I’ve had a few really bad days this week with my chronic illness having drained all my energy and to top it off one of my cooling fans in my computer decided to quit, so I didn’t really get much done and this weeks review is a bit late. For this article I decided to combine two sets from the Speed Champions line, the McLaren Elva (76902) and the Toyota GR Supra (76901) to keep things a bit more efficient. After all, these models are for obvious reasons always somewhat similar and there’s no point in turning this into lengthy descriptions of every little detail.
Contents and Pricing
The Speed Champion sets, at least the ones with only a single car, usually offer some pretty decent value for your money. I didn’t exactly regret the switch to the wider eight stud format like many others, but of course the price hike associated with that move still had an impact and made these sets a little more expensive.
That notwithstanding, 263 (McLaren) and 299 (Toyota) pieces for 20 Euro is still an excellent value-to-price ratio in the LEGO universe. Once you figure in the discounts from most major retailers, which push the price to a rather stable 15 Euro or thereabouts, this ratio becomes even better. Of course the mileage still varies depending on what parts you get and how large they are, but overall I have very little qualms with that. If all LEGO stuff was priced that reasonably, we’d live in a better world and could enjoy our hobby more stress-free.
Arguably the economics are a bit worse for the Elva since it doesn’t have a glass cockpit part and a lower number of elements, but that should only be a minor consideration.
The McLaren Elva is a super car taken to the extreme and as someone who hasn’t a particular obsession about cars to begin with, this one has me baffled a lot. At the end of the day all of these vehicles are over-designed in the “design for design’s sake” sense as if to prove something, but even by these standards this one is a whole other level. Outside the eternal wank contest of the super-rich you’d probably have quite a WTF? moment if this were a regular car you can buy at your auto dealer simply because it looks so usual. You would likely get tired of it once the novelty wears off.
As you may have concluded already, personally I do not think that this is a particularly pretty car, but it’s in an odd way still interesting if only to prove a point. With regards to LEGO the challenge immediately becomes how well you could express the complex surface structure and that is what got me curious.
Interestingly, there are in fact two models available, with the small polybag already having been available since February of this year. For the photo I actually had to rebuild it, as I’d already sorted the pieces into my parts collection. On its own merits this small model is pretty okay since it has a reasonable number of parts and provides enough complexity, so I can always recommend you get it, if you want to present both versions in your showcase.
The model is distinctly split into three segments when it comes to how well the details from the real thing have been translated into miniature form – front, middle/ cockpit and the rear. they all have various degrees success in that department. My personal favorite is the frontmost area with the complex cooling intakes/ lip, which are nicely represented using a good number of curved 1 x 2 wedge slopes.
It only loses its appeal once it transitions into the center sections because LEGO did not have nor did not produce a new wheel well with a nicely curved top and then it transitions into the angled side walls, which unfortunately are much too straight and don’t even come close to the faux aerodynamic profiling of the original.
The rear end is somewhere between the two other section in terms of realism with the overall shape and stand-out details being recognizable, but the overall shape simply being too straight. The latter is insofar disappointing, as this section already uses a sideway building technique where a whole block of pieces is mounted in a ninety degree angle, which should have made it relatively easy to sneak in a few curved slopes, be it just to create the illusion.
This area also contains the single, most valuable “new” part on the whole model – the minifigure candle in Pearl Silver, used here as the exhaust pipes. This should prove popular for all sorts of piping, rails, gun barrels and so on in custom builds. The Dark Pearl Grey armor plate used in the middle between the humps as the engine cover is not new as a part, having appeared first in the large 1989 Batmobile (76139), but it’s a first for me and I’m always glad if I can add such “realistic”ally machine parts to my collection.
The humps themselves are an element where I’m a bit torn. Apparently they are way too angular to pass as the genuine article and my prevailing feeling is that this would have required a different approach like building them up from more gently curved smaller slope and bricks. However, I’m also pretty sure that this would require some major re-engineering of the whole aft section and a lot of experimentation. It would be a major undertaking. Since I cannot offer a simple, better solution I’m therefore giving it a pass for now, but I sure would be interested to see an alternative approach one day.
The cockpit is a reasonable rendition of the original, given that it goes for a reduced design similar to old open racing cars from the 1930s. That is of course within the given “normal” luxuries in that class of cars like everything being covered in expensive leather. To that effect we even get some printed curved slopes mimicking the white inlay patterns the seats apparently have. I would have preferred them not to be blue, though. Using Medium Nougat or Dark Tan would have provided some contrast and added interest just as it would have disguised the lack of opacity on the white areas. Sadly this seems to become more and more of a theme with LEGO and they really need to fix it.
Toyota GR Supra
Moving on to more mundane territory, we have the Toyota GR Supra, though of course that in itself is not exactly true. Versions of car are being used in serious racing series, so it’s in and of itself not your mom’s everyday car which she takes you to school with.
The appeal for me is more or less defined by the color and the weighty appearance, not so much the car’s design as such. Yes, this is my OCD about wanting to have as many color options in my parts portfolio as possible kicking in and I just don’t have any yellow wheel wells yet. 🙂 We are also getting the 2 x 2 triangular tile in Yellow for the first time here, which is something I certainly don’t mind, either.
As far as I could determine from photos, the overall proportions are just fine, but as usual the devil is in the details. The original is much, much, much more rounded. not as crazy as the Elva, but certainly distinctly enough that compared to that this model feels like a square block. At the risk of repeating myself, but this is one more example where I would have expected more curved slopes and wedges to be used in several places. again, it would take time to figure this out, but I really think it should have been possible.
The rear section doesn’t look anything like the original, not even in the “Close your eyes and imagine it!” sense. I mean, as stated I’m a moron when it comes to the finer points of cars, but even I can see that the actual shapes are dramatically different and the model does not have the “droopy sad face” appearance of the real thing.
One thing this model has going for it are the interesting building techniques. There is a number of moments where during the build I found myself surprised by how some things were used in a way I never even considered before. At least from that standpoint there is something to learn here. However, cool stuff never comes entirely free and there is a cost attached to such wild kriss-kross upside-down and sideway building in all directions.
That is the fact that as a result some gaps are wider than they would be with more conventional techniques. This is first and foremost owing to some of the brackets used in the process ending up with free-swinging ends or blocks attached to sideway studs not being locked in place with other elements, in turn causing some push & pull on the tiles used to cover everything. It’s not crazy or anything, but certainly noticeable in some places.
Admittedly, the front got me riled up a bit. The illusion painting of the lower air intake/ spoiler is okay, though the struts appear way too thin and are not angled. However, I completely lost it when it came to the headlights. You are supposed to place three separate tiny bits of sticker on the individual slopes on each side and even then it wouldn’t look correct, because on the real car it’s a long continuous slit. Now I don’t use stickers as you well know, but even if I did , this would have me screaming at the wall. It is just plain and simple stupid. By all means those elements should be printed or this section designed differently so users only have to put up with a single sticker on separate slopes or tiles!
The interior of the cockpit uses more illusion painting and is apparently meant to ideally be only viewed through the glass piece and/ or with minifigures in place. This actually works, but I still wish this was a bit more realistic and believable and didn’t rely so much on the “black cavern” illusion.
No Tires, but Wheels?!
One thing that has caused quite a bit of controversy and caused a stir in the LEGO community are the new wheels. They are no longer constructed from separate tires and wheel hubs, but are a solid single plastic piece. Whether you like it or not is of course your own preference, but personally I like this move. It makes a lot of sense for something that is supposed to be a display model and eliminates this uncertainty of the synthetic rubber having weird interactions with the plastic (and causing stains on your furniture) as it ages and degrades. You know, when it starts to “sweat” and smear, things can really get ugly. Now the worst that can happen is that the wheels crumble just like the rest of the model after ten years or so.
Naturally, this won’t be used for every model as clearly there are enough cars out there that have wheel hubs in all sorts of colors and different tires that may not be possible to represent with this method even if dual-molding is used, but it is absolutely serviceable for a lot of these cars, even more so since black hubs appear to be sort of a trend currently. My only peeve is that the included decoration spokes (also a new mold) are also completely black and do not have a hint of silver on them. It would have been ace had they those small chrome edges like on the originals.
The Speed Champion sets always offer good value and building fun on a reasonable budget. However, it feels like they do not seem to be that important to LEGO‘s overall strategy and revenue and thus do not get the attention they would probably need. This is most notably felt in the fact that the designers have to make do with many existing parts and don’t appear to have that much pull to request new custom parts. That however is the crux of it: Many of those models would benefit from a bunch of those small wedge/ pancake pieces like they are available in Mega Construx sets to better represent the complex shapes and curvature of contemporary cars.
As it is, it feels to me like despite their best efforts and some pretty creative building techniques the designers have reached a hard ceiling on what they can do with current parts and it really shows with these two models. The inefficient rendition of the Toyota‘s headlights by ways of segmented stickers is a prime example for this. A single printed slope from Mega could have elegantly replaced this somewhat hacky solution and looked ten times better. The same goes for the humps on the McLaren and its curved posterior.
Regardless of those limitations, the models still look good enough from three feet away and the originals they are based on are recognizable. I also thoroughly enjoyed the building process and had some “Aha!” moments due to the clever construction techniques used. At the same time, however, I’m also teed off by LEGO‘s laziness. It seems just weird that a series aimed at collectors does not put in the effort and resources for printed parts or for that matter a more user-friendly design that avoids some of the issues. So for me it remains a mixed bag. Car aficionados may feel differently, of course.