February 9, 2012
Technic Super Cars
The history of LEGO "Super Cars" is even longer than the Technic line itself, beginning in 1977 and running right up to the present day. There is no official definition of Super Car and therefore different fans might include different models on their own list. Most fans consider a Super Car to be one of the large scale automotive models which attempt to maximize realistic function as much as possible. Over the years, the models got more and more functionally realistic, and the complexity peaked in about 1994. Since then, subsequent supercars have become more realistically styled without adding a lot of complexity.
It all started in 1977. In this year the first beams, pins, gears, and related parts were introduced and the line was called "Expert Builder". The largest set that first year was the 853 Auto Chassis. This very large model had steerable front wheels which used the 2x2 turntables as king pins. There was an inline 4 cylinder engine (using square pistons) in front which connected to the rear wheels through a 2 speed transmission. The transmission simply slid an axle to engage 2 different sets of gears. The position of the seats was even adjustable. This model had no styling or body, but there were photo ideas on the cover of the instruction book and in some of the Idea Books.
The next Super Car (8860) came only 3 years later in 1980 and added a lot of features. It still had front steering, but now there was also swing arm suspension in the rear and even a differential gear. The 4 cylinder engine was moved to the rear and was now a "boxer" type instead of inline. The seats were still adjustable front to back, and now also reclined. The transmission had one extra gear added, but functioned the same way.
Now there was an 8 year delay until 1988, and this time there were big changes. Functionally, the car (8865) still had a 3 speed transmission and adjustable seats. The differential was still there, and this time the engine was a V-4. The main new function was 4 wheel independent double wishbone suspension which required some new specialized control arm parts. One additional cosmetic function was retractable headlights. The most obvious visual change was the addition of a styled body. This first Super Car was very simple, made only of long straight Technic beams.
Everything changed in 1994 with 8880. Until now, all the Super Cars had used square pistons, simple transmissions, and the older foam tires. In 1994 Lego decided to officially use the name "Super Car" for the new model which introduced many new parts and concepts which are still in use today. The old square pistons were replaced with smaller round versions along with cylinders, allowing this model to have a compact V-8. This model was all wheel drive so there a differential in front, in back, and another in the center. It was a new style of differential as well. A whole series of new parts were introduced to allow all 4 wheels to be suspended, driven, and steered at the same time. Finally, there were some new driving ring parts which allowed the transmission to be synchronized so you could shift while it was moving. A lot more effort was put into the styling although it was still accomplished with traditional parts.
The next car in 1999 was the Super Street Sensation (8448). While not quite as complicated as 8880, this car was much more realistically styled. Studless beams, panels, and flexible axles were used to make a realistic body. The 5 speed synchronized transmission now also had reverse. The all wheel drive and 4 wheel steering were lost, but now there were damped actuators which could control either a convertible roof or optional gull wing doors. There were brand new wheels and tires which are unique to this model. The V-8 engine used transparent cylinders so you could see the inner workings. Some people consider the 8466 Off-Roader released 2 years later as a Super Car also because it has the same features as 8448 with the addition of all wheel drive.
Now there was a gap of 12 years until 8070 came out, also called "Super Car" again. This new car had even more styling with even more panels and flexible parts. The suspension, differential, engine, and steering were still here. This time, the 4 speed transmission was used to shift between 4 different motorized Power Functions instead of changing gears. The motor could open each door, deploy a spoiler, or open the hood. The construction was now entirely studless.
It is fun to build all of these cars and look at how they changed over the years both in parts and styling.