The LEGO Group manufacturers more tires than any other company on the planet. Sets with a central hub and separate tire go back to almost the advent of the original injection moulded bricks in the years after World War II and that design can be found on sets today. However, there is another kind of wheel which has recently come back into vogue thanks to NEXO KNIGHTS — the moulded wheel.
Unlike their two-part cousins, moulded wheels consist of a single piece made completely out of plastic, no rubber involved. This fact lies at the heart of their appeal — fewer pieces mean cheaper manufacturing costs for LEGO. Primarily the domain of science fiction, they have seen limited use beyond the Space and Underwater themes until their recent appearances in both NINJAGO and NEXO KNIGHTS, but when did they first appear?
Space sets made do with rubber wheels and hubcaps like their Town/CITY brethren until 1990 and the arrival of M-Tron. That theme included several rovers each with moulded wheels, the very first of their kind and a radical departure from the construction of Classic Space rovers. 6989 Mega Core Magnetizer (pictured) is an example of these first M-Tron sets. There was no gradual transition period, it was a complete change, as only the smallest of space cars would have anything other than moulded wheels for the entirety of the 1990s and early 2000s.
Along with the entire Space theme itself, moulded wheels became more scarce with the coming of Star Wars, popping up in science fiction themes such as Atlantis, Power Miners, and even making a jump to Castle for a time. Their absence in Star Wars is likely due to both a lack of applications — Star Wars has few rovers — and the fact that they don’t fit the aesthetic. The very first version of the Clone Turbo Tank used them, but all future versions utilised more realistic options. Only this year did they come out of retirement with a vengeance.