Workhorses fit for a minifigure army

LEGO Minifigures are oddly-proportioned little fellows. Because I am fussy about the scale of my models I rarely use them with my builds. However, thanks to a number of collaborative builds I’ve been involved with, which all involved minifigures, I’ve grown to appreciate them a bit more. Recently I have been steadily building a collection of minifig-scaled military models. These are the latest two: a US Army M936 wrecker truck towing an M1025 “HumVee” armament carrier. There are countless quotes about how logistics are at least as important to fighting a war as tactics. Equipment used in combat may capture people’s imaginations, but modern armies include vast numbers of support vehicles that are true workhorses. To me those are at least as interesting as tanks or artillery.

What constitutes minifig scale can be difficult and LEGO themselves have muddied the waters. When I was growing up, LEGO cars were just four studs wide. About ten years ago, most LEGO city cars were five studs wide and trucks seven studs wide, including their mudguards. With the recent Speed Champions sets the width of a supposedly minifig scaled car has been bumped up to nine studs, again including the mudguards. The cars look cool and seat two figures side-by-side. However, if you pose a figure next to the vehicle, it’s clear we’ve moved firmly into silly territory. I based my scale on the figure’s height. The wrecker truck ended up being seven studs wide. The HumVee is only six studs wide, which is much smaller than most minifig scale HumVees that are out there. Despite this small scale, both vehicles still have enough space inside for a driver.

6 comments on “Workhorses fit for a minifigure army

  1. Purple Dave

    Common terminology, at least in my experience, has been to classify vehicle size by width excluding stuff like fenders and sideview mirrors. So, vintage LEGO sets would be 4-wide, but so would the same vehicles built with modern fenders. Modern City vehicles and Speed Champions through last year would be 6-wide (my preferred scale), and the new Speed Champions would be 8-wide. 6-wide is the bare minimum required to seat two minifigs side-by-side without staggering them or using the old 5-wide two-seater bucket. Humvees are extremely wide vehicles, so they tend to be built wider than civilian vehicles by 1-2 studs. But if you don’t have any non-military vehicles to scale it against, 6-wide might compare better with minifigs. Certainly it made that windshield more feasible than if you’d picked 7-wide. 8-wide wouldn’t be as tricky, since you could just add one plate each to the A-pillars, the two panes of glass, and the center divider.

    I’m assuming the wrecker is of a similar type to the ones I see towing semi trucks that have broken down, which basically look like someone took a regular semi and swapped out the fifth wheel for a tow arm and some additional body panels.

    Oh, and the record for official LEGO vehicles probably goes to the 2008 Tumbler. Paired up with a 6-wide ice cream truck, that sucker clocks in at 18-studs wide. Or, if you include the flick missiles mounted to the sides, 20-wide. It seats a whopping _two_ minifigs, and is perfect for couples that are on the verge of divorce (when driving down any official roadplates, each person gets to ride in their own private lane.

  2. Mad physicist

    @Purpledave it might be common to exclude the width added by the fenders, but on a four-wide car they add a whopping 25% to the overall width and that’s pretty significant in my book. My civilian cars tend to be five studs wide overall, but I generally don’t use the stickout mudguards on anything other than pickup trucks or SUVs. In case, the wrecker should be wider than the HumVee and it is.

  3. Purple Dave

    I assumed the two vehicles were in scale with each other, but I’m surprised to hear that you actually make non-military vehicles. I don’t think I’ve ever seen you post them here.

    Regardless, I have made quite a few civilian vehicles, and I _always_ use modern fenders. Partly this is because I just don’t like the look of faceted wheelwells. In most cases, though, they’re actually the third widest part of the design after the sideview mirrors and wheels, which leads to the other reason why I use them. Most use the same rims as your Humvee, but with the smaller tires, because that’s the only decent option that was available when I started building them. I generally mount my rims with 4x 4488, where it looks like you used 2x 6157/11002 for the Humvee, which keeps the wheels from sticking out as much. Without the fenders, my wheels sticking out that much look simply ridiculous, so the fenders are useful in clean up the lines from multiple viewpoints.

    I started out making them 6-wide just because I wanted to be able to fit a named Batman villain and two goons in a vehicle without always putting them on motorcycles, but I’m also displaying them on some of the most vertical City layouts I’ve ever seen. With at least nine buildings ranging from 6’6″ to 11’6″ in our club, the enclosed roller skates favored by early LEGO designers just don’t cut it. So, that’s where I started, and anything else has generally scaled up from there. I don’t deny that 6-wide sedans push the limit of what looks in scale with a minifig, and they’d probably look better with minifigs built like Woody/Jessie/Zurg from Toy Story 3. So, if I ever decide to build a Humvee/Hummer H1, it’ll have to be 8-wide just to not look runty next to a VW Beetle. And if I make Krusty’s Canyonero, that’d probably have to be 9-wide.

  4. Purple Dave

    Our LUG kind of went through one of these moments ~15 years ago, right around the time I started building cars. Spencer Rezkalla is a member, and he’d built a bunch of 6-wide cars that I really liked. The problem is, he didn’t do a lot of shows, and when he did he’d cluster his cars around his section of the layout. The rest of it would be filled with old-school 4-wide cars. When I made my first car (a Plymouth Prowler that I don’t even display anymore), it kinda stood out because it was bigger than anything else:

    The Dodge Tomahawk just made it worse because it was longer than most cars on the layout:

    And then I made my first true 6-wide, and I think that’s about when the debate popped up:

    Some felt that cars should stay 4-wide to keep them in scale with 6-wide trains, others favored 8-wide trains anyways and liked the idea of 6-wide cars kind of nudging the club to scale things up. In the end, scale basically got tossed out the window. I kept building 6-wide cars, and for many shows would be the only person supplying them, which meant I basically got the only vote on the matter. However, we don’t do elaborate train yards and use standard curves, so 6-wide trains are basically the only thing we can run at probably at least 15 shows each year. Most of our members joined after that point, and only a few really strive for hyper-realism, while a lot of us are willing to get a bit goofy with our builds if it gets a laugh (I made a 6-wide Smart Car and hung the #3177 Small Car set off the rear bumper like a bike). We still have some jaw-dropping models on most of our layouts, but there’s also a ton of hidden gags that entertain the public. I’ve had one person complain that there’s too many specialized parts these days, and another who seemed to have some weird hangup with the idea of showing off toys to kids and then telling them they couldn’t play with them, but nobody has ever raised a fuss over the fact that my Routemaster is 33% wider than the trains and would smash into all the traffic lights when it drives under them.

    Our layouts incorporate a lot of minifigs, having really evolved up from what could have once passed for stock sets, and a few of us even tend to hyper-focus on the minifigs (a few years back there’s even a quote on this site about my ability to hide a skyscraper behind a Batman minifig…which is absolutely, 100% true). I can look at a picture like the one you just linked to, recognize how much work has to be involved, and appreciate it for what it is, but everyone has a different building style, and the important thing is to build what makes you happy.

    So, from a point where someone actually raised the question about whether we should specify an official club-wide scale, we’ve basically adopted a “minifig scale…ish” philosophy. We still have 4-wide cars on the same layout as 6-wides, tall buildings involve a lot of selective compression, and as long as you can be okay with the fact that minifigs aren’t even in scale with themselves, it really opens up some interesting possibilities.

  5. Mad physicist

    Thanks for your thoughtful reply. Some compromise between the scale and the level of detail is inevitable and it’s no surprise that the scale of some of the most detailed ‘minifig scale’ cars, such as those by Spencer, tends towards the larger end of the spectrum. What works depends on what it is you’re trying to achieve. Collaborations always require a compromise, unless you find somebody who is willing to do all the cars. This is what we did for a collaboration in Brickish, about ten years ago. It was featured on TBB before I became a contributor and most of the vehicles I linked to earlier were built for that project (the train being the sole exception)
    Because I was the most fussy about such things, I built almost all of the cars (30-odd). I guess I do want to have the cake and eat it :-)

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