Backstory: The Legend of the Toys “R” Us Geoffreymobile

A model of this story was initially revealed on July 1, 2018.

The yr was 1980. Charles Lazarus had been topped “The Toy King,” together with his retail empire having grown from its modest beginnings because the Youngsters’s Supermart right into a family identify as Toys “R” Us. What began in 1948 as a spot to purchase child furnishings had developed into a spot that youngsters throughout the nation dreamt of — a rainbow-striped paradise of toys and video games stacked floor-to-ceiling. His mascot turned an icon, and Geoffrey the Giraffe would quickly begin his family, with spouse Gigi, son Geoffrey Jr., and daughter Child Gee coming into the fold. In fact, a rising household will usually immediate a seek for a much bigger trip, and for Geoffrey that search led to a gathering between The Toy King of the East Coast and The King of the Kustomizers on the West Coast — legendary automotive builder, George Barris. Or so the story went. In actuality, the reality was a bit of totally different.

Supply: Gordon Summer season

Constructing The Geoffreymobile

“It was I and never Charles Lazarus who contacted and contracted with George Barris to construct the car,” says Gordon Summer season, the primary Director of Advertising for Toys “R” Us. Summer season, who labored for Toys “R” Us till 1982, developed the idea, spearheaded its creation, and approved the construct. The transfer got here regardless of objections from a pair of future inductees to the Toy Industry Hall of Fame.

Charles, the corporate Founder and Chairman, and my direct boss, Senior Vice President Sy Ziv, didn’t need the Geoffreymobile constructed.”

Gordon Summer season, former Director of Advertising, Toys “R” Us

Whereas Barris’ store was well-known for designing and constructing scorching rods and autos like The Munsters’ Koach and Drag-U-La, it was The Batmobile created for the 1966 Batman tv collection that basically solidified his place in popular culture historical past, arguably turning into recognized around the globe as his signature trip. Like lots of the autos credited to Barris, nonetheless, it wasn’t actually George who dealt with the construct, nor was the Geoffreymobile truly constructed at Barris Kustom Industries. George Barris created the Giraffe-piloted scorching rod, nevertheless it was one other legendary builder who took the reigns for development — Dick Dean.

Richard Dean Sawitskas had been constructing automobiles for the reason that late 50s, adopting his shortened moniker when a automotive present decide fumbled on pronunciation and “Dick Dean” turned his skilled identify for the remainder of his prolonged profession. It was his scorching rod work that caught the eye of Jack Ryan at Mattel, who introduced Dean into the fold to work on toys just like the V-RROOM! X-15 Tricycle, however he’d quickly catch the attention of Barris, who introduced him on board to run the store at Barris Kustom Metropolis in 1964.

Dean left for just a few years within the late Sixties to collaborate with one other famed builder, Dean Jeffries, on autos like The Monkees’ Monkeemobile and The Inexperienced Hornet‘s Black Magnificence, however he finally returned to Barris Kustoms. In working in collaboration with different designers, he earned one other nickname — “The Ghost-Builder” — as he put his stamp on many autos that may by no means bear his identify. In an interview with Hot Rod Online, Dean estimated that he’d constructed “40-50 autos” throughout his two stints with Barris alone, however by the late Seventies, he was beginning to spin off and do his personal factor once more however in tandem together with his work at Barris Kustoms. 

Cruisin’ Toys Inc. turned the official store of Dean Kustoms and an overflow storage for tasks coming over from Barris. Quickly, a giant “toy” started taking form, and Dean’s son Keith was engaged on the construct in his dad’s store.

The Geoffreymobile takes form inside Dick Dean’s Cruisin’ Toys in the summertime of 1980. Metal body tubing shaped the form of the “double-decker bus.” | Supply: The Toy Ebook

Summer season approached Barris to design the Geoffreymobile as a promotional and parade car that may carry 4 giraffes at occasions throughout the nation. On paper, it was a basic scorching rod — however one which had been prolonged to behave as a double-decker bus, full with stairs on the again. The inside can be useful storage, excellent for carrying costumes, individuals or promotional objects to be given away. The car would function a C-cab and Mannequin-T fashion grille shell, and it will be seated-upon chrome wheels using Professional-Trac road rod tires. The engine and drivetrain had been a Frankenstein’d affair, crafted from a German Ford Taunus industrial V-4 engine paired with a Volkswagen transmission and a Saab steering set-up. Finally, the distinctive mechanics of the Geoffreymobile would result in issues down the road, however quickly it was full and about able to hit the streets.

George Barris with Geoffrey and the household | Supply: Gordon Summer season

With shiny purple paint accented by intricate pinstriping carried out by hand, the normal scorching rod components had been joined by some whimsical additions. The headlights had been painted to be cartoon eyes, the curved brass bumper serving as a mouth. The Toys “R” Us emblem was painted onto the grille and black glass home windows on either side had been added to offer the phantasm that the Geoffreymobile was a real double-decker. Each the hood and rear bumper featured intakes for potato chips, as a result of, formally, the Geoffreymobile was fueled by “Potato Chip Energy!” — a reality touted in official supplies issued by the corporate. 

The household gathers to look at the Potato Chip Combustion. | Supply: Gordon Summer season

A few of those self same supplies issued by Toys “R” Us company erroneously cited the Geoffreymobile’s start as going down in 1985, however that wasn’t the one error within the timeline, as evidenced by some backstory introduced to media forward of the car’s grand debut.

“One of many many fictions within the bio was the 1978 date given for the creation of the Geoffreymobile thought,” Summer season says. “I needed readers to suppose that there was plenty of planning that went into it. The reality is that I didn’t be a part of Toys ‘R’ Us till about January 1980, and didn’t get the thought till in all probability that spring. So the car went from idea to creation in effectively below a yr — in all probability simply eight or 9 months, and possibly that’s why it obtained screwed up (pardon my French). And screwed up it obtained!”

On November 28, 1980, the “World Premiere” of the Geoffreymobile passed off on the Nationwide Rod, Customized, and Van Present on the New York Coliseum. Newspaper advertisements invited households to “Have a Toys ‘R’ Us day within the metropolis!” with low cost coupons and a possibility to “meet builder George Barris” on the present. 

“Frank Malatesta — a great man — from Horseless Carriage Carriers in Paterson, NJ, dealt with the transportation of the car to the Coliseum,” Summer season provides. “I used to be there when it was unloaded and the driving force couldn’t get it up the ramp into the constructing. That was the primary indication that a bit of English or German Ford V4 couldn’t pull that rig.”

Three months later, the Geoffreymobile graced the quilt of the February 1981 difficulty of Road Rodder journal, full with a function on web page 54.

Quickly, plans had been put in movement for a line of Geoffreymobile merchandise, with a trademark on the real-world car filed on December 5, 1980, and a trademark on an “inflatable toy” model filed in 1982. Historical past is hazy as to what made it into manufacturing, however a 1980 watercolor paint set by Lash Tamaron (an import division of Toys “R” Us) and a 1984 musical scrolling TV by MyKids Toy Manufacturing Co. of Hong Kong did hit retailer cabinets. Maybe the rationale that there wasn’t extra merchandise was that the precise Geoffreymobile wasn’t doing so effectively.

The Geoffreymobile rolls into the suburbs of Detroit. | Supply: John Tatreau Sr.

Rebuilding the Geoffreymobile

In some unspecified time in the future after making the trek from Los Angeles to New York after which to Toys “R” Us HQ in New Jersey, the Geoffreymobile wound up within the suburbs of Detroit. For a car designed for parade use, the distinctive engine and transmission configuration had introduced some large issues that had been hinted at when it couldn’t make it up that ramp in New Jersey, and the car wasn’t making it by a parade with out breaking down. Finally, native retailers put in bids to rebuild the car, and in some unspecified time in the future between 1983-1984, the Geoffreymobile wound up at Tatro’s Collision.

Mrs. Tatreau prepares to offer the neighborhood youngsters a trip within the rebuilt Geoffreymobile | Supply: John Tatreau Sr.

The Tatreaus are a automotive household, and I caught up with John Tatreau Sr., son of the second man whose identify was emblazoned upon the Geoffreymobile. Whereas the rear of the Geoffreymobile bore the mark of Barris Kustoms, finally the engine compartment bore one other signature — “Modifications by Hank Tatro.” John put me in contact together with his dad in 2018 for extra on the story of how the Geoffreymobile obtained a life-saving improve.

The long-retired Tatreau spoke with real pleasure as he spun tales of among the automobiles he labored on previously — however the true glimmer emerged when sharing recollections of his household, his youngsters, and significantly, his late spouse. As for the Geoffreymobile, he didn’t maintain again on its situation when it rolled into the store at 1319 Fort St. in Wyandotte, Michigan.

“The engine and transmission had been a joke,” he stated, confirming a further oddity that John talked about earlier — “It had a hand throttle.”  Maybe as a result of the corporate seen it as a promotional merchandise as an alternative of a legit custom-built scorching rod, there have been some corners that had been reduce, and it wasn’t precisely street-legal. “There have been no gauges and there was no dashboard in it, so we added each of these,” he defined. “We took all the factor aside and used an Oldsmobile Toronado subframe and a ’72 Olds 350 Rocket engine in it.”

Earlier than we despatched it again to Toys ‘R’ Us, we had a celebration with all of the neighborhood youngsters. We had ice cream and pop, and my spouse gave the youngsters rides across the block. I charged Toys ‘R’ Us $11,700 for the rebuild.”

Hank Tatreau, Tatro’s Collision

A couple of yr later, the Geoffreymobile was again at Tatro’s resulting from an issue with carburetion. Seems that the unique, {custom} fuel tank was contaminated as a result of unsuitable kind of steel getting used. “The individuals at Toys ‘R’ Us didn’t wish to pay us for it,” Hank stated. “We simply took care of it, and two or three years later they had been again. They needed some touch-ups on the Geoffreymobile and needed a rebuild. They needed it to be a brand new factor that was extra trendy. I considered it and informed them it will be higher to construct one thing new as an alternative of updating the present car. I informed them we might make a brand new Geoffreymobile, and I’d’ve based mostly it on a Ford 9,000 1-ton diesel chassis. I don’t recall what value I gave them, however I by no means heard from Toys ‘R’ Us once more. We closed the store in 1988, and I stop working full-time within the 90s.”

Cruising into the ‘90s

The Geoffreymobile continued making appearances in parades and at retailer grand openings within the following years, and on Thursday, January 23, 1992, the car turned a query within the “Transportation” class of Jeopardy! “The Geoffreymobile was constructed to hold this toy firm’s trademark giraffes in parades.” In a St. Patrick’s Day Parade that surfaced on YouTube from the identical yr,  the chrome wheels had been swapped out for a recent set, comparable, however totally different because the Geoffreymobile made its means down Grand Avenue in Kansas Metropolis, Missouri. Moreover, the driving force’s facet door was now sporting a curious horseshoe icon.

The place the historical past of the Geoffreymobile will get muddy is within the late 90s to mid-00s. In some unspecified time in the future between 1998 and 2001, the car did obtain its requested overhaul (roughly 15 years after it was first thought of), however throughout that course of, it misplaced plenty of its attraction and was wiped of its historical past.

The Geoffreymobile on the former Toys “R” Us International Useful resource Heart in Wayne, New Jersey. | Supply: LinkedIn

Whereas the id of whoever carried out the work and what course was given on the time stays unknown, large modifications had been made to the car. The glass home windows on the perimeters had been eliminated, as had been the potato chip intakes on the entrance and rear. Maybe there was one other mechanical problem in some unspecified time in the future, however rounded variations changed the angled hood and grille. The smiling face look was eradicated, and all the car was painted purple, eliminating any point out of George Barris, Dick Dean, and Hank Tatreau’s work, and the Toys “R” Us “star” emblem (used between 1998 and 2007) was utilized to the perimeters together with a cartoon model of Geoffrey. Moreover, the leather-based upholstery and C-cab roof had been re-done in purple, eliminating the earlier yellow and orange stripes.

Within the meantime, a noticed “Geoffrey Van” hit the scene for the grand opening of the Toys “R” Us Instances Sq. flagship in 2001, although little info exists concerning that car or its destiny.

Changing into a Relic

By 2015 or so, the Geoffreymobile made its means again to New Jersey, for infrequent appearances on the Toys “R” Us International Useful resource Heart in Wayne. It nonetheless popped up on the occasional grand opening or parade however largely turned a forgotten relic left to reside on the Toys “R” Us distribution heart in Mt. Olive. Jaime Pohero was tasked with driving it to-and-from occasions, whereas Upkeep Supervisor Steve Gumann and his crew helped to maintain it working, finally crafting ramps to get the car on and off of conventional Toys ‘R’ Us trailers. 

The Geoffreymobile circa 2017 contained in the Mt. Olive distribution heart. | Supply: Fb

Misplaced and Discovered

By 2018, the standing and supreme destiny of the Geoffreymobile had been in query. As the unique, 70-year lineage of Toys “R” Us was winding to a detailed as a result of pending chapter and liquidation of the corporate and its belongings, the car was not listed as an asset in any of the courtroom paperwork. Having final been noticed on a docked trailer in Mt. Olive, it’s totally potential that the directors had no concept that the Geoffreymobile existed, significantly since there was in all probability no title ever issued for it and the logos had expired. 

Supply: Teel Auctions

Within the spring of 2018, the Mt. Olive distribution heart and its contents had been offered as-is to a single purchaser that finally re-sold the items.

Robert Teel of Teel Auctions paid a go to to the distribution heart to buy unused pallets of cardboard packing containers. Throughout his go to, he was launched to the Geoffreymobile.

They knew precisely what that they had.”

Robert Teel, Teel Auctions, on being proven the Geoffreymobile

He purchased the car and its trailer for an undisclosed sum and it resurfaced in Mt. Bethel, Pennsylvania on July 23, 2018, cleaned up and being loved by Teel’s household and associates.

In August, the Geoffreymobile was on show on the Das Awkscht Fest basic automotive present at Macungie Memorial Park in Macungie, PA. Following a quiet fall, Teel determined to place the car on the public sale block. On the time, Teel thought that the public sale, initially slated to happen on Feb. 12, 2019, would herald someplace between $50-$200,000. 

Following a short delay, the public sale passed off on Feb. 20, and when the gavel dropped, Geoffrey’s once-iconic trip pulled in simply $22,500. 

It Belongs in a Museum

On June 24, 2019, the Geoffreymobile surfaced in Branson, MO at Superstar Automobile Museum: The Velvet Assortment. A Facebook post confirmed the car cruising a car parking zone with a caption questioning the place it must be displayed.

In August, the Geoffreymobile was allegedly again on the West Coast. In Los Angeles, not removed from the place its story started, the Geoffreymobile was reportedly headed again to the public sale block the place it was slated to be offered throughout GWS Auctions’ “Artifacts of Hollywood & Music” presentation. Touted as being “museum exhibited” resulting from its look in Branson, GWS revealed a report on-line stating that the Geoffreymobile offered for an unverified $110,000 this time round.

However, in one other odd flip of occasions, the Geoffreymobile by no means went to Los Angeles. The truth is, it by no means left Missouri and had merely been positioned into storage. The GWS public sale occurred, however there was no purchaser.

On November 21, 2019, Andy Simpson of the Superstar Automobile Museum confirmed that the Geoffreymobile was out of storage and on show.

2023 Toys "R" Us Geoffrey Mobile
A digital render of the 2023 Toys “R” Us Geoffrey Cell | Supply: WHP International

A New Geoffreymobile for a New Era

Beneath the possession of WHP International, Tru Youngsters Manufacturers relaunched the Toys “R” Us model within the U.S. with a flagship retailer on the American Dream in New Jersey operated below license by New York’s Toys 4 U and branded departments in additional than 400 Macy’s shops throughout the nation.

On March 9, 2023, Geoffrey the Giraffe made an look at The Play Date in New York Metropolis, a media occasion hosted by Journey Media & Occasions (writer of The Toy Ebook) and The Toy Affiliation. Because the doorways opened, Toys “R” Us revealed plans for Geoffrey’s Tour Across America, a full U.S. tour for which the corporate commissioned a model new car Christened the “Geoffrey Cell.”

We’re sending Geoffrey throughout the nation to kick up the joy for households to have what we name a ‘playcation’ the place you place your tasks apart and embrace enjoyable. And what we have now in retailer for you is like nothing you’ve seen earlier than.”

Kim Miller, International Chief Advertising Officer at Toys“R”Us

This Thursday, the brand new Geoffrey Cell will make its debut at Macy’s in Manhattan’s Herald Sq. earlier than hitting the street for a coast-to-coast journey full of activations for households to get pleasure from.

Whereas the world, and the state of retail, are very totally different in 2023 in comparison with 1980, it’s a enjoyable footnote in toy historical past that two totally different variations of the Geoffreymobile (or Geoffrey Cell) made their formal debuts in New York Metropolis, 43 years aside.

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