Lego may have started out as a simple toy, but later became a brilliant platform for mechanical experimentation. Many like to build their favorite cars or engines in thousands of plastic bricks, and Evan Koblentz is no exception. His latest build is an award-winning recreation of the Chevy 454 big block V8 from the 1970s.

“It took me one pandemic to build it,” says Koblentz, showing pride in his life-size replica. As explained in his YouTube video, the build weighs about 40 pounds and stands 4 feet long with its transmission attached. It’s complete with crankshaft, pistons, pushrods, camshafts, and sixteen valves. It’s also got a simulated distributor that runs a series of eight spark plug lights, one per cylinder.

While most Lego enthusiasts are happy to raid the company’s entire parts bin, Koblentz was more discerning in his selection. The engine was built only using Lego parts from the 1970s and 1980s. The vast majority of components are from the Expert Builders series, the predecessor to the popular Technic line of mechanical Lego parts. Koblentz took this tack to prove the engine could be entirely built with traditional “studded square parts” from the Lego range.

Of particular note are the electronics that run the show. Decades before Lego Mindstorms came along, there were altogether simpler programmable kits to run Lego motors and the like. Koblentz managed to source a functioning Lego Control Center kit from the 8-bit era, complete with its interface card for the Apple II home computer.

Koblentz runs the engine with a pair of Lego Interface A controllers that operate the build’s 4.5-volt motors.

Koblentz runs the ancient Lego gear from a Laser 128, a popular clone of the Apple II from the 1980s. A variety of contemporary software was available for talking to the Lego Interface A motor controllers, with Koblentz whipping up some custom BASIC code instead to do the job. The old-school gear is primarily charged with running the distributor and spark plug lights that help animate the engine.

Koblentz took the build to Brickworld Chigaco in 2022, which stands as the biggest Lego event in the US. It was nominated for the Best Mechanical category, though didn’t take home the honors. That prompted Koblentz to add the working four-speed transmission. It’s complete with a flywheel and clutch and works just like a real manual gearbox with a shifter on top. It even has reverse and the full four forward speeds you’d expect.

The new additions were enough to get Koblentz the Best Mechanical trophy when he headed back to Brickworld Chicago this year. For a build constructed entirely out of ancient parts and animated with 8-bit hardware long forgotten by Lego itself, that’s a heck of a feat.

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