Mar. 1st, 2016

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As well as the Space Lego that I found in my Mum's loft, I also recovered three Lego Technical sets that I'd coveted in my youth and been delighted to receive for various Christmases between the ages of 9 to 12. After a fair bit of sorting it turned out I had almost all the parts for them (I had to substitute the odd pair of smaller bricks for one bigger one) and was able to build up a little collection from my youth.


Lego Kit 852 - Helicopter

This was one of the original round of Technical Sets back in 1977. It's pretty simple, with the main moving parts being the main rotor and tail rotor that are geared together. The 'clever' part of the design is that it does incorporate a collective control, with back-and-forth movement of the joysticks (they don’t move sideways) alters the pitch angle of the rotors.

I actually built this kit last of the three, because its parts had become rather mixed up with those in the other kits and the main big box of miscellaneous Lego parts. It was the quickest build, although quite fiddly in places - I seem to remember my ten-year-old self having a bit of difficulty with it at first.

Lego Kit 853 - Car Chassis
Another of the first round of Technical kits, this was very much the premier model of the original kits. It builds into a very large model (certainly by the standards of the day, and it's pretty big for a Lego kit even now) and took me several hours to put together.

This kit has several nice features. The most obvious is a working straight-4 engine with moving pistons, but it also has rack-and-pinion steering, a two-speed gearbox and front seats that move back and forth (all seats tilt on hinges). Even nearly 40 years after being introduced this is an impressive kit once built and as well as looking good it nicely demonstrates some of the principles of how a car works. You can read a more detailed description of the kit with animations of its moving parts here.

Lego Kit 8860 - Car Chassis Mk 2

This kit was the flagship of the second main tranche of technical sets. It was the last major Lego kit I got as a present - I would have been 12 or 13 - but I certainly had a lot of fun building it at 47!

8860 has a flat-4 rear-mounted engine and a 3-speed gearbox. However, having built the gearbox you're then instructed to add a blanking plate that blocks out selection of the lowest gear. This is because when you push the car along the floor the wheels are driving the engine rather than vice-versa, so in bottom gear the gear ratio is too high to turn the engine easily. If you add a motor then the gears work the proper way, and the instructions then tell you to block out the highest gear as the standard Lego motor of the era didn't have enough torque to drive the car at that ratio.

Other features that improve on 853 are a rear differential, working rear shock absorbers, seats that adjust in position and tilt by gears and - a rather subtle one this - Ackerman steering on the front wheels. This means that the wheel on the inside of a turn turns more tightly than the wheel on the outside, so making for a smoother turn. This, coupled with the rear differential, means that 8860 corners far more smoothly and realistically than 853 did. There are more details about 8860's design here.

My childhood Lego career pretty much ended with these kits, although I recall using them for building other projects (in particular, a model of an equatorial telescope mount). Having put them together again now I'm full of admiration for the Lego designers who managed to incorporate so many real-world engineering principles into their designs. Lego went on to produce further car kits, culminating in the 8880 in 1994, with four-wheel drive, 4-wheel steering, and synchronised transmission. (I've looked at what one of those costs on eBay, and gulped a bit, so I think I'll stick with my current Lego for now.)


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Simon Bradshaw

September 2017


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