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

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.

Me Grimlock not stupid

Considering all the rubbish TV shows I used to love as a child, I was undoubtedly very good at suspending my disbelief. However, even as a child I knew Dinobots make no sense whatsoever.

Grimlock: Dino and robot mode

I can understand that, for a robot of alien origin on Earth, the ability to turn yourself into a car and blend into a crowd might make some sort of sense. However, disguising yourself as a 15 ft. tall metallic dinosaur does not strike me as a particularly sensible way to become inconspicuous. I am also sure that their personalities irked me.

Sludge: Dino and Robot mode

Still, that does not mean Dinobots cannot be exceedingly cool as LEGO models, as shown by the tiny but fully transformable versions of Grimlock and Sludge built by Chief Supreme. I like the use of minifig headgear for the robots’ heads in particular. Dinobots may be stupid, but these are definitely clever.

If a Porsche is just a bit too ordinary

If you are millionaire and think a Porsche is just a bit too ordinary for you, perhaps the Ruf CTR3 is just the thing you are looking for. Ruf is a German car manufacturer that specialises in building supercars using mostly Porsche parts. Supercar builder/super car builder Firas Abu-Jaber used to be featured on this blog on a regular basis, until real life took over for a bit. However, he has recently resurfaced and, judging from his spectacular version of Ruf’s current model, is back to his old form.

RUF CTR3 CLUBSPORT

One of the outstanding features of Firas’ models is how every LEGO element seems to fit in place as though it was designed with just that use in mind. On this one, I particularly like the angled door and flared side panel just behind it, to give the car a bit of a coke-bottle shape. It looks completely natural and comparable to a die-cast model.

Wacky birds

For about four years I have been living next to a canal inhabited by crested grebes, gulls, coots and ducks and visited regularly by swans, herons and cormorants. The coots, in particular, are immensely funny. They are reluctant flyers that tend to run across the surface of the water, whilst flapping their seemingly too small wings, instead of actually taking to the air. They are also fiercely territorial and are constantly chasing ducks and other coots away. Their shenanigans put a smile to my face every time.

Pelican

It will come as no surprise then that I also had to smile at the wonderful pelican built by vir-a-cocha. It was built using only twenty pieces, which goes to show that you don’t need an awful lot of parts to build something that has character, as long as two of them are tiles with eyes printed on them.

Penguin Time!

The penguins from Madagascar, built by Peter Dornbach (dornbi), also make good use of said tiles and, inevitably, also made me smile. You can support these on Lego Ideas. Penguins may all seem indistinguishable, but one of the neat things about this wacky foursome is how Peter managed to make each unique and recognisable.

UCS Red Five X-Wing improved

Released in 2013, LEGO’s Ultimate Collector Series (UCS) Red Five X-Wing was much better than the original from about fifteen years ago. It is a fantastic set, but a set nonetheless, with all the limitations in terms of construction and parts usage that this entails. The engine nacelles are too small, the fuselage sides aren’t angled properly and while the nose on the model gets narrower towards the front, it should also be tapered when seen from the sides.

XWing 3

As a fan, James Cherry (crash_cramer) does not suffer from the same constrains as the set designers. His UCS X-Wing took him two years of intermittent tinkering, but the result is a massive improvement. “— Red Five standing by.”

He is out there... Blue Thunder

Our resident Lemur recently got asked how contributors to this blog are selected. Of course, much of the process is top-secret, but I’m pretty sure a contributor should add something new and distinctive to the team, even if that something new and distinctive is a cute bushy tail and a willingness to take care of the paperwork. However, most of us share that we got into this because we like building our own models. Fan-built models are the bread and butter of this blog and knowing a thing or two about building definitely helps.

In the last two years, I have been working on a large collection of movie and TV vehicles. I have close to fifty of them now, but there are still plenty of cool and interesting examples left that I haven’t built yet. I already had a jet, but I did not yet have a helicopter, for instance. With Blue Thunder, that has now been rectified.

Blue Thunder

Blue Thunder was a fictional high-tech police helicopter that starred in the eponymous 1983 movie. Its pilot was played by Roy Scheider, who is probably better known for his role as the police-chief in Jaws. The movie lead to a short-lived TV series, which I used to watch religiously as a child. Although the plots of the episodes and the dialogue were undoubtedly cheesy, the helicopter was one of the coolest things ever. It didn’t talk or have a red light scanner bar, but it had a tail-mounted fan instead of a conventional tail rotor and a Gatling gun that was slaved to the pilot’s helmet. Two flyable helicopters were used in the filming: Aerospatiale Gazelles, painted in a largely dark blue colour scheme and modified with a nose-mounted pod housing sensors and the Gatling gun, an ‘armoured’ cockpit canopy consisting of flat panels and a few other gadgets.

Blue Thunder

The cockpit canopy was the trickiest bit of the build. Building a rectangular structure is fairly easy. Building something that is rounded is also doable, by stepping plates or by using combinations of slopes. Building a faceted structure, however, is just plain awkward and getting it more-or-less right took a lot of trail-and-error.

Cruising in style with the Auburn Speedster

By his own admission, in terms of LEGO builds Vibor Cavor didn’t have a very productive 2014, building just one model. As far as I am concerned, however, quality trumps quantity and his new year is off to a good start. His latest model, the 1935 Auburn Boattail Speedster from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, has quality in spades.

Auburn views

The Boattail Speedster is a prime example of thirties American luxury cars, with sleek Art Deco styling and high performance to match. I is also rare, with only a few hundred built before Auburn went bust in the Great Depression. Arguably, the original car looks even sleeker and more curvaceous than the model does, but to me it is not at all obvious how one could actually achieve that. With its beautifully sculpted mudguards, angled panels and working steering, this is one stylish build.