Build your own Grand Prix car


At first glance Bob Alexander’s introduction to racing was much like that of every designer, engineer or mechanic in motor sport.

“When I was seven years old my parents took me to the Grand Prix of Long Beach,” he explains, “and Mario Andretti won the race. I built a crude model version of his Lola Indycar the second we got home. I think that was the first real experience that I can remember where my love of models and racing intersected. From that moment on Andretti was my favourite driver. I tried to watch every race, I videotaped like crazy and would watch the races over and over again while working on Lego projects.”

Wait, Lego projects?

Constructing a Mercedes-Benz W196

Bob didn’t take the usual avenue with his passion for racing. These days he’s an architect running his own practice with his wife while teaching at California State Polytechnic in Pomona. That doesn’t sound like it leaves a lot of time for playing with Lego but when Bob describes the thought process behind his models it might as well be Gordon Murray talking.

“Lego is so good for studying forms and shapes and how things work,” Bob says. “It is like a puzzle to work on these cars, but on two levels. The Lego bricks have their own logic and rules about how they go together and the cars have a certain logic about how they work and their shape. Sometimes these are in sync with the pieces and sometimes they are not, so finding the sculptural compromises between the two and still making the thing I am building recognizable is the challenge and the fun.”

Porsche 917

Building Lego models in itself isn’t anything new but the level of detail in Bob’s work is astounding. From the engine bay of his Mercedes W196 to the angle at which the doors open on his Porsche 917, everything is recreated in minute detail. You might think that Lego would be a difficult and rather blocky medium for sleek, aerodynamic designs but the Danish bricks are as much a passion of Bob’s as the cars themselves.

“I started seeing photos on the internet of people building amazing things,” he explains. “Cars, planes and scenes from movies with all sorts of new colours and pieces that didn’t exist when I was a kid. Seeing other people doing it so well made me think that it might be OK to indulge my OCD a little bit. Also I think architecture had started to take its toll on my creativity and it was nice to do something without a client or a boss telling me ‘no’ all the time.

Ferrari 156

“It is not a linear process by any means so some have taken quite a while. I think the Mercedes W196 that I finished last year took about 16 months. My budget for silver Lego – which is rare and expensive – was somewhat limited and I just had a really hard time getting the shape right with what was available in silver. The Ferrari 156 went very quickly, maybe two or three weeks, but red things are much easier to build with Lego because they make a lot of their bricks available in red.”

Ah yes, the colours. Those of you who grew up with Lego will notice that quite a few of the cars feature hues that didn’t come in your average Lego City set, but the world of brick trading is a thriving one: “There is a great online community of people who make parts available if you need them. People sell individual Lego pieces directly via a website called Brick Link and they ship them to you. That is really the only way you could get some of the rarer pieces and colours to make the cars that I build.

Williams FW13B

“I try to plan ahead as much as possible but I find designing the cars ahead of time doesn’t really ever account for the endless revisions to the shape, the wheelbase or the strength of the model itself. We were in Le Mans recently, at the museum, and I took some great detail pictures to help me finish my Audi R18. Also the Bentley Speed 8 that they have there was very inspirational. Dark green Lego is tricky though, and expensive.”

So what else does Bob have in store next? “There’s a Peugeot 905 in the works, which is without a doubt my favourite Le Mans racer of all time. The cockpit and doors have been a real challenge. An Alfa Romeo 8C 2300 is almost finished and I’ve started gathering research and parts for a Tyrrell 006, which I’m excited about. I’d also like to do an Indycar from the ‘80s at some point.”

Peugeot 905B

Here at Motor Sport we’re glad there are people like Bob in the world, taking a subject we all know well and coming at it from a new angle. It sounds as if his work will remain unique, at least for the time being – there are no plans to make his designs available for others to follow, for a very good reason. “People ask me about it all the time and I would love to. But because my process is mostly intuitive – I don’t use Lego CAD [computer-aided design] software – I would have to take the cars apart, count all the pieces, draw the steps… Ugh. That doesn’t sound nearly as fun as building them.”

Like anything to do with motor sport, watching is great but getting involved is even better, so if you want to try something similar your best bet is to get stuck in. And if you’ve already built or drawn something or you’ve got a project on the go, let us know!

Click here to see a gallery of Bob’s work

Click here for more from Alex Harmer

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