I’m not sure about the exact date, but I reckon it was probably Christmas 1985. That was when my wishes were granted and Father Christmas delivered LEGO set 8860 – the Car Chassis. I’d built a few, smaller LEGO Technic sets before, which whetted my appetite for something a bit more challenging. The Car Chassis came in at 668 pieces and featured an engine with moving pistons, a 3 speed gearbox, a differential, independent rear suspension, rack and pinion steering and moving and adjustable seats – many of these features were, at the time firsts for LEGO. It was the most advanced and complex Technic set of its time and was the real deal. Building it gave me a fundamental understanding of how a car worked. It took away the mystery of things like universal joints and gearing – everything was exposed and there for you to see and learn from. I built it and disassembled it many times, each time finding out something new.
Fast forward to 2022 and events in my life have caused me to look back to my childhood. In recent years I’ve had fun with a couple of great LEGO sets – the VW Camper Van, International Space Station and most recently the Flower Bouquet from the botanical range – all great sets, particularly the last one. I don’t know if it was simple nostalgia, or one of my colleagues showing me the Lamborghini Sian he built, but over the last few months I’ve really fancied having another crack at a proper, complex LEGO Technic set. The Sian was well out of my price range, but with some LEGO vouchers, and some birthday money I took the plunge and ordered set 42110 – the Land Rover Defender. It features (and some of this may sound familiar) working differentials, independent suspension all round, rack and pinion steering, a working winch, moving pistons, 4 wheel drive, a 4 speed gearbox with high and low modes and reverse, neutral and drive. In terms of piece count, it dwarfs the Car Chassis with 2,573 – nearly four times more.
To the build – first observation: The box says it’s for ages 11+, no chance. Even with very clear instructions, this is a complex set and really you need experience of Technic sets before taking this one on. Even then I would recommend watching a few YouTube videos on the common mistakes people make with this set.
Unboxing it is actually quite daunting, even before you get into the build, there are so many bags – labelled from 1-4 and a manual the size of a telephone book. To get started I opened the number one bags, which mostly comprise of small connecters, rods and gears of various sizes which complete make the gearbox and rear axle. It was at this stage I made my one and only significant mistake – at step 3 of over 800! I used a larger gear than I should’ve to connect the gearbox to the driveshaft which caused the whole movement to almost completely seize up. Luckily, or unluckily depending on your point of view, I spotted the mistake at around step 75. It may have been possible to replace the gear without disassembling the whole thing, but as I wasn’t sure what I’d done wrong so I had to take it back to the start. Throughout the rest of the build I was more careful with the gearing, and made extra sure I was always using the correct parts.
The second set of bags make up the engine and marry it to the gearbox using a combination of structural chassis parts and more gearing and rods for the driveshafts and steering. Towards the end of this stage, you add the seats. Without bodywork there is more than a hint of the original Car Chassis about it, all the gearing, drivetrain and engine are exposed, just like on set 8860. The four wheel drive system makes the drivetrain a lot more complex, with a separate differential for the front and rear axles and a further one in between. In addition, the high/low gearing adds even more connections and gearing.
The final two sets of bags are a different build experience as you make up the bodywork and add the final details, some of which are quite exquisite – the headlights are a work of art in their own right. Having got through the complexity of all the mechanical bits, the satisfaction you get from building up the end result is well earned. The only downsides are that you hide a lot of your earlier hard work and the gear shifting is tricky with the roof on. I recommend you take time to appreciate the technical bits before you add the bodywork, or look at easy ways to remove sections so you can see it again – the doors and roof look relatively easy to remove, though I haven’t tried to yet.
Once complete it looks fantastic, it captures all the proportions of the original vehicle and many of the subtle details too. In many ways, I think the actual car would look better if it took more cues from the LEGO version. I like the angular bits and the large panel gaps, it makes it a kind of hybrid of the new and original Defender models. To me the production car is a bit too smooth and sanitised, probably with a more urban buyer in mind than would’ve been the case for the original car.
Other than some of the shared mechanical features, which is inevitable as they are both cars, you can’t really compare this set to the car chassis from the 1980s. When I made the Car Chassis model back in the 1980s, even at age 11, I could, with a bit of support, understand what everything did. On the Land Rover, I can’t say that with confidence, but I have found it interesting trying to work it all out. It is complex, but I like it for that, and I’m glad they didn’t dumb it down. Maybe building it again would help me to understand it better.
There are many shared parts between the two sets – the connectors, barrels, gears, universal joints and some of the rods are exactly the same, there’s even a few bits of proper LEGO to press the nostalgia buttons – it’s almost like they designed it for someone of my age… Maybe they know what they’re doing!
So, would I recommend it? Yes, definitely. Earlier in this blog I said that the 11+ rating was misleading, but I think I’ve changed my mind, but with one proviso. Buy this kit if you were 11+ in 1985 and you’ll love it and have half a chance of completing it.