Whatever Happened To Classic Town IV: Welcome to LEGO City

When Minifigures arrived on the scene in 1978, we were presented with three settings: Castle, Town and Space – The Past, The Present and The Future. Through the 1980s, these themes developed in their own ways, fairly independent of each other. During the 1990s, we saw the themes diversify in different ways: Space brought us a new hyperfluorescent faction each year; Castle changed a little less frequently, but introduced an increasing amount of magic. In the meantime, Town diversified: no longer the sole home of contemporary lifestyles, we saw different themes split off, containing subject material based on the contemporary real world: Divers, Paradisa, Outback, Race, Space Port, ResQ, Team Extreme, and Sports. The ‘core material’ – which we first saw back in 1978 – police, fire and construction – became increasingly juniorized. Having been further dumbed down for younger builders with the introduction of Jack Stone, and other 4Juniors sets, we saw a return to more mature material with LEGO World City.

However, both the 4Juniors and World City themes featured alleged models of modern vehicles that bore minimal resemblance to the real-world equivalent. After the LEGO Group’s financial crisis, a number of themes were discontinued, and the company set out to return to its core business. A revitalised town theme was introduced – but things were on their way to being a bit bigger; expectations were greater: Town just wasn’t going to cut it anymore: we were presented with LEGO City.

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Whatever happened to Classic Town? Part I: 1978-1990

This year, I am looking at how LEGO Themes developed from those early days in 1978. Castle, Town and Space all developed in their own way, and they certainly don’t look the same today as they did back then! So as we take a ramble down Memory Lane, let’s look at how things were and how they have changed: scale, elements, colours and more.

For our first theme to track through time, I am looking at the theme that set out to represent the world around us: Classic Town. Over the years, this theme has evolved, with the LEGO City theme of today looking very different, yet incorporating similar subject matter. This investigation covers material released over more than 40 years. So it might take a little while. In this post, I shall cover LEGO Town from its origins in 1978 to 1990. Next time, we shall look at the System era (1992-1999). Finally, in the future, we will examine LEGO City and see how that theme compares with those in the early days. 

Along the way, we will examine the scale, building techniques, elements and more. There will be lots of pictures, sure to provoke a degree of nostalgia. I’d love to know which sets you feel fondly about and what you enjoyed about these themes.

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Whatever Happened To Classic LEGO® Themes? Part I: Prelude

The last time I was having a chat to adult visitors at a public exhibition (remember those?), something came up on more than one occasion: LEGO® Themes these days are not what they used to be. It used to be pretty simple – you’d build the set (and it was probably Town, Space or Castle. Unless you were a bit younger – then it may well have been a Pirates set) – and you’d pull it apart and build something else. It might be one of the alternate builds on the back of the box, it might be something completely different. It may not have even been related to the original theme.

These days, many sets thrive on 3rd party IP, and the majority of the in-house, story-driven themes are tied in with either an animated series or an overly complicated app.

For those of us yearning for a simpler time, in a world where things have become increasingly complicated, things are looking bleak! Unless you want to go straight to the 4+ sets.

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