So far the best part of my project to build the 6080 King’s Castle has been getting to dig into my old LEGO stash. Since I’m still waiting for my BrickLink delivery, this is mostly what I’ve been doing. Completely unrelated to LEGO Castle – since the first castle was released in 1978 – but perfectly related to my LEGO rediscovery journey, I stumbled onto some of my father’s old bricks from the 1960s. Only the second full decade for LEGO, and the first decade in my native Finland, the 1960s were an interesting LEGO period where many things were familiar, but also a lot was different and still only taking shape.
There are three major 1960s LEGO differences that I’d like to point out. I’m sure most AFOLs are familiar with these. First is the lack of minifigures and a completely different scale of building. It is evident in these 1960s LEGO windows and doors:
While LEGO did use a variant of that square window still in the 1980s, look at those doors. They are only three bricks tall (most of the windows in the photo are two tall) and do not open. I also have some large three tall windows that could be used as display windows, but they have been quite bent over the years and would require some refurbishing before use. This points out the second major change: physical differences. In the 1960s LEGO still used a softer plastic for some of its pieces. The window design is also quite open from the bottom, so it lacks the solid frame modern LEGO windows have – hence most of my 1960s windows and doors are a little bent.
Later, and indeed in the 1980s, similar LEGO windows used a slightly sturdier structure and the hard acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) plastic that became a signature LEGO feature during the 1960s. That is not the only physical difference between new and old, though. Over the 1960s LEGO was still evolving the locking mechanism and basic structure of the bricks. For example, the long, single-wide bricks were mostly hollow and only locked by their sides. Thus, they seem quite flimsy and loose by modern LEGO standards. On the upside, they featured localized prints. I don’t remember ever seeing Finnish LEGO texts since, not even on stickers – and these were not stickers:
Also, earlier LEGO plates used a square locking pattern on the bottom, which is very loose too, or at least has become very loose over time. Apparently this changed over the course of the decade, as I have 1960s LEGO plates with both the old and new locking patterns. The new pattern makes for a much tighter fit. Note though, that the rounded corners in the plates (even in the ones with the new pattern) do not have the now-usual dents, so they can not be placed over larger plates as modern LEGO plates with rounded corners can.
Due to these differences, I believe, many of my early 1960s bricks have suffered more than newer LEGO bricks have. Not only because of their age, but because of the differences in molding and plastic. Clearly newer LEGO can take more of a beating and that is one of the reasons why LEGO has such great replay value – for generations to come. It lasts. This is why I’m a little worried to see TLG (the LEGO Group) use soft plastics again in some of their current speciality pieces, like certain LEGO Ninjago and Kingdoms weapons and minifig masks. The next generation opening a box of such soft pieces in a decade or two will suffer the consequences. TLG, tread carefully on this one, please. (Note: You can click the images for larger versions.)
The third major difference, comparing modern LEGO and the 1960s, were the LEGO cars:
The blue truck shows no model number other than a LEGO logo, but the grey car (ironically the grey is even bluer than bley), reads “Pat. LEGO pend VW 1500” (patent pending, LEGO, Volkswagen 1500) in the bottom. Worldbricks is a little sporadic on 1960s LEGO catalogs, but I managed to find a mention of a 267 Volkswagen 1500 in garage (Google that phrase and many more links and images pop up) from the 1965 LEGO catalog. I guess there is or was a transparent garage brick for it somewhere, but I couldn’t find it. The 1:87 car is really small, smaller than your average Matchbox car. The rolling wheels in the cars are metal and the bodies look plastic. Doors do not open.
The truck is apparently in 1:90 scale, yet still larger than the sedan. The 1961 LEGO catalog suggests this may be model 253. The trailer is probably not from this truck, but a separate 254 model (minus its front wheels). The actual cargo bed of the truck is missing. Under the grey car is a weird 1960s LEGO garage baseplate, perhaps part of the 236 Garage or more generic 235 Garage base with automatic door. It is strange seeing such small LEGO model numbers now, but of course these were still the early days for LEGO. Below, the 1960s cars next to my son’s 4441 Police Dog Van (2012):
As a child I remember comparing these small cars to the LEGO minifig cars of the late 1970s and early 1980s and finding the small ones quite silly. Now, as an adult, I do appreciate them a bit more. There is the nostalgy factor of course, but also the idea that you could build your LEGO cities in a more realistic scale, where the cars were small like in real life and not almost single-story high like the modern minifig cars are. Of course the downside was the lack of car building and minifigure play, which are not insignificant omissions – still, I think the LEGO Architecture series might benefit from cars of this kind.
These are, of course, not the only differences between 1960s and more modern LEGO. For example, I found some interesting looking, two colored LEGO bricks from my father’s collection. First I thought they were holed for wiring light bricks through them, but again the catalogs set me straight. These are axle bricks for 1960s LEGO wheels:
Funny thing is, looking at the 1960s catalog pictures and my inherited – mostly red and white – 1960s bricks, I realized I had never actually seen these old models built. Sure, I used the bricks in my own designs, but I had never seen any original LEGO models from that era. What a treasure trove the Internet is. Worldbricks seems to even host some 1960s LEGO instructions. Perhaps as a future project I will try to recreate a vintage 1960s LEGO model. But enough of ancient history for now, back to the LEGO Castle!