Set 851 Tractor is the one that escaped the destruction, however. For reasons I'm at a loss to explain, I kept the box, the inner parts tray and the instructions as well as all the pieces. It's the only set from my childhood that I still have the box for, and that makes it special. Critically, however, that's not the only reason why it's special - it's a fantastic set in its own right, which is why it waltzes into my personal hall of fame with consumate ease.
So, firstly the box. You can see a number of box shots below (click pics to enlarge). I don't normally lavish anything like this much time or attention on the box, but because people probably won't have seen this set before I think it merits more than a cursory glance on this occasion. Something that immediately strikes you is the sheer number of alternative build suggestions plastered over the box, some of which are also captured in the instruction booklet (although unfortunately not the rather neat steam-roller on the back of the box, nor the combine harvester on the inside of the box lid). The instruction booklet resides in a special compartment within the box lid when it isn't in use - very nice.
Poignantly, the box lid still carries the original price sticker - the set was originally bought for £11.55 from Mary Rose's Toyshop in Charter Place, Watford, U.K. in 1977, and I got it for Christmas that year. £11.55 sounds expensive to me, and according to an inflation calculator I found on the 'net, it's the equivalent of £61.22 in today's money which is indeed pricey for a 318 piece Technic set.
On to the instructions, then, and what an instruction booklet ! It's an A4, staple-bound beauty which at first seems like unbelievable overkill for a 318 piece set until you take a closer look and realise why it's so big. As well as containing instructions for the tractor and a variety of what I assume are farm implements (I'm a city boy, me) which attach to the back of it, the booklet also contains instructions for motorising the tractor, together with alternate build instructions for a another couple of mysterious motorised machines of uncertain function.....
|The instruction booklet - front cover|
If that wasn't enough, there are also pictures of a couple of models (below) which could be built by combining the parts from a number of different Technic sets. If of course you were fortunate enough to own them all. Which I regrettably wasn't. :-(
And so to the build itself. My love/hate relationship with LEGO Technic has already been well documented on these pages, but compared with the finger-twisting, gear-grinding monstrosity that is Set 8480 Technic Space Shuttle (review to follow one day if I ever get round to it....), this one's a breeze. I suspect however that it probably posed a truly worthy challenge in those days when my age could be measured in single digits...
One thing I noticed while I was reliving my childhood and building this baby was the number of 'proper' LEGO bricks in the set. Unlike most modern technic sets which to me are basically wire-frame models with working innards (albeit with a few fairings and panels bolted on in some cases), this set is a brick-built tractor which just so happens to skillfully integrate working features such as a steering rack and steerable front wheels, a mechanism for driving the various bits of farm machinery which bolt on to the back, and a system for raising and lowering said machinery which is controlled by a lever on the right side of the cockpit. And it does all this while still actually looking like a tractor - fancy that.
|And down again....|
Only the mechanism for raising and lowering the thresher caused me some strife - I couldn't get it to work properly without removing an 8L axle, but that's just me - I'm hopeless when it comes to Technic.... You can see animations of the (properly working....) lift mechanism and steering at Blakbird's excellent Technicopedia site, which is also where I found the natty animation above - great work, fella !
[EDIT : the Technicopedia site, including the animations, is currently down. I hope it's just a glitch, but if it's a more permanent issue then I'll remove the links above. What a shame.]
I love this set. Even aside from the happy memories that looking at it and building it evoke, I think it looks great and the Technic elements are beautifully integrated without being too obvious. For it's it's the perfect mix of LEGO System and LEGO Technic, and if LEGO made more sets like this these days, where technic was an important element rather than the be-all and end-all, I would definitely dive in and never look back. It's Technic for Technic-haters, and one of my all-time favourites.