Lego builds bridge between three generations of car lovers

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The pistons in the flat-6 engine wouldn’t line up. The budding engineer ignored warnings that one minor alignment could screw up the entire design. “It’s fine,” he said. 

Engineering, like math, relies on precision, I wanted to say. Good enough, close enough, almost enough are never, ever enough. But the 14-year-old builder would learn his lesson the hard way and arguably, the best way. 

His frustration mounted to the point where he slammed the engine on the table, as if that would knock those pistons into place. Life lesson #2: Building anything will build frustration; being an adult is all about how you address frustration. I guess that makes him a chip off the old block.  

I helped troubleshoot, then he took it apart, lined up the pistons perfectly on the crankshaft, and moved on to step 106 of the 504-step Lego Technic Porsche 911 RSR. 

Lego Technic Porsche 911 RSR

Lego Technic Porsche 911 RSR

It wasn’t the biggest build of his Lego making career at 1,500 pieces, but it was by far the most complex. When the engine block was complete and mounted into the bay, and the driveshaft was connected to the differential, the boy came running in, “Dad, check this out, this is so cool!”

That moment, when the wizardry of mechanical engineering was literally in the palm of his hand, the ridiculous $150 price tag of the “toy” was earned. And he was only 20% done. 

We called up my dad, Duff, the family car guru. A one-time grease monkey, all-time car nut, he currently has a 2008 Ford Mustang Shelby GT convertible to complement his 2006 Corvette and ‘67 Ford Mustang. My kid will probably get to drive one before I do. 

Long ago, my dad, “Duff,” taught me basic maintenance, how to change the battery, how to change a tire, how to stop driving like a jerkface. Now that he’s retired, he’s promised to instill his automotive knowledge in his grandchildren.

Lego Technic Porsche 911 RSR

Lego Technic Porsche 911 RSR

Even though he could probably rebuild an engine quicker than he could figure out how to use Google Hangouts, the call from his grandson went through, with the help of his wife. The Boy showed Duff the coil springs on the independent suspension, showed him how the steering rack worked, then described the flat-6 engine. The conversation took off. Now it was Duff’s turn; he filled his grandson in on the pros and cons of the flat-6 over the V-6 versus the inline-4, even started getting into transverse and longitudinal layouts. At this point, The Boy’s attention returned to the work in progress but the foundation was laid. It was the longest phone conversation ever recorded between a typically taciturn grandpa and an indifferent teen.

Lego Technic Porsche 911 RSR

Lego Technic Porsche 911 RSR

Duff requested updates for the rest of the process and promised The Boy how to drive a manual once all this “stuff” was over. The Lego was worth so much more than the price of admission. 

As a dad, I don’t know what will stick with the kids. That’s one of the keys to parenting; introducing new things to see what sticks. The Boy has shown flashes of automotive interest, after seeing “Ford vs Ferrari” on the big screen, climbing in and out of Jeeps at the Chicago Auto Show, and even shifting the gears while riding shotgun of certain cars. On a remote school assignment to come up with an adult budget, his car of choice shocked me: Ford Mustang Mach-E. We ogled it and a dozen others at the auto show. That one stuck. 

Lego Technic Porsche 911 RSR

Lego Technic Porsche 911 RSR

Lego Technic Porsche 911 RSR

Lego Technic Porsche 911 RSR

Lego Technic Porsche 911 RSR

Lego Technic Porsche 911 RSR

And that’s the promise of this Lego Technic kit with working parts, the stickiness of it. Getting his hands on it has proven far more effective than trying to get him to put the damn chain back on his bicycle. Seeing the steps that are necessary might give him the patience to get interested in that much-discussed never-planned deconstruction of the snow blower engine.

It might not. Somewhere around step 220 he realized he must’ve used a 15-hole piece instead of the 13-hole piece early on in the frame. Frustration mounted, construction stopped, and late one night, I spent hours finding the cause. I could say it was the paternal instinct to help him and ease his concerns, but the honest interpretation was because it was fun. Lego is fun. Building is fun. 

The next day his excitement returned, but it was more guarded. I resisted the urge to say welcome to adulthood. 

He’s about half way through it now and taking it one step at a time. I’ve heard him talking to it, cursing it, marveling at it. Whatever happens in the future because of this project is inconsequential to what is happening now: he’s building something that fascinates him and he’s talking to his grandpa about it. He had me take a picture of the wing and send it to Duff. 

That’s the coolest thing about cars, how they connect you to other people.

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