Forget Meccano. Lego is where it’s at. Even now it’s the epitome of construction cool, as I recently refound out.
There are two things it is difficult to fully appreciate until you’ve grown up: The Internet, and Lego.
The ol’ web is more of a wonderment when you consider that it didn’t exist when I was a kid. In two decades it’s gone from Nutscrape Navigator and Geocities to serious business tool and design gurus pushing content and pixels to their limit. The only constant in that time span has been the availability of porn.
Lego on the other hand is just this stuff that you lust after and make things from; where your imagination can just go mad. When you’re little, your parents tell you it’s phenomenally expensive so when you get that set you feel both privileged and empowered. You build, you play, you deconstruct and reconstruct, you have fun; but it’s not until you go back to it twenty years later that you realise its true awesome.
Car chassis: flagship of the fleet
Back in 1980 when Technics Lego was in its infancy I craved the Car Chassis. I don’t know why, I just did. With hundreds of bits and the promise of untold realistic features like rack and pinion steering and gears and pistons and this thing called a differential gear, it was the beacon of cool even if I didn’t know what any of the terms meant. I badgered and, one year, was lucky enough to get one.
I remember spending all day behind the sofa making the damn thing. Parents probably praised Denmark for being able to keep me quiet for so long. And after I’d made it, marvelled it, played with it and took it apart, then combined it with the remainder of my Lego to make new stuff over the years, it was ultimately put into trays and confined to the loft.
Well the other day I got the Lego racks out again. I have two of those things that normal people my age put screws and nails and washers in. Except mine hold just under half my Lego collection, with pieces sorted by type and colour because I’m like that. I knew that among these trays held every piece of Lego needed to construct the Car Chassis. And I wanted to see it again.
The box and manual were long gone. Or maybe the manual was in the loft with the rest of the Lego train set that wouldn’t fit in the trays, but I wasn’t hunting for it when there are more than enough Lego geeks out there to have the instructions online.
So I thought.
Instruct me silly
The first problem is that I couldn’t remember the model number or official name. Surely the Lego site would tell me. Nope. I hunted, I searched, I scrolled through hundreds of manuals and downloaded a few to see if they might be The One: all to no avail. Then I spotted a tiny legend near the search box. “Find instructions for all Lego models from 2002”. Nuts. Wish I’d spotted that sooner.
So the net widened. Google came to the rescue and after some random misses and trips down Sentimental Street I eventually stumbled upon a picture of it that someone had kindly embedded the model number in the metadata. 8860-1.
From there it was plain sailing. Somebody had graciously scanned in the manual pages at a resolution high enough to just discern the tiny font telling me I need 8x of these, 3x of those, etc.
Off I went, marvelling at the engineering time and technology that must have gone into both the original design and the team who documented the process so luddites like me could make it. Two hours later I was a little over halfway through when calamity struck. Clicking Next Page resulted in a 500 Internal Server Error. Try as I might I couldn’t get any subsequent steps to load: the site was banjaxed. Noooooooooooooooooooo!
With the seats, bare chassis and some of the gears constructed I was frantically back to Google in the hope that someone else might have finished the job. Luck was with me. A second site housed the instructions and I continued from Step 21, albeit with slightly lower grade pictures to work from, which made it all the more challenging.
Yet again — this time without the Queen’s speech and a new episode of Only Fools and Horses playing the other side of the sofa — it still took me nearly all damn day to make it because I’m horribly out of practice.
But was it worth it?
While Lego these days is still great, they’ve taken all the weight out of the pieces and use more moulded pieces than general purpose bricks. The Lego of my day was meaty and chunky and heavy duty. And it shows in the design of this beastie.
It’s heavy but it’s intricately detailed, with functional three-gear gearbox (one gear of which they inexplicably blank off if you follow the instructions to the letter), aformentioned steering, moving pistons and even a natty little fan driven by an elastic band I’d forgotten about but still miraculously had in one of the trays. Suspension, independent differential gears, and movable, reclinable seats in which traditional lego figures look decidely puny and comical as they try to reach the man-size steering wheel above.
Of course it’s not as pretty as the newer stuff, and if it was remodelled today would probably be all sleek and curvy with specialist injection-moulded pieces instead of being made of 99% off-the-shelf Technics bricks. But it’s a wonderment of tech all the same.
And here it is. Hats off to Mr Lego and the design team behind this greatness; and hats off to the Internet for allowing me to recreate my childhood piece by sodding piece when I should have been doing something far more productive with my time. But what the hell: I’m off to make a rocket now.