About Ralph

Ralph Savelsberg, also known as Mad physicist, is an actual physicist, but he's not all that mad. He has been building with LEGO ever since he could first put two bricks together. He primarily builds scale models of cars and aircraft. You can find most of Ralph's stuff on his flickr pages.

Posts by Ralph

Six-stud wide trucks from the sixties

It isn’t all that long ago that we blogged the muppets by Andreas Weissenburg (grubaluk), but his talent is not limited to building wacky characters. When I was a child, my cousin, who is at least ten years older than I am, had a fantastic series of LEGO trucks from the late sixties. They were six studs wide and had steering mechanism which worked by pivoting the whole front axle, by turning a brick mounted on the roof. This was a fun feature and the trucks had a more realistic size than the four-stud wide minifig scale ones that I had, so I remember being a bit envious.

6w steering vehicles

Like the updated classic sets by Are Heiseldal, Andreas’ six-wide trucks have a similar character as these older sets, but with new parts and clever details. Despite its somewhat primitive nature, I love how he has recreated the original steering mechanism. These look like a lot of fun.

Bricktrix will make you jump, jump

The history of aviation is littered with failed attempts at building an aircraft that can fly like a jet but take-off and land like a helicopter. One of the few successful exceptions is the British Harrier ‘jump jet’, recreated by Carl Greatrix (Bricktrix)

GR9 Harrier ii

Key to the jet’s ability to take-off vertically is that its thrust can be vectored by rotating the four engine exhaust nozzles vertically down. These are present on the model, of course, and it is finished in Carl’s typical style, with finely crafted lines, a few custom working lighting elements and expert sticker work to recreate the camouflage pattern. The only thing missing, really, is that it can’t actually fly.

Updating the classics

In recent years, LEGO set design has been going from strength to strength. However, as far as I am concerned, some of the sets I had as a child are really hard to beat. Build techniques have obviously moved on and new parts have been introduced, but particularly city sets from the late seventies and early eighties were design marvels. They may have been fairly simple and built using primary colours, but they also had lots of character.

We haven’t featured models by Are Heiseldal (L@go) very often, but in recent years he has been steadily building his own updated interpretations of some of these classic sets from his (and my) childhood, of which I am going to share a few favourites. LEGO set 675 “Snack bar” was released in 1979.

Snack Bar 1

I never actually owned the oddly-named set 6694 “Car with Camper”, but remember poring over the 1984 catalogue to work out how to build the caravan. Are’s updated version seems to offer somewhat more privacy to the occupants.

Modern 6694 13

Finally, the latest model that he has uploaded is a modern reinterpretation of set 6689 “Post Station”.

Post Office 1

These models may not be spectacular in terms of build techniques, but I love them. There is enough of the original in them to ensure that a single glance is enough to trigger nostalgia. Furthermore, like the originals, if you look closely you’ll see that they are chock full of clever features. If you too get a warm and fuzzy feeling about these, I suggest you check out Are’s flickr album with more of his updated classics.

Lego research institute, but in real life

Most of the scientists I know love LEGO and, as shown by LEGO’s own research institute set, scientist can actually be a suitable subject for a nice set. Steen Dupont, Benjamin Price and Vladimir Blagoderov are not paleontologists, astronomers or chemists (nor are they female), but they are scientists, who work for the Natural History Museum in London, and who actually use LEGO in their research. In their latest paper, titled The customizable LEGO┬« Pinned Insect Manipulator, they present an unusual and innovative solution to the problem of how to study insect specimens without damaging the delicate wings and other appendages.

Insect Manipulator

Among their advantages are that they are modular, cheap and easy to construct. The article contains one of the funniest sentences that I’ve ever read in a research paper: “The authors welcome correspondence on ideas for the next generation of IMps, and although the current models are easy to assemble the authors are happy to assist if no children can be sourced locally.

Via Science. Thanks to Tim Gould for bringing it to our attention.

What were they shmoking? Tires, most likely.

No, there is no spelling error; it’s the deliberate result of me, a Dutchman, trying to mimic Jeremy Clarkson impersonating a Dutch person speaking English. I know that this is perhaps confusing, but bear with me. It was prompted by the great Donkervoort built by Vinny Turbo.

Donkervoort S8A

Donkervoort is a small Dutch manufacturer of sport cars inspired by the classic Lotus Seven, and I’m pretty sure that if Top Gear were to review one, there would be lots of tire smoke and Clarkson would try to speak in a mock Dutch accent. The overall look of the model is somewhat reminiscent of the great Caterhams built by Carl Greatrix, but at a smaller scale.

Not all Japanese cars are boring

Friends of mine in the US used to own a Japanese minivan and it was reliable, comfortable and great for road trips, but about as exciting as wet noodles. When I think of Japanese cars in general, the first ones that spring to mind are tiny little boxes on wheels that seem more suitable for a shopping trolley and the second ones are competent but boring sedans. However, this impression isn’t fair at all, as shown by the Datsun Z240 by LegoMarat.

Datsun 240Z by Legomarat

Z-cars are exciting. The 240Z had the looks of a classic long-bonneted sports car, but without the dodgy electrics that plagued similar endeavours from England. The roof on the model looks a bit too flat to me and the wheel arches are a bit awkward, but the model has presence. This is helped by its dark blue colour and the nicely curved flanks.

It doesn’t just look good; it too has some very clever engineering inside. It drives, powered by two Power Functions motors and using a servo motor for the steering. These are controlled via a nifty third-party Bluetooth controller, called an SBrick, which is specifically designed to interface with Lego Power Functions. It allows the user to operate them via an app on their smart-phone or via the internet. Its development was funded via a kickstarter campaign that Nannan reported on in July last year. You could be forgiven for thinking that this too must be Japanese, but it was actually designed in Hungary.

Sexy Italian spider

We tend to focus on LEGO system on this blog, in part because most of us are not really into the aesthetics of Technic models. However, as the Alfa Romeo 4C Spider by Jeroen Ottens shows, sometimes a clever combination of curved Technic panels and soft axles can be a really effective way of capturing the shape of a voluptuous car body.

AR4C 008_

The Italian tricolore striping also adds to the model’s visual appeal.

To snare a wolf

A lot of people start their builds by fiddling around with a few pieces until they find an interesting-looking combination. This then becomes the starting point for a cool new mecha or spaceship. That’s not how I do things. For most of my models, I start by planning, followed by a lot of procrastination and getting side-tracked into building other (easier) things and then some more planning, lather, rinse, repeat. Once I start putting parts together things move quickly, but the planning process can take several weeks or, in the case of Airwolf, as long as two years.

Airwolf

In the eighties, starting with Knight Rider, there were several shows that featured some sort of hi-tech vehicle as a central plot device or even as a character. Both Blue Thunder and Airwolf featured helicopters, but Airwolf was definitely the better show. It had one of the best theme-tunes in the history of television and, though they now appear terribly dated, the plots were a bit darker and more interesting than in most of the other shows, often dealing with espionage and the Cold War. Furthermore, the helicopter itself was based on the super-sleek Bell 222 and was armed to the teeth, with retractable guns and a ventral missile launcher.
The reason why the process took so long is that I don’t start building until I have convinced myself that I can build the model to a suitably high standard, which in this case meant building that sleek shape and those cool retractable weapons. What finally sealed the deal was finishing Blue Thunder, the realisation that I could replicate the shape using various new curved parts and by hinging the cockpit windows, as well as a video I saw of the missile launcher retracting on an RC model.