I’m sure every kid who, like me, spent hours on end poring over Lego (or Meccano) catalogues, was not doing so in simple appreciation of the masterful design that went into the models.
No - we were looking at the parts. Looking, and evaluating.
“It’s five more dollars for this spaceship over that one, but you get a big engine cone instead of the medium size, and one of the cool new blue spacemen instead of just another red one…”
And so on.
I developed a great enthusiasm for Technic Lego as well, but Space was my first love. And it had some weird sets.
Every now and then there’d be something that was just so super-cool that the parts in it hardly mattered, seeing as you never took it apart. The Tri-Star Voyager qualified in that category for me, and the old Space Shuttle (less confusingly called the Two-Man Scooter outside the USA) was a contender too.
The real entertainment was to be had at the other end of the aesthetic scale, though.
Sets that you built, looked at, said “I’m eight, and even my spaceships look better than that”, and dismantled at once, lest their ugliness prove to be contagious.
…which was apparently built from the wreckage of one or two crashed Gamma-V Laser Craft (which look completely fantastic; my Gamma-V was another of my never-taken-apart models).
And then there’s this, the Interplanetary Shuttle. It’s apparently a mail delivery vehicle… with a control panel in front of the driver, facing away from him.
The Robot Command Center is the only one on this list that I actually owned - because as a parts pack, it was superb.
As a model, though, it was atrocious. It was not only bizarrely misshapen; it also had things on it that didn’t even make sense.
Those big blue double-canopy jaw things on the side were the most obvious. I suppose the grabber arms were meant to lob rocks into them or something.
(I used them as prison cells, and as spaceship canopies for ships flown by robots, who had no need for anything as primitive as looking out the window.)
More subtle were the finned rocket cylinders embedded, for no clear reason, in the Robot Command Center’s ankles, just above the skid-jets (borrowed from a more sensible vehicle) on which it, presumably very unsteadily, skated across the landscape.
(Completely embedded rocket parts were unusual, but Lego made a habit of putting rockets on ground vehicles. OK, perhaps the nozzles on this dude’s classic Shovel Buggy are actually a horn that plays The Yellow Rose of Texas, but I doubt it. I mean, that wouldn’t work in a vacuum, would it?)
The Robot Command Center spawned some more Big Ugly Robots. 1994’s Robo Guardian was a notable example…
…with a total of ten wheels, four of which were unable to touch the ground.
(Did they at least touch the other wheels, and so rotate in the opposite direction? Surely they weren’t just hanging there…)
But unquestionably the Ugliest of the Big Ugly Robots hit the market three years later.
I present, with pride, the Robo Stalker.
But wait, there’s one more.
One very special, very rare, very ugly spaceship.
Even most real Space Lego enthusiasts have never seen one of these in the flesh, because it was only available, in 1983, as a special promotion with (of all things) Persil laundry detergent. Well, that was the deal for the UK version of the set, anyway - it was apparently available in other countries with some similar deal.
On the plus side, you didn’t have to send in any box tops - though you did have to send in £9.95, which is more than £24, about $US50, in today’s money.
Behold - Set 1593!
(This is another one, like #1968, which has a set number but no name.)
Once you’ve finished wondering how drunk these little Lego men were when they decided to be seen in this thing, I really must insist you check out the full-size original image on the Lugnet site here, because this baby’s just full of entertaining details.
The cockpit, for a start, has holes in it. Not just the ones you can see above the wing - there are two more on the sides below the wing, and one more gaping hole on the front of the cockpit under the wing. So it looks as if these little guys are going to have to keep their helmets on for the entirety of their mission. And they’d better watch out for space-birds.
Set 1593 also features two big main engines mounted on 2x2x2x2 brackets, which are flimsily attached to one-stud-wide rails. And there are ladder/grille pieces (radiators?) hanging down off the body in four places.
And, the finishing touch: On the top of the nose of the ship, directly behind the big skeletonised dish, is a two by two turntable.
With nothing on it.
It’s just a little bit on the front of the ship that can turn round and round.
(Oh, and behind the front dish on the underside of the ship is what every sane Lego kid agreed was a dual laser gun… pointing backwards, at the pilot, through that hole in the front of the cockpit.)
As far as play value goes, this set is decent. That top-heavy land-crawler thing hooks onto the back of the ship (which doesn’t make it look much better…), and there’s a sort of base-station… cupboard… contraption, and various accessories.
But boy, is it ugly.
To make things even weirder, set 1593 apparently contains all of the parts from the perfectly decent 6880 Surface Explorer and the classic, Concorde-ish 6929 Starfleet Voyager. It would appear the latter crashed into the former at full speed, and 1593 - with its very own box and instructions - was the result.
But, as with every other one of these sets, you can always break it down for parts. And maybe build yourself a Surface Explorer and a Starfleet Voyager.
It’s not as if even the ugliest of Lego sets is a stupid Death Star that turns into a giant Darth Vader robot for no reason at all. Any Lego set can be reassembled at will into whatever you want.
Which could be why they’re still around, after fifty years.