One of my absolute favorite toys when growing up was the Six Million Dollar Man action figure!! I was never quite into the old 12" GI Joe's, nor the Big Jim action figures from Mattel. I was somewhat into Mego 8" superheroes, and later, the Star Trek line of dolls from Playmates. However, my fondest memories go back to the Bionic Man.
In the '70s, one of the more popular action/drama shows was titled "The Six Million Dollar Man". The show ran about 6 seasons and since spawned 3 TV reunion movies.
When growing up, I had the original 13" figure, known to collectors as Version 1. He came with his red sweat suit, and his only real accessory (not counting his arm with modules) was an engine block that you could use the "bionic action" of his arm to lift. He was beyond cool. Don't take my word for it, check it out...
Well, to the thoughts of an 8 year old boy, this was beyond cool. So it was then, back in Christmas of what was 1975, Santa (via my hard working dad) saw fit to place this little gem under my Christmas tree.
Here was Steve Austin in all his glory! I was so thrilled!!! As I opened the box that Christmas morning - getting help from dad to undo all the wiring that kept the doll secure in his wrapping and box, it was becoming very clear that this toy was something special. Mind you, I have seen my uncle's GI Joe collection, and as interesting as that was, in my mind this doll blew the Joes away. Immediately, I went for the features this action figure had.
Features? Well, to start, the "bionic eye". You could look through the hole in the back of his head and you'd get a sort of telescopic effect that would give you a panoramic view (like the effect of looking through binoculars backwards). I expected to see things up closer, but what it did was widen the field of view. But, I could compare this to Hasbro's Atomic Man, GI Joe's answer to Steve Austin. (All his "atomic eye" did was blink.)
After getting my fill of that function, it was on to the paydirt - the bionic arm. Steve had a removable right arm, which had latex skin over it that would roll back and expose two "bionic modules" - one adult thumbnail sized on on the bicep, a smaller one in the forearm. They were removable and had circuit stickers on the backside of them. Each module had a small hole in their center, where it dawned on me that I would need other toy accessories to connect to them. (More on that later.)
Earlier, I noted this version came with an engine block. It was apparently there to show a feat of strength by Steve. If you turned Steve's head all the way to the right, it (I found later) engaged a mechanism in his body, that was activated by pressing the red button on his back. By continuously pressing and releasing that button, it would drive a gear and lever in the body to start lifting the bionic right arm. It also made a clicking sound that, to the ear of a preteen, sounded like a pretty good rendition of the bionic sound-effect from the TV show, I innocently reasoned. Putting the engine in his hand, engaging the bionic arm, and pumping away at the back button, Steve was picking up the engine block - as cool a feature as you would want. Show me a Joe that could do that! The left arm had a pretty full range of motion, whereas the bionic right only went up and down. The legs had nothing special and he was wearing molded red underwear with a circuit/utility belt on the waistline.
In my youth, my collection expanded, but not greatly. Partially the reason for that might have had to do with my own hard playing with the toy. I think I managed to lose his shoes and socks early on. The costume ripped. I likely broke the latex skin on his arm. I lost modules, and I might have even broke a section of his bionic arm that connected to the body. I am fairly certain, however, that I was gifted some new items on my birthday, some months later, that made up for some of that. I got the Bionic Transport & Repair Station, a set of Critical Assignment Arms and a new Special Assignment outfit for Steve. Ultimately lots of little plastic pieces that would get lost or caught up in my mother's de-cluttering of our house.
My sister, in the meantime, got a Bionic Woman doll (went with the Barbie's).
I think I did enough damage that I ended up getting a second version of the figure the following Christmas. This version had a new feature, the "bionic grip" that let him grip the new orange girder that he came with. The latex skin remained, the arm underneath became silver and the modules were stickers that were not going to get lost. The lifting action remained. However, the range of motion for the left arm now matched the right arm, only up and down. The other change was the ankle joints which now rotated and pointed (they only pointed the foot before). The sweat suit only changed in that there was no longer elastic in the sleeve cuffs, which there was in the earlier version. Collectors refer to this as the "version 2" edition, I find now.
The final piece of my original collection would have been the analog watch which was a logo picture of Steve Austin on the dial face and a navy blue watch band, circa 1977.
Fast forward to 2016, and nothing was left but the memories. That is, until the bug of nostalgia bit me and I decided to rebuild my collection, and then some.
In rebuilding, I learned quite a bit more about the toy line, and made a lot of discoveries along the way. In my subsequent articles on this subject, I will try to share what I learned in hopes other collectors benefit and learn, or even share with me, information acquired about this toy line and how not be be led astray while building up those collections. I hope this information helps.