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The beginner's guide to Lego

From greatest hits to lowest moments, everything you ever wanted to know... and a fair bit you didn’t

Lego House Lego Shop
  • What’s Lego and when did it start making cars?

    Lego founders

    Lego is a Danish toy firm started by carpenter Ole Kirk Kristiansen in 1932 – he began making toys after tiny mock-ups of his furniture turned out popular. He sold them out of his shop in Billund, smack in the centre of Denmark, then expanded to plastic after ordering an injection moulding machine from the UK in 1946. The Lego brick arrived in 1949 with a patent that built on the design of Brit Hilary Fisher Page.

    When Ole died in 1958, his son Godtfred took over – the company is still owned by the family despite having become a behemoth with a £5bn annual turnover – and plastic took over in 1960 after a fire in the woodworking department.

    Plastic cars had been included with Lego sets since the mid-Fifties to go with the company’s petrol station and home garage kits, but the first wheels were manufactured for Lego sets in 1962, allowing children the opportunity to build their own cars. Lego Technic came along in 1977 – you could build a scale model go-kart – and the first minifigure arrived in 1978 with a police car set.

    Nowadays Lego is a huge business, and getting a licence deal with the firm to get a set made featuring your car is a crucial part of the marketing process. But only the best will get through to production...

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  • What’s the cheapest car that Lego builds... and what’s the most expensive?

    Lego Taxi

    Lego has cars to suit every budget, and most of them you won’t even need a finance deal to take home. Your cheapest entry into Lego ownership at the moment is the yellow taxi set, which replicates a New York cab for the low price (it’s all relative) of £8.99. If you bumped up the budget to £13.49 you could get the ‘Land Rover Classic Defender’ set, which includes a yellow Defender 90 and a minifigure. Stretch your cash outlay to £20.99 and you could be the proud owner of an Audi S1 e-tron quattro Race Car set.

    At the other end of the scale, in 21st and 23rd positions on the list of most expensive sets ever sold in the UK are the Lamborghini Sián FKP 37 (2020) and Ferrari Daytona SP3 (2022), which both go for £389.99 in the UK. They sit just behind the 2016 Death Star and 2019 Liebherr R 9800, a 4,000-piece set of a huge mining excavator.

  • What is Lego’s fastest car?

    Lego Bugatti Chiron

    Lego sold a Technic version of the fastest production car in the world from 2016 to 2022 – the 3,599-piece Bugatti Chiron set featured a functioning eight-speed gearbox, realistic W16 engine and the kit even featured Bugatti’s famous top speed key to unlock the rear wing from its ‘handling’ position to its ‘top speed’ position. We hear it really unlocks the pace at max revs. The kit sold for around £320 new, but you can pick up a secondhand example for around £200 – as ever, make sure it’s been serviced by a specialist.

    In a slightly different vein, Lego set itself a challenge at the 2023 running of the Le Mans 24-Hour Race to build a life-size replica of Peugeot’s 9X8 racecar – or an 11:1 scaled up version of its Lego Technic kit, depending on your perspective. There were 12 builders from the company who nailed the attempt to put 626,392 pieces together in 24 hours. Speedy work.

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  • Where is Lego built and how much is sold a year?

    Lego factory

    Lego’s products are sold in 130 countries worldwide and over 28,500 staff are employed in the process. Lego’s original factory was in Billund, Denmark, but it now has plants in Hungary, Mexico, the Czech Republic and China while new facilities are being built in Virginia and Vietnam. The Monterrey factory in Mexico is Lego’s biggest at 334,000m2 – twice the size of Ferrari in Maranello.

    Lego reported an impressive revenue of £7.58bn in 2023, but half of that was someone buying a 10,001-piece Eiffel Tower set and a keyring from the Lego shop in Leicester Square. The company reported whopping profits of £1.97bn during the period.

  • What’s the best concept that Lego ever made?

    Lego Hyundai N Vision 74

    Lego started its Lego Ideas website back in 2008 as an online community for fans to share their best ideas and get inspiration for future sets that could go into production. In fact over 50 sets have gone on sale based on ideas first shared on Ideas. You can just share a fun project, or you can go for broke and aim for the 10,000 supporters needed to get the Lego design team to assess your model through the official processes.

    Our favourite of the current crop is user Violettail’s Hyundai N Vision 74, uploaded in May 2023 but given extra time on Lego Ideas thank to its 1,208 supporters.

  • What was Lego’s best moment?

    Lego Batman

    Children across the world were presumably very happy in 1963, when the first building instructions were included with a set. Coincidentally it was also the year that company boss Godtfred Kirk Christiansen came up with his Lego manifesto, the 10 characteristics that should set apart everything the outfit does. These included “for girls, for boys”, “unlimited play possibilities” and “don’t be evil”. Whoops, that was Google, never mind.

    In 1999 the Lego brick was voted toy of the century, which was surely the vindication of Ole Kirk Kristiansen’s grand vision for child play. Sadly it seemed to lead to a period of complacency for the company, but it was eventually turned around. Guinness reported that Lego was the world’s largest tyre manufacturer in 2010 with 381 million of them produced, and more recently, 2014’s The Lego Movie was a reminder the brand could be cool, relevant and most importantly poke a bit of fun at itself.

  • What was Lego’s worst moment?

    Lego Originals mini-figure

    The fire that destroyed Lego’s capacity to make wooden toys in 1960 was a low moment for those running the company, but it ultimately led to the crushing success of the business as it committed to its plastic bricks.

    In 2004 Lego made a loss of £174m and came perilously close to bankruptcy, prompting a period of hand-wringing introspection. Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen resigned as CEO, to be replaced by the first non-family CEO, Jørgen Vig Knudstorp.

    The Legoland theme parks were sold off to Merlin Entertainments in 2005 (though the Kristiansen family holding company Kirkbi A/S bought up a majority shareholding of Merlin in 2019 and took it private). Jobs were cut and the company focused simultaneously on its core products while also punting heavily on showy commercial deals like the Star Wars collaboration that was proving successful.

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  • What was Lego’s biggest surprise?

    Lego Star Wars

    For a company that was very strict about the spirit of its products, the first commercial licence deals that started in 1999 were quite the shock. It started with Lego Star Wars and Winnie the Pooh Duplo sets, followed by Harry Potter in 2000.

    The Star Wars figures were particularly controversial internally because of Lego’s strong stance against violence. The minifigures from a galaxy far, far away would carry weapons, which was a first for the brand. The company did clarify, however, that violence was allowed as long as it was cartoonish. It’s the same principle that allows you to laugh at the paralysing pain of someone who just stepped on a Lego brick in their bare feet.

    Another surprise was Lego’s announcement in August 2023 that it was going carbon neutral by 2050, raising questions like “why will it take so long?” and “what emissions?”

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