Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Ancient Treasures

Having focused on a couple of newer sets over the past few weeks, I thought I'd plunder the archives for something older this week. Set 346 House with Car is almost as old as I am, having been released in 1969. I suspect that for most of you that makes it positively ancient....

Set 346 House with Car (picture from Bricklink)
I spotted this set on eBay during a recent episode of eBrowsing and immediately fell in love with it. This is what LEGO buildings looked like when I was a kid - none of your fancy Modulars in those days. I've bid on similar sets in the past and often missed out, but I was delighted to win the auction for a change, and even more delighted when the set arrived in pretty much immaculate condition a few days later.

Just check out the box (above - click to enlarge) - it's more than 40 years old and yet still almost mint. Wonderful ! I don't actually recall seeing this type of box before - a flap opens at the top so that the baseplate can slide inside the full length of the packaging, and the rest of the pieces fit into the removable inner box in the lower half of the packaging. The back of the box (below) features a motley collage of photographs and stylised images; let's just say that LEGO have come a long way since 1969 so far as box art is concerned....

The instruction booklet (below) is so minimalist its almost non-existent; certainly it's just about as far away as you can get from the weighty tomes we have to wade through these days. It's basically just a piece of paper containing six printed panels which folds down into a square, and it manages to condense the construction of the house into just 9 steps, with a further 5 steps for the car. That's 14 building steps for a 177 piece set; you'd probably get that many building steps for a minifigure these days. Well, maybe not, but you hopefully take my point....

This set obviously doesn't contain minifigures, pre-dating as it does even the earliest rudimentary minifigures by a number of years, but it does feature some special pieces which are well worth highlighting. Of particular note are the three trees that you get with the set - a pine tree and two identical oak trees (or fruit trees, if you'd prefer to go with Bricklink rather than Peeron). These are beautiful and intricate - check out the fine detail in the pictures below - and a world away from the crude, stylised tree designs that LEGO started to employ from the early 1970's onwards. They're also painfully fragile, however, and I'm therefore incredibly fortunate that all three trees in the set that I bought are immaculate.

Another piece of note is an Antenna with Side Spokes, not least because most of those in circulation seem to be lacking at least one of the side spokes so it's unusual to see an intact example... Again I was lucky enough to receive an undamaged one, so managed to avoid having to shell out a few quid on a replacement which is what usually happens. Then there's the old-fashioned classic windows, the unique baseplate with rounded corners and printing to indicate where you should start building, and the old-style 'macaroni' 2 x 2 round corner bricks, all of which risk inducing waves of nostalgia among LEGO fans of a certain vintage...

No hand-holding here...
Despite the relative simplicity of the set, the build wasn't as quick and straightforward as I expected, for a couple of reasons. Firstly, the instructions; while some of us old-timers might sneer at the amount of hand-holding you get from modern instructions, at least they're generally easy to follow. This is in marked contrast to the instructions above - I twice built the roof of the house incorrectly before finally nailing it at the third attempt because I couldn't actually see which pieces I was supposed to be using. Secondly, the bricks - they're 43 years old, and despite looking in surprisingly good shape for their age they were somewhat temperamental at times; the clutch is significantly diminished with some of the pieces and increased with others, making for an unpredictable building experience. It's not until you build with older pieces like this that you start to realise how much we take the consistent building experience that we get with more modern LEGO bricks for granted.

Minor niggles aside, the finished house and surrounds are a joy -  a perfect example of a simple, classic LEGO build of the late 1960's and early 1970's. I'm sure that much of my enjoyment stems from the undoubted nostalgia factor, but there's also pleasure in the clean lines, the elegantly simple design, and the sheer fact that despite being 43 years old the set looks almost brand new - I wish I was so lucky....

Once the house and garden are finished, all that's left is the car. I'm presuming that LEGO were aiming for a sleek, sporty look when they designed the car in this set, on the basis that the windscreen sits low down directly atop the back wheel.

Almost all of the LEGO cars of my youth looked like this, and as such it can do no wrong in my eyes. Anyone brought up on a diet of modern LEGO vehicles could however be forgiven for thinking that it looks a bit....basic. There's a nice embossed engine grille at the front, though, and it's unusual to find a transparent 2x4 slope in such good condition after 40+ years - most of them become horribly yellowed after even half as long.

As you've no doubt guessed by now, I adore this set. There are unfortunately no examples of this set currently listed on eBay in the U.K. or the U.S. as far as I can see, and I don't even recall ever having seen one prior to spotting the listing for the one above. There are however a few of these sets available on Bricklink, of which a couple have boxes and can be had for as little as 40 Euros. So not outrageously expensive, then, and a delicious slice of classic LEGO if you're so inclined.

Just a brief post-script; having won the eBay auction for the set above, I thought I'd check and see if the seller had any more LEGO for sale. To my delight, he had listed another great-looking set, and by some fluke I managed to win that auction too. The set arrived a couple of days ago (picture below - click to enlarge) and once again it's pretty much immaculate. While I haven't built it yet, the imaginatively-titled Set 345 House with Car (or House with Mini Wheel Car on Bricklink, if you prefer) appears in many respects to be remarkably similar to Set 346, from the style of box to the instructions, not to mention aspects of the model itself including the car which is absolutely identical. Only the style of the house itself differs significantly, seemingly being an early 1970's vision of a 'future' house rather than the more traditional design seen in Set 346, and I'm looking forward to adding it to my vintage street !


  1. What a lovely old set, gosh you did well on that one.

  2. Both sets are quite beautiful, especially the first one, and at almost double my age are in better condition than some of my decade-old LEGOs when I was growing up in the 90s.

  3. "Set 346 House with Car is almost as old as I am, having been released in 1969. I suspect that for most of you that makes it positively ancient...."

    If we consider LEGO history (for minifigures) to have begun in 1978 with the classic minifig: Minifigurius Sapiens, and LEGO prehistory before that, a set from 1969 is paleological. Not only had minifigures yet to evolve, but also their immediate antecedents: Minifigurius Erectus (the arm-less, non-bending leg minifigs) and Maxifigurius Borealopithicus (Maxifigs)--from the point of view of today's minifigs, this set is Jurassic.

    And while I don't normally think of the late 1960s as paleolithic, I admit to having a schizophrenic view of time of LEGO/Not-LEGO.

  4. That is such an awesome set! Being a huge fan of vintage Lego, I just find it amazing that you found it in such good condition! Again, I really like the set. The house with the garage + the car makes a really nice combination. The colours are very nice and the fencing looks nice too.

    Great set! You are very lucky!

    1. Anonymous14/12/15

      I had the 346 set as a child and loved it. I recall rebuilding it many times over.