Lego Technic 853 / 956 Car Chassis Set Review

Welcome to what will be the first in a series of reviews of all of Lego’s ‘ultimate’ car-based Technic sets. We start, naturally, at the very beginning. In 1977, this was the ultimate and I was a lucky boy!

This red machine (still the longest model of any such set…) featured a reciprocating 4 cylinder engine, a forward/reverse transmission, working steering and adjustable seats and…. that’s it. At the time, this was plenty – greater sophistication would come later;  the great thing about this set was that it showed, better than any other, how a car went together.

The build is fairly simple – the only complex part being the engine. It feels a little strange building a Technic car chassis by mostly snapping bricks together, but it also makes you wonder if the newer elements make things unnecessarily time-consuming. Slotting the engine/transmission unit and steering assembly into place makes you imagine workers doing the same thing on a production line. An enjoyable and educative experience.

The finished model is a delightfully vintage thing and highly playable. The best thing about it is the speed and smoothness of the engine’s running as you push it along, assuming the engine’s set up just so… This gives it a personality that’s lacking in most of the later cars, whose engines simply don’t make enough noise to be truly satisfying.

Flaws; well this is a very early effort so there are a few… the biggest of which being the chassis’ lack of stiffness. Blame the penny-pinching single layer of studded beams that form the car’s structure. Double these up and it’s fine. The front wheels drag on the chassis when on full lock – something that couldn’t happen in a newer set, mostly because newer sets seem to have hardly any steering lock… A differential would have been nice, but you can slot one in easily enough now.  The lack of suspension can be forgiven, I think; especially as, if it did have springs, I suspect the chassis would flex more than they do!

Now we come to one of the best features of all these early sets – the box! A proper, sturdy box with plastic compartments for all the new and special pieces that came with this set, and beautifully illustrated with a wealth of model ideas, most of which had no instructions but served to inspire the young builder’s own creativity. Note to Lego: PLEASE BRING THESE BACK!

Overall, this set deserves a solid 9/10 – there was enough to inspire the budding petrolhead here and, if you can, I urge you to seek one of these out (expensive these days, I know..) and re-discover the simple joy of a charming model.

26 thoughts on “Lego Technic 853 / 956 Car Chassis Set Review

  1. gre sample test

    Made me immediatly think of “Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great.” –Mark Twain

  2. Mehul

    I am 52 yrs old and still have this set with me since 1977. Played a lot, also added a motor to it so it runs.

  3. JQ

    My god… I remember I wanted nothing more than this Lego car, and for Christmas 1977 I got it. I was the happiest kid alive. I still have this beauty all assembled today, although a few parts are missing or broken. Not bad for a 35 year-old model, haha.

  4. Phil Angel

    Got this set for Christmas 77, and was lost to the mists of time, found & won one on eBay for £25, guy wasn’t sure it was all there, got it home,built it & only a few silly bits missing & I was able to find them all I’m my little boys Lego, it sits on my sideboard to remind me of Christmas,s past! :-))))

    1. Admiral Quality

      Wow Phil. I managed to break most of the long beam pieces by building rubber band powered dragsters. They’d shoot across the room, popping a wheelie, and eventually nose into the wall. My LEGO construction techniques were getting so good that the plastic would snap instead of the connections!

      1. stan

        I had a set that was just like this, only it had working rear suspension and differential. It had the front inline 4 cylinder engine, 3 speed transmission, and adjustable seats. It looked exactly like the 853 except the rear suspension. It was not the 8860. I cannot find the set number for the car I had?

        1. twohorse602

          The only other one I can think of would be 8865, but that was a rear-engined V4. It was red, though.

      2. JQ

        Hi Stan, have you tried looking in peeron and lugnet, they have near every set that Lego released cataloged. Good luck!

  5. The laval lamp shop

    I’m really impressed with your writing skills as well as with the layout on your blog. Is this a paid theme or did you customize it yourself? Anyway keep up the nice quality writing, it’s rare to see a great blog like this one today.

  6. Ron

    I have one of these sets with the original box. I’ve had it since I was 11 years old. DOes anyone know what a good asking price is for this model?

  7. b777nut

    I still have mine and the later one, with the rear boxer engine, although both are mixed up with sets from 1973 to the present day. My earliest sets are the hospital and fire station with pre mini figure people.

  8. Bart 66

    I was 11 years old in the fall of 1977 when this model came out. Never had it, always wanted it. Build it for the first time about 12 years ago from prints from the internet with my own lego in differed colors. This week, almost 39 years later, I bought this set complete with box and inner boxes in very nice condition.
    Next year it’s the 40th anniversary of lego technic. Would be nice if lego reintroduced this set, but in a new and updated version, but still the same look and colors.
    I don’t hope that they will reintroduce the exact model of 1977.

    1. twohorse602

      I’m glad you finally got one! Enjoy it. As for an update from Lego: it would be great to see this done in studless Technic with more sophistication while keeping the overall look and colour scheme, if somewhat unlikely… still, we can always make our own.

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  12. Allen Evans

    I got this same exact set when I was a lad growing up, built right away and had a tiny motor from a frig, to make it run with a rubber band, that I had rigged up to make it work. Ran great. Later years it was sent to family member, Never got it back, so I bought one and had only 3 pieces missing. But will buy a whole complete as soon as I can. These are rare, so I will be sure to get box and all this time. I’m 57 and I still like Lego kits. They never go out of style, not even today

  13. Alan

    Fantastic set which I still have. I built it twice back in the day and both times it wouldn’t push well, something would obstruct it with a clicking sound and it felt like something would break. Anyway built it again recently after rescuing it from mum and dad’s loft and it was fine, also motorised it with motor set 870. I have quite a few other sets from this series and like to try building the combined models. I’ve just bought the helicopter 851 and the spare parts kit 871, so eventually I’m hoping to build the car again and complete the bonnet, roof etc. as per the pictures shown in the instructions using the additional sets. There is a blog about this somewhere but I can’t find it now…


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