Evil Vehicles

Roton: Evil assault vehicle! (1984)


Roton was a toy that, as a kid, I admired from afar, but was never able to own (at least until many years later). I remember very clearly going over to my friend Tyson’s house in first grade and being bowled over by his collection, which dwarfed mine. Among other things I got to see in person for the first time toys like Zodac, Stratos, and the amazing Roton.


Design & Development

December 1, 1982 marks the earliest known mention of Roton, where it appears in the Masters of the Universe Bible. It was originally conceived as a vehicle for the heroic warriors:

ROTON – when this vehicle’s in the fight, He-Man’s enemies scatter, literally. He-Man rides atop the round vehicle which has a swiftly moving buzzsaw sipping around its center. Instead of blades, the buzzsaw’s blunted, club-like appendages sweep away anything or anyone in the way.

In a way, conceptually the Roton seems to have been merged with another early idea, called the Tornado Traveler (also from the MOTU Bible):

“TORNADO TRAVELER* – a wild, whipping flying craft which only Skeletor can control through the skies of both Infinita and Eternia. Whenever it appears it’s preceded by a violent windstorm.”

While the Roton seems to have been originally intended as a ground assault vehicle, its spinning blades make it look like it could plausibly fly, and so it was often depicted that way.

A couple of early concept drawings related to the Roton appear in The Power and the Honor Foundation‘s Catalog Volume One. Both are illustrated by Ed Watts.

The first is a Roger Sweet concept call the Gyro. This does not seem to be directly related to the Roton, as the drawing is dated September 17, 1983, and the Roton had its name set already in December of 1982 and the trademark filed on August 22, 1983. Still, the rotating blade concept is very similar.

Gyro, by Ed Watts. Image source: The Power and the Honor Foundation Catalog, Volume One

This undated drawing by Ed Watts shows a Roton that bears close resemblance to the final toy, with some key differences. The color scheme is red and white. The design around the sides is in keeping with the look of the final toy, except the decals are simple triangular shapes. The face on the front is quite different, as is the design of the seat back. All in all this version looks much less monstrous. I would guess that at this point it was still intended to be a heroic vehicle.

Artwork by Ed Watts. Image via The Power and the Honor Foundation Catalog Volume One

However, up until this point in the line (1984), there hadn’t been a single vehicle produced that was specifically intended for the Evil Warriors. Perhaps with that in consideration, the design was changed to make it look more sinister:

Roton cross sell art. Image courtesy of Axel Giménez

The above cross sell art, which matches exactly the look of the final toy, shows what changes were made to make the Roton fit with Skeletor’s crew. The vehicle was now black, with red blades. The face on the front became much more monstrous, and organic-looking spiny plates were added to the back side of the vehicle. The shape of the twin guns on the front was also overhauled.

Packaging & Toy

William George did the packaging artwork for the Roton. In his illustration, the vehicle is cruising along the ground, as a lizard and a tiny demon-like creature look on. George often included little creatures like this in his artwork.

Image scanned by me, repaired by Retroist

The toy itself is relatively compact and simple. No batteries were required. You simply rolled it along the ground, and an internal set of gears would cause the buzz saw to rotate with a satisfying (or annoying, if you’re a parent) clicking sound. Of all the evil vehicles, this one seems to lend itself most to fleet-building. Like the Battle Ram, it works as a ground or air assault vehicle.

Model Kit & Artwork

Monogram produced a model kit version of the toy, as they did for the Attak Trak and Talon Fighter. In the case of those two vehicles, Monogram based the models on early prototypes or concept drawings of the toys. I wonder if that isn’t also the case with the Monogram Roton. It looks closer to the final toy than the to the Ed Watts concept art, but there are a few differences as well, the canopy being the most obvious one. Larry Elmore did the packaging artwork:

Curiously, the Roton doesn’t show up once in the mini comics, while the Land Shark (released a year later) shows up in multiple comics across multiple years.

Errol McCarthy illustrated this scene of Skeletor “mowing the grass” in the Roton. I believe this was intended for use on a T-shirt:

The Roton makes some prominent appearances in Golden Books stories, including Dangerous Games, The Rock Warriors, Secret of the Dragon’s Egg, and The Magic Mirror:

The vehicle also plays a supporting role in the Lady Bird story, He-Man and the Asteroid of Doom (images via He-Man.org):

The 1985 German Masters of the Universe Magazine is mostly filled with toy photography, but it does include a short comic story, and the Roton is a formidable presence:

The Roton appears in the background of a few different posters by Earl Norem and William George:




The Roton made several appearances in the Filmation He-Man cartoon, although it was never a regularly used vehicle. The Filmation design is simplified for ease of animation, and its buzz saw has longer (but fewer) blades, but otherwise it’s fairly true to the toy design:


Advertising Images

Of all the evil vehicles produced for the line, the Roton is my favorite. You just have to take one look at it and you immediately get what it’s about and you feel sorry for any heroic warriors who have to go up against it.

From the 1985 German MOTU Magazine. Image via He-Man.org
From the 1984 Mattel Dealer Catalog. Image via Orange Slime.
From the 1985 Mattel Dealer Catalog. Image via Orange Slime.

Roton in Action

Øyvind Meisfjord has kind contributed the following image and video of the Roton in action:

17 thoughts on “Roton: Evil assault vehicle! (1984)

  1. I did not own Roton as a kid, too. That was due to the pricing. I remember Roton and Knight Stalker etc. to be way more expensive than the figures. That is why I really shied away from buying vehicles. But you’re right: a kid in the neighborhood always had the one thing you were missing. So you got to play at least with it. I remember being rather disappointed of Roton. I imagined it be more fancy, elaborate and techy. Well…. It wasn’t. 😉 Today I love having it in my collection. Colorwise it goes soooo cool with blueish Skeletor. 🙂 Great review as always! Happy Holidays.

    1. Thanks Wolfstor, and happy holidays to you! My friend was an only child, so it seems like his parents could afford more toys for him. I was one of many, so we had a tighter budget. But, all the more reason to go play with your friends 🙂

  2. Got Roton.. nice enough toy.. though a canopy makes it looks really.. really BAD! most of the model kits even with changes are interesting but.. a toy like Roton with a canopy would be one way to have killed it ¬_¬ thank god that were never that stupid..
    always found it good that the guns didn’t really come off.. that meant no change of losing parts ^_^

  3. Roton is one of the handful of MOTU toys which I still own my original one from when I was little. I don’t actually remember getting it, which is odd, since I’m pretty sure I got it new. For some reason, I decided it had to be parked on top of the large Snake Mountain “talking” head, and it was constantly falling off while I was playing. I usually had Trap Jaw drive it, as I felt it suited him.

  4. I never owned any evil vehicle and the Roton was the one wich interested me more. I were already very much familiar with the concept of the “spinning bladed flyning saucer”, because back in the 80s here in Italy animes were massively popular, in particular Goldrake (Grendizer) and the majority of the machines used by his enemies were UFOs with the same gimmick of the Roton. So when I saw the Roton for the first time..BAM, instant love XD
    Another thing that I like about the Roton are the fake organic eyes and their blank, uncaring look: I always found very creepy when something want to hurt you but without expressing any emotion (like Michael Myers) and the Roton gives me that feeling. It’s why I don’t like at all the angry eyes in the MOTUC version.
    Maybe the only negative side of the Roton is that it could have been a little larger.

    1. Yeah, I have to agree with all of that, including your comments about the MOTUC version. I still don’t like the face on that one. Ironically by trying to make it look more evil it actually looks less menacing and more cartoonish.

      I’ll have to check out Goldrake!

  5. Awesome post and excellent scholarship, as always. Roton was always one of my favorite MOTU vehicles and I loved the rotating “buzz-saw” action feature of the vehicle. I wonder: is there a patent associated with it, a la the “battle armor” MOTU figures?

    Also, I just wanted to put this out there, but has anyone else noticed the Zodac connection to this vehicle? There’s the Lady Bird story where Zodac appears in the Roton and I also saw an Australian MOTU poster for “Break drink” (dated 1984) that features many characters and vehicles but only Zodac is depicted in the Roton. Does anyone else have any other examples of this connection? Thanks and best wishes for the New Year!

    1. Thanks! I’ve looked carefully and haven’t been able to locate a patent for the Roton. I really would have expected to find something. But, it’s possible they licensed a mechanism that someone else invented.

      Interesting connection with Zodac. I can’t think of any other connections, but I’ll keep an eye out.

      Happy new year!

    2. I too was also curious about the Zodac connection with the Roton, look at the art from He-Man and the Asteroid of Doom, which shows Zodac driving one alongside Skeletor. Maybe had something to do with the original concept of Zodac as an Evil Cosmic Enforcer.

      1. Not particularly – in that scene there’s a whole fleet of Rotons with Skeletor, Beast Man, Evil-Lyn and several others flying them to attack the asteroid.
        Zodac is used earlier in the story when Skeletor sends him to investigate Hordak’s spacecraft. The Ladybird books have a strong element of toy accuracy and were probably working from a list that had Zodac down as one of Skeletor’s henchmen and the one to use on space missions.

  6. Surprisingly, I had Roton in my original childhood collection. I say “surprisingly” because the vehicles were priced far more than the figures, so outside of Battle Cat and Panthor (and late on, amazingly, Spidor), I didn’t really have many vehicles. And even more surprising that I owned it considering the noise that it made – my parents were very much believers in “quiet play”. Either way I believe I ended up with Roton as a result of an after-Christmas sale in a local toy-shop, combined with some money I had received for Christmas.
    Memory suggests that I purchased it the same day as Orko (whom I had gone to buy several times prior but they had sold out, due to popularity), and really enjoyed “clacking” Evil Warriors into action in t. It does touch upon the slightly more ‘gimmicky’ feel the line would drift towards as the waves passed which I didn’t much care for, but none-the-less it was a fun toy.

    Whether the early concept for the vehicle were Heroic or Evil is debatable – even the early versions look fairly ferocious for a Heroic vehicle to my eye. (Also I personally wouldn’t say the early prototype was red and white – I believe the white is actually just representing lighting).

    In merchandise, Roton fared better or worse depending on how well it was illustrated. I always though the Filmation version looked a little too clunky and undeveloped, didn’t really work for me personally.

    1. The first mention in print of the vehicle has it as a heroic vehicle:

      December 1, 1982 marks the earliest known mention of Roton, where it appears in the Masters of the Universe Bible. It was originally conceived as a vehicle for the heroic warriors:

      ROTON – when this vehicle’s in the fight, He-Man‘s enemies scatter, literally. He-Man rides atop the round vehicle which has a swiftly moving buzzsaw sipping around its center. Instead of blades, the buzzsaw’s blunted, club-like appendages sweep away anything or anyone in the way.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.