Spring Car Wave – LEGO Speed Champions, Porsche 963 (76916), Pagani Utopia (76915) and McLaren Solus GT & F1 LM (76918)

Fair Warning: Long, long article ahead! Yes, I figured instead of tackling them one by one i’ll pack three sets with overall four cars into a single review and be done with it, at least for this release cycle. So have a look at my thoughts and ramblings below.

LEGO Speed Champions, Porsche 963, Pagani Utopia, McLaren Solus GT & F1 LM, Banner

Contents and Pricing

Within the established standards of this product line. After the raise last year the single item packages cost 25 Euro and the dual pack is that same price times two minus a factory default discount, so we arrive at 45 Euro. Considering, that LEGO occasionally do stupid things like when they inexplicably raised the price of the Lamborghini set to insane levels, I guess we should be satisfied this time. The doesn’t negate the fact that cheap is sexy and a good retail discount never hurt anyone. That’s why you can get the small boxes for as low as 14 Euro and the big one for 33 Euro if you’re lucky. I got mine for 16 Euro and 34 Euro, respectively, which is pretty decent for 280, 249 and 581 pieces.

Parts Cornucopia

One of the reasons I like the Speed Champions sets so much (despite my total ignorance in most things cars) is that they 90% certain introduce some new part every year and really a bucket load of recolors of existing elements. Last year’s big thing was the new 3 x 2 wedge appearing in several sets with prints in order to mimic the headlights. We’re getting more of that this year as well, but LEGO really have upped the ante with a ton of other pieces. Before moving on to the individual cars, therefore let’s have a look at them in a single sweep in the interest of efficiency.

As usual there are a few obvious candidates: Inevitably each car will have its own canopy and many times those have individual prints even if they may be the same type otherwise. This is of course the case here as well and in an added twist, they are actually new shapes for three out of the four cars discussed here. The Porsche 963 and the McLaren Solus have the 180 degree “cylindrical/ conical” windshield with extended sides in four studs wide and the Pagani Utopia has its 6-wide equivalent. The beauty of those items is their simplicity. No complex curvatures in multiple directions that leave gaps, just plain “panoramic” windows that can be seamlessly covered with other round elements. They probably also would make for nice regular elements in solid colors to be used for roofs and display stand bases.

The other very noticeable items are a few recolors. Of particular note are the many ones in Orange required for the McLaren F1 LM. Those in particular cover a number of brackets previously not available in this color, the 1 x 1 x 2/3 brick introduced last year and even the minifigure oar element. The latter is probably its own story, given that after years of being only available in Yellow and Red it has seen a bit of a renaissance as a greeble part in some sets and of course also as a petal piece in various sets of the Botanical Collection and thus is available in a variety of colors now. Two slightly more hidden recolors in Black are the large Technic propeller blade, which should make aviation enthusiasts very happy, and likewise the rarely used long horizontal fin. Both fall into that weird “What? I thought they already existed for ages.” category where you could swear you’ve seen them before, but your memory is betraying you.

A lot of buzz/ fuss has been made about the small 1 x 1 x 2/3 SNOT piece with rounded back. There’s even one of those designer videos on how it changes everything and *blah, blah, blah*. Does it, though? I’m somewhat torn on the matter. As someone with a model building background in my youth I naturally favor filigree building techniques over more crude ones. In that regard having what is basically a tried & trusted SNOT brick only one plate thickness thinner is not a bad thing. The other advantage is that due to the rounded back side it can be rotated into arbitrary directions instead of being forced to the grid. This will/ should allow more freedom building connections at custom angles.

However, and that is ultimately the big “if” with this element, as a 1 x 1 piece it only has so much clutch power. This effectively means that under certain conditions you are always going to need multiples of this element. That by itself could also force you back into the grid pattern, which kind of defeats the purpose. Another point to consider and a feeling I had during building the models is that oftentimes the part could potentially be substituted with existing 1 x 1 (rounded) plates. All that and finally, as long as they are only out in Black, options are quite limited. I would love to see this in Light Bluish Grey to build custom railings or in green to integrate it into plants for instance.

When a few years ago the 1 x 2 plate with rounded ends found its way into LEGO‘s portfolio it was quite an interesting thing. Having had built some Mega Construx sets at this point it seemed such an obvious omission and the lack of the element could be felt, given that I had an idea what it could be used for. Its introduction really solved quite a few problems. Apparently that wasn’t the end of it and the designers recognized the value, which now led them to also give us a 1 x 3 version and a 1 x 4 type, respectively. similalrly to the small SNOT brick I did not find that they were always necessary and could have been swapped out for their conventional counterparts, but regardless it’s nice to have them.

One thing that slightly rubbed me the wrong way was the introduction of yet another variation on the chassis. It now has cutouts on the front and tail ends, allowing to inset elements by another row of studs. With my engineering hat on I see why they did it just as I recognize that after the transition from 6-wide to 8-wide models they may not have considered a few things with the original chassis design, but can we please now settle on this one? That also goes for the updated wheel housing/ mudguard design. It’s okay and clearly there’s a reason, but I’d rather see new designs with different shapes instead changing existing ones. It’s not that the older version with the higher step was not usable and couldn’t have been padded with a few plates and bricks.

Moving on to the more specialized parts in the sense of being (for the time at least) specifically tailored to a given model we get some new wedge elements, those being the pointed wedge with base in Orange and Black found on the McLaren cars and the pointed wedge in Dark Bluish Grey on the Pagani. It’s not much of a stretch to come to the conclusion that we will be seeing them again a lot on Star Wars and Ninjago vehicles soon enough. They definitely solve some major design issues, given that this is the first time we really get sharply pointed versions.

Porsche 963 (76916)

LEGO Speed Champions, Porsche 963 (76916), Box

Long-distance-racing at the end of the day is more of a technical battle than an actual race (at least once the first two hours or so have passed and the gap distances are big enough), so it’s not necessarily something I would go out of my way to watch. I catch bits of the LeMans, Spa and Nuremberg races on TV, but that’s where my knowledge basically ends. One thing that’s for sure is that the cars tend to look highly unusual or weird even, weirder in fact than a Formula E car, at least to my eyes. With that we already are again at the most critical point: How the heck do you capture those complex shapes in a brick-built model?

LEGO Speed Champions, Porsche 963 (76916), Overview

On first glance things don’t look that bad. The car is very flat and in another universe you could believe that’s how those vehicles are built. That is in a very 1980s way when aerodynamic computer simulations and and construction were much less sophisticated and you had to keep things simple. The illusion once more falls apart as soon as you start searching the Internet for photos of the real car, however, and then you realize that not much is actually representative of the genuine article. The approximation of the curvature along the longitudinal axis is okay, but the same can not be said transversal direction. the cross sections along the central axis are always more or less harsh steps, not nice rounded transitions.

LEGO Speed Champions, Porsche 963 (76916), Stickers

One of the things that could no doubt help here is the sticker sheet. The original has an elaborate pattern of faux streamlines (literally) that would help to disguise straight edges. Being “that guy” who never uses stickers, this doesn’t help me of course and the original point stands. In addition the sheer size of the sheet and the number of stickers makes this the worst offender in the selection of the three models reviewed here. Again, this can’t be held entirely against LEGO. It’s just how the livery of the car is in the real world. Further evidence is even provided by the decals themselves not having too many fake air vents, intakes and hatches printed on them as it would be on some other cars. Still, it’s more than a little unsatisfying. If at least the three bricks on the hood had their stripes printed on…

As a fully custom racing car this model has a few unique design aspects, one of the most being that it uses a ton of jumper plates to center elements along the main axis. The middle section is based on an odd number of studs (three), so there’s quite a few of those required to get the spine and cockpit where it needs to be. The rest of the build is then quite conventional. It isn’t even big on studs-on-the-side building except for the two wedges behind the cockpit. This makes the model beginner friendly and quick to assemble.

The details are a bit sparse and most of them kind of drown in the sea of black; but they are adequate. A small highlight are the headlights actually being 2 x 1 half-circle tiles in Trans Clear instead of having them printed on the slopes and the lateral air intakes hint at the internal airflow guiding system using stacks of the equally new semi-circular 1 x 2 jumper plates.

Pagani Utopia (76915)

I admit that I never heard of Pagani until I researched their name and history and stumbled upon their relation to Zonda, which rang a bell, if only very faintly. You know, those fading memories of 1980s and 1990s racing…

LEGO Speed Champions, Pagani Utopia (76915), Box

The Utopia is admittedly a pretty stylish vehicle that could appeal even to me. Unlike other hypercars it has this air of understatement and not pushing all its fancy features and extras in your face like an exhibitionist, yet you get the impression that it is a total beast. It also looks kind of “normal” in the sense that it feels more like those more attainable Ferraris or a Porsche. If it passed you by you could easily mistake it for one of those if you’re not an expert and it looking rather compact no doubt helps.

LEGO Speed Champions, Pagani Utopia (76915), Overview

That said, next to the minifigure the model appears a bit too small, regardless. It’s hard to judge those things if you never saw the actual thing, but to me it looks like it could be one or two studs longer and slightly wider. the other thing is of course the color. I’m pretty sure you can order it in whatever color you want and are willing to pay for, but at least for this model it would have been wonderful if it came in the actual silver metallic with a hint of gold tone seen in most of the promotional materials. Yes, I’m asking for miracles, as naturally LEGO never do that. It just would be nice…

In contrast to the Porsche, this is one of those models that uses quite some tricky construction methods here and there, in particular to get the front and rear mounted at an angle. At times it feels a bit like the designers are merely showing off, though, as some of these sub-assemblies are a bit too involved for their own good and there would have been alternate ways of doing things. The downside to this very granular style of building and changing directions at every step really is that it hampers you from jumping ahead or otherwise you may end up getting stuck because elements block each other. You really have to stick to the instructions pretty closely.

One of those convoluted building blocks clearly is the aft section. The model uses a bunch of the small door elements to represent the trapezoid airfoil/ spoiler assembly of the real car. While in and of itself it is an interesting solution, the result feels hugely exaggerated. This is further exacerbated by the 2 x 2 round tile with the exhaust ends being too large. This is one of those weird situations where you would need something like a 1.5 x 1.5 tile or such. I’m not meaning to complain, but the fact remains that it is way too large.

The front is much better in that regard. I only wish they’d a) produced the ice skate piece in Dark Bluish Grey and b) come up with a way to align things better the sharp edge on the front of the hood really is quite distinct and here it looks like this is actually two entirely unrelated sections of the car.

McLaren Solus GT & F1 LM (76918)

The big package for this cycle comes yet again with two McLaren cars. LEGO seem to love them and in turn the car company seems to be generous in licensing their designs, probably betting on the promotional effect. At least there have been several of their cars turned into Speed Champions those last few years.

LEGO Speed Champions, McLaren Solus GT & F1 LM (76918), Box

For this offering we are getting the Solus, their latest exotic racing care and the F1 LM, one of their earlier designs from the 1990s.

LEGO Speed Champions, McLaren Solus GT & F1 LM (76918), Overview

The Solus is its own kind of weird. Not only does it hit all the standard tropes of those over-designed hypercars, but it takes them to a new level by looking extremely futuristic. Unfortunately not in a good way. This is one heck of an ugly mofo! This goes to show that having money doesn’t equate having good taste and I have some really disturbing thoughts about people who could even afford this thing in my head.

The part that is more relevant for us is of course how it translates into LEGO at a small scale. Regrettably I have to give it and F in that department. It’s really not just the usual “less than ideal choice of subject”, but a total failure in my view. The big hang-up for me is that this is basically a black cardboard model with all the other parts painted on. This kind of illusion painting wouldn’t even have worked had they opted for a different color variant. It’s not dissimilar to the Porsche – the contours just look fine viewed from the side and in this case if you forgive the straight edges and squint a little the shapes of the wheel housings would also look okay from a flat top-down view, but there is just no genuine curvature and viewing it from any other angle totally betrays the illusions

Other points of contention for me are the ways in which the air guiding plates are attached in a way they come off too easily because they have built-in tension, especially the ones in the front. In the first moment you marvel at the creativity, but soon you find out how much it sucks when a triangular tile is only attached by one stud. It’s just not great.

There aren’t too many visible details on this model, which is in line with the real thing being super smooth and also sort of spartan. The rear lights immediately reminded me of having seen the same approach using Nexo Knights spear tips on the McLaren Senna. How fast time has moved forward from that 6-wide era!

The F1 LM very much immediately reminded of other cars from that era, be that Ferraris or Hondas. They kind of looked all quite the same with the real differences being in the details. that being the case, you could probably use this model as a template and derive a number of other cars by only changing a few things. the irony here of course is that the lack of some rounded edges even makes this viable in the first place. This is a major complaint if you read other reviews, but ultimately you have to accept the limitations of LEGO at some point. In fact I’m almost of the opposite opinion because I like how the front has this nice slope while not having considerable gaps like on some other models. therefore it really becomes a matter of what’s more important to you.

That notwithstanding, I do have a huge gripe with the sides of the car. That ugly hole just doesn’t belong there. It’s like someone carved an ugly gash into the doors. now here’s the thing: I get that they were aiming to emulate the sort of embossed pattern with the aerodynamic ribs the original has, but it just is way too much. This for all intents and purposes could have sufficiently be hinted at with a conventional build using more and different wedge plates. Even recoloring some Ninjago sword blades and stacking them creatively might have worked, now that I think about it. I’d definitely consider these options or simply close the holes in a “dumb” way with more plates if I was serious about collecting these vehicles.

On a bright note, I like the grille effect printed onto two 1 x 8 plates and the way it’s designed it would even be adaptable to shorter plates. LEGO should seriously consider using the pattern on some white bricks for Star Wars models for those slotted walls or air vents.

Concluding Thoughts

The quality of the models is all over the place. The Pagani Utopia and the McLaren F1 easily come out on top despite their undeniable flaws and the Porsche 963 is kind of okay, but the Solus for me is a dud. As a non-collector I got my mileage out of the building experience, but to be honest if I were into serious collecting I’d consider other options. Yes, it’s always a compromise to build these cars with a limited selection of bricks, but I feel there’s just too much amiss this time around. I’m just not getting this satisfied tummy feeling like with the Aston Martin DB5 for instance. This won’t deter true car aficionados, it’s just not for me.

News & Masters

This week has been full of news with LEGO rolling out imagery for the soon to come wave of new sets for early 2019. While 2018 will certainly go down in history as a not so great year for many of the regular product lines, things seem to improve quite a bit next year. Check the official photos on whatever is your favorite LEGO news site such as this one for instance.

I don’t care much for a Porsche being a Porsche, but what gets me pumped is that at long last we will be getting white mudguard and curved rectangular panels with Technic set 42096. This would finally allow to rebuild some older sets in consistent colors. The other Technic sets look quite okay, too, though with my drawers being filled to the brim with parts it’s unlikely I’ll get the Corvette (42093) or Tracked Loader (42094).

The new Stunt Racer (42095) somehow has the crowd divided with most criticizing the increased price while the model contains a few less parts and is smaller. While people accuse me of being overly negative at times, this time it seems the situation is reversed. If I didn’t already own the old Tracked Racer (42065), I’d be totally up for this model.

The point here is of course that nobody forces you to buy on day one at full price and I’d bet that just like the old set you can get the new one for 45 Euros one day if only you wait patiently for the right opportunity. That and of course you simply don’t buy these kits for design, you buy them to play. It’s a simple “Use it or don’t.” situation. My only peeve is that they are not using the new Powered Up! stuff, which I take as a bad sign that there are technical issues and the cost is too high. Likely another technological dead end LEGO created for themselves.

Elsewhere the The LEGO Movie 2 sets made waves. Personally I can’t get behind the retro-looking stuff, since I never had any interest in LEGO until a few years ago, but other people love it, so I guess those Benny the Spaceman (and his crew) minifigure sets will sell like crazy. For me the Systar-themed sets are much more interesting, which should come as no surprise if you read this blog regularly and know my inclinations towards Friends sets and the like.I really like those rounded shapes in White, Dark Turquoise and Magenta and the new Salmon color is the icing on the cake. Lots to love there for me.

The rest of the new releases (so far) are of limited relevance. I’ve never been much into City, so I’m not getting particularly giddy over the reintroduction of light and sound bricks, but of course it is a step in the right direction and should at least catch up a tiny bit to Playmobil et al. Star Wars is definitely showing signs of fatigue with most sets once again just being rehashes of older ones with the necessary adaptations and improvements. I kinda love the Microfighters set with the Sand Green Dewback, though, so it may be worth a look.

Overall I’m pretty pleased, even though of course on a highly selective basis. This most definitely gives me a much better gut feeling than many of the half-baked releases this year, especially when it comes to sets that are within my typical range of what I might be able to afford. Of course not all sets have been revealed yet and there’s still room for super-expensive disappointments, but at least there’s some options to fall back to. I’m ending this week with a good vibe after it started out rather icky with the German version of LEGO Master.

Yepp, I indeed wasted an hour of my life on Sunday watching it and I just found it plain awful. To me it’s typical low-brow private TV fare. Everything was hopelessly exaggerated and schmalzed up, but in the end it was just as boring as those cooking and baking shows following the same pattern and dragged on for way too long. Most disappointingly, though, it didn’t seem to be anything about the mastery of LEGO techniques. Lumping something together that halfway works seemed to be enough and that’s simply not interesting to watch when it should be all about finesse and sophistication….