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Last year Lego picked, as one of its fan-suggested kits, the Apollo Saturn V moon rocket. About a month ago details of the final kit emerged, with a launch (ahem) date of 1st June. Then on Friday a friend mentioned over on Facebook that John Lewis had the kit in stock early. I checked and there it was, with the option of next-day pickup in our local branch. The decision to order took, I don't know, about 5 milliseconds, and on Saturday afternoon we popped in to pick up what proved to be an impressively large box.

Lots of pictures of Lego building )
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I recently bought a copy of Great LEGO Sets - A Visual History, a very nicely produced coffee-table book of the history of lego from the early days until 2014 or so. It's chock-full of pictures of a selection of what Lego fans and designers consider to be the pick of the sets over the years, including the Space Lego LL928 Galaxy Explorer - as I posted about recently, I found my one of these not long ago and rebuilt it.

If you buy the slipcase version of the book, not only do you get a very nice picture of the Galaxy Explorer kit on the case, but there's an extra treat - a mini Galaxy Explorer. Yes, Lego have done a kit of one of their kits.

It's a very nice looking little model, too.

Lego Spaceships, plural )

As an aside, I noticed one area where the new mini kit is not only different from the original, but arguably slightly better-designed than it. Anyone spot it?
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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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I've posted a bit lately about my renewed interest in Lego, but it is a renewed interest; I started playing with Lego at around about 5, and between about 8 and 14 it was pretty much all I wanted for birthday or Christmas. Not surprisingly, me being me, there were two kit ranges I was particularly into: Lego Technic (or 'Technical Lego' as it was originally called in the UK) and Lego Space.

Like many Lego enthusiasts I never threw any away, although as time went on older kits ended up in large amalgamated boxes of bits whilst the more recent and more expensive ones got dismantled, put back in their boxes, and progressively migrated from shelf to cupboard to attic. They staying in my Mum's attic ever since, although in recent years she would occasionally remind me that they were still there after some 30 years and I might perhaps want to have a bit of a sort out.

So, last weekend, whilst down at my Mum's I ventured into the rather cramped attic and crawled around finding various bits of old Lego. Most of it was either in its original boxes or one big box of bits, although I did have to do a fair bit of rooting around insulation felt to find bits from one box that had fallen over. In the end though I recovered the bits box and half a dozen kit boxes, which we brought home so I could sort through them.

The Technic kits were mostly in their original boxes, and other than a quick look I've set them aside for later. First, though, I tackled the Lego Space collection.

I think I - or more probably my brother and I - must have brought a fair few kits from that range, although I only had one box, the one for the kit that was the piece de resistance of the original Space range, 928 Galaxy Explorer. The box was almost empty though, and a rummage through the box-o'-bits confirmed my fears; there were a lot of what were recognisably Lego Space bits in there (recognisable by the mainly grey-and-blue colour scheme) mixed in with lots of other miscellaneous Lego from the 1970s.

Sod it, I thought, time for some sorting. And how else to sort than to build the kit and look for the parts as I went along?

It took a while, but eventually, for the first time in 35 years, I had my own Lego spaceship. Or, to quote Benny the Spaceman from The Lego Movie, "Spaceship, Spaceship, SPACESHIP!!!"

But I had lots of Lego Space bits left over. A couple of bricks with LL918 on prompted me to find the instructions for that kit, and soon I had the Galaxy Explorer's small sibling, the 918 Space Transport. (There was an intermediate one as well in the original Space range, 924, but I don't think we ever had that one.) I also found an old instruction sheet for 891 Space Scooter, so built that too. We must have brought some extra base tiles, because I had 6 in total, rather than the two that came with the 928 kit. And I found about a dozen minifig spacemen.

Well, what was I to do but put a little diorama together?

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My birthday present from [ profile] attimes_bracing was the new Lego kit of WALL-E.

I finally got around to building it last weekend (it's quite a complex kit despite its small size, and took about 3 hours.) It seemed fitting to have it meet a kit I got about 12 years ago, 7471 Mars Exploration Rover.

It turns out that, probably by coincidence, both models are roughly to scale. Pixar has apparently confirmed that WALL-E is notionally about a metre tall, whilst Spirit/Opportunity are about 1.5m to the top of their mast cameras. Unfortunately our dining room display cabinet isn't quite big enough to have them next to one another.

WALL-E & Rover.jpg
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"Would you like", I asked [ profile] attimes_bracing, "to go to a Lego show?"

When I was young I was very into Lego. General Lego sets at first (this was the early 1970s, when themed Lego was a limited subset of Lego's output) and then Lego Space and Technical Lego. I still have most of my old Lego sets from that era in my Mum's loft (as she occasionally reminds me, in the hope that I might one day retrieve them.) I've occasionally had mild relapses when a particularly nice kit has come out, such as the Mars Rover I got for Christmas in 2003, although I managed to restrain myself when faced with the Death Star or the Shield Helicarrier. So, when I saw that BRICK 2015 was coming to the NEC, I asked S (who apparently survived a Lego-free childhood) if she'd be interested in having a look. She was, so I booked tickets and off to the NEC we went...

We got there just before opening, to find a large but well-managed queue; for an event where almost all the attendees were families with children it was remarkably calm and well behaved. The show was divided into various areas (interspersed with lots of building zones with huge pits of bricks) organised broadly as follows:

  • Lego creations, i.e. not specific kits but rather 'models' in the more traditional sense built from general Lego bricks and parts. These varied from quite small (ones that could easily be mainstream Lego kits) to absolutely huge, including a model of the Titanic at standard Lego Minifig scale of about 1/40. There are evidently lots of groups of enthusiast Lego modellers out there, and many of the creations we saw were huge and very detailed. There was a rock concert, an airport terminal (not clear if it involved little reproduction TSA searches...), a 747 and Concorde, any many Star Wars models, including an AT-AT about the size of a large dog. I was particularly taken with two creations evidently made by Gerry Anderson fans - a model of BIG RAT from Joe 90 and a huge diorama of Marineville from Stingray.

  • Large Lego statues - there was a Hobbit scene, a huge Hulkbuster Iron Man, and a full-size (well, outside at least) TARDIS.

  • Dealers' stands selling either Lego-based artwork, customised Minifigs, or out-of-production kits. The latter were at prices ranging from high to absolutely eye-watering. Lego has done several kits of the Millennium Falcon; want the Ultimate Collector's version from 2008 and it could be yours - for £3,500.

  • Areas plugging new Lego products, including video games and associated kits.

  • A shop (run by Toys'R'Us) flogging a large but not exhaustive range of current kits.

I've put an album of photos online (there are lots, so I've not embedded them here) with captions.

We pretty much had our fill in about an hour and a half; I could have stayed longer admiring some of the beautifully-detailed larger creations but by that point the show was getting very full. I did make one purchase, in the form of the Flatiron Building kit from the Lego Architecture range. Slightly to my disappointment, it turns out not to include Minifigs of TOR editors Patrick and Teresa Nielsen Hayden, who (along with the rest of TOR's staff) actually work there...


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Simon Bradshaw

September 2017



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