Production of the real thing is halted, delivery to auto dealers is postponed, and the James Bond movie tie-in is rescheduled to launch later this year, but you can still buy a Land Rover Defender. At about $250, it will be considerably cheaper than the full-size version, too.
We’re talking about the Lego Land Rover Defender, one of the Danish toy company’s latest offerings and one of many different vehicles in its lineup. It’s also one of the most technically complicated; with more than 2,500 pieces, it’s not recommended for anyone younger than 11. Most aspiring builders, whatever their age, will be challenged by the intricacies of its powertrain and sequential transmission.
“The head designer of the [real] Defender, Andy Wheel, told me ‘You’ve captured the essence of the car, and there’s no doubt this is the new Defender,’” says Lego designer Milan Reindl, speaking from his studio in Denmark. “It’s something that people who love Defenders would probably love to have.”
For Reindl, however, his detailed plastic model is more than that. He was an elementary school teacher in the Czech Republic before joining Lego in 2012, and for him, “it’s an educational toy for kids who have no clue what a sequential gearbox is, with high- and low-gear functions and levers and independent suspension and everything else. It can be anything you want.”
A Lego model is now an important marketing tool for auto companies. Porsche, Nissan, Ford, BMW, Bugatti, Ducati and Harley-Davidson, among others, have all had toys modelled on their vehicles; earlier this year, Lamborghini announced a partnership to produce a new, highly detailed model this summer.
“In the digital age, where entertainment is often via a screen, our collaboration with the Lego Group allows enthusiasts to live a real experience, reproducing a Lamborghini super sports car in every detail to create an outstanding model, just like the real car,” said Katia Bassi, Automobili Lamborghini’s chief marketing and communication officer.
Two of the latest Lego models are the Dodge Charger driven by Vin Diesel’s charcter in the Fast & Furious movies, which went on sale online at the end of last month, and the Ducati Panigale V4R motorcycle, which goes on sale June 1.
“We are two brands that share the same values of dedication, passion and attention to detail,” said Alessandro Cicognani, Ducati’s licensing director, “values that have come together to give life to a unique building experience.”
Neither are so large or intricate as the Land Rover Defender, however. Reindl says it is his most complex model yet, made all the more challenging by having to be designed in total secrecy. It was not revealed until the day the real Defender made its debut in Germany last September, but it was planned at least two years before.
In the beginning, says Reindl, somebody at Lego thought the company should create a model of the original Defender, but when Land Rover was approached, “they were like, by the way, we’re making a new one, and we’d like you to make a Lego version of that.”
It wasn’t until February, 2018, that Reindl was allowed to see actual scale drawings of the new production vehicle, and then he went back to his studio in Billund, Denmark, and started snapping bricks together.
“I just build with bricks as much as I can, and if it was up to me, I would never touch the computer,” he says. Just two or three designers typically work on any one model, with one doing the lion’s share. Reindl prefers to just snap plastic elements together in different configurations – sketching, he calls it – until it’s right.
To be a good Lego designer, “you need to show interest, show passion, and definitely show patience,” says Reindl, especially for the more complicated Technic lineup of models. “It’s a bit tedious because you’re just rebuilding and rebuilding and rebuilding some sections until you get it right, and then you combine the section with other sections before it even looks like a model.”
The possibilities are practically endless. As Lego points out in its annual report: “Just six two-by-four Lego bricks can make 915 million different combinations. And they are made with such precision that they stick together like glue, but come apart easily so they can be built, unbuilt and rebuilt into whatever a child can imagine.”
For the Defender, only the plastic wheel arches and wheel rims were specially built for the model; everything else was off the shelf. It’s a big shelf, though; more than 3,400 different Lego shapes are available, and more than 70 billion pieces are sold each year. The company also claims to be one of the world’s largest tire manufacturers, producing 700 million tiny tires annually.
“We need to follow our guidelines,” Reindl says. “We need to make sure the vehicle is solid, that it has enough stability that you can play with it, all the functions work after repeated use, and that you can handle it so if you lift it by a portion of the body, it doesn’t fall apart. That would be kind of disappointing, especially if you’d spent several days building it.”
The Lego Defender comes with a thick, full-colour owner’s manual, which illustrates the 859 different stages of its assembly.
For its part, Land Rover says it is thrilled with the new model. “The Lego Land Rover Defender is one of the more memorable partnerships we have been a part of,” says Wolfgang Hoffmann, President of Jaguar Land Rover Canada. “One of the most iconic toys and most iconic vehicles come together in a beautiful and impressive piece. Truly for Land Rover and Lego fans of all ages.”
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