Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Technic Temptation....

Since I started this blog, no posting has brought me more grief than the 'Technic Torture' piece I wrote back in 2010. There are clearly lots of LEGO Technic fans out there, and some of them evidently didn't appreciate my less-than-complimentary comments about their passion....

Since posting that article, it's only fair for me to confess that a few Technic sets old and new have caught my eye and have been added to my collection. These include the huge Set 8674 Ferrari F1 Racer 1:8 from 2006, which I picked up from eBay a few months back, and a couple of more recent examples, namely Set 8070 Super Car and Set 8110 Mercedes-Benz Unimog U 400. All are undoubtedly Technic, but they look sufficiently un-Technic-like to satisfy my aesthetic sensibilities. None had made it to the front of my build queue, however, and all thus remained unbuilt.

Set 8674 Ferrari F1 Racer 1:8
A little while back, Pawel Kmiec, a renowned LEGO Technic builder better known by his online name of Sariel, was kind enough to send me a copy of his latest book "The Unofficial LEGO Technic Builder's Guide". I have to admit that given my at times 'difficult' relationship with LEGO Technic I approached the book with a degree of trepidation, and it wasn't just the Technic angle that I was wary of - many LEGO-related books that I've read over the years have been written with a much younger reader in mind, making them pretty uninspiring for the average AFOL.


First up, I have to congratulate Sariel on an extremely impressive effort; his book weighs in at a substantial 334 pages, and it's very nicely presented - robustly bound, and containing lots of clear colour pictures and photographs. Furthermore, any pre-conceived notions I might have had about being spoken down to were very quickly dispelled - this is no lightweight piece of LEGO fluff, people, it's a veritable textbook of Technic and no mistake....

The book is broken into five parts. It kicks off with the basics - four potentially dull but in fact extremely useful chapters which define critical and often misunderstood concepts and terms such as torque, power, backlash and efficiency before going on to describe the common Technic elements and then contrast the geometry, pros and cons of studless vs. studded building techniques. Once the basics are covered the book moves on to deal with mechanics, albeit with a distinctive LEGO flavour - gears, levers, chains and pulleys, plus mechanical solutions such as differentials, and also LEGO's pneumatic system. Next the focus is on motors, including an inventory of LEGO motors past and present and a detailed review and discussion of LEGO's current Power Functions system. Then follows a section on advanced mechanics which outlines various types of steering, suspension (picture below - click to enlarge) and transmission systems, even including step by step instructions on how to build your own versions. The book wraps up with a discussion of some of the key design considerations for different types of Technic models including cars, trucks, tracked vehicles and aircraft, including but not limited to scaling and controlling your models remotely.


I'm pleased to report that the book is well written and seems very comprehensive; some sections are pretty dense and the going gets a little heavy at times, but it's hard to see how this could have been avoided without losing important details; furthermore, every effort is made to help the reader by way of copious colour diagrams and step-by-step building instructions. And Sariel isn't just an expert on the theory, either - the book is full of worked examples of the different concepts and systems, not to mention a liberal sprinkling of pictures some of his superb Technic MOCs (including the excellent GT40 below) which bring the theory to life and show what's possible once you have a decent grasp of the Technic building system.

Picture and model (c) Sariel
The Unofficial LEGO Technic Builder's Guide is published by No Starch Press and available from Amazon (UK/US - click to browse and buy) and elsewhere. If you're a fan of Technic then I can see it being a very useful reference work, and given Sariel's credentials I sincerely doubt that there are too many more knowledgeable Technic builders out there to learn from. If you need more convincing then check out his site here - there are some seriously impressive creations on there. Sariel's book might also be worth a look if, like me, you're somewhat on the fence so far as Technic's concerned. I say that because after reading the first hundred-or-so pages I felt sufficiently educated and inspired to crack open one of my thus-far unbuilt Technic sets.....


I did initially consider going all-in and building the biggest Technic Set that I own - the Unimog - but eventually decided to go for Set 8070 Super Car instead. It's less intimidating, frankly, and also smaller and hence easier to display than the monster that is the Unimog, but it still contains some Power Functions so there'd be some motorised mechanisms to impress my son with (!). The front of the box (above - click to enlarge) features a large picture of the finished model plus a pictorial summary of the various different motorised functions; the back of the box (below) shows an alternative build that can be assembled using the same parts. LEGO describe the alternative build as a Roadster; you need to download the instructions from www.Technic.LEGO.com, but at least they're free. The Roadster, which like the primary model features a bunch of motorised functions, looks pretty good IMHO, but I haven't tried to build it yet.


After cutting the seals I realised with some dismay that it's one of those stupid boxes where the top half is actually glued to the bottom half along the back and you're supposed to cut the the top of the box on either side near the rear 'hinge' to open it. Such vandalism is against my principles, so I was instead obliged to spend the next ten minutes carefully lifting up the front of the lid and squeezing out numerous bags of parts, instruction booklets, loose elements (wheels and tyres) etc. through the narrow gap between the top and bottom halves of the box one by one while trying not to tear the cardboard....

My set unfortunately pre-dates LEGO's recent welcome policy of bagging up the instruction booklets and sticker sheet with some cardboard to keep them flat. My instruction booklets were therefore less than pristine, and my sticker sheet was creased - irritating. There are 3 instruction booklets (below) which look identical save for the different booklet numbers; they're close to A4 size and have the same image of the primary model on the front cover as is printed on the front of the box. Booklets one and two are a mammoth 84 pages long; booklet 3 is only 56 pages long, and contains advertising for other Technic sets and various LEGO websites as well as the final building steps.


Having started to build the set while I was away from home I wasn't able to photograph or scan the sticker sheet, but if you're so inclined you can see a picture of it here. I'm sorry to report that it's a monster - lots of stickers, some of them huge - and just to make matters worse mine was as previously stated creased and a couple of the stickers were starting to peel off the backing. Thankfully the stickers themselves seem to be pretty robust - applying them neatly was challenging, and despite needing to peel off and reapply a couple of them they seemingly survived this without losing their adhesiveness or incurring any damage.

The bags of parts weren't numbered so I poured out all 1281 parts and sorted them into a couple of containers. The set contains almost no studded parts at all, instead featuring a preponderance of studless beams, axles, gears and panels in the build, not to mention an obscene number of pins and connectors of various types - you can find a full parts inventory here if you're curious.

The build itself took me a number of hours, mainly split over 3 leisurely days between Christmas and New Year's Eve. You start out by building the chassis, function select mechanism, rear axle and suspension, and installing a motor, at which point instruction booklet 1 is done. Instruction booklet 2 then walks you through construction of the front axle, suspension and steering rack, the engine block and pistons, and the car's interior. By the end of booklet 2 you've also built much of the retractable rear spoiler and bonnet, of which more later. Booklet 3 is largely concerned with the construction of a pair of scissor doors, wrapping a skin of sorts over the bare bones, tidying up and finishing off.


One of the reasons I've been slow to embrace Technic is that many of the completed models are just mechanisms wrapped in a framework of beams - often technically impressive, but purely functional and very ugly to my eyes. What initially attracted me to Set 8070 Super Car was that at least some effort had been made to pretty it up a bit. While the publicity shots looked good, I think it looks even better "in the flesh". First off it's bigger and more imposing than I expected; harder to display, therefore, but definitely more eye-catching too. The front (pictures above and below - click to enlarge) looks superb, and the long, sleek bonnet brings to mind a Dodge Viper; overall the lines are very pleasing - curvy thanks to the judicious use of panels and flexible hoses, but also stocky and low to the ground as a Super Car should be.





















It's not all good, though - the rear of the vehicle (below) is spoiled by the presence of the battery box sticking out like a sore thumb aesthetically and indeed literally. It's a shame as there are some nice details to behold at the back of the vehicle - the rear lighting cluster, intakes and exhausts are nicely done, but the monstrous battery box dominates the view. More could and should have been done to hide it I think.





















It's when you look under the skin that Technic models really come into their own, though, and the Super Car is no exception. While only one motor is included in the set, at any one time its power can be channelled through to any one of four functions; the bonnet opens and closes, each of the scissor doors independently opens and closes, and the spoiler is retractable. You can see all these features in the pictures below. The various mechanisms work well - I found them to be smooth and reliable. Honestly, between me and my son we've already worn out a full set of six batteries playing around with these motorised features and they've continued to work without a problem. The motor is switched on, and the selected mechanism activated, by flicking the orange switch on the battery box to the right or to the left depending on whether you want to open or close the bonnet, door etc.; when the orange switch is in the central position the motor is turned off.

Incidentally, if any fellow Technic novices out there are wondering what happens when one of the mechanisms reaches the maximum range of movement in one direction or the other, e.g. when the bonnet is fully open or closed, the answer can be found deep within the Super Car's innards where a special white gear lurks. This is actually a gear with a clutch; when a mechanism linked to this gear reaches its limits and resistance consequently increases, the clutch automatically starts to slip around the axle, thus disabling the mechanism and stopping it and indeed the motor from getting damaged. To a Technic noob like me that actually seems pretty clever !








































As previously stated, there's only one motor; power must therefore channelled to the motorised function of choice via the switching mechanism which you can see in the picture below. The switch is located between the seats; simply click it into the desired position depending on which function you wish to select and power will be directed to that particular function while the others remain dormant. I have to admit that while I was building the switching mechanism I had real doubts that it'd be robust enough to survive a lot of switching back and forth. Like the functions themselves, however, it's worked faultlessly so far - rather impressive.


In addition to the mechanisms powered by the motor, there are also a few non-motorised functions. Under the bonnet you'll find a V8 engine, complete with yellow pistons (picture below); when the car is pushed forwards or backwards, the rotation of the back wheels is transmitted to the pistons which smoothly rise and fall within the engine block - neat ! Another feature involves the black gear sticking up from the rear of the car (picture below - click to enlarge) - rotating this gear steers the front wheels. Finally, all four wheels have independently-sprung suspension. Once again, all these mechanisms work beautifully and feel surprisingly robust.





















OK, so here's the thing. I didn't enjoy the Super Car build as much as I've previously enjoyed building, say, a large modular building. I definitely derive more satisfaction, relaxation and enjoyment from building with standard LEGO bricks than I do meshing Technic gears and putting together complex mechanisms - it doesn't provide the same tactile pleasures, nor is it as relaxing. That having been said, gradually combining that cacophony of gears, axles, connectors and levers into a system of interconnected, working mechanisms was genuinely interesting and challenging, and there was a significant feeling of accomplishment when the model was finally finished and everything was working beautifully. Also, and importantly from my perspective, LEGO have made some significant strides with their Technic set designs from an aesthetic perspective - as well as being a cool and clever model, I actually think the Super Car looks good as well. Sure, it's far from perfect - there are still way too many gaping holes in the bodywork for my liking. I think, however, that I could probably remedy that quite easily; certainly it'd be pretty straightforward to mod the model so that the engine was largely enclosed. Same goes for giving the car a proper roof, and indeed covering over the back.

So overall the Super Car gets a big thumbs up from me, so much so that I've now got a bit of a taste for these big Technic sports cars - anyone got a boxed Technic Enzo (below) or Ferrari 599 GTB Fiorano going cheap, by any chance....?!
Set 8070 Super Car was released in 2010 and is I'm afraid no longer available direct from LEGO, although in the UK and elsewhere in Europe it can nevertheless still be found at retail, e.g. Amazon.co.uk currently has the set available, and it's surprisingly still priced well below the £99.99 RRP as I type this - click here to buy. If you're U.S.-based then your best bet might be Bricklink, although if you're willing to pay for trans-Atlantic shipping then Amazon.co.uk will I think ship it to you in the U.S. - good luck ! 

5 comments:

  1. Branko Dijkstra17/1/13

    Nice read. Technics is actually what pulled me out of my dark ages but I agree with you that somehow building a Technics set is not as much 'fun' yet the result is usually very rewarding and impressive.

    Strangely enough technics sets do tickle me into wanting to try something myself whereas with 'regular Lego' I tend to leave that to my kids.

    Weird beast, Technics.

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  2. i have a quick question-
    could you post a picture of your box storage area? since you are against damaging boxes, it sounds like they'll take up a lot of space, LOL. :)

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    1. You can find a picture here :

      http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-ol7teHFk1Xw/T3wTKsX9ufI/AAAAAAAABQo/9vjriBsK7v4/s1600/Lower+Level+Stage+7+right+view+FINAL+(WM).jpg

      That was taken almost a year ago, and things have got a bit more crowded since...

      :-)

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  3. Now that you've built the 8070 super car you sold try one of Paul Boratko's super cars ;)

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    1. Ah yes - if Paul is the builder known as Crowkillers then I'm familiar with his stuff. Amazing Technic builder, and he's got a number of his creations up on Cuusoo, some of which I've already voted for :

      http://lego.cuusoo.com/profile/Crowkillers#projects

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