The rear fans turn with the push of a button, but it should be noted that whole back end there is pretty fragile for a kid’s toy. The depth charges that launch off the side are like icing on the cake, the Killer WHALE cake of awesome!

And… it floats!

If you’re a G.I. Joe collector and you don’t have a Killer WHALE in your army, you should really think about correcting that.

Honorable Mentions

ICE Sabre (1991)

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Coming out near the tail end of the A Real American Hero run the ICE Sabre suffers from the ridiculous obsession with neon colors that plagued the line in its dying years. Good on you Cobra for making a white vehicle for snow, but you have to question the sense of having neon orange guns in that environment.

The Ice Sabre also lacks some of the finer details and sturdiness of earlier Joe vehicles. Seriously, those front skis are almost impossible to keep on and that missile launcher will break if you breathe on it too hard. However despite these flaws, I always found the Ice Saber to be a cool looking sleek design. I really appreciate the rotating cockpit that fits three figures. It doesn’t make any sense, but it still looks cool. Repaint them guns and you’ll have a fine vehicle to back up your other Cobra snow vehicles.

Battle Stations, Battlefield Accessories (1984, 1985, 1986)

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For three years the history of G.I. Joe A Real American Hero had play-sets and accessories that are reminiscent of the 12 inch incarnation of G.I. Joe, in that they enhanced the “world” of the G.I. Joe team. For instance, the Biovac (1984) came with a wood chopping axe and a canteen. With the Mortar Defense Unit (1984) you got oil barrels and sand bags, and with both Missile Defense (1984) and Cobra Rifle Range (1985), there are accessories for your Joes (and Cobra) to take cover behind.

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Checkpoint Alpha (1984) and Outpost Defense (1986) fit in the same concept that fills in the reality of the Joe world and helps to make a great diorama/display.

It’s a shame that these types of things didn’t continue. I love having cots for my Joes to bunk in and little ruined walls for them to set up a firing position. These days 3rd Party manufactures make items to fill the gap, but it’s just not the same.

Twin Battle Gun Whirlwind (1983), Cobra A.S.P. (1984)

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The Twin Battle Gun is simple, realistic looking, and awesome. Who doesn’t love brutal looking mini-guns ready to shred any Cobra forces in its path? I imagine this thing cutting wave after wave of Cobra troops in half ala the ending of Rambo IV.

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Its closest counterpart on the Cobra team is the ASP. The ASP is a slick Cobra blue and has a futuristic/sci-fi look that follows the tradition of Cobra’s other vehicles like the HISS. The ASP has two laser cannons on the front and it features a raising gunner station which doesn’t really serve a much of a purpose rather than looking cool.

Both vehicles are towable, meaning the Twin Battle Gun can hook up a vehicle like the MOBAT, Slugger, or VAMP and the ASP can hook up to the HISS tank (or to the Joe vehicles if need be).

While limited, these two vehicles pack a lot of punch in a small package.

Afterword: I know some of you are gasping for air and squeezing your Hot Pockets in rage. “Where’s the Rattler?! Where’s the Skystriker?!” Eh, I’ve never liked the Rattler all that much. And the Skystriker didn’t score as high on the criteria for this list. It’s too much like a regular F-14 and not enough G.I. Joe. It’s great, but not this list great.

LINK: A lot of images come from the excellent Love them.

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  • Lamar the Revenger

    Great list!! I have the Battle Platform. Yeah, it’s huge. I got a lot on this list. I thought about adding a BUGG to my toy hunt wish list. I’ve never seen a Mobile Command Center in the wild either.

  • SharePointJoe

    Always thought the Rattler was a top 10 vehicle easy.

  • Well, you’d be wrong. :D

  • Josiah

    GREAT list, thank you. It makes an especially satisfying read, since awhile back some joker on Cracked put up a list of the ‘worst’ vehicles, for which he picked several of the best vehicles and mocked them mainly over their box art.

    I appreciate seeing some less obvious choices, since a top-ten list with the Skystriker, the HISS, and any of the big three (FLAGG/Defiant/Terror Drome) isn’t going to surprise anyone. And I think the Skystriker and the Rattler are both somewhat overrated. Iconic, but both come with frustrations. The Rattler has way too many breakable pieces to be a good time (the WHALE is also super-fragile, but still super-playable enough to balance this), and the Skystriker has the wings tied in with the landing gear when they really should have been separate features.

    I’m lucky enough to have a Mobile Command Center, and it is indeed all that, plus the bag of chips. The Tomahawk and the VAMPs are practical essentials. The Moray seriously wowed me when I got it secondhand. I always wanted the BUGG and the Rolling Thunder; clearly they’re later-era masterpieces.

    The only one where I can’t agree at all is the Ice Saber. Even though I love that you included a 90s vehicle, I could never get that one to function and it leaves a bad taste in my mouth. My picks would be the Earthquake, the Mudbuster, the Shark 9000, and the Monster Blaster APC. And weirdly, the Armor-Bot. This era comes with lowered expectations, but those were all pleasant surprises.

    If it were my list, some other ’80s greats that I’d put on there might be the Mauler, the Warthog, and the HISS II. And maybe the Hammerhead. I never had that one but it looks amazing. And the Cobra Battle Barge, when staffed with Toxo-, Techno-, and Hydro-Vipers. Just kidding.

  • Freakshow

    Actually, the Rolling Thunder is kinda based on a real vehicle. It seems very much like a modified Oshkosh Tactical HEMTT.
    (No idea how to link with this board system, sorry)

    Clearly not a 100% accurate replica, but it sure seems like it was the basis.

    Also, not all ICBMs carry nukes. To qualify as an ICBM, it only needs a range of over 5,000 kilometers. Rolling Thunder carries MIRV warheads, but they could be fitted with conventional munitions.

  • @Josiah thanks for the reply. That’s why I put the Ice Sabre in honorable mentions. I love it, but it can’t fit on the list.

    @Freakshow Hmmm even if it is based on Oshkosh Truck, it’s at least 3 times larger. Hell, it looks like it would be maybe 4 times the width? My point being, there are no roads that this thing would fit on. The weight alone and the size would make it completely impracticable to travel in most places.

  • Dead Man Walking

    Obviously this all subjective, but picking the dinky AWE Striker over the Night Raven is worse than punching a baby.

  • Woot! Killer Whale!

  • @Agust why Agust, I had no idea you liked G.I. Joe

    @Dead Man… I struggled with this list for days. I repositioned them several times, I even took things off and added things. I don’t blame you for judgement. Leaving the Raven off COULD have been a serious mistake. I’m not going to sleep at night now.

  • Rodrigo

    I like the Rolling Thunder. Like you said, it may have a lot of missiles, but in the end it’s nice that the Joes have some kind of “movile nuclear tank” like the METAL GEAR, right? Also is very interesting it’s protagonism in the first invasion of the COBRA island (in the 80’s in the Marvel comics), it was part of the mechanised batallion, under the orders of PSyque-out, that supported the assault operation lead by Hawk.

  • ”RAVEN”

    ”Every vehicle on your list just WOULD NOT CUT IT! ,on my list ,of G.I.JOE/COBRA vehicles.Here ,for example is MY LIST:1)1986 COBRA NIGHT RAVEN S3P BLACK V.I.P.JET TRANSPORT/SPY PLANE.2)1986 COBRA TERROR DROME. 3)1985 G.I.JOE AIRCRAFT CARRIER-U.S.S. FLAGG.4)1987 G.I.JOE DEFIANT SPACE LAUNCH COMPLEX-(3 piece space vehicle set,space shuttle, booster space station, and gantry launch crawler).-”RAVEN”.

  • I had the Mobile Command Center… it was a blast!

  • Wow “Raven” such an original list. *yawn*

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  • Will

    you left out one of my all time favorite vehicles! The Dragonfly with Wild Bill!

  • This just blew my mind. I owned the HQ as a kid and own it now again. I never noticed the slots for other vehicles in the jeep bay. How did I not notice?!? I was always sad that my parents never got me the jeep and that spot was always empty. I even had the snow mobile, flak, and mms that I could have put there. Oh well. My joes used it for hand to hand combat training. Great post. =)

  • Raven

    ”Excellent list of top 10 vehicles. But there is one vehicle missing ,that is among the very popular vehicles, of the G.I.Joe world:The 1986 Cobra Night Raven S3P Black Jet Spy Plane.”The cross-over between the SR-71 Blackbird, and the 1982” Firefox”(from the Clint Eastwood Cold War movie)-Raven.

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  • Glen

    Loved the article, but how rolling thunder wasn’t number 1 baffles me. It had missiles in its missiles!!!!!