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Lego Maniacs' Guide: Reviews: Technic : Silver Champion

[Purchase Online at Amazon.com] 8458 - Silver Champion

Rating: 4 Stars
Pros: Lots of interesting pieces; nice design; cool suspension
Cons: Somewhat underfeatured for price; stickers that cover more than one element (a pet peeve); web-based alternate model is a pain
Contents: 1413 pieces
Price: $169.99
Reviewed: 9-Jan-2001
Reviewed by: Dave Ruete


It has taken me a while to get back into Technic sets. When I used to build them, they were still called "Expert Builder" I think. Before I got the Star Wars Destroyer Droid last year, the biggest, newest, most advanced set I had was 8040, the first pneumatic universal set. For a long time, I have been searching for a good Technic set on the scale of the Destroyer but not a Star Wars droid, because, let's face it, as cool as the Destroyer is, what can you build with it besides a Destroyer droid? At any rate, after searching long and nearly giving up, believing that the Lego Technic line had been completely taken over by Droids and Throwbots and things of that sort, I found, on clearance at the website of a major discount retailer, the Silver Champion.

The temptation, as I review this, is to compare this model to the 8448 Supercar, which is actually a smaller set by 5 pieces. Unfortunately, I have never had the priviledge of building that set, so I cannot make a good comparison. However, based on my own research it would seem that this set is about the same size as 8448, but slightly less featured.

From an objective standpoint, this is a pretty nice model. It is very large, over 24 inches in length and 11 inches wide. The construction is satisfyingly intricate. The instruction manual is over 120 pages long. There are two alternate models: the imaginitively named "Silver Truck", which has its own 130+ page instruction booklet, and the "Street Sensation", which is basically a variant body design on the same chassis.

Here is a description the features of the main model:

  • New Aerodynamic Metallic Design Features:
    Lego.com's touting aside, this what I refer to as a "non-feature." The model looks really good. That's cool and all, but so what? Shouldn't that "feature" sell itself? At any rate, the "Aerodynamic Metallic Design" is accomplished by the use of 12 large Technic cowling plates and 6 small ones painted matte silver. They actually look really good in silver and that's a lot of Technic cowling plates if you're looking to build up your collection. If 18 silver cowlings aren't enough, the set also includes 6 black large cowling plates. The set also uses large ribbed Technic hoses and long thin rubber pieces, both in silver, to flesh out the lines of the fuselage. One of my minor gripes on this set is that the hoses used to suggest the lines of the fuselage are the same hoses as used for actual hoses in the engine.
  • New Wheels & Rims:
    If you own one of the recent Technic cars with nice, big, realistic wheels, this probably is a "non-feature" as well (unless you are fanatical about new wheel designs, in which case this is probably pretty exciting). Still, the nice, big, realistic wheels are a big part of what makes this set cool, and if you don't own any already, they are pretty nice to have.
  • High-Tech Wishbone Suspension:
    This is by far my favorite feature. I don't know what the Supercar sets have for suspension, but the pushrod suspension in this set is pretty sweet. I won't spoil it for you by trying to describe its construction, but I will say that each wheel is independent of the others and the set includes four nice, very stiff shock absorbers. My brother made the comment that the model was worth the purchase price "just to find out how the suspension worked."
  • High Performance V-10 Engine:
    The moving-piston engine geared to move when the drive wheels turn is not a new feature. Even my old 8841 "Desert Racer" model had this. What I can say about it is that they have come up with new pieces that let you actually fit a V-10 engine into a model this size, as opposed to the single cylinder engine in my 8841 or the straight-4 which I believe was featured in the classic 956 "Auto Chassis" model. This engine is also modular (as you would expect Lego to be), meaning you could use the parts to build a V-4, V-6, or V-8 engine if you wanted. The only drawback here is that the engine blocks are molded in clear plastic, which looks a little weird (but allows you to see the working parts inside). Speaking of the engine and drivetrain, also worthy of note is the differential, which allows the drive wheels to rotate at different speeds (or even in opposite directions). While not a new feature by any means (it was featured in the old 956 set, I believe), this is the first model I've had the chance to build which featured this, and I was impressed. Overall, while there is nothing overly innovative about the engine/drivetrain setup, it still works very nicely and is made more impressive by the fact that it works (through 4, yes, 4 universal joints) with the independent suspension.
  • Opening Motor Hood:
    Perhaps a working gear shift or brakes might have been more exciting, but this feature is worthy of note. The rear portion of the fuselage opens and closes to reveal the engine compartment. Before you yawn, let me tell you why this is cool: it opens on pneumatic shock absorbers just like the tail gate on my brother's old minivan. (It's okay, he drives an NSX now.) I was excited about these shocks.
  • Rack and Pinion Steering:
    Like the drivetrain, not a terribly innovative feature, but made somewhat more impressive by the fact that they worked around the independent suspension. Unfortunately, the gearing is a little rough and the steering is not very smooth. If you were going to try to adapt this set to remote control or something of the sort, you'd probably want to rework this.

This set's alternate model, Silver Truck, is a viable stand-alone model in its own right. It is more compact and therefore less impressive than the main model, but uses about 80 percent of the pieces and is equally complex. It shares pretty much all of the features of the main model except that it uses a more normal suspension in place of the pushrod suspension of the main model. Also, in place of a raising motor hood, the Silver Truck has a cab assembly that tilts forward when you pull a catch release. I am not sure what the point of this is, since the engine is behind the cab and not under it, but the mechanism is very cool. Another feature that the alternate model has which the main model lacks is that it is set up to be motorized with the addition of a Technic motor and includes instructions. This alternate model loses points for using elastics (they break down over time) and using decals. That would be bad enough, but in some places it uses different decals from the main model, meaning you need to peel one set off and stick another on. The set overall gets big points, however, for including parts (decals, elastics, steering wheel, and I think an extra gear) for the alternate model which aren't used in the main model.

This set does have a few drawbacks which keep it from being a "five". It loses points for featuring a driver in the box photo but not including such a figure in the set. Not that a driver would have added much, but I think they ought to be more responsible than that in packaging and advertisement. The steering is a little rough, as I mentioned above. The set has decals and I don't care for decals that you have to put over more than one piece, since they rarely survive disassembly. Having said that, the decals look really good. An overall gripe is that I might have hoped for a little less "looking cool" and a little more "working cool". Just a little, though.
Another gripe is the second alternate model. There are no printed instructions in the set, but they are available at Lego's web site. I downloaded the software, downloaded Shockwave so that I could run the software, downloaded all the instructions, and when that was all done I saw that the alternate was basically a variant body design on the same chassis. That was a little dissapointing after all that work.

Overall, while possibly not as cool as the 8448 Supercar (I unfortunately wouldn't know), this is a very nice set which was very well worth the deeply discounted price I paid for it. Its sturdy chassis, real rubber tires, slick suspension, and 1413 pieces make for a nice model, as well as a good foundation from which to build your own automotive Lego fantasy. I would definitely recommend looking for a discount, though, as the list price is rather steep for a model that really has only one cool, innovative feature.

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