Satisfying your hoisting needs since 1978…
We like cranes here at The Lego Car Blog. Technic cranes tend to make excellent, functional models that can be a lot of fun to muck about with. From the earliest era of Technic, LEGO thought so too, and gave us the 855 Mobile Crane in 1978. How would it compare with its grandchildren?
Thank you for asking that question.
In the picture above, ready for battle (lift-off?) is a slightly nervous looking 855, along with 8854 from 1989, 8460 from 1995 and the later and larger 8421 and 42009 models.
After at least twenty seconds of careful cogitation I arrived at a reasonably fair way to compare them. Each crane must be parked with its stabilisers deployed, the superstructure slewed through 90 degrees, the boom lifted and extended to its fullest height; then it must hoist a steadily increasing load of batteries until something breaks. It would have been elves, but they ran away for some reason…
First up, the vintage 855:
I’ll be honest, I wasn’t expecting much from the old stager. I’ve always regarded it as one those models that’s dated more than most and lacked any meaningful strength due to it’s almost entirely studded construction and build-it-yourself stabilisers. Still, it’ll set a baseline…
Turns out it did pretty well – 14 batteries off the deck and nothing’s broken although you’ll see below that something’s about to…. this is why cranes need counterweights! Each battery weighs 23 grams, so that’s a good 350 grams with the pallet as well.
This particular 855 is doing a most un-855 like thing; steering! Always a glaring omission from the original set, I’ve added it to mine as well as another control to slew the superstucture. I can promise you that the base / stabiliser combination isn’t any stronger than standard. There’s also a small mod to the lifting mechanism to help the boom achieve greater verticality (if that’s not a word, it should be!). The boom goes about 10 degrees higher than standard with 9 long axles actuating it instead of 8s. This mod does help its performance; without it, 12 batteries are hoisted in the air before the superstructure makes its bid for freedom.
Even with only early parts, 855 manages to do the important crane-y things like lifting and extending the boom and hoisting stuff; slewing’s manual and the stabilisers are fiddly to deploy and seem flimsy but it performs reasonably well. There’s many more types of crane illustrated on its box as well, all of which are many times better than the weak and uni-functional tipper lorry you get instructions for. 7/10 – it gets an extra point for its surprising performance here.
Next in line is 1989’s 8854 ‘Power Crane’, looking all butch and handsome and Unimoggy. Built with just 516 pieces (4 more than 855) it sports an impressive array of features, with pneumatic boom elevation and controls for the stabilisers, slewing, steering, boom extension and hoisting. The piece count / functions ratio is one of the best of any set. They’re not all perfect, however…
Here it is taking on the TLCB lifting test:
Thanks to those stumpy little stabilisers, it has not a chance of lifting 10 batteries. How about 5? No.. 3? No… it managed ONE. Pop a second on the pallet and it falls over. Oh dear. Pity, I really like this set. It corrects many of the flaws of 855, the most glaring of which is solved by a threaded axle clamping down the turntable, it’s highly playable and it’s pretty rugged. The pneumatics work well here, although their shortness does limit the boom’s maximum elevation to about 45 degrees and the pipework means this is the only crane here which won’t slew through the full 360 degrees.
I’d still recommend it though, and it has a good B-model; another tipper lorry but this time stronger and cleverer with articulated steering and a pneumatic tailgate. 7/10 – a point has to go for its poor test performance.
Next up, it’s 1995 and the turn of the 6 wheeled yellow crane that is 8460. Still a mid-size set at 850 pieces, here’s another function-fest, this time with 4 wheel steering and enough stabilsers to add to 8854’s impressive tally. The boom elevation is achieved by a pair of pneumatic actuators cleverly combined in series to allow a bit of extra verticality. Still not enough, at only 60 degrees or so, but at least they tried.
What I like most about this model is the smoothness with which everything operates – it’s outstandingly well designed in all its functional aspects. The B-model’s pretty nifty too; a crane truck not unlike a mini Arocs, only this one doesn’t tip.
I was willing it to do well…. in the end, it managed 10 batteries before it fell over. The stabilisers may be longer and more numerous than its predecessor’s but they’re not long enough, it seems. 9/10 – its average performance here keeps it away from a perfect 10.
The decade following 8460’s release was pretty chaotic for LEGO, which might explain why this excellent model was re-released with a different number twice. 2002’s 8431 was almost exactly the same and stood out as the last studded model well into the studless era. It mostly served to highlight how woeful its stablemates were at that time… In 2003 it was released again as 8438, along with the entirely studless (and amazingly brilliant) 8455 Backhoe.
Finally in 2005, LEGO tired of the ‘What’s the 6-wheeled Crane Called This Week?’ game and gave us this:
Eight wheels, three boom sections for the first time, an engine for the first time in a crane, a powerful buggy motor for hoisting big stuff, and a surprising quantity of studded Technic bricks making it look just a tad old-fashioned…
8421, with its 1884 pieces, was a truly ambitious model and it’s become a bit of a legend. We’ll see if it can live up to that…
Steering’s lovely and smooth; with a relatively generous lock and a progressive rate on it’s three axles it turns superbly – better in this respect than the more recent 42009. I don’t know what it is about cranes that makes Lego come up with better steering systems than for their other models, but all of these steer very well (except the one that doesn’t steer at all…). The V6 engine hums away nicely, the buggy motor rasps fit to set your teeth on edge but it certainly has power – more than a modern PF XL, albeit with less torque. The stabilisers flop down in unison from their single control, locking in place and being good and strong, if not terrifically authentic. Slewing’s manual but you can’t have everything…
Hopes were high for this one. The two pneumatic actuators, again in series but this time connected with a unique bracket, effortlessly raised the heavy boom. With a flick of a switch the motor extended it, paying out the hoist as it did so – a unique and superb refinement. All three sections reached for the sky. The hoist was lowered, or would have been had the string not become tangled up in the gearing back there…
The fact that that can happen is a bit of an oversight but carry on… try again. 10 batteries to start with ought to be pretty easy, if only the boom didn’t fall at the same rate the hoist was raised! Blame the lack of a return pipe for the actuators, and pump…
Keep pumping… it’s not going anywhere… try it with five batteries.
It’s taking up the slack…. POP! as the single over-worked pipe pops off the switch and the boom comes crashing down. And now the string’s tangled up in the gears again.. AAARRGGHH!
Fail. 8421 registered a score in this test of zero.
Overall, the model is better than this result would suggest but it’s not perfect. The boom looks messy and somewhat short – it’s the same overall length when retracted as 855’s! Like all the other cranes, it lacks verticality (my new favourite word) when fully raised thanks to the too-short actuator. The B-model’s not special – a cherry picker mounted on the same chassis as the crane. Really, it’s a bit of a disappointment. 6/10.
Perhaps it would fare better in another test; how about the new pursuit that I’ve just made up of Crane Jousting…
Perhaps not. We’ve reviewed the recent 42009 here before, and I’ve subjected it to the same test as the others. It managed 22 batteries before the clutch gear in the hoisting mechanism started to slip. Replace this with a spur gear and it’ll probably lift many more. Every function on it operated seamlessly and it was a real pleasure to build and evaluate (play with) it again. It keeps its 9/10.
So there you have it. 42009 is the best at being a crane, 8460 will serve you well on a smaller budget but 855 is not to be dismissed. It only took LEGO 34 years and five times as many pieces to exceed the performance of its first crane.
A very enjoyable review, packed with nostalgia, though the only set that I’ve owned from your selection was the red unimog. As a kid, I found its lack of proper, wide stabilisers frustrating and was constantly capsizing it.
It could be worth looking at your old instruction books again. My early Technic instruction books (850 for example) have some limited instructions for combining 850+855+871+877 to make a eight wheeled, four wheel steering crane. I can’t find a scan of the pages online but I bet that you’ve got the right instruction book and the parts to do it!
Oh yes, I remember that 8-wheeler from the early instruction books. It did look good at the time and you’re right; I don’t lack the parts! Thanks Dr Menace.
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Re: 850+855+871+877. I made it before I knew what 855 was! Much easier if you have 855 built first. After acquiring 855 I built a more sucessful version. I have plans to repeat the excerise and display 855 in this form. I’m currently building Jennifer Clark’s Demag so I think the extended 855 would be nice to have beside it. 850+855+871+877 isn’t too hard as you know what the possible parts are and there is just enough information in the photographs to complete it.
Thanks Aidan, and have fun building the super-855. I always liked the way there was just enough info to build the ‘ideas pages’ models if you studied the pics. I do fear it would look rather sketchy and under-done next to Jennifer Clark’s brilliant Demag though….
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