Backhoe Battle

Yellow building site stuff through the ages…

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On the right, from 1989, Lego Technic’s first JCB; the 8862 Backhoe. A startlingly yellow confection and the perfect showcase for the then-new second generation pneumatic parts. On the left, 2003’s 8455, slightly less yellow, and an even better showcase for said parts – it has more than twice as many of them…

Both of these JCBs sat near the top of the range, and although the Technic range may seem incomplete without one, there has only been these two and the more recent 2011 8069. This latter model was a lot cheaper and not as accomplished as it’s predecessors. It’s a good enough substitute for less cash, although the little 42004 is as well, for a lot less cash.

Where were we ? Ah yes, 8862 and 8455. First, the builds. The early one is naturally more basic, with it’s studded Technic beams, although the bigger build steps of these older models keeps you on your toes. It was a rare pleasure to build with brand new, unopened 25 year old Technic in this case – no second hand teeth marks and dog hair to contend with, until I have to pull out those infuriating early tight fitting black pins that is… maybe I’ll get the dog to do it… Anyway, after decimating the value of this 8862, I enjoyed a couple of hours of good old fashioned building.

I then cracked open the 8455 (unopened as well!) and gave that my full attention; needed because this little machine’s many pneumatic components, especially the tubing, are VERY compactly packaged. In order to squeeze it’s 10 pistons, 7 switches, 2 pumps and several yards of tubing into a model that’s smaller than 8862, as well as being more functional; you must concentrate at every stage of the instructions on where exactly to route the various pipes and so on. The cleverness of this machine’s packaging is such that not only will it work faultlessly as long as you do this, but all of it’s pipes are very neatly routed on the finished model as well; something that can’t be said of the old stager. With that, it’s a very technical build, not to be rushed.

Both of these models came with pneumatic tubing in long lengths that you cut to size yourself. In both cases, it’s important to cut to the lengths specified; even small deviations may cause packaging and clearance problems, especially in 8455. As is often the case, follow the instructions faithfully and you’ll be alright. Round one is a draw.

To look at, these two are very different, and show the value of 14 years of progress. 8862 is a good effort but it’s oddly proportioned: too tall and under-wheeled. And very, very yellow! Even both buckets are yellow. The black contrast provided by the seat, stabilisers and grille are not enough to offset the overbearing yellowness. Perhaps if I was prepared to get it muddy, it’ll look better…. 8455, on the other hand, looks like this:

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Better proportioned, right-size wheels…. and oddly, probably not yellow enough! There’s no pleasing some people… It does unquestionably look better, though. New technic wins at a canter.

As you’d hope for JCB models, both of these are fully functional. We’ll start at the front. 8862 has a system of angled levers and worm gears, manually controlled by wheels on the side, to raise/lower and tilt the front bucket. This system is not perfect. It won’t raise the bucket any higher than the level of the vehicle’s roof, although it does try to maintain the bucket’s angle as the arm is raised and lowered. It almost succeeds… 8455 has pairs of pneumatic rams to operate these functions: there’s a wide range of movement, it’s a strong system and the bucket maintains it’s angle regardless of elevation. The switches on the sides of the seat (if there was a seat) are a neat touch. This seamless operation hands new the win here.

8455 might not have a seat, but there is an engine; geared to turn quite quickly from the rear wheels; and this demonstrates yet more of that clever packaging that so characterizes this model. The steering system – via knob wheels and drag links – works around the engine, taking very little space and it works smoothly, if without quite the precision of 8862’s conventional rack and pinion. 8862 has no engine, despite it’s greater size. Another round goes to new.

The operation of their rear arms is naturally very similar: three single pneumatic rams to lift, reach and tilt the bucket each. 8862 has a manual control to rotate the arm, while 8455, in a display of wilful eccentricity, does this via another pneumatic piston. This is charming, although a lot harder to regulate… and good luck remembering which of 8455’s bank of unlabelled switches does what, as they lack the older model’s more logical arrangement. They are both very playable here, but I think the better ergonomics of 8862 hand old technic a much needed win in this round.

Both models are blessed with a pair of stabilizers that operate in unison from a single control. 8862 has conventional manually operated worm gear driven items that would take some force to budge, even if the feet are a little fragile… it’s been done better elsewhere, but also a whole lot worse. 8455’s feet are extended by a pair of (guess?) pneumatic rams, the operation of which is a complete delight, although they are quite useless, unless the switch is in the ‘down’ position and you’re pumping away… It’s worth noting that 8455 benefits from having 2 pumps, both compressed by pushing down the front of the cab’s roof. Although 8862’s ‘exhaust’ pump looks and feels more natural, there’s no substitute for twice the power. A draw.

B models: In both cases there are strong contenders. 8455 has a front end loader that has a clever extending arm at the front, as well as the usual tilting and lifting. A solid effort and it looks good. 8862 does even better:

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Is it just me or does the combine harvester look nicer than the JCB ? Not quite as complex, but there’s enough going on to have given this model equal billing with the main event. Old wins this battle.

But not the war. 8455 is just too good. it shows that even in 2003, during Lego Technic’s ‘dark age’ , someone still cared enough to produce this brilliantly engineered jewel of a set, and it lit up an otherwise pretty bleak line-up at the time. It’s not flawless (unless it’s an 8043 with a smaller bucket, what is ?) but it’s very, very good and with all those pneumatic functions it feels properly luxurious. Expensive but worth it. 9/10.

8862 is very much of it’s time, although it’s not totally outclassed, and it will cost around half as much now as an 8455. A relative bargain. 7/10.

The time is probably ripe for another up-range JCB model, but PLEASE, LEGO, do it with pneumatics! And a compressor.

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One thought on “Backhoe Battle

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