Is Lego A Gateway Drug?

I can remember specific toys I played with way back in the day. There was the Star Wars X Wing fighter I got one Christmas. I can also specifically remember opening up a Galaxian video game that looked like a mini arcade machine.

But the big one that comes to mind was a Lego spaceship. Oh man, I was in love with that thing.

It seems to me that Lego was a reasonably popular toy back in the early ’80s. When I was really little, I had a few ‘sets’ that inevitably got comingled into a carboard box. That box of Lego came out from time to time to make all sorts of things. But the stuff didn’t rank higher than my other toys back then. That all changed with the introduction of the Lego ‘mini figure’ and those space themed sets. That’s when Lego went off like a toy atomic bomb. I mean, EVERYONE had this stuff.

My grand parents lived some six hours away from us when I was growing up. I was never one for long car rides but my dad knew how to motivate me. If I shut up, kept quiet and shut up for the entire, arduous, long, boring, monotonous, and excruciating six hour drive, he promised a visit to the HiWay Market.

Now, for those who don’t know about the HiWay Market, despite its generic name, the HiWay Market contained the biggest and most impressive toy department this kid had ever seen. Compared to the sad ‘Toy World’ franchises that passed themselves off as toy stores in my town, the HiWay Market was a toy mecca.

I didn’t so much as whimper during those 6 hour pilgrimages.

In addition to the marvel of that toy store, the HiWay Market also made it a point to do big holiday displays designed to hypnotize small kids and move a lot of product.

And one year, during that Lego mini figure explosion, they did a space Lego display. Now, I am probably misremembering the size of the thing but I’ll never forget it. It was a monstrous custom Lego space station on some moon landscape. The entire display was the size of a kitchen table encased in plexiglass. The space station was probably the size of a decent microwave oven. It was lit up with hundreds of lights and had moving parts. There must have been hundreds of Lego mini figures in their space suits. All over and around the station were the assorted vehicles and space ships that were for sale in the store.

What kid wouldn’t want space Lego after seeing that? Not this kid. And remember, I shut up and was quiet and shut up for 6 hours! Well, that Christmas morning I opened a Lego space ship. What a great toy.

After that, I’d say Lego was my main thing for a long time. I built everything I saw on TV or in movies or in my imagination. Cars, boats, spaceships, fighter planes. In fact, I was always building something with Lego until I started with models and model trains with my dad.

I really took to model building and model trains. I am wondering whether that had anything to do with constantly building with Lego when I was smaller. I’ve often joked with my model building buddies that I might have started out in model trains, but it was my dad who really enjoyed all of the bench work and wiring. I was way more into building the cars, kit-bashing, detailing and painting the locomotives and making custom buildings. We both were terrible at the scenery though.

The Cobi Corsair

I have not built any Lego for a very long time. Now I know there is more than one producer of brick sets so I guess the safe word to use is “bricks” to describe this toy. Now lets be clear, Cobi is not Lego and I bet there have been some prickly fights between these two companies (or maybe there soon will be) but there are a significant amount of similarities.

This past Christmas I picked up a Cobi Corsair. Why? I don’t know. Except, I like building things and I like Corsairs. I was also looking for something fun and this thing looked amazing. I did not know what to expect. Looking at the box cover, these bricks are significantly different from what I remember. For one thing, there are a lot of ’round’ parts and bits that turn these bricks into a reasonably good looking Corsair. Not like the blocky airplanes I used to make.

This set is the Cobi “AU-1” Corsair to differentiate it from their earlier “F4U” Corsair, which had a paint scheme used on F4U-1Ds. Unlike the real AU-1 Corsair, this Cobi AU-1 is no different from the earlier variant except the kit comes with all sorts of rockets and bombs which might not have been included with that earlier kit. I was a bit worried about having to use stickers for the markings, but the markings are all painted on and they really look great.

I built the thing and it took about an hour and a half. The instructions were reasonably clear, though at times a little too Ikea-esque. I’d say about two thirds of the build time was spent hunting down the parts! Some of the pieces look almost identical to the lego pieces I used to have. I have not tested it but I bet these Cobi bricks would fit with Lego bricks without any problem. Except the fit of the plastic is very tight. In some instances it was somewhat difficult getting the parts to click together. Although I have no intention to do it, I can imagine it will be difficult to take the thing apart.

I believe these sets are aimed at the older buyer looking for a display piece. Certainly the stand that comes with these airplanes would support that idea. I think it looks great in the bookshelf in my office. If you are interested in a quick time lapse video of the build, I have posted one here. Or you can click below:

Last Thing

I have played with Lego with my daughter who enjoys showing me how she can follow the build instructions for the little cars and trucks she has. Her stuff is called “Lego friends” and it is based on a show featuring a cast of characters. The “Lego” aspect is really subtle. I don’t think the word is used once. Compare that to the Saturday morning cartoons I used to watch featuring product placements every 10th frame. Anyway, we can buy these Lego sets with these show characters. Kids build the buildings or vehicles and they can make their own adventures – its a pretty good idea.

My Lego box is still at my parents’ home and over the years 6 grand kids have played with it. I am 99% sure it’s still there in the basement closet; waiting for the first great grand kid.

4 thoughts on “Is Lego A Gateway Drug?

Add yours

  1. I would guess that we are of a different generation, because me and my friends gave up our Lego weekend builds just before the specialize kits came out. We build cars and tanks and planes and some R2D2 looking droids out of mostly square or rectangular blocks. I’m sure if I was 10 years younger, those Lego kits might have spurred me in model making sooner.
    Nice build, BTW. I may have have a look and see if they have a Ju-87 or Me-109, two one my favorite planes!


  2. Nice post, full of nostalgic reference. As a kid, I was fascinated by the Classic Space Lego sets, and the Galaxy Explorer was a included in a letter sent to Santa Claus “way back in the day”. I´ve seen those Cobi WWII aircraft kits and they look pretty impressive. I´m not sure about the scale of those kits as compared to plastic scale models (1/32 or 1/24 maybe?). Anyway, they sure they make very nice shelf displays.

    Liked by 1 person

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