The LEGO Technic theme took LEGO sets in a bold, dynamic new direction at the dawn of the 1980s. While the LEGO Group’s early products proved popular, they also came with clear limitations – a lack of detail and boxy, inert designs were the most obvious ones. Technic’s line of sets brought gears, pneumatics and more to models, offering exciting new functions for fans to enjoy.
The Technic theme has also proved a hothouse for other product lines. The likes of BIONICLE and MINDSTORMS have clear roots in Technic, with the latter range bearing the theme’s branding in its early days. The former is (sadly) no longer with us, but MINDSTORMS remains a part of today’s LEGO landscape. The modern LEGO Education theme also conjures up exciting uses for Technic parts.
LEGO Technic history
The LEGO Group introduced the Technic branding in 1982, although sets using its new parts first appeared in 1977. These proto-Technic sets stuck pretty closely to the existing LEGO formula, with recognisable bricks, plates and other elements used in their construction.
However, many of these elements were modified to enable mechanical functions. Bricks and plates now featured hollow tubes alongside the familiar LEGO studs. These could accommodate axles and pins, which in turn could hold gears, wheels and other useful components.
The result was larger models with more realistic features. For the first time, we could build cars with working steering, forklifts that could raise and lower their forks, and cranes that could lift and carry objects. There was even an early motor, 870 Technical Motor, 4.5V, that could be used to add power to our creations.
The passing years brought additional functions to Technic sets. Models like 8040 Universal Set introduced a pneumatic system, allowing us to move parts using air pressure. 1986 gave us articulated figures, to bring – for a short while – a human element to the Technic range. The ‘90s debuted a rudimentary control system, in a forerunner of more sophisticated products.
By 1996, LEGO Technic was starting to establish its own identity. Models like 8443 Pneumatic Log Loader introduced smooth, studless beams; these allowed builders to create different angles and more realistic body shapes. They were joined by half-width beams, which further improved the detail and functionality of the models we built.
The late ‘90s and early 2000s would further change what a Technic set could look like. A number of new subthemes popped up in this period – Slizer (also known as Throwbots) offered buildable robots with poseable arms, geared mechanisms and a disc-throwing play feature. Many of its ideas (and elements) would be repurposed for the legendary BIONICLE line.
RoboRiders continued in a similar vein, albeit with wheeled robots instead of humanoid ones. The first generation of MINDSTORMS – which uses numerous Technic parts – offered a whole new realm of computer programming for LEGO fans. It would go on to inspire international competitions and a steady stream of improved MINDSTORMS products over the years.
Although many of its subthemes have ended, the core Technic theme has continued steadily onwards. Its 21st-century products have been more iterative than revolutionary; sets in this era introduced panels to improve models’ body shape, while Power Functions made remote control more intuitive. Sets have also ballooned in size, and some now support remote control via a dedicated smartphone app. Conventional LEGO bricks have also crept back into Technic sets, offering greater detail – and play value – than ever before.
LEGO Technic sets
With their emphasis on mechanical function, vehicles have dominated the Technic line since its inception. Tastes and detail levels have evolved over the years, but by taking a broad look at the range some definite trends have emerged.
In the ‘70s and early ‘80s, cars, bikes and construction vehicles make frequent appearances. 855 Mobile Crane is a compelling peek into Technic’s potential; it offers a working winch, a rack-and-pinion crane arm and a rotating cab. Later sets like 8841 Dune Buggy are relatively simpler, offering a basic steering mechanism. While modern versions are more sophisticated, steering is still a selling point for today’s Technic models.
Later years would introduce a little more diversity into Technic’s roster. Aircraft were a sporadic feature of the early Technic collection, and that continued with the likes of 8855 Prop Plane and 8825 Night Chopper. The latter could seat a Technic figure and even spin the blades using a crank mounted on the side.
Fans of that era could also brave the (imaginary) seas thanks to 8824 Hovercraft, which features bespoke rubber pieces for added realism. For the budding astronaut 8480 Space Shuttle offered a large-scale spacecraft, with LEGO’s notorious fiber optic feature included. 2007 also gave us our first Technic snowmobile (8272 Snowmobile) and a new farm vehicle (8274 Combine Harvester). A number of additional vehicles for cold climates and farmland have been released in their wake.
In-keeping with LEGO more broadly, recent Technic sets have seen increased piece counts and more licensed collaboration. 42055 Bucket Wheel Excavator includes almost 4,000 pieces; the main model is 88cm long and features a working conveyor belt. 42030 Volvo L350F Wheel Loader, meanwhile, is an early example of a Technic licensed set. Other collaborations followed with the likes of Porsche, BMW and – controversially – Boeing. However, the latter product (42113 Bell-Boeing V-22 Osprey) was cancelled before a broad release.
LEGO Technic minifigures
With its emphasis on large-scale models and stud-less construction, minifigures are practically non-existent in the Technic range. The closest we got was 6932 Science and Technology Base Set. Released in 2007 as part of the Education theme, this set features several Technic parts and two generic minifigures.
LEGO Technic figures were produced in a larger scale, with plenty of articulation and more realistic faces. However, in-keeping with the LEGO brand they usually featured the classic yellow skin tone. These figures were well suited to the models of that era: their feet can stick to studded surfaces, their hands can hold Technic pins, and their legs can accommodate them too.
To better integrate these figures into models, the LEGO Group also produced a bespoke seat element that they could sit in. Even so, these Technic figures were frequently absent from the broader Technic range. The Competition subtheme – which launched in 1998 – would give us a few new variants, but by 2002 the figures had vanished from Technic sets for good.
Despite their relatively short lifespan, Technic’s figures were an interesting idea with solid play features. Today’s Technic sets don’t really lose anything without them, but they’re still a great addition to any LEGO collection.
LEGO Technic cars
A recent example of this is 42115 Lamborghini Sián FKP 37. The LEGO Group has actually produced Lamborghini sets for some time – the first one was 8169 Lamborghini Gallardo LP 560-4, which appeared in 2009 as part of the Racers range. However, 42115 is the first LEGO Technic Lamborghini, and offers some rather exciting features as a result.
Like other Technic cars, this Lamborghini features working suspension, a highly complex gearbox and moving engine pistons – an old feature, but still greatly appreciated. It also includes an adjustable spoiler, controlled from the passenger compartment.
When finished, the LEGO Technic Lamborghini features a striking lime-green paint job and gold drum-lacquered wheels, which are exact replicas of the real thing. The body of the car also includes five brand new pieces for more accurate shaping. Fans wanting a peek inside can open the scissor wing doors, as well as the car’s bonnet and boot.
Another exceptional Technic car is 42083 Bugatti Chiron. Featuring similar dimensions to the Lamborghini, this model draws inspiration from one of the world’s fastest production road cars. However, the real thing costs over €2 million, making a LEGO version slightly more affordable.
42083 Bugatti Chiron actually introduced a number of new pieces to the Technic range, allowing for more elegant gear shifting and greater accuracy to the source material. Like its Lamborghini, the LEGO Group’s Chiron features opening bonnets, an adjustable rear wing and working steering. Its two-tone colour scheme also helps it stand out from similar Technic models.
The most recent car in this vein is 42143 Ferrari Daytona SP3, released in 2022. Inspired by the real-life Ferrari SP3 (unveiled in 2021, and produced in limited quantities) this car features the classic red Ferrari colour scheme, and an unusually complex body shape. Like its predecessors it uses a mix of LEGO and Technic elements, as well as a few unorthodox construction techniques. Parts of the bodywork are held on with flexible cables rather than studs or pins, for example.
While most of the elements used in this set are off-the-shelf parts, a few (like the wheels) are new. The wheels use drum-lacquered silver, which gives them the appropriate metallic finish. There’s even tiny Ferrari logos at their centres, which – like all the decorated elements in this set – are printed rather than stickered.
This Ferrari retains some real-life features of its inspiration such as working steering, a V12 engine and an 8-speed sequential gearbox. It also comes with functional suspension (although you may not be braving public roads with in) and a display plaque with additional information on its capabilities. As a mark of the set’s prestige, 42143 Ferrari Daytona SP3 even launched with a coffee table book (Ferrari Daytona SP3: The Sense of Perfection) detailing the design process. However, with only 5,000 copies published it may prove as elusive as a real Ferrari Daytona SP3 at this point.
For the supercar fan, the LEGO Technic range may be an ideal substitute. Licensed sets have become a key part of the theme and a draw for car fans, even if said licence (and high piece count) still demand a large financial investment.
LEGO Technic crane
That said, conventional cranes are surprisingly absent from the Technic range at the moment. The most recent example – 42108 Mobile Crane – has now retired, with no news on a replacement. However, a number of other models now come with similar functions.
Besides obvious features like steering and moving engine parts, the truck also offers a movable towing fork and extending crane arm. The latter can be moved via pneumatic controls; it’s possible to raise and lower the crane arm, and also extend or retract it. A set of gears can deploy outriggers for greater stability.
Outside of this model, Technic sets focus more on excavation than vehicle recovery. There are two distinct flavours to enjoy at the moment. 42121 Heavy-Duty Excavator is pitched at the cheaper end of the scale; its movable arm and rotating body are in line with broader Technic functions. It can also be reconstructed into a tractor with backhoe functionality. This is actually a long-standing feature of smaller Technic sets, giving you a little more bang for your buck.
At the other end of the scale, 42100 Liebherr R 9800 Excavator pushes LEGO Technic to its limits. The real thing is one of the world’s largest mining vehicles. Similarly, the set it inspired is one of the largest, most expensive ones that’s ever appeared in the Technic range, with over 4,000 pieces and a £399.99 RRP.
Unlike the other sets we’ve just mentioned, 42100 Liebherr R 9800 Excavator goes all in on the electronics. Seven motors and two Bluetooth hubs (which connect to a smartphone) operate its functions, with a dozen AA batteries supplying power.
When fully assembled, the excavator offers plenty to play with. An array of pneumatic hoses allows owners to manipulate the arm and bucket. A folding walkway also allows imaginary workmen to access the cab. Movement and mechanical functions are handled with a dedicated CONTROL+ app, similar to one used across the CITY, Disney and DC themes in the past.
While some reviewers have reported control issues (and the reliance on an app raises questions about long-term use), 42100 Liebherr R 9800 Excavator demonstrates the continued ambition of the LEGO Group’s broader product design.
LEGO Technic 2023
2023 has introduced six new LEGO sets to the Technic lineup, all of which are relatively small. 30655 Forklift with Pallet honours the earliest days of the LEGO Technic theme, and uses a worm gear to raise or lower its forks. 42147 Dump Truck is similarly scaled, and its cargo bed can be tipped up to dump its cargo on the floor.
42148 Snow Groomer is a more unusual model; real life snow groomers prepare snow for skiers or snowboarders. This set retains the features of those real-life vehicles, offering a shovel blade and smoothing tool whose positions can be adjusted. Since this subject matter is extremely rare in LEGO form, you may be tempted to add this to your collection.
42149 Monster Jam Dragon and 42150 Monster Jam Monster Mutt are two new additions to the the LEGO Technic Monster Jam product collection. Each one features animalistic styling and a pull back motor to get some speed up. They can also – like other LEGO Technic sets – be rebuilt into alternate models that bring out their bestial nature in other ways.
The most ambitious 2023 release is 42151 Bugatti Bolide, which recreates a high-end sports car at a reasonable price. The car features a striking black and yellow colour scheme and accurate mechanical features such as engine pistons and working steering. Since most cars of this ilk are rather expensive in LEGO form, this could be the perfect entry point for motor heads.