The Heinz Ketchup H-57 Burger Blaster

Sometime in 1986–possibly while watching a syndicated episode of the original Transformers–a young Poe saw a commercial for a magical item. It was a Heinz Ketchup bottle that could transform into an X-Wing-like starfighter. Of course I wanted it–I wanted everything. But this was one of those odd promotions, requiring some sort of coupon from a newspaper and a check (that magical, adults-only form of currency), and between the Transformers and a resurgent interest in Star Wars, I neglected to follow up on this (i.e., beg my parents for it).

Over the years, I sometimes wondered whether I’d hallucinated the ad in a Hostess-induced sugar haze. It wasn’t until the rise of the Internet, where useless information goes to die, that I was able to discover that not only did it exist, but it was occasionally sold on eBay!

And so, recently, I obtained one. There’s no need to get into details about who asked whose mother to get what for him, coming full circle in a 22-year quest while exhibiting incredible laziness. Suffice to say, it’s here and it’s cool.

Heinz seems to have put some real effort into this thing, including the packaging. Unfortunately, neither the packaging nor the instructions give the slightest hint as to why Heinz decided to market a mail away toy to kids. It’s not as if kids need to be encouraged to use ketchup a la Joe Camel and cigarettes. I’m guessing some Heinz employee just liked toys and thought it’d be cool to do a kind of Transformers/Star Wars promotion.

The instructions show how to transform the ketchup bottle into a star-crossing vehicle of destruction. It’s not as easy as it looks; when you ignore the instructions (as I did), the cockpit can be tricky. (Really. I’m not just old…) To my surprise, the eBay seller had put a brand-new 9-volt battery in the toy and the “running lights” began to flash as soon as it was transformed. After 22 years! Not too shabby.

It’s a surprisingly cool-looking toy for a promotional giveaway for a perishable. The underside of the wings even has some technological-looking detail. And when it’s in “bottle mode,” it looks exactly like–well, a ketchup bottle. The pilot is clearly supposed to be the kid playing with it, judging from the baseball cap. The only annoying thing is the running lights can’t be turned off except by transforming it.

I think the most unintentionally humorous part of the toy is the instructions. It comes with stickers–the Heinz labels and little burger and hot dog stickers, which the previous owner had never applied. This is what the instructions have to say about them: “Mission stickers are also included for celebrating galactic victories against space dogs and galactic battle burgers. When Mom serves burgers or hot dogs with Heinz ketchup–and you eat the whole thing–you are entitled to place a mission sticker under the cockpit as indicated.”

Oh, and before you go hurtling this thing into the cosmos, be aware: “The H-57 Burger Blaster does not really fly. Never throw or launch the H-57 Burger Blaster. Someone could get hurt and it may result in breakage of the toy.”

The Blaster’s warranty–oh yes, it has a warranty, though I suspect the ninety days are long up–identifies it as a product of a company called Pennyframe, Inc. Google has never heard of them, so I suspect they’re no longer in business, so even if it did break I’d have no one to send it to for repair.

For a toy fan and a child of the ’80s, the Heinz Burger Blaster is a great little novelty, and, I suspect, a good conversation piece–particularly since I plan to sneak it into every single picnic I go to from now on. And people think it’s hard to get the ketchup out now…

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