While the rest of us toil away at day jobs and try to squeeze in a bit of LEGO building in the evenings and weekends, Dan Siskind runs Brickmania full time, continuing to lead his company’s LEGO design team even while he brings on other great designers. Dan’s latest personal design project has been a full-size minifig-scale version of John F. Kennedy’s World War II torpedo boat, PT-109. Dan’s model includes over 4,000 pieces and measures 27 inches (over 68 cm) long, with a crew of thirteen custom-printed minifigures.
Welcome aboard Daniel Siskind‘s X-Craft Mini Sub for adventure under the high seas. The captain salutes from the forward top hatch, grabbing a breath of fresh air after months of stale air tinged with the sweet smell of submariner sweat. Waves crash over the bow as the submarine slices through the turbulent seas (a large trove of translucent white and blue studs). With the British Naval Ensign flying proudly astern, the silent hunter of the deep will slip back into the depths and continue to patrol the oceans.
Inside, the belly of the beast also features working hatches in the bulkheads, periscope and various crew stations.
Like most of Dan’s work, copies of this model are for sale through his company Brickmania, which recently produced our own Senior Contributor Ralph’s Antarctic LC-130 aircraft. The X-Craft Submarine will set you back $445, and new kits often sell out quickly.
Did you see the LEGO LC-130 Hercules we sent to Antartica at the end of last year? Did you want your own rocket-powered ski-plane? Over the last couple of months, TBB’s own Ralph Savelsberg worked with Dan Siskind and his team at Brickmania to turn Ralph’s model of this iconic aircraft into a custom LEGO kit you can buy.
Ralph is awesome, Brickmania is awesome, science is awesome, airplanes are awesome — we couldn’t be happier that one of our team’s designs is being turned into a Brickmania kit!
If you’d prefer to support smaller LEGO-focused businesses rather than just gorging on massive LEGO discounts on Amazon.com, there are plenty of other ways you can begin your holiday LEGO shopping.
Our friends at Brickmania have been hard at work designing and releasing a bunch of really cool custom kits, including Dan Siskind’s excellent new Mark V tank from World War I (micro-review: I’ve built it and I love it!). All World War I kits are on sale throughout the month of November, and shipping is free now through the end of Monday the 28th.
The mischievous elves at Citizen Brick have just released a number of cool minifig sets, which all make it quite easy to reach the $75 threshold and score this cool tin of Xmas swag.
Daniel Siskind, creator of many advanced military scale models, has revealed his latest Mi-24 helicopter. Just look at this beauty!
There are so many awesome features of this helicopter, but the best of all is its perfectly balanced design. No matter which part you’re examining, every single piece, slope, or tile was meticulously chosen and placed. Canopies of rather peculiar shape work perfectly for the Mi-24’s cockpits, while a smooth row of tan and dark-green slopes along the body of the helicopter is aesthetically pleasing. Of course, the presentation wouldn’t be complete without a close-up shot of the rocket launchers — a perfect use of the most common of LEGO parts.
And yes, this particular LEGO model — unlike nearly everything else we feature here on The Brothers Brick — is available for sale, from Brickmania (at least until it sells out).
It’s been a couple of years since I’ve reviewed the custom LEGO kits designed by Dan Siskind of Brickmania. Back in 2013, I reviewed the Dodge WC54 Ambulance, and writing those reviews really got me started in building World War II models seriously. In the meantime, Dan and his team have continued to release new custom kits, on a near-weekly cadence. One of Dan’s recent Brickmania releases is the M3A1 Scout Car, produced by the White Motor Company between 1940 and 1944. The vehicle served throughout WW2, and its basic design served as the basis of the iconic M3 Half-track.
Like some of the custom kits I reviewed back in 2013, the M3A1 Scout Car is a WW2 vehicle I also built back in 2014, so I’ll be comparing Dan’s version with my own.
Dan and his team in Minneapolis have posted daily deals all week this week, leading up to the massively discounted Fokker Dr.1 — The iconic Red Baron’s tri-plane from from World War I. It’s discounted from $195 to $95 starting at midnight tonight.
Brickmania has been releasing a new custom kit at the rate of about one a week for months now, and I’ve been eyeing this gorgeous M3A1 Scout Car for the last few weeks.
Last May, Dan Siskind of Brickmania launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund the production of a new kind of track elements designed to work with LEGO. Early this year, my backer reward package arrived, and I’ve been building (and rebuilding) furiously ever since.
My new M4A1 Sherman with a dozer attachment is typical of the engineering vehicles used during the invasion of Normandy, with deep wading snorkels that enabled the tank to be dropped off farther from shore and drive mostly underwater on the sea floor. (I think Dan’s design for his early-production M4 Sherman turret can’t be improved, so I replicated his turret design while adding my own gun barrel for consistency with the rest of my tanks.) Both the M4A3 on the left and the dozer tank use two-wide Track Links, while the M4A3E2 Sherman “Jumbo” on the right uses official three-wide LEGO tracks.
In order to switch the M4A3 with the short 75mm gun barrel from its existing three-wide LEGO track to Track Links, I had to rebuild the suspension. As a result, I don’t think this version — possibly my last — shares more than a few bricks with my original attempt at a Sherman that I first posted nearly four years ago.
LEGO currently produces three types of elements that builders use as tank treads, and all of them are hard to get in any significant quantity (and thus fairly expensive). For those of us who build historical or real-world LEGO models, each of these also has unique problems:
- One-wide Technic chain link: The open chain links don’t look a whole lot like actual tank treads.
- Three-wide Technic tread: The best official LEGO option for many tanks, but three studs wide is one stud too many for most American tanks of World War II.
- Five-wide tread with Technic pin holes: Far too huge for anything most minifig-scale applications.
The most significant gap in available parts is the lack of any official two-wide track. Using two parallel sets of Technic chain link (as I did on my M7 Priest) is cost-prohibitive at best, and doesn’t look all that great. From a historical standpoint, German and Russian tank designers realized that relatively narrow track would just sink in mud, miring and thus disabling the tank. As WWII veteran Belton Cooper described in Death Traps, American tank designers didn’t get that memo. To build historically accurate American tanks, LEGO military modelers need something other than the official LEGO options.
The two-wide Track Links tracks work beautifully on American medium tanks like the M3 Lee/Grant, M4 Sherman, and all the tracked vehicles based on their chassis (such as the M7 Priest and most WWII tank destroyers). Dan himself has been replacing the existing track on many of his vehicles with Track Links, including this beautifully camouflage-patterned M3 Grant and M10 tank destroyer.
Just like regular LEGO track, Track Links clip together with small pins on each side, and they work well with a variety of LEGO gears. Both the single-wide and double-wide Track Links wrap around the gears better than LEGO tracks or chain links, and they roll just as well. Here’s my M3A1 Stuart light tank sporting the single-wide Track Links.
On a related note, you’ll notice that many military builders have begun using the new BrickArms M2HB .50 caliber machine gun. I still like my own brick-built .50 cal, but it’s also nice to have an absolutely accurate option that’s consistent with the BrickArms .30 caliber M1919 Browning machine gun.
In addition to Track Links and a .50 cal, my M8 Scott 105mm Howitzer Motor Carriage (with a gun that elevates/depresses and an ammunition trailer) includes several other custom elements:
- Brickmania armored division minifig
- BrickArms shells
- Citizen Brick diamond plate tiles
Will Chapman gave away several prototype M2HBs at BrickCon, and now the production version is available from resellers like Brickmania and G.I. Brick. One difference between the initial prototype and the final production version is that the ammunition canister is a bit looser. It won’t fall out, but it does have a tendency to flop around a bit. Based on the high quality we’ve come to expect from BrickArms over the years, I’m confident that a bit of retooling will address this minor issue soon.
Brickmania Track Links are available in three colors — black, steel, and reddish brown (great for mud/rust) — on Brickmania.com, along with the new BrickArms M2HB.
I’ll also be posting reviews of several Brickmania kits that include Track Links over the next week or two, so check back here for more.
These fine examples, an M4 Sherman and two different versions of the Stuart light tank, were built by LegoUli. These already were some of the best examples of minifig-scale US WW2 tanks out there and built in old dark grey to boot. This is a difficult colour to use, because all kinds of handy parts builders have become used to, such as cheese slopes, were never made in this particular shade. It is probably the closest match to the colour of the real vehicles, though. The old track shoes were a bit narrow, but thanks to the new track links, this has now been rectified.
With only seven updates to supporters and a lack of constant coverage from certain quarters (I’m looking at you, TBB — oh wait, that’s us), the Brickmania Track Links Kickstarter project has hit its funding goals, enabling Dan Siskind to add stretch goals for the remaining funding period between now and June 8th, this coming Saturday.
Available add-ons include these custom-printed minifigs:
…while the stretch goals include alternate colors (below), T-shirts for everyone, and more:
I’ve already supported this project on behalf of TBB, and I’m looking forward to trying out the custom tracks on all my recent armor and sharing the results when the finished product arrives later this summer.
But if you’re hearing about this for the first time, you still have a few more days to get your pledges in.
There wasn’t anything I wanted to compare and contrast, nor do I want to reveal any secrets by posting a breakdown photo, so I’m using Dan Siskind’s own photos, which are excellent and accurate.
The M113 armored personnel carrier has been in service for more than 50 years, serving through the Vietnam War and Gulf War before being phased out in frontline US service by the Bradley. Alongside the Huey, the M113 is one of the more iconic vehicles of the Vietnam era.
To be honest, I’m more than a little conflicted about the rise of Vietnam-era LEGO models in recent years. I’m probably better-informed about the Vietnam War than I am even about World War II — I’ve read Stanley Karnow’s Vietnam: A History, Neil Sheehan’s A Bright Shining Lie, Philip Caputo’s A Rumor of War, and more. Sure, I’ve watched all the usual movies about the war and its aftermath, but it’s been documentaries like National Geographic’s Inside the Vietnam War that have brought home the true horror and complexity of a war that still feels unresolved.
Nevertheless, Dan Siskind was kind enough to send along a copy of his M113 ACAV together with the World War II kits I reviewed previously, suggesting that it might be interesting to review something more modern. I agree, and I can certainly appreciate an excellent LEGO model even if — maybe especially if — the subject matter isn’t one I’d normally choose to recreate in LEGO myself.
Like all of the Brickmania kits I’ve reviewed so far, the M113 is full of functionality. All the hatches open, and the rear door even has a smaller hatch built into it that opens separately. Inside, there’s room enough to seat 10 minifigs.
Brickmania sells two versions of the M113 — a basic M113 APC and a “limited edition” ACAV (armored cavalry) version that I’m reviewing today. To my taste, the basic APC kit reminds me a bit of a plain square box — which, to be fair, accurately reflects the source material. So I was glad Dan sent the ACAV version. (By the way, the “plain” M113 APC is discounted on Brickmania.com as of May 14 by $15, down to $130.)
In addition to the base APC, the ACAV version of Dan’s kit has additional features and accessories, including a pair of BrickArms M60 machine guns, Browning M2 .50-caliber machine gun, lots of brick-built armor for the guns, and four unique minifigs. The ACAV version costs $255.00, or $110 more than the non-sale price of the “plain” version. As a point of comparison, custom minifigs alone usually cost about $20 each, and the more-expensive kit includes four of them.
The minifigs are notable for a couple of reasons. First, they’re all wearing custom flak jackets created by MMCB Capes, and two of the figs sport BrickArms M1 pot helmets custom-printed in camouflage by Citizen Brick. Second, one of the minifigs is African-American.
The actual kit doesn’t come with these two BrickArms guns, but this photo of the prototype Brickmania M113 is good for illustration purposes.
Thanks to racist recruiting practices, even by the time segregation of the United States military ended shortly after World War II, African-Americans were severely under-represented in the armed forces. But by the Vietnam War, African-Americans — who made up 11% of the US population at the time — constituted nearly 13% of those who served during the war (racism having taken a different turn in the intervening 20 years). It often baffles me that LEGO military builders fail to reflect the true diversity of American service personnel, so Dan’s choice to include an African-American soldier in his M113 kit is notable for its inclusivity.
Setting aside geopolitics and socioeconomics and getting back to the build, though, Dan’s design includes some subtle or surprising techniques for such a boxy shape at the end. Like the M2A4 Light Tank I reviewed a couple weeks ago, the suspension incorporates half-stud-offset techniques to get the road wheels’ spacing right. There are even a couple of brick-stressing combinations that you wouldn’t see in an official LEGO set. For example, a section built from angled plates on the APC’s front pressed the first row of sloped bricks up until I built the final row of slopes on top. But in the end, the model is very sturdy and playable.
One very minor complaint is that I had to pull a couple of random bricks from my own collection in order to elevate the driver minifig up through the front hatch. (You can see the driver’s station on the floor of the APC in the photo on the right, behind the levers.)
If you had no LEGO bricks at all yourself before getting this custom kit, you might be frustrated by the inability to make the driver appear as he does on the box, but for anybody with a spare 2×3 brick, this is no big deal. Still, I thought it was a little odd that the separate packet of ACAV extras didn’t include a brick or two to build a seat for the driver (who isn’t included in the “plain” APC version).
Overall, this was another Brickmania kit that provides an excellent balance of scale, detail, functionality, and sturdiness. Even though the source material isn’t from a historical era in which I’ll be doing much building myself anytime soon, I can heartily recommend the custom kit itself. And besides, every minifig militia needs an APC or two in its motor pool for the next inevitable zombie apocalypse.