Most of the characters introduced in Transformers: The Movie were new creations. One, however, was very old, predating the Transformers line itself.
Ultra Magnus is all soldier. He is most comfortable when he is carrying out Optimus Prime's orders - giving it all of his magnificent fighting skills, courage and gift for battlefield improvisation. And he is uncomfortable when the mantle of leadership is placed over his broad shoulders. He sees himself as a follower, not a commander, and is reluctant to assume authority until it is clear that he has no choice but to lead. And when he does finally lead, he is resolute, fair and courageous beyond reproach. He is ever-ready to sacrifice himself for the good of his companions and mission, and unstinting in his preparedness so that his "people" will be as protected as possible.
When he was still part of the Diaclone line, before it was folded in with Microchange and exported to America as Transformers, Ultra Magnus was originally "Powered Convoy," which meant he was just a suped-up version of Convoy - our Optimus Prime. Not a different character, but a glorified suit of armor. Which is a trend we'll come back to later. On the cartoon and in the Marvel Comics, Ultra Magnus was portrayed as a car carrier which transformed (in one fluid motion) to a giant robot. There was no intermediate step that matched the toy.
The car carrier looks... okay. For a G1 release. Of course, G1 was plagued by a lot of "you expect me to believe it's a what?!"-itis, so the likeness isn't perfect. We get a boxy 2" cab hauling a 9" long by 5" tall trailer. The rear gates fold down, and standard-sized TF cars can fit in the bed;
guys like Jazz or Sunstreaker. Getting cars to sit on top of the carrier is a bit trickier, and a bit less believable, but it can be done.
There's no obvious kibble, but only because Ultra Magnus is what we call a "partsformer" - you're left with a bunch of extra pieces laying around when you transform him. Incidentally, although today "kibble" refers to leftover bits in one form that obviously belong to the other form, the term originally applied to the piles of parts that so many G1 figures had, like the Seekers' free-floating hands.
Powered Convoy had a few features that Ultra Magnus does not. There was the tiny pilot/driver figure, of course, but he also came with a transforming dune buggy thing that became a robot, and the instructions also showed a "battle station" mode, complete with a small jet craft.
To transform Magsy, here, to robot form, start by detatching the trailer from the cab.
Lift rear of the second level off the tabs that support it, and push the entire level forward. The back of the carrier folds down to lay against the bed of the truck. Separate the two halves of the upper "floor" and wrap them around the sides. Remove the trailer hitch from its place on the back/bottom of the piece, and plug it into the front at the waist. Plug the blue chest armor in place, have a tiny robot body magically appear in place behind the body without anyone noticing or mentioning it (if you're the cartoon) and drop the head into place. Ta-da!
Ultra Magnus is a pretty good-looking robot (by G1 standards), even if his articulation is almost non-existant. Actually, the arms are good - they move at the shoulders, biceps, elbows and wrists. And then that's all. Yes, no waist, nothig at all in the legs... he can't even turn his head. This thing is a big brick with arms. Kibble in this form is limited to the fact that he's hollow if you turn him around and look at him from the back. He just has a little robot dangling back there.
That robot caused quite a bit of controversy among long-time fans. There was always the debate about whether or not the smaller robot was an independently functioning unit, or just a cog in the bigger bot's works. The character debuted in 1986, and it would be almost two decades before we got an answer.
A brand new facet of Transformers lore was introduced in issue #6 of Dreamwave's Transformers comic, and rapidly adopted by Hasbro and Takara. In that story, Ultra Magnus and Shockwave were working together to govern the unified Cybertron. Of course, it was all a scam, and when Ultra Magnus realized this, Shockwave shot him and left him for dead. Much to everyone's surprise, Magnus shed his familiar red and blue armor, revealing that the small white robot inside was the real deal. Apparently the toy companies had never realized they could make money by repainting Optimus Prime white and blue, and once the veil was lifted from their eyes, they went into overdrive. Before the issue, UM had two figures. Since its release, he's gotten 11 more.
The reason Whitey never featured in the old product was a simple one - he and Optimus Prime share the same mold, so everyone was probably afraid stupid kids would confuse the two. But now we, the stupid kids in question, have grown up. Now we can tell the difference between red and white. Go us!
Magnus (get it? he's not "ultra" without his armor) transforms in a quite blatant manner, just like Optimus. You can tell by looking athim how he transforms. It was never a difficult change. The naked robot stands 6¼" tall, and is surprisingly articulated: shoulders, biceps, elbows, wrists, hips, knees and ankles. Hot diggety! Both the large and small versions of the robot can hold the same gun - there are differently sized handles on opposite sides of the weapon. Considering that the original Optimus Prime could barely hold his own gun, that's a nice feature.
There were several versions of UM released during his initial run.
The first featured rubber tires and paint apps for the robots' faces. Later versions changed the tires to solid plastic and the heads were blank. Hasbro probably figured that since the cartoon and comic were portraying the character only as the larger conglomeration, they could save some money by not bothering to spiff up the insider. Now that we know the small robot is a real character, it's better to get the painted version - he's just less bland.
Two of the post-G1 Ultra Magnii mainly served as a way for Optimus Prime to boost his own power. In Robots in Disguise, Ultra Magnus was a car carrier, and actually got a bit of a personality; in Energon,
he was a(n infuriatingly limited) repaint of Overload, a character who was already a cipher, and he never actually appeared on the cartoon. But to be fair, since UM stated as a suit of armor for Convoy to wear, that connection seems fair.
If you're going to eBay an Ultra Magnus, all that loose kibble means getting a complete UM is tough. This one, for instance, is missing his shoulder rockets and is a blend of the two vesions: rubber-wheeled cab, plastic-wheeled trailer. Plus, there are a few parts that tend to break easily, like the tabs that hold everything in place. If you can get a decent version for a low price, Ultra Magnus is probably worth it. He may be an important character, but the toy is really dated. There's also a 6" Titanium version on the way this year that will transform from the complete car carrier to the complete giant robot - just like the old cartoon. He'll be small, but probably cheaper than buying a vintage Ultra Magnus. He'll be better articulated, too.