The LEGO Speed Champions theme has been rather quiet for most of 2019, following the release of fantastic sets like 75894 1967 Mini Cooper S Rally and 2018 MINI John Cooper Works Buggy in January, building on more vintage history in 2018 with sets like 75884 1968 Ford Mustang and 75889 Ferrari Ultimate Garage. In the intervening year, it’s now apparent that the LEGO Speed Champions design team has been hard at work redesigning the Speed Champions line from the ground up, shifting from models that are generally six studs wide to an eight-stud axle track, with cars from Jaguar, Lamborghini, Ferrari and Audi. The new 76896 Nissan GT-R NISMO is the very first Japanese car featured in the Speed Champions theme, and was revealed to much fanfare at an event in November.
The packaging & sticker sheet
The heft of nearly 300 parts becomes clear when you first pick up the box, at least compared to the smaller boxes for six-wide cars built from around 200 pieces. Opening the box reveals two numbered bags, a loose black chassis piece, and the instruction booklet and sticker sheet loose in the bag. The box is packed tightly enough that the booklet and stickers aren’t curled up or otherwise damaged.
Much of the effort in building a Speed Champions set seems like it’s applying stickers, some of which are necessary to show details like headlights and air intakes, but the bulk of this particular sticker sheet provides the designs for depicting the GT-R NISMO in its Nissan racing livery.
The first thing that we noticed when we opened the bags of parts was the new eight-wide windscreen (the Nissan sticker was applied later, during the build, although some of these new parts are also printed, as we’ll see in later reviews).
The wheels are attached via new six-wide bases with Technic axle holes rather than Technic pin holes. The interior of the rim accommodates the standard hub cap size.
This new wheel base inverts the axle/pin arrangement used with most previous Speed Champions vehicles, requiring a new wheel piece as well.
The new wheel bases attach to the new six-wide chassis piece that serves as the “core” of the new eight-wide style of Speed Champions models. The piece features outward-facing studs along the edges, and the 4×5 interior space includes rows of five studs that are offset from the six-wide chassis. In other words, the foundational design assumptions for the piece incorporate both studs-not-on-top and half-stud-offset building techniques.
After we were done admiring the new parts, we moved on to the build itself, which follows fairly standard Speed Champions patterns, with studs-out construction at the front and rear to accommodate detailed bumper designs. The major difference from previous (six-wide) Speed Champions models is that the new five-wide interior space allows the minifig to sit to one side of the car rather than smack in the middle. The extra interior space also allows for new interior details like hand brakes and consoles.
As the build continues, we felt there were some lost opportunities in the front and rear areas of the car, where stacked plates or even full 2×4 bricks filled the space between the wheels — space that could have accommodated the engine in the front for the GT-R with a trunk in the back. Yes, this might have increased the part count somewhat, but there are enough “filler” bricks in these spaces that clever engine details might not have actually raised the overall part count (and thus the price point).
While the front splitter is built studs-up, it’s noteworthy that the rear diffuser is built studs-down, sandwiching the four exhaust pipes built studs-out from the rear of the body. The angle of the tail lights is achieved by swinging rounded 1×2 plates up on either side.
The car comes together with several printed pieces. The complex curves of the hood are fully printed, and for some reason the two 1×6 white tiles attached to the windscreen are also printed rather than stickered. The larger size also allows use of hinge bricks to achieve angles on the front, as well as the angle of the rear window.
For years, Speed Champions sets have included polybags with two different hub cap designs. This set doesn’t include any new designs — just the standard five-spoke and ten-spoke versions, with a wrench/spanner accessory always included to push them out from the rims through the hole from behind.
The finished model
The 2020 Nissan GT-R NISMO was announced at the New York Auto Show in April, alongside a GT-R50 that celebrates the 50th anniversary of the GT-R. Growing up in Japan (personal history I made emphatically clear in my review of LEGO Architecture 21051 Tokyo skyline), my favorite Japanese sports car was the Nissan “Fairlady,” marketed overseas as the iconic Datsun 240Z. Nissan’s modern GT-R harkens back to a different racing tradition, with the equally iconic and successful Skyline GT-R. The Speed Champions version captures the 2020 model in full racing glory.
The shift to an eight-wide design yields racing cars that can be lower and wider, with a shape that matches their real-life inspirations more closely. As much as we’ve loved the Speed Champions line since its inception back in 2015, my biggest complaint has been that too many of the cars are proportionally too long and thin — like dachshund versions of real cars (something I feel has been especially egregious on American muscle cars like 75871 Ford Mustang GT). This fundamental design problem is finally solved by retaining the length and height (for the most part) while adding two studs to the width.
As we noted during the build, the extra width allows the driver to sit to one side of the car for the first time, and would even allow a passenger to sit on the other side (though they’d bump elbows just a bit). The forward view also showcases the additional detail that can be achieved with bumpers, intakes, and splitters — features that would have been compressed, omitted, or stickered on six-wide cars.
The LEGO GT-R looks fantastic from every angle, with a rear window that slopes down from the roof and a spoiler with beveled edges built from black ingot pieces.
LEGO stickers are always slightly smaller than the pieces on which they’re placed, resulting in gaps when the overall design is intended to be continuous. This is especially obvious on the side panels, where a single design begins on triangle pieces behind the front wheels and continues all the way to the curved bricks above the rear wheels.
The rear of the car has some of the best detail, from rakishly angled tail lights to a set of four tail pipes. The diffuser is built studs down while still maintaining black above and red below.
Conclusions & recommendation
We weren’t sure how we’d feel about the new eight-wide Speed Champions designs until we had the new sets in our hands, but 76896 Nissan GT-R NISMO has defied all expectations with a low, sleek design that matches the real-life car.
If you’ve ever stood next to a real-life supercar, though, you know just how low and small they actually are. Despite the huge improvement to the overall shape, the requirement to fit a minifig wearing a helmet into the car means that the new, larger cars dwarf their drivers even more. But I don’t see this as a problem — younger builders will play with the cars regardless, and for older collectors these are akin to the display-worthy diecast cars sitting in a row on the windowsill behind your boss’s desk at work.
As I write this, I’ve already built most of the new cars from the 2020 Speed Champions line, and I’m incredibly impressed with both the improvement to the shape and the extra detail the wider size affords. Another complaint I had about the earliest Speed Champions cars in particular was that most of them looked like variations of the same car. Evocative rather than accurate, it was hard to tell a Ferrari from a McLaren or a Porsche. Later six-wide cars like the 1968 Mini Cooper and 1962 Ferrari GTO couldn’t have been more different from each other, but it’s clear the design language needed to evolve to accommodate subtle differences in the shapes of modern supercars all designed in wind tunnels to shave seconds off the Nürburgring. The two extra studs in width provide that room to evolve.
The increased part count for the eight-wide design takes 200-part cars at $15 to 300-part cars at $20. This is still a great value, whether for play, as parts, or for display. I can’t wait to see where the LEGO Speed Champions design team takes us next, and highly recommend you hop along for the ride as well. I’m also excited that LEGO has landed the Nissan license — I may get that LEGO Fairlady Z after all…
The LEGO Group provided The Brothers Brick with an early copy of this set for review. Providing TBB with products for review guarantees neither coverage nor positive reviews.