Tag Archives: Brickmania

Brickmania releases custom Red Baron Fokker Dr. 1 set [News]

Brickmania has just released a new version of the iconic World War I tri-plane flown by Baron Manfred Von Richthofen, The Red Baron. The Fokker Dr. 1 kit includes special MG08 “Spandau” machine guns, hand-injected in the Brickarms studios, as well as a custom printed minifig of the baron himself.

Brickmania Track Links roll into production [Review]

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.

M4 Sherman medium tanks

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.

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.

M3A1 Stuart tank (1)

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.

M8 Scott howitzer motor carriage (1)

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.

New shoes for old tanks

Remember the Brickmania track links kickstarter project? It reached its funding goal and the first models that use these tracks are now appearing online.

B/V-88 "Athena" Trackmania

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.

Brickmania Track Links gets funded, adds stretch goals [News]

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:

Brickmania custom minifigs

…while the stretch goals include alternate colors (below), T-shirts for everyone, and more:

Brickmania Track Links alternate colors

Brickmania Track Links T-shirts

Brickmania instructions on thumb drive

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.

Brickmania M113 Armored Cavalry Assault Vehicle [Review]

Wrapping up our current batch of Brickmania custom LEGO kits, today I’ll be reviewing the M113 Armored Cavalry Assault Vehicle.


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.

M113 ACAV Soldier

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.

M113 APC / ACAVIt’s obvious that Dan designed the Brickmania M113 with playability in mind. The top of the APC pops off cleanly for straightforward access to the interior.

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.

Brickmania Track Links Kickstarter project brings realistic tracks to LEGO modeling

As I’ve noted in my recent reviews of Brickmania custom LEGO kits, making tracks look realistic can be challenging — LEGO’s own tracks are generally too wide, and using Technic chains is either too narrow or incredibly parts-intensive. Enter Brickmania’s new Kickstarter project — Brickmania Track Links: Custom Add-On for the LEGO System.

Brickmania Track Links: Custom Add-On for the LEGO System

Here’s the announcement video:

Like train wheels from Big Ben Bricks, this project fulfills a need that LEGO is unlikely to meet any time soon — why create more-realistic track molds when the current ones will do? I’ll be supporting this worthy project on behalf of The Brothers Brick.

Brickmania M2A4 Light Tank (USMC) [Review]

After reviewing the Brickmania M4 Sherman and WC54 Ambulance custom LEGO kits last week, I’m going in a bit of a different direction by reviewing something I haven’t managed to build myself — the M2A4 Light Tank in United States Marine Corps livery.

For comparison, here’s Dan Siskind’s M2A4 Light Tank next to the M4 Sherman I reviewed last week, with a Citizen Brick Marine for scale:

Brickmania M2A4 & M4 Sherman tanks

The M2 Light Tank was produced in limited numbers in the years leading up to World War II — only 375 left the assembly line — and they only saw combat on Guadalcanal, with the US Marines. Nevertheless, the tank was an important evolutionary step along the way to the subsequent M3 “Stuart” (photo below) and M5 light tanks. (The M2 Light Tank never entered British/Commonwealth service during WW2, and thus didn’t get a nickname like the Stuart, Lee, Sherman, Chaffee, and so on. It was only later that the US military formally adopted the British convention for naming US tanks after American generals.)

M3-Stuart-Fort-Knox-1For me, though, I love the M2/M3/M5 tanks because they’re so small. Modern main battle tanks like the M1 Abrams or Challenger 2 are like battleships on land, with low profiles that give them a distinctly sinister look. We drove past Fort Lewis on our way from Seattle to Portland recently, and I pointed out an M2/M3/M5 sitting on a plinth near the highway to my wife. “Oh, what a tiny tank! It’s adorable!” she exclaimed.

My sentiments exactly. Yes, the M2 and its immediate descendants were machines of death and destruction no less so than a Merkava or Leopard, but they are just a teensy bit more twee. (The adorably tiny light tank has also influenced popular culture, in games like Advance Wars and movies like Tank Girl.)

So, the M2 Light Tank would seem like a perfect fit with LEGO. I tried building an M3 Stuart a couple years ago, but I failed miserably (though I still have my tablescraps in a little plastic bag). Thankfully, Dan Siskind has managed to fit nearly every detail of the M2 into his custom LEGO kit, at a scale that fits neatly on my 1/35th schematics for the M2 Light Tank in World War II AFV Plans: American Armored Fighting Vehicles. (Still slightly too tall, but I give LEGO tanks a pass for that at this point.)

The Brickmania M2 Light Tank includes a rotating turret with a gun that can move up and down, proper bogies and road wheels, a BrickArms M1919 machine gun, nicely angled glacis armor plating at the front, and even rear engine doors that open and close.

The single-chain tracks work very well for a smaller tank like this, and enable Dan to keep the tank’s height manageable without losing too much detail. The suspension is interesting because Dan has built the first layer of the tank’s body using 1x plates rather than a larger plate, allowing him to attach 2×2 plates with Technic pin holes to the underside using their hollow studs. This creates a half-stud offset that gives the road wheels the correct spacing — definitely something I would never have thought to do.

The angled antenna gives the tank a jaunty look, and deserves a brief discussion on its own. Internally, Dan achieves the angled antenna by inserting a clip/claw into a 1×2 brick with a Technic pin (and then clipping on a telescope for the antenna to attach to). The clip inside the 1×2 brick’s Technic pin is, of course, an “illegal” connection. Apparently, there are actually two different molds for the 1×2 brick element — one with a fairly open Technic pin, and another with much thicker walls on the pin, preventing you from fitting anything inside the pin. Because BrickLink doesn’t distinguish between these two very different parts and Dan sources all the parts for his kits on the secondary market (like all adult builders and purveyors of custom kits), my kit happened to include a brick that wouldn’t accept the clip piece.

I contacted Dan about my problem, we identified the cause, and he promptly shipped out a “service pack” with the correct part. I bring up this minor issue in my review for two reasons. First, I just think it’s really interesting what kinds of challenges a custom kit maker has in assembling their kits in quantity. Second, I was impressed by Dan’s customer service. And it’s not just because he knew I was reviewing his kits for TBB — it’s something I experienced years back when I picked up a couple older kits to review (though my actual review was extremely brief), and when I’ve bought smaller items through his store over the years. Like Will Chapman of BrickArms, Dan is just a plain good guy, and it’s clear that that comes through in his interactions with fellow builders and with customers.

At 473 LEGO elements, this is a surprisingly substantial set for such a small tank — the completed model has a nice heft to it worthy of the name “tank.” It’s also sturdy enough for play, and fits nicely in my hand compared to larger models. If tanks could be swooshed, the Brickmania M2A4 is definitely swooshable. (What’s the non-flying equivalent of “swooshable”? “Zoomable?”) At $150, the price is comparable to other custom kits on the market.

Overall, Dan’s M2A4 may just be my favorite Brickmania kit yet. Going small can be substantially harder than going big, and Dan has pulled it off wonderfully. Ultimately, though, my positive experience with the Brickmania M2A4 Light Tank was influenced as much by great problem-solving and customer service as by the excellent design of the model itself.

Brickmania M4 Sherman tank custom LEGO kit [Review]

This is my second review focusing on a custom Brickmania LEGO kit that’s similar to a LEGO model I designed myself — well, sort of, in this case. Read on…

The M4 Sherman is one of the most iconic and recognizable tanks of all time, with nearly 50,000 produced between 1942 and 1955. Because of its long production run, the tank served through most of the U.S. involvement in World War II and on through the Korean War.

M4 Sherman tank variantsThe Sherman is an incredibly well-documented vehicle, and popular enough with plastic modelers that there’s a wealth of reference pictures available online and in books, from historical photos to detailed schematics and high-res close-ups of surviving tanks in museums. With so many production variants (animated GIF illustrating three of the most common ones on the right) and tank crews’ penchant for customizing their vehicles in the field, it’s also a great choice as inspiration for a LEGO model — you can definitely put your own spin on it.

After I’d tried my hand with LEGO World War II models with a couple of small Jeeps and a simple Higgins Boat for my Omaha Beach diorama, I knew I had to tackle a bigger vehicle, and I quickly settled on the M4A3 Sherman, which I included in my diorama depicting the liberation of Cherbourg.

Here’s my M4A3 (76)W Sherman variant on the right with Dan Siskind’s Brickmania M4 Sherman that I’ll be reviewing on the left.

M4 Sherman comparison - Dunechaser vs. Brickmania (1)

It feels a little odd reviewing these two models as a comparison for two reasons. First, they’re very different variants. Dan’s M4 reflects earlier (initial M4 or M4A1), much more rounded hull design with a 75mm gun while mine is the mid/late-war M4A3 with an angular hull and the much-larger 76mm gun (with its correspondingly longer turret).

Side note: Remember how I said just how well-documented Shermans are? Prepare for this review to get occasionally technical about tank details. Bogies will be mentioned.

Second, I have to confess that I based many aspects of my M4A3 on Dan’s own M4A2. Or rather, I tried to reverse-engineer things like the front section and the suspension from his pictures (which I can’t find online today). You can definitely see the influence in details like the angled flags above the treads on the front. Given a bit of “shared DNA,” there is of course a lot more similarity between my M4A3(76)W and Dan’s current Brickmania M4A3(76)W kit. But back to the actual review…

Theoretically, both of these models are the same scale — Dan says he targets 1/35th, and that’s the same scale I used, based on schematics in World War II AFV Plans: American Armored Fighting Vehicles. But this next comparison photo shows how much larger mine is:

M4 Sherman comparison - Dunechaser vs. Brickmania (2)

The problem with LEGO tanks is that they’re just plain huge — an issue I touched on in my review of the Brickmania WC54 ambulance: “The more ‘room’ you have to work with, the more details and functionality you can build into the model.” (Speaking of ridiculously huge, I hate the road wheels on my tank and will definitely be replacing them with smaller ones if/when I revisit my design.)

My point about tank scale is best illustrated by this historic photo from Belgium in 1944, with soldiers conveniently walking alongside for scale:

Yanks of 60th Infantry Regiment advance into a Belgian town under the protection of a heavy tank.

The soldiers standing next to the Sherman show that the top of the tank treads come no higher than mid-chest, and the deck of the tank where the turret sits is just above the tallest soldier’s helmet. Granting that the minifig is horrible for scale, but assuming that height is an acceptable measure of dimension, it’s clear that just about every LEGO tank is far, far too tall. And thanks to the minifig’s impossibly wide hips, a LEGO Sherman’s width is also affected, if you want to include space for both a driver and a machine-gunner. Here’s Dan’s photo of his M4 Sherman, with three crewmen (not included in the set):

Affordable Sherman Project01

On my tank, the tread/suspension section is taller than a minifig. Dan has managed to shave at least two plates’ worth of height off the most-common LEGO Sherman designs, but at the expense of several details most other LEGO versions include, like the larger front drive sprocket compared to the smaller rear idler, and even the bogies (hey I warned you!).

Which brings me to the price for Dan’s kit. I won’t go into the price-for-value issue again in this post (read my WC54 post for that), but the kit I’m reviewing is $165 for 505 pieces. For $350, Dan also sells his M4A3(76)W Sherman as a “premium kit” built from 796 pieces that includes a 4-minifig crew.

The difference — both between Dan’s two Shermans and between his $165 version and my own — is a matter of scale versus detail. I think this more-basic Brickmania Sherman gets the scale closer to “right,” but by sacrificing many of the details in my version and Dan’s own M4A3. It’s not just an issue of price; I think it’s essentially the same tradeoff between scale and detail that Dan and I made in the opposite direction with our two rather different ambulance designs.

The scale-vs-detail point that I’ve belabored now in two separate posts isn’t a criticism in either direction — neither “Proper scale should always win over detail” nor “Certain details must never be left out.” And I won’t include a handy comparison table this time. I do want to point out several aspects of Dan’s “basic” M4 Sherman that I really like — all differences from mine.

  • The front section uses rounded bricks rather than straight slopes, similar to the even-more-rounded front that I first saw on Rumrunner’s M4A1 a couple years ago, but with much simpler parts (another good compromise).
  • The two front hatches close seamlessly.
  • Even with the hatches open, the turret can still rotate 360 degrees.
  • The road wheels are a logical, proper size that allow the tank to roll on its treads. (Mine are far too huge and don’t line up properly with the treads.)
  • The main gun raises and lowers (“fully posable” as Dan puts it). I think this is my favorite functional detail, and a design I’ll borrow should I revisit my tank again.

Even without some key details — like the bogies (and again!) — I really like the overall design, and this feels like a Sherman you could probably build a couple more of once you have your first copy, thanks to Dan’s instructions. Other than the bogies (last time, I promise), my biggest critique is the too-narrow treads — a single set of Technic chain links for each tread. Most Sherman designs use either LEGO’s wider tank treads or two parallel chains of Technic links. The single-chain treads work on smaller tanks (I’ll review one of them shortly), but as part of the overall shape, I can be convinced that it’s an acceptable compromise.

And for me, that’s ultimately why this is a positive review — that the design looks great at a lower price by leaving off a few details — and why I can heartily recommend the “plain” Brickmania M4 Sherman. It’s a fun little tank — and little is good when it comes to tanks. More importantly, it holds plenty of opportunity to make it your own with extra details and “field customizations” like hedge-cutters, applique armor, and equipment built from your own LEGO collection.

With enough M4 Shermans at your disposal, successful invasion of a Pacific island becomes a possibility:

Peleliu Beach, September 15, 1944

Brickmania sent The Brothers Brick a copy of this set for review. There is no guarantee of coverage or a positive review by providing items to review. It helps when you have a good product, like Dan Siskind does with his Brickmania custom LEGO kits. We’ll have a couple more reviews next week.

Brickmania WC54 Ambulance custom LEGO kit [Review]

Dan Siskind of Brickmania and I recently decided that it might be interesting to review a few of his custom LEGO kits from the perspective of someone who’s designed their own version of the same iconic vehicles available in his store. Prepare for a series of reviews with a bit more personal focus than your average LEGO set review…

The Dodge WC54 was an ambulance used by the US Army throughout World War II, and for a few years afterward. You can see them lined up on the beach at Normandy and it features prominently in the TV show M*A*S*H. It’s a wonderful vehicle, with rounded corners and a beautiful purpose — bringing safety and hope in the midst of the horror and chaos of war. My late grandfather trained as a medic during World War II, and I can imagine that if he had been deployed to the invasion of Japan (thankfully, he wasn’t) he would have served in a Dodge WC54.

All of that is why I had to build one myself. After a couple iterations and some great feedback from Tim, I was pretty pleased with the results. It’s small, but it’s one of the models I’m proudest of, so I thought I’d first try the Brickmania WC54 Ambulance custom kit for my first comparative review.

My WC54 is on the left, and Dan’s is on the right:

WC54 Ambulance comparison - Dunechaser vs. Brickmania (1)

Dan sells two versions of his WC54 design — a standard version with just the vehicle for $80 and a “bonus pack” version for $125 (which Dan was kind enough to send us). The bonus pack version includes a Citizen Brick US Army Ranger, printed BrickArms medic helmet to turn the ranger into a medic, a “Brickmania Medical Corps” T-shirt, and the whole thing comes in an olive drab medic satchel. The complete package is actually kind of awesome, even to this jaded, cynical reviewer.

The model itself includes 253 LEGO pieces. So, let’s just get this out of the way in our first review: $80 for 253 parts? These sets aren’t for someone building their collection of LEGO parts. I asked Dan about the prices of his custom LEGO kits, and he reminded me that he has to source his individual LEGO parts on the secondary market just like everyone else. Dan sells his custom kits in limited runs of fifty to a hundred (rather than the tens or hundreds of thousands of units that the LEGO Group moves), and his price has to account for the time he spends designing and redesigning the sets in a way that enables him to find enough parts in quantity to create a batch of custom kits. As someone who built a substantial portion of his World War II LEGO models from Bricklink orders, I can attest to the challenge of trying to assemble all the parts I need for a particular model from various BrickLink stores, much less attempting to source enough for dozens of the same model. No, custom Brickmania kits are not cheap, but I really do think you’re getting value for the money. Let’s move on…

The two main differences between my ambulance and Dan’s are in the overall size and the functionality. The Brickmania WC54 is one stud longer and two plates taller:

WC54 Ambulance comparison - Dunechaser vs. Brickmania (2)

There is, of course, a natural interdependence between a larger scale and more functionality — the more “room” you have to work with, the more details and functionality you can build into the model. Here’s a table that compares the details and functionality between the two models:

Andrew’s WC54 Dan’s WC54
  • Opening cab doors
  • Opening cab doors
  • Windshield wipers
  • Indented spare tire
  • Steering wheel
  • Cab fits a minifig driver
  • Rear fits a minifig on a stretcher
  • Opening rear doors
  • Removable roof for interior access

Because of the complicated SNOT and panel-style window on my cab, I have to remove a minifig’s arms and legs to put a driver in the cab. The half-stud offset transition from the six-wide rear to the five-wide cab means there’s no room in the back for much of anything. Plus, the rear doors don’t open, and ripping the roof off usually brings a bunch of other bricks with it.

WC54 Ambulance comparison - Dunechaser vs. Brickmania (3) WC54 Ambulance comparison - Dunechaser vs. Brickmania (4)

I could go on.

In other words, Dan gains all that extra functionality and detail at very little “cost” (one stud longer and two plates taller) in terms of the model’s slightly over-sized scale. Dan says the same is true of his Jeep:

I have also given up trying to make a decent 1/35 scale Jeep. I did one that small for a couple of months and couldn’t stand all the compromises to playability in order to make it that small. My newer jeeps are over-sized but way sturdier, cheaper and more fun to play with!

Dan’s version is also a lot sturdier than mine. Our front grilles are virtually identical — contrary to popular belief, there is indeed a finite number of ways you can achieve a particular design with the limited palette of available LEGO elements. But I built my three/five-wide engine block with its seven-wide fenders in a way that only left a single stud for the grille to attach to. Dan’s has a solid three-stud connection across the whole front of the engine block.

Despite all the odd-width construction and a few non-traditional building techniques (like tires inside of other tires to achieve a more-realistic look), Dan’s WC54 is an AFOL-designed model I’d be comfortable handing over to an eight-year-old to zoom around the living room floor. I can’t say the same of all the LEGO models I’ve handled — and a few I’ve accidentally broken — at LEGO conventions and club meetings.

You’ll notice in the pictures (both mine and the product pictures on Brickmania.com) that Dan’s WC54 has quite a few stickers. Well, they’re not actually stickers. Dan says he’s trying out something new with the WC54 — custom static-cling decals. I think it’s actually a brilliant idea: The decals go on easily and have continued to stick nicely even as I handle the model over and over during this review. Most interestingly, they come off when I want them to without leaving any gluey residue. But the decals feel a little like a work in progress. There are some spots on the larger gray decal (the one on top of the cab) that look like they didn’t print quite right. When I asked Dan about it, he said:

The static cling decals in the ambulance are a one-of-a-kind experiment to see how we like them. They’re printed on one of the laser printers in our office and not professionally made. Our customers are by and large our product testers too, so feedback like yours is what determines if we’re going to further pursue an idea or not. If clings are something we’re going to do for future kits, we’ll plan ahead to have them done in a professional shop where nicer result should be expected.

My vote is that these do definitely work — all the benefits of stickers without the mess. I only had one sticker that wasn’t quite perfect, so I’m looking forward to what Dan and his team can achieve with professional printing.

My other minor complaint is that the crosses on the side of the Brickmania WC54 aren’t brick-built. To be fair, they’re more perfectly square than mine and have a nice, thin white border around the cross that you can’t achieve nearly as well with just bricks. I asked Dan why he chose not to brick-build the crosses, and he said that the original prototype did include crosses entirely constructed from LEGO. But by using the decals he was already including, he was able to reduce the cost of the kit by several dollars, with 3 LEGO parts per cross rather than 14. Fair enough — not really a consideration for the lone LEGO model built from the bricks in one’s own collection.

Minor nit-picking aside, the Brickmania WC54 is a wonderful model built as much to play with as it is to include in your next World War II diorama or collaborative display. The slight compromise on scale has enabled Dan to achieve a level of sturdiness, functionality, and detail lacking in mine.

At $80 for the basic kit, you get a gorgeous little ambulance that might teach you a thing or two about odd-width vehicle building techniques. For another $45, the “bonus pack” version (at $125) also includes a lot of fun value. I think the “Brickmania Medical Corps” T-shirt is my new favorite LEGO-themed shirt, and the presentation with the medic satchel is priceless — the perfect gift for the LEGO military builder or World War II history buff in your life.

Look for more reviews of custom Brickmania LEGO kits in the coming days.

World War Brick 2013 in Minneapolis, MN – June 28-30 [News]

World War Brick is a LEGO fan event organized by Brickmania that brings together builders who display LEGO models inspired by historical and military themes. The second annual event will take place in Minneapolis, Minnesota at Brickmania Toyworks.

World War Brick banner

Discount pre-registration for weekend passes (the private convention) ended yesterday, but you can use a special coupon code for TBB readers when you register and get $10 off: TBBWWB

As with most LEGO fan conventions, you can also see the models on display during public exhibition times, Saturday and Sunday from 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM.

Head on over to WorldWarBrick.com for complete details

The Brothers Brick LEGO holiday gift guide 2012

What do you get the LEGO fan who probably buys themselves all the LEGO he or she could ever need? Here at The Brothers Brick (TBB), our LEGO holiday gift guide has everything a LEGO fan is going to love — everything but official LEGO sets!

LEGO Books

Regular readers will certainly have noticed that publishers have been furiously releasing stacks of new LEGO books lately. We haven’t been able to review all of them here (we’ll get to them, time permitting), but we definitely recommend each of these books.

The Big Unofficial Lego Builder’s Book: Build Your Own City
Authors: Oliver Albrecht & Joachim Klang.
Price: $29.99
Review: Read Tim’s review here on TBB.

The Brick Bible: The New Testament: A New Spin on the Story of Jesus
Author: Brendan Powell Smith.
Price: $19.95
Review: Read Bruce’s review over on GodBricks.

The Unofficial LEGO Technic Builder’s Guide
Author: Paweł “Sariel” Kmieć
Price: $29.95
Review: Read Josh’s review here on TBB.

The Unofficial LEGO Builder’s Guide (2nd Edition)
Author: Allan Bedford
Price: $24.95
Review: Forthcoming here on TBB…

The LEGO Adventure Book, Vol. 1: Cars, Castles, Dinosaurs & More!
Author: Megan Rothrock
Price: $24.95
Review: Read Tim’s review here on TBB.

Moleskine LEGO Notebook
Price: $16.95 (small) to $21.95 (large)
Review: Read Andrew’s review here on TBB.

And if you didn’t pick them up at the time, don’t miss two of my personal favorite LEGO books.

The Cult of LEGO
Authors: John Baichtal & Joe Meno
Price: $39.95
Review: Read Andrew’s review here on TBB.

LEGO: A Love Story
Author: Jonathan Bender
Price: $24.95
Review: Read Andrew’s review here on TBB.

Read the full LEGO gift guide after the jump!

World War Brick

From June 15-17 in Wheeling, IL, there will be a show by custom military vendors including Brickmania and BrickArms. In addition they will be displaying some models and exclusives. Click on the flyer below for the full details.