Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Rebuilding a Muscle Body GI Joe - Part One

Original body GI Joe compared to "Life Like" Muscle Body GI Joe
When I started collecting action figures in the late 90s, my goal was to not only acquire all the figures I owned as a kid, but to find the ones I wanted but never had. The "life like" or muscle body GI Joes from 1976 were among those figures that I just missed owning. While I liked the beefier looking bodies, I wasn't crazy about the whole trend that Joe was taking at the time with Bullet Man and the Alien Intruders, so I decided to focus on Star Trek and Space: 1999 figures instead. By the time I was back into full collecting mode at the turn of the new century, most muscle body Joes could only be found as a pile of limbs and heads, thanks to the cost-saving measures Hasbro took in making these figures. It seems that, with the cost of plastic rising due to the oil embargo, Hasbro had to come up with a way to make the big 11 ½" Joes cheaper to produce. Their solution was to make his body and most of the limbs out of hard plastic shell pieces that could be glued together like a model airplane. To attach the various limbs to the body and one another, the inside of the figure had what I can only describe as a rubber skeleton that held the arms and legs to the body and allowed the limbs to twist and bend. Sadly, after a dozen years or so, the rubber skeleton would dry rot and the figure would simply fall apart.

Given the small number of muscle body Joes made in the US (only one year of production) and the scarcity of ones that were still intact, the prices were usually more than I wanted to pay. Then last year, while I was helping my brother-in-law clean out a storage locker, I found a G.I. Joe playset filled with muscle body Joes along with a Mike Powers, Atomic Man. Of course, the muscle body figures had fallen to pieces, but all the pieces were still in the playset. Since my brother-in-law had no interest in them anymore, I was glad to take them home and try to rebuild them. This storage locker find took some of the pressure off me. I didn't have to pay for the figures on top of whatever it would cost to rebuild them and, if I damaged them in the process, it was better than if they had been thrown away.
The playset and GI Joes found in my brother-in-law's storage locker. Of course, this is after they were repaired and cleaned up.
I started researching how to rebuild muscle body Joes and, to my surprise, there was not a whole lot of information available. There were people who would rebuild them for a fee, but no instructions on the web for do-it-yourselfers. I did find a repair kit from Cotswold Collectibles which was designed to rebuild the top half of the figure. Specifically, the kit provides a thick shock cord to reattach the head to the body, special shoulder joints to reattach the upper arms, and elbow joints to connect the upper and lower arm pieces. The kit is a variation on the pieces that were used for the old Talking GI Joe Commander figure. Since the talking Joes had the talking device inside the body cavity, the head and legs could not be attached to the body with shock cord and hook-in-eye hardware like the regular Joes, so a new system of joints were used. Why the muscle body Joes didn't use a similar arrangement as the old talking Joes is unclear, but it works for them all the same.

Since my African-American Joe still had legs attached, I decided to use the repair kit on him first. The instructions provided with the kit were well detailed and the repair was faster and simpler than I anticipated. About one hour of work and I could display the figure in my case. The muscle body talking Joe was another matter altogether. Since I could not find any repair solutions for the legs online, I had to come up with a solution on my own. That meant taking the body completely apart and assessing how the thing was put together originally.
My muscle body talking GI Joe with the detached arms, legs, and head. I opened the body section and the left thigh to figure out how the guy was put together. Note: the foam rubber in the left shoulder is a replacement piece since the original piece disintegrated.
The rubber skeleton which held the legs to the torso started with a loop around a post in the lower part of the body. Two lengths of rubber extended from the loop, each length running down to the legs. When I pulled apart the two plastic shells that were glued together to create the thigh, I discovered that the rubber line that extended into the thigh grew into a rubber half-ball. This half-ball was nestled in a plastic cap at the top of the thigh. This is what kept the thigh firmly attached against the hip socket. A length of rubber continued from the bottom of the half-ball to the knee. Here the rubber was formed into a small loop which was designed to receive a pin inside the plastic shell. The solid plastic calf piece also connected to this pin. Actually, the calf piece is not completely solid as it has a hole down the center to receive the rest of the rubber skeleton. The rubber finally terminated in a loop. This loop would hold a rivet joining the foot to the bottom of the calf piece.
The semi-circular cap and rubber skeleton inside the thigh. The cap sat on top of the semi-circle of rubber, and the long piece (now dry rotted and broken) ran down the thigh to the knee joint.
So, in effect, a single, custom-made rubber skeleton held the thighs, calves, and feet of the figure to the torso. My challenge was to find a way to replace that skeleton with parts I could buy or manufacture myself. I started with the easiest part first: attaching the feet, calves, and thighs together. On the original GI Joes, these parts were connected with metal rivets and vinyl pegs (in other words, parts that were actually designed to last for a long time). I decided to see if replacement Joe pegs could do the job, so I bought some pegs of different sizes from Cotswold Collectibles. I tried various combinations, but none of the pegs fit exactly right. I decided to let that problem simmer for awhile and moved onto the hip socket.

On the original Joes, the thighs were made of solid poly-vinyl plastic and were attached to the hip sockets using metal hook-in-eye hardware. The necessary tension was provided by a thick shock cord inside the body that also held the arms and head. Shock cord could be the answer here, but since the head and arms would be attached using the repair kit, the shock cord would only be used in the lower part of the body and had to be attached in a way that would create proper tension between the socket and the thigh. I went back to the rubber skeleton for inspiration.
A view of the rubber loop that wrapped around the pin in the abdomen. The rubber skeleton (shown above) continued down into the thighs and legs. Unfortunately, I can only show you everything in pieces because the rubber dry rotted and crumbled apart.
The top of the skeleton had a loop around a pin inside the body. The shock cord could be tied around the pin and the two lengths of cord extending from the knot would go into the thighs. The rubber skeleton had a half-ball shape formed in it to hold the thigh in the socket. Perhaps I could create a ball of the same size with a hole in the middle through which I could run the shock cord. I would pull the cord tight and clamp it to the underside of the ball with a crimped clasp. That sounded good in theory, but where would the parts come from?

For the ball, I started looking at beads in craft stores. Nothing seemed to be exactly the right size. Also, the holes in the beads were so small, I would have to find shock cord that might be too thin to do the job. My wife suggested that I could make the balls myself using plastic modeling pellets. I was not aware of the product, but she ordered me some. The stuff is exactly like it sounds: little plastic beads that become soft and pliable when dropped in warm water. Once they are soft, you can pull them from the water and mold them like modeling clay into whatever shape you like. You have to work fast though, since they harden in the cool air. If you don't get it right before the stuff hardens, however, you can drop the plastic back into warm water and start again.
Another view of the abdomen and thigh. I would custom make plastic balls to replace the semi-circle of rubber holding the cap in the hip socket and replace the rest of the rubber with shock cord.
With a product to make the ball, I had to find the right shock cord. Shock cord comes in all sizes. I wanted cord that was thick enough to hold up to the tension I needed, but thin enough to tie in a knot inside the body and thread through a ball that would fit inside Joe's thigh. I settled on 3/32" thick shock cord that is sold for repairing camping tents. Once I had the shock cord, I molded my plastic balls and created holes in them that were just big enough to accept the cord. Now I needed clasps small enough to fit in the thigh but big and thick enough to hold the shock cord taut for many years to come. This proved to be the most time consuming search. I settled on some end crimps used for jewelry making that I picked up at a craft store. Not perfect, but they would do the job.

With all the pieces in place, I could now reassemble my muscle body GI Joe. In part two, I will go through the step-by-step process of rebuilding a muscle body talking GI Joe Commander.


theminx said...

I'm actually disappointed that I have to wait for a second post, and I was right there when you did it! :)

Unknown said...

This is Great! I know a guy who has an extensive collection. I'm sure this is goin to be helpful.

Unknown said...

This is Great! I know a guy who has an extensive collection. I'm sure this is goin to be helpful.