Here’s a blast from the past…!
I grew up in a coastal town here in Australia and one of the things I remember fondly in my teens, was a great old derelict truck that was abandoned on an empty lot not far from my regular cycling route.
Being a young, inquisitive lad, I spent quite a bit of climbing over this truck. At the time, I knew relatively little about how it got to be where it was – but needless to say, I was fascinated by the vehicle all the same (what little boy wouldn’t be?!). So it wasn’t long until I started building a LEGO rendition of this truck. A period of time after, I noticed that the truck disappeared, and the empty lot on which it had sat was re-developed – I remember feeling a bit saddened at the time – I had feared the worst, that the truck was taken away to be dismantled or wrecked. This was about 16 years ago now – I would have been just 15.
Fast forward to today however, and this LEGO truck is a survivor and is still in (mostly) one-piece, albeit quite dusty and dirty…but rough and ready all the same – sitting lonely on my shelf. And as it turns out, the real-world counterpart is also a survivor as you’ll read below.
In reading about this LEGO model of mine and viewing the pictures below, please bear in mind that I was only a teenager when I built this model and there’s probably quite a few things I could have done better in building this truck but hey, it is what it is…a time capsule – a tangible record of my memories and LEGO-building skills back in 1998.
Before I go too much further, here’s a bit of back-story on the history of this truck (the real-world counterpart) that you might find interesting. It turns the truck I had been so obsessed with all those years ago was actually quite rare indeed – being one of only two in Australia.
As a bit of history, these trucks were known as Rotinoff Viscounts and were specially-built by Rotinoff of London. Only two (I believe) of the Viscount models were shipped to Australia (having been purchased by the Vestey Brothers organisation) and they spent their days transporting cattle to Vestey’s-own Dewhurst butchers all over the country. The trucks were hard-working, pulling several cattle trailers at once and were powered by mighty Rolls Royce engines.
The two Viscounts which entered Oz were named ‘Julie’ and ‘Jackie’. I seem to remember the faded-out name ‘Jackie’ on the example I climbed-over in my youth. It turns out that Julie has ended-up in the National Transport Hall Of Fame at Alice Springs, Northern Territory here in Oz, fully restored and by all accounts looking great. Unfortunately, Jackie, now also in the NT (having joined her sister) is still sitting derelict. Could be worse I guess.
I’m going to refrain from posting actual images of the real-world Viscount trucks directly in this post (to avoid any Copyright issues), however a simple Google search on “Rotinoff Viscount” should yield a reasonable amount of information (including photos) if you’re interested in finding out more. I’ve also placed just a few links at the bottom of this post.
So what’s under the hood??
I’ve listed below, the features that my Rotinoff Viscount LEGO truck sports. Again, nothing too fancy mind – I was only 15! Some parts of the truck had been upgraded shortly following the initial build (and this build is actually “series 4″ – so I had clearly gone through a few iterations at the time also). Upgrades include the wheels and tyres for example, which were purchased some period after to replace the original wheels. Most of the running gear and body work however, is still present in its original, worn, pitted, chipped and dust-ridden glory (as you will notice in the pictures)!
It also worth mentioning that at the time, there was no ‘Power Functions’ LEGO motors or IR controllers (apart from the standard LEGO 9V motors and controls one could acquire – which was a little out of the budget for this then-15 year-old – I was lucky to have enough money and means to replace the worn axle shafts!). Thus, I resorted to pulling-apart old radio-controlled vehicles and raided them for their motors and other such parts of interest. This is why you’ll notice that this LEGO vehicle has been fitted with an electric motor that is perhaps a little too big for it! Nonetheless, it furnished the power requirements just fine, even if it was only powered by four 1.5 (or 1.2) volt batteries!
To furnish the requirements of remote-control, I fashioned a length of suitable-diameter PVC pipe, into which I fitted metal contacts and wires. The batteries would then be inserted into this pipe which would then serve as the hand controller – touch the wire to the end of the series of batteries and away you go! I do remember quite a few instances where I shorted-out the circuits/overloaded the motor and ended up with a slightly-singed fingertip where the wire I was pressing down heated up. Fun times indeed.
You’ll also see evidence of plastic tape wrapped around most of the rotating parts, the transmission and drive shafts for example – at the time (due to my very limited budget) I was quite worried about wear and tear and aimed to reduce this as far as possible. Buying new parts meant mail-order catalogue and a cumbersome money-order. These days, I generally just smear a very light coating of silicon oil on my LEGO models’ running gear to minimise wear – and I have BrickLink (and not to mention a reasonably-endowed PayPal account!) to satisfy my craving for spare or replacement LEGO parts!
- Remote-controlled electric motor (from memory – a Mabuchi RS-540 running at approximately 5 VDC)
- Two-speed sliding mesh manual transmission (gear lever located in truck cab)
- Realistic ladder-frame LEGO Technic chassis frame
- Solid front and rear axles
- Realistic truck tires with ‘dualies’ fitted at the rear
- Combination of Technic and ‘conventional’ LEGO brick styling
- Novelty RPM gauge (runs off the vibration forces from the drive belt)
Keen observers will note that I have not included a tandem axle setup on the rear end, and the front end may not be a 100% (or even 90%) accurate rendition of the real-world Viscount counterpart. I had taken some artistic license in these respects, mostly because these features and accuracies proved just a little too impractical from a LEGO standpoint – back then (and I do emphasize back then).
This vehicle also does not have a functional steering system, and so basically the vehicle only runs straight ahead or backwards (if you flip the hand controller upside down to expel the batteries and re-insert them with opposite polarity that is!). Furthermore, the power level for the motor is not controllable, it’s either off or on. So, quite a simple little vehicle, but powered nonetheless.
You’re probably thinking that this vehicle would be GREAT to revisit and revamp, but before I start looking at perhaps reconditioning some of the parts or even retrofitting a power functions kit (with steering perhaps?), I will first focus on getting the thing running!! At the moment the drive belt which attaches the motor to the transmission pulley is perished as you’ll see in the gallery below. My past-self was handy enough to place some spare belts on the rear of the cab, and depending on how kind time (and UV rays) has been to those spare belts, I will look at replacing the belt soon to get this vehicle up and going.
Following that, who knows…there may be a revival of sorts on the cards for this oldie! But part of me aches to see this model get revamped all the same; there is a certain charm to it at the moment…and some of that ‘vintage-ness’ (not a word I’m sure) would certainly be lost if I started upgrading or restoring it. Perhaps, like its real-world counterpart, ‘Jackie’, its fate is to live out its days in its original (somewhat derelict) shape after all…
I’ll close here with links to the real-world counterpart, followed by an image gallery of my LEGO vehicle. Once I get it up and running I will make a video perhaps of it in action!
PLUS: Also included below is a scanned-rendition of the tattered ‘Operator’s Instructions’ document which my 15-year-old self wrote, dated 30 August 1998 – which still survives to this day. As you can tell, I was big into writing even back then! I’m sure I even wrote a detailed ‘shop manual’ about this model as well, however the Operator’s Instructions is all that it appears that I’ve managed to salvage.
Images of the scanned manual from 30/08/1998:
Links to the real-world counterpart(s):
Image Gallery of the LEGO model: