Memory Lane: 1970 LEGO Catalogue, Switzerland

Continuing my look back through the archives, we have a piece of LEGO literature that is 45 years old. It is remarkable that this was given away in my street find a few months ago and is in very good nick.

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This is the Swiss version of the product range that was available at the time. So in dual language, which is surprising as Switzerland has three official languages – German, French and Italian.

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You can see how subtly the branding has changed over the years – not a lot, but enough to make it easily recognisable. Also note that there were just the five standard colours……yup, if you wanted a green or a purple, you were totally out of luck.

Now, with all the developments on LEGO Dimensions and what-not, this is really – for me – some proper LEGO. I have written about this before, but for me the essence of LEGO is the ability to create from standard parts without the complexity of specialised elements. And back in the day, that was exactly what builders had to do.

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Amazing, we can see the first introduction into Duplo – and having bought a job lot of Duplo for the Bairn the other day, I have just noticed that I have a couple of early vehicle bases within it! The construct of the brick has also not changed for over forty years – why mess with a winning formula?

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We also see the equivalent of the Basic/Creator sets as well with themes of buildings and vehicles pretty much on the agenda.

I do love the accessory packs that you could buy at the time. It is interesting that such packs are now replaced by pick-a-brick instead via LEGO.com. What I really like are the lighting elements that could be obtained at the time (Set 995) which I think really does add another dimension to the MOC. Sets 987 & 988 look rather cool as well – you never do get to see printed letter bricks anymore, so I can imagine that these would be very useful for some building MOCs.

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On to LEGOLAND……and the Grandparent of the City incarnation today. Yup, even then there was the chuffin’ Fire Station, but what I really like were that there were three houses available at the same time. I used to love building houses to fit within my Town scene, and this is something that is glaringly missing today within the City range, which is just criminal. Having looked at sets 600 and 621 within #ThrowbackThursday, the models were dead easy to create due to the simplistic nature, but somehow they are still detailed enough to give a proper playable feel about them. No minifigures yet……..another 8 years before LEGO let them loose.

Interesting to note that for the special models, set 325 has a diecast Shell Tanker – younger readers may or may not know that LEGO also used to produce diecast models of real cars as well. OK they didn’t have the Matchbox factor, but they were LEGO’s nod to the actual real world – so it is nice to see a mix of diecast and LEGO within the same set.

I love the set 343 Ferry – next year LEGO will finally introduce one into the range after 40 –odd years.

Having looked a little closely at the functional vehicles, this very much looks like LEGO’s response to the Matchbox SuperKings (diecast) offerings by Lesney at the start of the 1970s as well as Dinky. Again, for those not in the know, think of a Hot Wheels car except three times bigger and based on real cars you see today with opening doors and working features. Now Matchbox SuperKings have a real close place to me as they are what I grew up on as well as LEGO, so I can see how these were or could be seen as an alternative. Pricing was similar as well to the diecast as well for the size. Lots of working detail going on and functionality – add a few together for that super MOC.

Next we have the forefather of the power function. The battery LED motor. Now I had an equivalent within Basic set 744 which was tremendous fun and expensive for my parents at the time. But it was a very fragile piece and if the connector leads were not handled carefully they would easily snap off.

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Penultimately we have three flavours of trains – push along, battery and electric, which was pretty much constant right up to the late 1990s. The stand-alone wagons are the special models within the range as you could add and build a complete train line either passenger or freight. The accessories are wonderful – again I only wish that LEGO bothered to make them now. I would love to see a level crossing again as a set and those signals would give a bit of retro cool to your train layout.

Have a look at the ‘electronic’ model.  Even 45 years ago LEGO were innovating with a whistle device that moved the train back and forth by blowing on it. Super stuff and rather clever. But this was the most expensive LEGO set around. I would hazard a guess it would be around the £250 mark in today’s money. Even at CHF92.50 in 1970 and we looked at Swiss Franc for Franc this is almost as much as 60004 Fire Station today.  Mental.

Finally we have the start of the world of Technic with a gear set allowing you to mechanise your MOCs. Readers will know I have set 802 – which was also part of the street find. I have yet to get stuck in and experiment but you can get an idea of what they could be used for.

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Just by looking through these old pages, one can really get a feel of what it was like to create a City or scene, but with a limited number of bricks. Minifigures didn’t even come into play!

I also do think that LEGO can learn a thing or two from the past. Buildings were a core foundation within the LEGOLAND catalogue, and whilst today they are catered for within the Creator section, I still think that there is ample room for them to enter into the fold – something which LEGO for some reason refuses to do and gives us yet another Fire Station year in, year out.

Also the light bricks would be so cool to have. Yes, wires everywhere, but in this day and age elements with conductors could be created with an integrated battery box. They can do it for Technic and Creator sets today, so why not have this within an actual City set??

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I have looked at this catalogue in a bit more depth than usual, but it deserves the airtime as a trip back down Memory Lane and for those interested in historical products over the likes of Dimensions, Chima, Friends, etc of today, this is a fascinating time warp of how LEGO made the most out of a set colour base and a limited range of elements.

This is the oldest part of my LEGO archive and I am trying to look after it as much as possible! I feel very privileged to have this catalogue. I am a true believer in fate and adamant that it was shining down on me that morning when I found it.

As I get through the scanning, I will be looking at more recent times and, for me, the golden periods from 1978 through to the early 1990s of LEGO.

LEGO SYSTEM A/S

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