Tag Archives: Ralph Savelsberg

A small fire engine for a large city

Home to almost 40 million people, greater Tokyo is the world’s most populous metropolitan area. Space is at a premium, so houses tend to be small and built closely together. To fight fires in the dense urban areas, the Tokyo Fire Department has a large fleet of exceedingly small fire engines. They are narrow enough to fit the streets between the houses. They also have a relatively short wheelbase, so that they can navigate tight corners. In preparation for a visit to Japan Brickfest later this year, I’m building a small collection of Japanese emergency vehicles. I’ve been looking forward to building the fire engine the most, so I’ve kept that for last.

At a first glance, it may not look all that small, especially if you are used to LEGO minifigure-scale builds. However, if you compare the pumper to the two fire fighters, it is obvious that it is a lot smaller than pumpers from Europe or the US. It is only about as wide as a typical American car and not all that much longer. Nonetheless, it has everything you’d expect from its larger counterparts and a little more. It is nice and red, obviously. It has pump control panels with connections for fire hoses, a few ladders stored on top and lots of compartments for tools. Typical for Japanese pumpers, it also houses a little separate wheeled cart in the back. Fire fighters use this to transport hoses down even narrower alleys. The model is like a miniature version of a miniature fire engine.

Please make way, Ambulance coming through

In a few months’ time, I’ll be attending Japan Brickfest in Kobe. I always find the prospect of displaying a model at an event motivating. So, for this occasion I am building a few new models with a Japanese twist. I presented my Tokyo Police car a little while ago and I’ve now completed an ambulance to accompany it. The typical Japanese ambulance is a Toyota HiMedic van.

Mine represents an example used by the Tokyo Fire Department. At a first glance it may look like a box on wheels. That box is a lot wider near the bottom than near the top, though. I got the sides to taper by attaching them to hinges, but getting all of this to fit was a challenge, in particular around the windscreen. Despite the angled sides, all the doors open, including a sliding door on each side of the van. I really enjoyed making the stickers. I got to draw kanji letters and little emblems that depict Kyuta-Kun, which is the super cute Tokyo Fire Department mascot. The end result looks very Japanese and suitably futuristic. Picture this with two nacelles instead of wheels and it wouldn’t look out of place in the shuttle bay of the Starship Enterprise. Befitting a culture known for politeness, these ambulances have a PA system with recorded sentences that kindly warn other road users to make way. That detail, unfortunately, is missing from my LEGO model.

The F4U Corsair: the US Navy’s Korean War workhorse

Lately I’ve been on a bit of a building spree. The Cold War collaboration for BrickFair Virginia, for which I have already built the SS-20 Saber and Gryphon GLCM transporter erector launchers, has given me lots of ideas and motivation. So far I have focussed on Cold War doomsday weapons that never saw use in anger. The actual armed conflicts that took place during the Cold War, although certainly brutal, fortunately were fought using conventional weapons. One of these was the Korean War.

In 1950, when Communist North Korea invaded South Korea, the US and a number of allies came to South Korea’s aid. At the time, the first jet aircraft were already in service. However, propeller-driven aircraft still had a role to play. Most US Navy aircraft carriers still had several squadrons of Vought F4U Corsairs on board.

This WW2 design may have seemed like an anachronism, but the veteran warbird could carry more weapons and spend more time overhead than faster jet fighters. They were the workhorse of US Naval aviation.

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The cruise missile that ended the Cold War?

At the moment I am building models from the Cold War for a collaboration with my friends at BrickFair Virginia. I already presented my Soviet SS-20 “Saber” about a week ago. That missile platform was seen as a direct threat to Western Europe. Whilst I was buying parts for that, I was already planning to build one of the weapons systems that NATO fielded in Europe: the BGM-109G Gryphon ground-launched cruise missile (GLCM). Or, more precisely, the vehicle used to transport and launch them.

It consisted of a large German-built MAN truck that pulled a semi-trailer with the launcher. This housed up to four cruise missiles in a box that was elevated to an angle of 45 degrees before launch. I built the vehicle to a scale of 1/43, making it roughly 53 studs long. Building its four-tone camouflage scheme (with dark green, dark tan, tan and black) was a challenge, especially on such a small vehicle.

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The SS-20 “Saber” is a sinister Cold War relic

A little more than forty years ago, with the Cold War still in full swing, the Soviet Union introduced a new ballistic missile: the RSD-10 “Pioneer”. NATO code-named it the SS-20 “Saber”. It had a range of 500-5500 km and carried three nuclear warheads, each of which was roughly ten times as powerful as the bomb used against Hiroshima. It seemed purpose-built to threaten Western Europe. The missile’s short flight time, of roughly 15 minutes, left very little warning. Furthermore, it was mobile, which made it even harder to counter. A large six-axle MAZ-547 transporter erector launcher carried the missile, housed inside a large cannister, to dispersed launch sites.

My diorama shows the launcher at a snow-covered launch site, with the missile cannister raised upright for launch. On the model it is almost solid, so there is no actual missile inside, but you can just see the tips of the three warheads. Unlike most of my models, it is minifig-scaled (I picked 1/43) and built mostly without visible studs. I built it for a Cold War themed collaborative build for BrickFair Virginia, in the coming August.
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Zoom zoom through Tokyo with the RX-8 patrol car

Japanese cars well-engineered and sometimes innovative, but in my opinion they are often not all that exciting. However, Japanese manufacturers do have a history of building some pretty neat sports cars, like the 240Z /Fairlady or Nissan GT-R or the Honda CRX.


A little more than a year ago, during a work trip, I was lucky to spend a day in Tokyo. It is an amazing city and ever since I’ve been thinking about building some Japan-themed LEGO models. I already have a collection of LEGO emergency vehicles, so adding a Japanese police car seemed like a good idea. Their typical vehicle is the Toyota Crown, which certainly fits the not-all-that-exciting category. However, a bit of internet research revealed that, until a few years ago, the Tokyo Police department also had Mazda RX-8 patrol cars. It’s a curvy coupé with suicide doors that was mainly used for traffic duties. Building one of those was a much more interesting prospect. I simply had to have one.