TOP 10 LIST: We salute the best G.I. Joe vehicles of the 1980s

May 07, 2010 | 6:53 p.m.


Today a guest post from one of our faithful readers,

GI Joe at play


G.I Joe: A Real American Hero is arguably the greatest toy line ever made. The characters, brought to life by Larry Hama, have stood the test of time, outlasting and outselling everything from its time with the exception of Transformers and "Star Wars" toys. The toys were the most popular of its day; The Marvel comic book outsold even the “X-Men.” But what really made the toy line stand out were the vehicles. G.I. Joe was not just an array of action figures, it was a military force waiting to happen, which meant tanks, planes, boats and some weird gear too. These are the best — the best of the best, in fact — the Top 10 G.I. Joe vehicles of the 1980s.

Gi joe mobat

10. G.I. JOE MOBAT (1982)  You can’t have G.I. Joe, or any army-toys-for-boys line without having a tank.   The Mobat was the first big bad of the line, dwarfing other vehicles with massive working treads, thick slabs of (plastic) armor and battery operation that let the Motorized Battle Tank literally roll right over Cobra

Gi joe ram


9. G.I. JOE RAM (1982)  This is an entry on the list that may be unpopular, but look at the fine history of motorcycles in action flicks: The Nazi motorcycle chase in "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade," Kaneda’s bike from Akira, the Bat-Pod from "The Dark Knight," the gloriously ridiculous bike from Delta Force, the Steve McQueen fence-jump from "The Great Escape" and of course, the X-1 from "Pee Wee’s Big Adventure."  And what does G.I. Joe bring to the table?  Well, what we have here is a motorcycle — a motorcycle with an aircraft Vulcan cannon strapped to the side. This is a pretty good example of how this whole toy line goes from here. Straight to Awesome Town.

Gi joe whale

8. G.I. JOE  KILLER WHALE (1984) This olive-drab combat hovercraft has been the absolute favorite for many Joe fans since 1984.  I’ve never had one, so I don’t know anything about it, but I put it on the list so I could interrupt this countdown to show the amazing photo below…

GI Joe cake

Look at that!  It’s so cool!  If such baked-goods ambition and audacious geek pride are the province of world class nerdery, then I saw that G.I. Joe stands tall right next to "Star Wars" and Nintendo as ways to keep geeks from bothering actual girls. Now, back to the countdown…

GI Joe Hydrofoil

7. COBRA MORAY HYDROFOIL (1985) Another boat I’ve never owned, but just look at this thing!  It looks like it's doing 40 knots while it's just sitting there. There has been some argument and speculation as to what inspired the design of a combat hydrofoil that looks like a cigarette boat with the Punisher's armory strapped to the top, but everyone can agree that that this ship is one of the swiftest snakes slicing seawater.

GI Joe Nightraven

6. COBRA NIGHT RAVEN (1986) G.I. Joe might have had the advantage in troops and tanks, but Cobra had the coolest planes. The SR-71-inspired Night Raven was a sleek, sinister black aircraft in a scale you just don’t see much of anymore. Around 3 feet long, with room for two in the cockpit and a detachable spy craft, the Night Raven still stands out in a collection. As beautiful as Chad Hucal’s photography is, you really can’t appreciate this until you see it in person and feel its heft in your hands…and make whooshing jet noises.

GI Joe hiss

5. COBRA HISS (1983) This tank was the iconic mainstay for Cobra in the comics, toy and cartoons.  I'ts fun as a toy has no relation — or does it? — to the fact that it’s a deathtrap for tank crewmen. This is an armored vehicle with both an open cockpit and a glass canopy. Those poor, poor Hiss drivers.

GI Joe Tomahawk

4.G.I. JOE TOMAHAWK (1986) What tanks were to older generation, helicopters have become to the contemporary one. Battlefields move faster now and you can do more with a helicopter than a tank. And so it it is with the Tomahawk; you could use it for aerial assaults, behind-the-lines troop deployment or in rescue missions to pull out wounded Joes. The fun of toys lies in living in your own little world, and in my world, this chopper could do anything.

GI Joe Skystriker

3. G.I. JOE SKYSTRIKER XP-14F (1984)  If you had to pick one piece out of the entire line, something to put up in a museum, and show to future generations how amazing G.I. Joe was, it might be this one. It’s a work of art; a swing-wing triumph of toy engineering based off of the ultimate Cold War fighter plane of the 1980’s, the F-14 Tomcat.  Big, beautiful, and a contender for the top spot on this list on any other list.

Gi joe rattler

2. COBRA RATTLER (1984) If I had to go out on a limb, and name the single most awesome toy ever produced for the G.I. Joe line, this might be the winner among fans. First introduced in the Marvel comics as the Destro-designed Tank Smasher, the tilt-wing VTOL Cobra Rattler is like the anime stepchild of an A-10 Warthog, all nose cannons and bomb racks, wrapped up in lovely Cobra blue. Ever-present in the cartoon, and depicted with incredible detail in the comics, the Cobra Rattler is such a fan favorite that Hasbro was making them as recently as 2008, so that a new generation of kids could run around and carpet-bomb the living room.

GI Joe flagg


1. G.I. JOE USS Flagg (1985) This is it!  This is the big, bad daddy of the whole line G.I. Joe series and in the opinion of many collectors, the king of the entire action-figure sector. Again, pictures fail to do this thing justice, because this is to my knowledge, the biggest action-figure anything made, ever.  It’s over 7 feet long, and the deck of the U.S.S. Flagg was big enough to hold every vehicle and figure produced in the previous years! This is the vehicle/playset that every kid in the 1980s wanted. It was massive. It was so big, you needed to get rid of your bed, your dog and your little sister just to make room.  Which I would have — in a heartbeat – if only I had the military budget required for this floating piece of heaven.

They used to retail for $89.99 but now by some estimates a sealed Flagg might go for $10,000! That number is way higher than I've ever seen but if it's on the Internet it must be true. Sigh. I still can't afford it.

So what do you think?  Should the Rattler have been No. 1? Run your opinions up the flagpole in the comments section. Special thanks to and Yo Joe! photographer and archivist Chad Hucal for providing pictures that look better than my collection.

— Ambrose Kalifornia


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58 Responses to TOP 10 LIST: We salute the best G.I. Joe vehicles of the 1980s

  1. Bigbot says:

    WOW!! Great article Ambrose Kalifornia!
    Solid picks my friend!! Hard to do when you have so many vehicles in the line to chose from. Next time, the Defiant has gotta be squeezed in somewhere.
    Long live the 80's!! Yo Joe!!

  2. Ah, memories. I had the G.I. JOE RAM, COBRA MORAY HYDROFOIL and G.I. JOE SKYSTRIKER XP-14F from this list. The Moray's hydrofoil were pretty pimp; I loved how the ski-like apparatus popped out when I wanted evil to prevail! The Skystriker was the highest quality of the bunch. I believe it included a Joe with a working parachute. I recall there being an enormous ground base for the Joes, but I don't remember what it was called. There was a train, too. Of course, I owned neither. I built my G.I. Joe bases out of Lincoln Logs and Tinker Toys. Perfect for destroying during a Cobra assault!

  3. volleydan says:

    I can't really argue with any of those choices, but my personal preference would have placed the Warthog and the Terror Drome into the top ten over the MOBAT and RAM…even though I do have a soft spot for the 1982 stuff.

  4. Christopher French says:

    Flying beats floating, man, as you well know. And mobility trounces size.
    But I do give you credit for locking down the coolest piece of plastic in the line for number 2.

  5. ganjafree says:

    Good ones. The hovercraft was by far my favorite. What about the Cobra Command center? My friend had one of those and I was jeeaalous.

  6. Geox says:

    The Night Raven was the coolest. I remember it fondly.

  7. Matt says:

    I have to say the best thing about these toys was putting them together. Nowadays toys are assembled in the box. I guess so no one chokes.

  8. fred mendez says:

    wow! those were great! my favorite was the g.i. joe snowcat.

  9. Kim French says:

    I totally agree with the last 3. I actually think I remember BEING an orphan for some years because my parents had to make room for my brother's USS Flagg. I also remember the Cobra Rattler, and it's brilliant blue with all those missiles that kept my Barbies from safely shopping for years. And finally the SKYSTRIKER XP-14F- I'd fly it around making jet noises and pretending I was going to lead the world to safety from the "bad guys".This was an Awesome article. It brought me way back and made me feel good inside. I'll be looking forward to further articles involving The Terrordrome and other kick a$$ bases. Thanks AK!

  10. third child says:

    I was the third son….so my brothers already had most of the vehicles belonging to them. I was psyched when I got the Raven for Christmas. Yes, the rattler looked cool and the skystriker was the Joe plane….but nothing looks as cool as the big, black shiny raven…..cause when I played….it was the vehicle my joes most wanted to steal from the enemy!!!!

  11. TJ says:

    Nice list. I loved these vehicles when I was a kid, although I never owned a Flagg.
    And hey, no Cobra Terrordome?! I wish I still had that one, it was awesome!

  12. Shankman says:

    Haha! Good list!!!
    I would take out the Hiss, Hydrofoil and Ram. In their places, I'd put the "Vamp" (jeep looking thing), Striker (Dune Buggy) and helicopter that came with Wild Bill.
    They were so much more versatile. You couldn't really use the Hiss or uneven ground. The hydrofoil wasn't cool on the carpet. And once you lost the cannon from the Ram, you had to hold it up all the time or it would fall on its side.

  13. Jay Cochran says:

    I think the Mauler tank should have made the list over the MOBAT and the Vamp over the RAM. I also think the Terror Drome should have made the list at #2.

  14. Billy says:

    I have most of what you show on this article. But you seem to have forgotten the DEFIANT shuttle playset, It is MASSIVE individual playsets combine to make one large adventure. The Flagg is just awesome to behold, I personally have a complete one with 2 Skystrikers on deck along with the Dragonfly and Tomahawk your list is impressive but as a collector and super fan of GiJoe I could argue the points and give you countless reasons why this should be here and that should be there, but I wont, what I will do is say from all of us collectors, Thanks, thanks for featuring GiJoe and collecting it as a professional..

  15. Bob says:

    Nice list- brings back a lot of good memories, nice to see the RAM on there!
    Unfortunately for me, I had a cap on my toy budget so I never got the WHALE or the FLAGG. My personal pick for best vehicle, and my all-time favorite would be the VAMP! I still pretend I'm Clutch when I'm driving around in my Equinox! Ha ha

  16. AgentofChaos says:

    The Phantom was a better plane than the Night Raven.
    As for vehicles that could have ALMOST made it:
    Terror Drome (and Firebat)
    The Cobra Mamba
    The Snow Cat
    The Defiant and Launch Platform (for sheer size)
    The DragonFly
    Otherwise, yeah the one's above are pretty good!

  17. Juan Jaime Mu&nt says:

    Absolutely agree with the USS FLAGG, the NIGHT RAVEN and the other Aerial craft. But indeed there are some really cool missing pieces that should have made the TOP10 part 2, The ROLLING THUNDER, The HISS mkII, The FERRET, The FIREBAT, The DEFIANT SHUTTLE COMPLEX, The STILLETO, The COBRA TERRORDROME and the Absolutely cool COBRA MAMBA.
    Yo JOE!

  18. That's a great list. Looking back, I never had any of the boats you mentioned. No U.S.S. Flagg, no Whale, and no Moray. I had everything else here, though, and I think you really nailed it.

  19. hawkeye216 says:

    Add another vote for the Defiant/space shuttle. That thing was also pimp.
    You got # 1 right on the head, nothing could hold a candle to the aircraft carrier!

  20. FLASH70 says:

    The best top ten in a long time…but NO Terror Drome???

  21. Gauge says:

    Personally I am a bit disappointed that the G.I. Joe Headquarters wasn't on here.
    Or…how about the Cobra Terrordrome w/ Firebat.
    In terms of awesome vehicles…where's the U.S.S. DEFIANT, or Rolling thunder.
    How about the Mobile Command Center?

  22. Jason Mckee says:

    Taking me back to my childhood!
    I had all of these & many more, they still inspire my writing to this day!

  23. andrew says:

    this is one the best articles i have ever read, hands down. sadly, i never owned any of the vehicles as a kid. now i have a couple: the ram and the rattler. i occasionally have dreams of seeing all of these badboys in the toy store and buying 'em up. and again, sadly, it is just a dream.

  24. Cole Ruddick says:

    This was a great trip down memory lane! I can remember the early 80's…looking through the Sears Christmas catalog and hoping Santa would leave such excitement under our tree. Between the boys in my neighborhood and I, we could have started a scale, plastic Armageddon. You nailed the #1 spot dead-on with the USS Flagg! Thanks for the story.

  25. Richard Shook says:

    You forgot one of the biggest toys ever and that was the Defiant shuttle launch complex released in 1987. It was massive, it had a shuttle, booster rockets, and a launching complex that NASA would envy. I'd put it above the USS Flagg anyday.

  26. greg green says:

    What about the Cobra Terror Drome?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?

  27. Anthony H says:

    The only one of these vehicles that I owned as a kid was the Killer Whale hovercraft, but I wanted all of these. I bought re-issue versions of the HISS and the Rattler about 5 years ago or so, but there are currently in storage and I probably should not have spent the money. Anyways, great list, I could not argue with any of these, especially with the USS Flagg being #1. I did not know anyone who owned that, it just seemed too extreme! Other favorite (but not as classic) vehicles that I owned were the Cobra Mamba and the Joe's Phantom

  28. Gomer Pyle says:

    I have kept this, the Defiant, and the USS Flagg for nearly thirty years, both complete and in their boxes.

  29. papa bear says:

    i totally agree with you bro! That USS Flagg is number one on my list as well! Glad to see my fav vehicles like the night raven made the list too! This is one cool review for GI JOE fans everywhere!

  30. Ted Lehman says:

    Hello, just yesterday (can you believe someone donated these!) the Savers, second hand store put the following item out for sale. These were all in there original boxes! Apparently, if you would have come in during a short window of time, they were originally prices for around $35- $50!
    G.I. Joe (1985) Hydrofoil Moray $99.99
    G.I. Joe (1985) Mauler M.B.T. Tank $99.99
    G.I. Joe (1985) Transportable Tactic Battle Platform (I forgot the price)
    G.I. Joe (1985) Mobile Command Center
    The USS Flagg Aircraft Carrier w/original price tag of $104 $800
    All 5 boxes lined up in a row on the top shelf…….
    August 18th 2010 Phoenix, Arizona

  31. Kris says:

    I remember having the hovercraft in the bathtub and I could barely move, but it was great!
    Sometimes I brought it out to the pool where it was awesome! GI Joe will always hold a place in my heart. I still had alot of men in my mom's closet from 20 years before, but they were lost in Hurricane Katrina. I feel like I lost some old dear friends, I wanted to pass them down to my sons. The new GI Joe's seem cheap compared to the old ones.They are pretty expensive now, but I guess $3 back in the early 80's was not so cheap for a GI Joe either. YO JOE!!!

  32. […] TOP 10 LIST: We … to life by Larry Hama, have stood the test of time, outlasting and outselling everything from its time with the exception of Transformers and ” … the biggest action-figure anything … […]

  33. ''RAVEN'' says:

    'The 1986 COBRA NIGHT RAVEN S3P''!…You can rest assured, that COBRA COMMANDER, made sure this IS his ONLY V.I.P. VEHICLE he will use to meet with other world leaders ,AND be very impressed seeing this ''cadillac/rolls royce'' of v.i.p. jet planes''.

  34. ''RAVEN'' says:

    ''Nice selection,…BUT.. The ONLY 1980s vehicle that i remember fondly was:The 1986 COBRA NIGHT RAVEN S3P''! Mach 3, with a solid glossy black finish , I can see why COBRA COMMANDER would make this his very own V.I.P.personal transport plane''.

  35. Janice says:

    We gone our son a USS Flagg for Christmas and we still have it. It' in the box not had it out for many years. Loved the pictures.

  36. J3rrYcid says:

    This article is fun. There are so many toys around and still G.I Joe seems to be the best one. I like the stuff showed here. I think those who have cars or car accessories and have played with G.O Joe would love this article. They would recall the days when they played with the G.I Joe collection.

  37. Chainsaw says:

    GI Joe was my absolute favorite as a child. I started in 1982 with the Vamp and Clutch and about 60 figures later I got the USS Flag for Xmas in 1985. I held on to them all (Unfortunately the Flagg was lost from storage) until financial situations called me to list them on Ebay last year. I ended up making so much off of them that I started buying up other peoples collections and relisting them individually. I'm not at it anymore, but now I am a lifelong collector and have over 500 Joe's. I have had more fun and have made a descent profit along the way. Anyone who wishes they could own these again, I would advise to buy a larger collection on auction and then start relisting everything at a reasonable 'buy it now' price that includes a small profit. Your collection will need a dedicated room within months! Yo Joe!

  38. J3rrYcid says:

    I just saw that movie yesterday, not that good but the vehicles were cool.

  39. Grizz says:

    No VAMP?!?!? List is NOTHING without that awesome jeep – and as a toy, it outlasted every one of these. Super durable. Plus it came with the best GI Joe driver EVER, Clutch. Even his name says it all – CLUTCH.

    On a lighter note, the Cobra Nighthawk beats the Rattler eight days a week.

  40. […] aaah yes the memories! TOP 10 LIST: We salute the best G.I. Joe vehicles of the 1980s | Hero Complex – movies, comics… […]

  41. Pat says:

    I am lucky enough to have a USS Flagg in the unopened original box, but have no idea about how to establish a minimum price for an e-bay posting. The $10,000 price quoted in the article makes me think it is time to pull it out of the attic.

  42. Shaeg Wilson says:

    Great List, really enjoyed it. I wish they would bring back the whale in the 30th anniversary line.

  43. Mick says:

    No way..Google rolling thunder and mad dog..seriously..Joe owned it with these two..there was a massive stealth jet looking thing that I can’t find too..not the one on your list, it would eat that one.

  44. the hunting panther says:

    NOTHING is better than a NIGHT RAVEN! NOTHING i say!
    although it looks soo BO$$ on my flagg….and yes i have a flagg…
    it is my COFFIE TABLE. and i also have about hmm…. 17 XP-14F skystrikers.


  45. John Thomas says:

    I remember going to my favorite local toy store in Michigan called "Children's Palace" with my Dad, and remember he pointed out the G.I. JOE USS Flagg to me. He then suggested the impossible, that he would get me that. Even though this was the one toy every boy wanted, I assumed he was testing me. So I said, "No. It costs to much." I was 5 years old, but wise enough that my other parent might have a problem with a $90 dollar toy. Well he bought me this wonderful majestic molded plastic toy, we went home assembled it applied all of the decals, I "set-up" all of my figures in their appropriate posistions, stepped back to admire my work, and up the stairs my dad comes to see his investment.

    Well it was Saturday, it was Miller-Time my dad stumbled/staggered and fell on the G.I. JOE USS Flagg exploding it into what seemed like thousands of pieces.

    So I had it, but for only one night in the summer of 1985.

  46. James says:

    I have the USS Flagg still in the box, I’m in a tight situation and I could really the cash so I’m trying to get rid of it. Message me if interested

  47. Joe Fan #5 says:

    Great article ! G.I. Joe was so cool because they were so FUN to play with. I had several of these vehicles but the Cobra Rattler was by far my favorite. My brother had one too so Joe never stood a chance! Many of the vehicles were based on real military hardware…but with totally awesome and unabashedly over-the-top weapons, missiles, guns, etc. mounted on every flat surface of the vehicle. I never had the bigger items: Flagg, Bases, etc. because my parents could not comprehend shelling out big bucks for plastic toys. But that didn't matter, we would haul our Joe loot out to the backyard (where the terrain was more realistic) and wage massive battles. The cartoon was fun too if you could look past the fact that no Joe or Cobra suffered more than a flesh wound! It was the most violent but non-violent cartoon ever. Looking at this certainly brought back some great memories. Alas, when we got older most of our Joe's were annihilated by BB gun, firework and gasoline (our napalm) attacks. But no regrets for their loss, for as they sat lying on the battlefield of childhood joy they could gaze contentedly across the horizon, knowing they had fought a long and glorious fight to entertain the hearts of two young boys. They will be missed. LONG LIVE COBRA!

  48. Ken says:

    Living in Indonesia. Grew up with the Joes (and Cobra). Such great time, and i even pass it to my sons, all three of them. Thank you very much, it is almost undescribable by words, the joy with Joes toys. Too bad they are so expensive right now, no more the "common people toys" as in the days gone by. Yo Joe, everybody.

  49. fatdatsun says:

    Loved G.I. joe, My mom actually had the forethought to save my entire collection because me and my brother loved them so much. I actually have every single thing on this list in boxes in the attic. None of it is mint, because believe me we played hard with our toys, but we have everything here and then some.

  50. Gareth says:

    Gareth says:

    Your comment is awaiting moderation.

    August 8, 2013 at 7:03 am

    I have a gi joe tank it’s about 3 foot long has big missiles inside a little car and lots of other guns and do t know how much it’s worth it’s about 15 to 20 years old


  51. The only GI Joe vehicles I had when I was a kid was the Ram motorcycle pictured above and the Devilfish boat, but I did get three of the GI Joe Electric train sets but with time as with anything else they never survived my childhood, man if they had I’d be a wealthy man by now Lol if I decided to sell them, but I have managed to find a Dragonfly Helicopter,A sky striker jet,some Joe and Cobra figures,but now I need some Cobra vehicles Lol!

  52. Nick says:

    Man, this list rocks, my friend! I came across it at work and said, "Time out, y'all!" I've never regretted not owning a toy as a kid more than the Killer Whale. Oh, the joy I could have had! Never the less, just gawking at it on this list made my day. Admittedly, I was a sucker for the MOBAT and Ram, and one toy left off the list that I loved was the GI Joe Jeep. Also, though it's not a vehicle, the GI Joe Headquarters action set was home to many hours of imagination-in-action for me. Good list, man. Next time, do top 20 action figures. I'd love to see that.

  53. silencedogood says:

    I had four GI Joe vehicles: (1) the tomcat, (2) the motorcycle, (3) the hovercraft and (4) the jeep (with removable jerry cans and gun turret)–which is not on the list. I desperately wanted the aircraft carrier but couldn't talk the parents into it–to big. I had hours and hours of fun with these and enjoyed them all. Oh, for another hour as a kid with these toys. Thanks for the memories.

  54. ''Raven'' says:

    ''1986 Cobra Night Raven S3P Black Jet Spy Plane.Still growing strong in popularity, even after 28 years.''-Yo Joe!!!.''-''RAVEN''

  55. DeepSix says:

    Great trip down memory lane. I was shocked to look through and realize I actually had each of the toys on the list. Of course, the USS Flagg was the grandfather of them all – last week digging through our basement I found that I still have MOST of the Flagg, but am missing a few key parts (like 2 major sections of the deck). Think I'm going to sell the parts out piecemeal on ebay to help some other collectors finish off their collections.

    But talk about a great line of toys. I basically stopped asking for any other types of toys at one point around 1983 – my family knew to get me another GI Joe vehicle or action figure for Christmas and birthdays, and they all coordinated to make sure they didn't get me duplicates! And I echo what the others say about the DEFIANT, as well as the joy of building the toys. Loved following the blueprints and putting it together myself, so I really knew how all the features worked.

  56. legendsofwrestlingresource says:

    I would have included the Mobile Command Center and the General over some of these puny things.

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