It’s time for another TLCB set review! Today we take a trip back into one of the darkest corners of LEGO’s archives. The year is 1997, Bill Clinton has been elected for a second term, Hong Kong returns to Chinese rule, Toyota launch the Prius hybrid, and The LEGO Company kill off their best loved theme – Town.
LEGO were in trouble in the late ’90s. Not enough children were buying construction toys, and the perceived threat from computer games and electronics pushed the company down a very dark avenue. Their response was to drastically simplify the Town range through a series of easy-to-build almost pre-fabricated sets, and to lighten (read cheapen) Technic construction.
Whilst there was a notable highlight in the 1997 Technic range it was mostly about as appealing as Chrysler’s late ’90s car line-up – picking a favourite was like choosing the best of the venereal diseases. So here was our pick at the time, the somewhat odd-looking 8437 Sahara Blaster.
8437 was a sort-of dune buggy, Paris-Dakar type thing, but so loose was its affiliation with the real world vehicles on which it was apparently based in some markets LEGO called it the ‘Future Car’ to hide its inaccuracies.
Ok, so first the good stuff. 8437 does actually contain some lovely Technic engineering. Rear suspension, a V4 engine, differential, and working steering all feature. The Sahara Blaster also came with the option of bundling in LEGO’s new 9V motor, which could be slotted into the rear in place of the piston engine in just a few seconds. This made the set a wonderfully playable thing, especially with its brilliant air-filled balloon tyres.
And now the bad stuff. Those huge tyres meant the steering was minimal, and it was further worsened by a very weak Hand Of God control mechanism, plus – for reasons we simply cannot fathom – the use of a flex-system for the steering arms. These components barely count as LEGO, being completely useless for any other application, and they’re also woefully inadequate for holding the steering together on what is supposed to be a tough off-road vehicle. If you crashed your Sahara Blaster into a sofa, the steering would break, and fixing it was like wiring a plug wearing oven gloves – immensely difficult and no fun at all.
Plus it looked like nothing in particular, the seats would fall out all the time, opening the doors would break the top of the roof, and we’re not even going to start reviewing the B-model…
And yet, somehow we still quite like 8437. Maybe it’s those tyres, maybe it’s because it’s blue, or maybe it’s because things were going to get even worse in 1998…