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This Toy Truck From 1984 Used Claws To Climb Over Obstacles

Claw Toy Galoob Ts
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In the real world, rock crawlers use all kinds of tricks to get over tough obstacles. Low-range gearboxes, huge tires, and serious ground clearance are all the rage. However, one popular 1980s toy had an altogether different idea. What if tires had giant retractable claws?

Enter The Animal. It debuted in 1984 as a product of Lewis Galoob Toys, Inc. If that name sounds familiar, it’s because the now-defunct business was behind such hits as Micro Machines and the Game Genie.

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The Animal landed just as America was in the thick of the monster truck craze. The jingle was catchy, with a soaring horn refrain: “Can anything stop… The ANIMAL!!!”

It might look like an RC car, but The Animal actually had no remote control functions whatsoever. Instead, it simply had a switch that engaged forward drive. In its normal setting, the truck would proceed forward on its wheels. When any given wheel slowed down or hit an obstacle, though, it would gradually deploy three claws. This allowed the wheel to grab on to obstacles, lifting the truck over them quite easily.

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The basic concept is known in the robotics world as a “wheg,” short for “wheel-leg.” The basic idea is that instead of having a round wheel, you have a hub with several legs mounted on it. Whegs are great for climbing over things, but they’re supremely inefficient for locomotion on smooth surfaces.

The Animal got around this by making its claws retractable. On the flat, it just had round wheels. When an obstacle presented itself, the claws automatically deployed.

There were two further modes of operation, as well. The Animal had an adjustable dial in each wheel hub. In addition to the automatic mode, the adjuster could be turned to lock the claws inside the wheels, or lock them fully out so they were always deployed. The latter was great for getting The Animal through a difficult course, but was horrifically inefficient.

The Original 1984 Animal 4x4 Power Pickup Review 3 18 Screenshot
The in-wheel adjusters could lock the claws in or out as desired.

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As with so many toys of its era, The Animal was limited by the battery technology of its time. Typical reports are that you were lucky to get an hour of use out of a set of four C-size batteries; 30 minutes was more likely. Using the wheels in the always-deployed mode tended to run the batteries down faster.

Another neat feature was that Galoob gave The Animal a free-wheeling drivetrain. Thus, when the batteries inevitably ran out, you could still have fun pushing it around without damaging the motor or gears.

The Animal ended up spawning a line of related toys. Galoob also developed The Animal Clench, which came with a trailer, and The Animal Xtendor, which was a six-wheeler with a hidden missile launcher. Other body styles also came and went. It eventually went out of production, before being reissued in the early 1990s for a short period.

Animal

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Other companies got in on the action, too. Kenner produced The Claw in the early 1990s. It had wheels that would split in half, achieving similar results as The Animal’s retractable claws. Today, Spin Master produces a similar toy under The Animal name, but it’s decidedly less cool. It has a goofier design, and only features retractable claws on the front wheels. However, it has a party piece. It’s capable of clawing its way out of the box that it’s sold in.

The one thing bugging me is I can’t quite figure out how the wheels work on The Animal. I suspect the outer tire is mounted to the hub via some kind of sprung mechanism, such that when the wheels are stopped, the drive torque pushes the claws out from inside. But I can’t quite picture what’s going on in there. I’m very tempted to buy a version of The Animal, or perhaps some spare parts off eBay, so I can figure it out.

Thus far, most resources I’ve found are toy reviews on YouTube, and they’re light on detail. But I want to get mechanical about this! The main thing holding me back is prices. I found a single spare wheel which would cost me about $40 to get to Australia, or a semi-destroyed example of the whole truck for $100. Examples that come complete with a box sell for in excess of $300.

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I did some back-of-the-envelope linkage analysis with my girlfriend. She’s very helpful and has multiple degrees, albeit mostly in the psychological milieu. We haven’t figured it out yet. I suspect the retractable claws are mounted on an internal hub inside the outer tire, but how they’re pushed out remains a mystery to me. I suspect some kind of cam action with a spring return.

Obviously, retractable claws aren’t coming to an off-roader near you any time soon. Someone could probably convince Elon Musk to promise them on the Cybertruck 2, but they wouldn’t be viable in reality. Putting such a complex mechanism on a full-sized vehicle would be a mess. Your wheels would be immensely heavy, and it would be unsprung weight, too. The ride would be awful, and it would be difficult to create a suspension system that would cope. The sudden engagement of the claws on an obstacle would send huge shock loads through the drivetrain, too.

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Still, I’d like to see wheels like these on a proper RC car one day. The Animal was neat, but it was only capable of going in a straight line, which limited it somewhat.

The Animal (galoob 1984) 10 23 Screenshot
Those claws really helped it climb.
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Galoob also put claws to work on the XTENDOR 6X6 – not to mention an automatic wheelbase extension system and a missile launcher.

Ultimately, The Animal was one of the killer toys of the 1980s. With its awesome sticker pack, badass design, and fully-functional lighting, this was one of the killer gifts to see under your Christmas tree in the mid 80s. Video games would eventually destroy real toys in the battle for children’s affections, but before that, The Animal was king.

Image credits: Galoob; Vallco4048 via YouTube Screenshot; out_the_door_toys/Ebay

 

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Dan Bee
Dan Bee
7 days ago

Thanks for the trip down memory lane. What’s next – Stompers?

AKA Rukh
AKA Rukh
8 days ago

I just watched a video about the “PaTS-Wheel: A Passively-Transformable Single-Part Wheel for Mobile Robot Navigation” on youtube. It’s a 3D printed wheel that has compliant-mechanism claws that can grab terrain, and when I saw these I thought of “The Animal” right away. It’s like the old toy, but far more elegant.

Farty McSprinkles
Farty McSprinkles
8 days ago

I had one of those! It was great. I played the hell out of my toys (they were made to be played with), so none of them survived to be collected later. I seem to remember the motor being a bit weak, so it would not climb as much as I thought it would. That was about 40 years ago, so I could be wrong.

Now, the truly legendary toy from this era and probably in my top 10 Christmas gifts of all time, was the PTO truck from Buddy L. I loved that thing.

Dodd Lives
Dodd Lives
8 days ago

Man, I’ve had that jingle stuck in my head for 40 years. I honestly thought I was the only one who remembered it.

Turbeaux
Turbeaux
8 days ago

My son had a similar truck toy just a few years ago. Max Cliff Climber. I thought I remembered claws coming out, but apparently the wheels split and reveal teeth to “bite” into the terrain/obstacle. It could also allegedly tow 100 lbs.

Last edited 8 days ago by Turbeaux
Isis
Isis
8 days ago

I definitely had one of these which means they weren’t all that expensive either.

sentinelTk
sentinelTk
8 days ago
Reply to  Isis

I definitely was always told “no” so it also means they weren’t all that cheap.

Fuzzyweis
Fuzzyweis
8 days ago

Ah the innocence of the 80s toys, the Animal, stompers. My dad and I must have had over a half dozen remote control toys we’d burned through, from the ones with the backup and turn option, ones that could actually turn, wired and wireless, to the programmable Big Trak, C and D batteries were not safe for long, of course I think most of them were eveready carbon zinc so not high performers to begin with. And why did the remotes all need 9 volts? It’s a scam I tell ya!

Also had the Tyco US-1 electric trucking track where you could back up and load things and then drive around and dump them, or activate the airplane at the airport.

Never had an Animal, but remember the commercials, better times.

Last edited 8 days ago by Fuzzyweis
Ariel E Jones
Ariel E Jones
8 days ago

I never had one of these, but I remember them. I did have a pickup that had a platform on the roof. When it sensed a void it would stop, swing the platform down in front of it and drive over its own bridge. It was pretty cool, but like The Animal, it was a one trick pony. Does anyone remember what that one was called? Also, wasn’t there a truck like The Animal that would pull the wheel his narrower which would expose suits in the tires that would achieve the same kind of enhanced traction? Help me out internet, I can’t remember what it was called either.

M0L0TOV
M0L0TOV
8 days ago
Reply to  Ariel E Jones

It’s a Cross Boss, that’s what I had.

M0L0TOV
M0L0TOV
8 days ago
Reply to  Ariel E Jones

The way it worked was, it had a sensor, so it would bump into something and then lower the platform down.

Ariel E Jones
Ariel E Jones
8 days ago
Reply to  M0L0TOV

Yeah. I just looked it up. That was it. It looked cooler in my 9 year old memory. The other thing i mentioned popped up too. It was the Power Machines Flex. A quick trip down memory lane.

Serial Thriller
Serial Thriller
5 days ago
Reply to  Ariel E Jones

Yes, the Flex! I was trying to remember the name of that one. I don’t think it worked so great over obstacles but it certainly looked cool.

Amberturnsignalsarebetter
Amberturnsignalsarebetter
9 days ago

the Animal was way ahead of its time!

Wheg technology is still being developed and might actually be useful for a lot of real-world applications – now they call it a “Passively-Transformable Single-part Wheel” or PaTS wheel:

https://youtu.be/oZbZZlDDEnc

Ophidia
Ophidia
9 days ago

I had one of these! The Swamper! It wasn’t good for much, but it was cool when I was 10!

Last edited 9 days ago by Ophidia
Arrest-me Red
Arrest-me Red
9 days ago

A friend growing up had and Animal Completely useless, over engineered, dumb .

it started me down the path to an Autopian.

IDM3
IDM3
9 days ago

I wasn’t a big fan of Micro Machines, but I do have a few. My favorite it the Meyers Manx buggy.

It’s a shame that Galoob was purchased by Hasbro, which cancelled the line soonafter. Many of my friends and fellow collectors refer to Hasbro as the company where toy cars go to die (see Tonka).

Is Travis
Is Travis
9 days ago
Reply to  IDM3

I had no idea the entire thing was consumed and killed. Bummer.

Banana Stand Money
Banana Stand Money
9 days ago

Holy crap, that ad snapped me right back to a sofa in my childhood home. As a young boy in the mid-80s, I’m certain this aired between episodes of He-Man and MASK.

Iain Tunmore
Iain Tunmore
9 days ago

I never had one, but this is incredibly accurate for me in the UK too.

Zelda Bumperthumper
Zelda Bumperthumper
9 days ago

Yes! One of my favorite toys, and one that worked exactlly as adverised. It climbed over all kinds of shit in our yard, including a snow pile as tall as me. Eventually something in the transmission broke so I decided to get rid of it by… burning it. Turns out 3 pounds of molten plastic will burn for a long time and release a black plume of hell smoke the entire time.

Col Lingus
Col Lingus
9 days ago

Did you invite Torch over to remove the batteries first?

Arrest-me Red
Arrest-me Red
9 days ago
Reply to  Col Lingus

All he had was a chainsaw so yes. Why someone gave him a chainsaw is best not asked.

Nick Fortes
Nick Fortes
9 days ago

I had this toy but in Firebird body. I also had tons of Micro Machines. I was keeping that company in business via my mom’s money

Is Travis
Is Travis
9 days ago

They didn’t work for shit!

notoriousDUG
notoriousDUG
9 days ago

I had one of these.
It was zero fun.
Ate batteries, worked only marginally well, and never went where you pointed it.

I would have traded it for a larger collection of Stompers.

Col Lingus
Col Lingus
9 days ago
Reply to  notoriousDUG

Me too. A real piece of crap. I “accidentally” stepped on mine in the middle of the night and crushed it. My wife bought it for me, and didn’t want to hurt her feelings, so a broken toy was easier to throw out.

Dr Buford
Dr Buford
9 days ago
Reply to  notoriousDUG

Came here to say “Stomper”

Defiant
Defiant
9 days ago

Ha! Picture some teenage hooligans riding around (Animal House “Death Mobile” style) in a Grand Cherokee in the early 90’s singing this theme song (“The Animal, the Animal, can anything stop… The ANIMAL!”) as we bombed around off-road through neighborhood(s) under construction in Suburbs outside STL. Good times! (and we never got stuck… that thing was great.)

(Also not in-coincidetally, the name of said vehicle.)

Didn’t have the toy, very familiar with the jingle!

Last edited 9 days ago by Defiant
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