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Collecting Dust The Fantom Story

By Tom Gasko Tacony Vacuum Museum

Fantom Canister VacuumIn 1989, James Dyson and Iona Appliances of Canada, reached a licensing deal so that Iona could make and sell a line of commercial dual cyclonic upright vacuums, called "Vectron," through Johnson Wax. As James Dyson was the patent holder for dual cyclonic cleaners, this was a mutually beneficial deal for both parties.

Johnson Wax would pull out of the commercial vacuum cleaner market in 1991, leaving Iona free to rebadge the cleaners as "Fantom." A television infomercial was created in 1993, proving very successful. However, the filtration of the dual cyclonic upright (which at that time did NOT include a Hepa exhaust filter) was not the greatest. Iona would add the Hepa filter in 1994 as an option. This option was actually included with the machine – consumers were made to think they were getting a special deal if they bought now. In 1995, Iona would add a title to their cleaner, calling it the Thunder.

Fantom Upright VacuumIn 1996, Fantom released the Fury – a smaller cleaner with a smaller motor. The Fury found great success through the television infomercial specially prepared for it, while the Thunder model remained popular for larger homes. While the Thunder model was designed as a heavy duty cleaner (remember it was designed originally for commercial use), the Fury model was designed to meet a lower price point. This is where the first problems started to appear.

Pulling the air through multiple levels of high efficiency cyclones is not easy for a motor to do. Iona (which was renamed Fantom Technologies) used a far weaker motor in the Fury than in the Thunder – resulting in many failures. The handle release pedal on the Fury was a weaker and more break-prone than on the Thunder as well. Nor did the Fury have the excellent carpet cleaning ability of the Thunder. The Fury was, however, a large seller for Iona, due in part to the light weight as well as the lower price (as compared with the Thunder model).

In 1998, James Dyson released the Canister model (the Dyson DC02) to Iona, for them to remake with an electric power nozzle – which Iona would call the Fantom Lightning. At a price point of $329, the Lightning sold like hotcakes. But a poor handle release pedal on the power nozzle, as well as a poor wand and hose design, meant lots of warranty repairs for Fantom. James Dyson had also invented "MEMA" filters (washable filter, resulting in Maximum Efficiency - Maximum Airflow). Fantom Technologies did not want the washable high efficiency filters on their cleaner as they were in the business of selling Hepa filters.

In 2001, James Dyson did NOT renew the license deal with Fantom Technologies. Fantom could not make a dual cyclonic cleaner (James held the patents.) so Fantom cheapened the cleaner yet again, calling it the Crosswinds and utilizing a single cyclone – which clogged immediately and was a miserable failure in the market place. By October, 2001, Fantom Technologies was history. This left the door wide open for Dyson – an opportunity which James seized immediately.

Many were the reasons for Fantom's failure. Not the least among them was the very high price of the Hepa filter ($75) together with the fact that Iona had designed the later machines to pass the dust onto the Hepa filter. Two years were the suggested maximum life for the Hepa exhaust filter. But that meant dirty motors were left in the wake. Coupled with increasingly cheaper to produce parts, the Fantom lineup would soon suffer from the same fate as many other manufacturers (like GE, Premier, Regina, etc.) who cheapened their vacuums until there was nowhere left to go with them.

Today, Fantom vacuums in good original condition are considered collector's items. A well used Fantom Lightning model, with optional mini power nozzle and floor tool, recently sold for over $400 on ebay. Crosswinds models are very rare as are Wildcat models. These command a premium on eBay today (with a Wildcat recently going for over $500). As the years wear on, a Fantom in good condition can only appreciate in value. It's a sad note, however, that the Fury, Lightning, and Cyclone XT models in good condition are virtually non-existent. Only the Thunder models seem to survive the years. Any Fantom in good running condition is now considered collectible.

The vacuum museum is fortunate enough to not only have the original Vectron model made for Johnson Wax, but we also have a new Thunder and Lightning models as well.

Reprinted from Floor Care & Central Vac Professional, November 2012