Paul Boratko's been a Lego maniac since he bought his first set in 1977. In the year's since he's perfected his craft and built insane models like the awesome Vampire GT Supercar, which has a working five-speed transmission and a dash switch that lets you select drivetrain configuration. We're a big fan of his work and asked him to give us a walk-through of how he does it. — Ed.
Everyone wants to design and build their own Dream Machine. With the highly advanced Lego Technic parts, you can easily do just that.
Like any designer, it is best to start by drawing up a rough sketch to get an idea of what you would like your supercar to look like, or if you are trying to recreate an actual automobile, you can always order a small die-cast model of the car to use as a reference to get your dimensions as close as possible to the real thing. Maisto and BBurrago make affordable die-cast cars in 1:18 scale that are perfect for using as a base for your future creation. After your sketch is complete, try and decide what all types of functions and features that you would like to incorporate into the model (RWD, FWD, Gearbox, Suspension, etc.).
If you are having trouble coming up with ideas, don't hesitate to use websites like Brickshelf of even Flickr to gain some inspiration. There are also great sites like TechnicBRICKs that are updated frequently with all types of Technic creations from all over the world including various supercars. I also have dozens of direct links to some amazing builder's websites at my own website.
Next is to figure out what scale that you are going to build at and this will be based on the different scale wheel sizes that Lego produces. I have most recently been using the 1:10 scale wheels as I feel that is a perfect size for car models, but of course this is just my opinion and in no way should influence your decision on how big or how small to go.
One of the most important things to do is have a large quantity of various parts that you will need. Leg o makes hundreds and hundreds of different Technic parts in a multitude of colors. Having a vast array of different parts will keep you from being limited if you run into a situation where you need a certain piece, but are forced to "make do" with what you have. If you ever find yourself in a similar situation, always try and order what you need and work on a different part of your vehicle while waiting for your pieces to arrive.
There are many great places to get parts from. The most cost effective way to obtain parts is by buying sets. Toys R' Us runs "Buy One Get 50% Off" specials quite frequently both in store and online and there are also websites like Bricklink that bring together tens of thousands of Lego buyers and sellers from all over the world.
Things to keep in mind while constructing your model:
1.) Don't rush your model
This is not a contest to see how fast that you can pump out a car. I usually spend six months on average developing a car. Sometimes I spend 2 weeks just getting a door or hood right. If you take your time, you'll end up with a much more appreciated end product.
2.) Always look for the best possible solution
As I said before, Lego makes hundreds and hundreds of Technic parts that can be used in billions of different combinations with each other. Don't settle for second best. More than likely there is a better solution to your problem even though you think that you have the right answer.
3.) Think of it like chess
When building in the "studless" format, you have to treat it like a game of chess and always plan 5 moves ahead of where you are. It is best to build a separate module to make sure everything works properly before incorporating it into your build. This will prevent the frustration of having to tear half of your model back apart because things didn't work out the way that you thought that they would.
4.) Try not to use more parts than needed
One of the most important factors with building any type of car is keeping the weight down, especially if you are incorporating suspension into them. So this takes us back to point #2 which is always look for the best possible solution.
5.) Be creative when using parts
At first glance, some Technic parts appear to be simple and only have one use. If you feel this way, then you are not expanding your creative mind. If you look at Technic parts from multiple angles, you will begin to see that they are not 2 dimensional and do in fact have multiple uses. Maybe you can even discover one that no one has thought of yet.
6.) Don't get too frustrated
I'll be the first to admit, that I have gotten so frustrated in the past that I almost wanted to give up on a project. You would be surprised what a day from building can do for you. It gives your brain a chance to reboot and start over. Hell, I have already been stuck on a project and had a dream about how to fix it. No kidding.
7.) Talk to others
If you are thinking about getting started in building, don't hesitate to join a forum or e-mail someone who built something that you really liked and ask for a few pointers. Most guys love to talk to people who admire their work.
8.) Transmission woes
Ok, I am going to be upfront about this, Lego gearboxes are more complex than an actual transmission in a real car. Lego currently only produces one type of clutch gear and in order to get a fully functional gearbox, it is far more complex than it needs to be. Many people will feel overwhelmed when they first look at what goes into building a transmission, but after you study one and realize what is actually happening, it's not as mystifying as it originally seemed.
9.) Steering issues
When designing your steering, it is best to keep everything straight and uniform so that you don't run into toe in and toe out issues. If your steering links are parallel with your Steering rack and control arms, you won't have these problems. Of course as you advance, you may find alternative solutions that may suit your model's steering better.
10.) Building in Modules
Modular building is a great way to build a chassis for a Technic car. By building various modules onto a naked chassis, you can interchange suspensions and transmissions.
11.) Studless Building vs Studded Building
The new style of Technic building is mostly comprise of parts that don't "snap" together with studded parts, but are built by using a system of "Studless" parts and liftarms that are pinned and joined together. I prefer this style of building for cars as I feel that it produces a lighter stronger chassis. Of course there is nothing wrong with incorporating both into your building style. You may find advantages and disadvantages with both styles.
12.) Lego Technic is based on math
Most Technic parts(especially Liftarms) are based on odd digits. 3, 5, 7, 9, 11, 13, 15. Now there are some parts including axles that are both odd and even, so it isn't as hard to find the right part for the right situation. One of the key factors is to keep this math number in mind, especially when you start running into "1/2 a Stud" difference where your 2 parts may not line up properly because they are off 1/2 of a stud width. The one thing that you don't want to do is bend or flex parts to solve your problem. In most cases, you will almost always find the proper math solution to solve your dilemma. There are many Technic parts that are used to solve these "off by 1/2 a stud" issues properly.
So by taking your time and having a solid game plan of ideas along with a wide selection of parts, just about anyone who can dream up their own Lego Technic Supercar can also build it into reality. Just like designing a real auto, it isn't easy, but it sure is a hell of a lot of fun.