Monday 24 February 2014

Bargain Watch lives !

I discovered the joys of buying LEGO from Amazon not long after emerging from my LEGO Dark Ages back in late 2008, and it soon became my main source of new sets, the combination of a wide selection, good discounts, convenience and excellent customer service quickly sealing the deal for me. I was soon perusing Amazon's pages on a regular basis sniffing out the best deals, and it was therefore a logical next step for me to add the Bargain Hunt ! page to Gimme LEGO and post some of the best deals that I'd found on there so that readers could also bag a bargain. I still have nightmares about the painstaking process of manually writing and formatting the links to each bargain one by one, however....

Set 8039 Venator-Class Republic Attack Cruiser - my first Amazon LEGO purchase....

What was needed was a way of checking Amazon for the best deals on a more comprehensive, systematic and regular basis, and this dream started to become a reality back in early 2011 when Huw from Brickset and I started work on an automated system for doing exactly that. After much discussion, experimentation, iteration, reiteration, testing, more testing and tweaking, the Bargain Watch system was launched in September 2011  In a nutshell, Bargain Watch analyses the LEGO sets currently available for sale on Amazon in a number of countries and calculates the level of discount on each set by comparing the Amazon price with the LEGO RRP. Sets are then ranked in order of discount and a listing is generated, complete with links so that you can click through and buy the set. Use of the LEGO RRPs to calculate the level of discount is important - some rival systems take Amazon's word for the RRPs when calculating the percentage discount, and this can be misleading as Amazon sometimes list an incorrect RRP. Also, where possible Bargain Watch factors shipping costs into the equation when working out the level of discount so that there are hopefully no nasty surprises when you decide to take the plunge and make a purchase.

Once home to a few hand-generated links, the Gimme LEGO Bargain Hunt ! page is now home to a subset of the Bargain Watch listings, namely ranked lists of the twenty LEGO sets across all themes available on and with the biggest percentage discount off RRP. You can see a screen grab of part of a sample UK listing below, or click here to view the actual live listings themselves. The listings were recently offline for a few days while Brickset moved to a new server and the Bargain Watch system underwent maintenance, but I'm delighted to report that the system is now back up and running and listings are once again being generated. The UK and US price data are currently updated every 4 hours, so if you visit regularly you should hopefully catch the best deals before they sell out.

Brickset hosts the bulk of the Bargain Watch listings, which capture, rank and list the best LEGO deals to be found on Amazon's sites in France, Germany, Spain, Italy and Canada, as well as in the UK and US. These more comprehensive country-specific listings can be filtered in various different ways, for instance by theme. In addition, because Amazon ship overseas, there's also the facility to compare prices across all of Amazon's EU websites to look for the best deals (sample screen grab below, or just click here to view the actual live listing); this listing can also be filtered by theme so you can quickly focus in on the themes you're most interested in. The icing on the cake are alerts which appear on the Brickset homepage when sets are newly discounted by 30% or more from RRP.

It goes without saying that the listings can help you to save money by highlighting the best bargains; as an inveterate bargain hunter myself, Bargain Watch is the system that I always dreamed of, and I quite possibly use it more than anybody ! As well as saving you money, clicking on the links and making purchases also supports both Gimme LEGO and Brickset by generating referral fees at no additional cost to you. Many thanks therefore for continuing to click the Amazon links on Gimme LEGO and Brickset when you buy LEGO, or indeed any other items, from Amazon.

We've been tweaking and optimising the Bargain Watch system ever since it launched, but if you have any suggestions for how the system can be further improved then please send me an e-mail or post a comment below; similarly, if there are sets which you notice are available direct from Amazon in any country but which aren't appearing on the listings then please let me know and I'll add them.

Monday 17 February 2014


Regular readers will recall a series of posts on Gimme LEGO at the end of last year describing the design and construction of my Ghostbusters MOC; anyone wanting to check out the postings can find them here, here and here, and you can see a picture of the finished models below.

During the planning phase, I made the decision to design the MOC so that it'd fit into the Showcase cabinets that LEGO brand stores make available to members of LUGs to display their creations. This necessitated a number of design compromises, not least the need to make the Ghostbusters firehouse narrower and shorter than I otherwise would have liked, but I felt that I should still be able to come up with a design that I was reasonably happy with.

Once the build was underway, I got in touch with Gary Davis (Bricks for Brains), fellow member of the Brickish Association and Showcase coordinator for my local LEGO brand retail store. He confirmed that provided the model came out OK and met LEGO's guidelines for inclusion in the Showcase, he'd be willing to add it to the queue for installation in the store. Thankfully Gary was satisfied when I showed him pictures of the finished MOC a couple of months later, and so it was that a couple of weeks ago I carefully packed everything up and took it along to the Watford LEGO brand store where we installed it in the Showcase cabinet.

The Showcase cabinets are unfortunately not very deep, so in order to squeeze the HQ building into the available space it had to be positioned almost completely sideways on. This in turn meant that there wasn't much room left to accommodate the Ghostbusters minifigures or the ECTO-1 Cadillac, particularly once the obligatory information cards had been put into position. Even so, as you can see from the pictures above and below (click to enlarge) the final arrangement turned out OK and it was reassuring to get some positive feedback from staff and a few early morning customers as we finalised the display.

Showcase MOCs are generally only on display for a month or so before they're replaced by something else, so if you want to check out my Ghostbusters display before it's rotated out then try and get along to the Watford LEGO store by the end of February.

While I'm on the subject of Ghostbusters, most readers will probably be aware that LEGO will themselves be releasing a Ghostbusters set later this year after Brent Waller's Ghostbusters 30th Anniversary design achieved 10,000 votes on Cuusoo and subsequently got the thumbs up from the LEGO review board. Details of the set have just emerged at the New York Toy Fair - Set 21108 LEGO Ghostbusters will be available for purchase in June 2014 for US $49.99; I haven't seen details on a UK price yet. The set will include ECTO-1 and the four ghostbusters, and you can see a couple of images of the upcoming set below (click to enlarge).

While it's a shame that the set won't include a Ghostbusters HQ building or Slimer, the absence of the HQ building at least is understandable on the basis of cost. I have to admit that I wasn't a huge fan of the Cuusoo Back to the Future DeLorean, but my first impressions of the Ghostbusters set are much, much more positive. Honestly, I think ECTO-1 and the minifigures look great, and even though I already have my own versions of them, the set will still be a must-buy for me. You can read more about the upcoming set on the Cuusoo Blog.

< -- Ghostbusters Minifigs

Monday 3 February 2014

Crosstown Traffic

Having spent the last couple of months writing about MOCs and handing out awards, not to mention reviewing a couple of the new LEGO Movie sets over at Brickset, I was itching to build something old, and I knew just the set....

About a year and a half ago I was idly eBrowsing and I stumbled across a used example of the set above, Set 355 Town Center Set with Roadways. It was being sold complete with box, instructions and even some left-over stickers, and I was very tempted. Fully expecting the item to sell for more than I was willing to pay I nevertheless placed a speculative bid, more in hope than expectation, and against the odds I won the auction. A few days later the set arrived.

The box, as you can see above (click picture to enlarge), is far from perfect but it's still very much intact. The front of the lift-up cover shows the contents of the set against a neutral background, and that's pretty much it, apart from the classic "Legoland" branding and the LEGO Logo of the time in the bottom right-hand corner. The back of the box (below) features a number of panels which highlight a few aspects of the set, as well as showing a couple of rather serious-looking kids building and playing with the models; the right side shows a portion of the cardboard base, which we'll get on to shortly.

Lifting the lid is a joy; within the box is a polystyrene/styrofoam inner tray which snugly houses three smaller removable cardboard boxes. The largest of these boxes contains the parts for the garage, the medium sized box contains the parts for the crane, chalet, flatbed truck and white sports car, and the smallest contains the parts for the digger and tipper truck. The two largest boxes have a plastic-lined window in the front so you can see the parts within. You can see the arrangement of boxes in the picture below; by this point I had removed the parts from each of the boxes in preparation for building.

All the models are designed to be accommodated on a cardboard baseplate around 50 cm square which you can see in the picture below. The base folds in half and slides inside the lid of the set box for storage - if you look closely you can see it peeking through the cut-away on the inside of the box lid on either side of the little boy's face in the picture above. Overall it's a beautifully packaged set, and I was delighted to find the inner packaging in such great shape.

The set is supplied with just one instruction booklet, and at just 16 pages long and less than 14 cm square the booklet offers a masterclass in brevity and efficiency; the largest model in the set, the garage, is disposed of in just 9 building steps split over 4 pages. At first glance the cover of the booklet looks a bit of a mess; it's only when you fully open out the booklet and view the front and back covers together (picture below) that you get the full picture.

You can see a sample page of the instruction booklet below showing all of the completed models in situ on the cardboard baseplate; obsessives may have spotted that some of the vehicles and road signs are in different positions in the picture below compared with their positions in the image on the front of the box. Life's probably too short to worry about such things, however, so you're probably better off not having noticed it....

The set comes supplied with two sticker sheets, and incredibly they were both present and almost mint in the copy of the set that I purchased. LEGO generously supplied stickers representing eleven different nations to stick on the flag pole, and if none of those was suitable then you had a more generic LEGO flag that you could use. Evidently the person that originally owned my copy of the set was a Brit and thus used the Union Jack stickers, but all the other stickers were left alone, and more than 40 years later they still look pristine and ready to use.

I would have built this set shortly after receiving it were it not for the fact that when I checked the contents against the online inventory at Bricklink I discovered that almost 30 out of the set's intended 332 parts were missing. Many of the missing parts were older variants of common parts, e.g. 2 x 4 bricks without cross-supports, 1 x 1 round bricks with solid studs (as opposed to hollow studs) and 2 x 2 tiles without grooves at the base. While these older variants are in many cases not functionally different to their modern counterparts, having chanced upon an antique set which was in many respects in decent condition, I figured that I should try and do it justice by sourcing the correct older variants of the missing parts rather than substituting them with modern equivalents. Interestingly, the older variants can often be sourced fairly easily via Bricklink, and they don't always command higher prices than their modern counterparts; I gradually sourced them over time, finally completing the job of replacing all the missing parts fairly recently.

Those elements that weren't missing were, I must say, in absolutely magnificent condition for their age - the trans clear parts weren't discoloured, printed parts weren't faded, and everything looked nearly new which is pretty astonishing after more than 40 years. You can see a photograph of some of the more interesting elements above. While not all of them are rare, many of them are long-retired and should trigger a pleasing trip down memory lane for some older readers ! The set contains two of the black 1 x 4 bricks with white Legoland logo pattern; these appeared in only 5 sets in total, the most recent of which was released in 1973. The set also contains red and yellow versions of the Legoland brick. The old-style 4 x 4 turntables (black variant shown above) were phased out in 1976, while the red 1 x 2 brick with SHELL logo only ever appeared in 4 sets, between 1966 and 1972. Trans clear 2 x 4 bricks haven't been available for years; the one in the picture above is an old-style 2 x 4 brick without cross supports, which was pretty common in the 70's. I had (and still have) quite a few of them, although they've all become discoloured to a lesser or greater extent over the years, unlike the example in the picture which is in really good condition. The antennae were notorious for losing their side spokes, so it's nice to see an intact example. The set also contains white, blue and red 1 x 4 bricks with a car grille pattern. The pattern is actually embossed rather than printed, and is embossed in silver on the blue and red bricks and in black on the white brick. This version of the white 1 x 8 brick with 'GARAGE' printed on it only ever appeared in 3 sets, while the yellow 2 x 2 brick printed with the old-style LEGO logo appeared in 4 sets. My one minor disappointment is that this set originally included either a large pine tree or a more interesting (and much rarer) granulated bush with 3 trunks, and my example unfortunately contains the large pine. Finally, you can see the 'missing' Union Jack flag from the sticker sheet neatly applied to the flag pole

A couple of the baseplates (pictures above) included in the set are also worth a mention. The larger of the two, which measures 24 x 32 studs, is predictably unique to the set. It features rounded corners and three studless, textured driveways each of which covers an area of 4 x 20 studs. Some of the studs have white printing on top to help the builder quickly identify where to place the first layer of elements. Given the general lack of hand-holding inherent in older sets compared with more modern builds, it seems strange that LEGO used to print baseplates in this way. The smaller baseplate shown above, which measures 14 x 20 studs, also features stud printing and is once again unique to this set. It lacks the exaggerated rounded corners shown in the instruction booklet and the images on the box, and according to Bricklink it's a known variant in this set.

The build itself was fairly straightforward, with the garage first up for construction. One thing I immediately noticed when I started to build was that the clutch on the bricks was significantly greater than I'm used to, making the elements harder to push together, and also harder to take apart; I'm pretty sure that this is just down to the age of the bricks. The red 1 x 2 bricks with SHELL logo mentioned earlier are utilised in the construction of a couple of petrol pumps, and you can see the large pine tree behind the petrol pumps looking ugly (did I mention that I would have preferred the granulated bush with 3 trunks instead....?!). The two blue doors at the front of the garage do open, but there's no interior detail within the building.

Next up is the crane, which utilises the black 1 x 4 Legoland-embossed bricks described earlier. This structure also incorporates the aforementioned 4 x 4 turntable plus an old-style winch with metal handle to provide some play features. The winch contains a reel, around which string is wound; a metal handle attached to the reel can be rotated to wind/unwind the string and thus lift/lower the load at the end of the string. This kind of winch arrangement was very common in the sets of my youth, and as a kid I spent countless hours trying to securely tie one end of the string to the reel while threading the other end (which was almost invariably frayed) through the tiny hole in the hook to attach it. Happy days....

The final structure is the chalet. This incorporates a number of old-style windows and doors, as well as the previously highlighted antenna with spokes. The red windows with shutters at the front of the house are rarer than I thought, having only ever appeared in 5 sets according to Bricklink. I never owned any of those 5 sets as a child, but I nevertheless have a bunch of red windows with shutters in my childhood LEGO collection, so it's a genuine mystery where they came from. The 33 degree slope bricks used for the roof are commonplace now but their first ever appearance in sets was in 1971 so they must have seemed deliciously new and exotic back in 1972 when this set was released.

The set comes with four vehicles, all of them elegant in their simplicity IMHO and a reminder of how straightforward LEGO vehicles were in my youth. The tipper truck (below) was assembled first, with its immaculate silver embossed engine grille and Legoland branding on the working tipper bed. You can see the lack of a groove at the base of the black 2 x 2 tiles as mentioned previously; given the increased clutch I'm not looking forward to trying to remove those tiles at a later date without damaging them....

The digger (below) features a few of the retired elements that I touched on earlier, including the black 1 x 1 round brick with a solid stud (the studs are hollow these days) and the yellow 2 x 2 brick printed with an old-style LEGO logo. There are a few other vintage elements used here as well - the bucket and bucket arm, the wheels and the wheel holders are all long-since retired.

The sports car is pretty unremarkable, although it's nice to see the white embossed 1 x 4 brick with engine grille in such spritely condition, and the same goes for the windscreen which you'd normally expect to have discoloured to some extent after all these years.

Lastly, there's a flatbed truck (below). Although the design is pretty basic, it does feature a couple of blue 45 degree 2 x 2 double concave slopes at the front which are fairly uncommon, not to mention a(nother) immaculate 1 x 4 brick with embossed engine grille. The six black round 1 x 1 bricks with solid stud on the back act as a guide to hold the cargo in place once it's been dropped in place by the crane.

With all the buildings and vehicles assembled, all that was left for me to do was to drop the buildings into their allocated spaces on the cardboard baseplate, place the vehicles into suitable positions, add the selection of roadsigns provided with the set, and we're done. I don't know about the rest of you oldies out there, but even my picture below (click to enlarge) of the completed set with everything in place gives me a warm, nostalgic feeling inside, let alone the actual model itself which is currently occupying my dining room table and which I can't bear to move. I suppose that by today's standards it could reasonably be argued that all the models are simplistic and lacking in detail, but if I'd owned this set as a kid I would have been ecstatic, and even now I think that it all comes together beautifully.

To coin a well worn cliche, they don't make 'em like they used to.... We've had a bunch of "Town Plan"-type sets over the years, most recently 2013's Set 60026 Town Square, but it's been a while since the often-substantial collection of buildings, vehicles and (more recently) minifigures which make up these sets has been pulled together into a cohesive whole by the use of one or more large baseplates; honestly, I think there are a number of recent sets that would substantially benefit from this treatment.

Set 355 Town Center Set with Roadways was released in 1972 and contains either 332 or 336 parts depending on whether you're more inclined to trust Bricklink or Brickset. As stated previously, I found my copy of the set on eBay, although that was the only time I've ever seen the set for sale there and there don't currently appear to be any copies for sale on either or If you're looking to buy, Bricklink is probably your best bet; at the time of writing there are 16 copies of the set on sale there in various states of repair and completeness. A new, sealed copy will set you back almost £300 plus shipping, while a used, boxed and complete example will cost about half as much, and if you're not fussed about the box then you're looking at considerably less.