Review: Meccano Super Construction Set

Manufacturer: Meccano Ltd. | List Price: $139.99 | Buy from Amazon

I am not really a toy-playing kid. I had some toys around, and had a bit of fun fiddling with Lego and the like, but reading and playing video games were always more appealing to me. But when I heard about Meccano from James May’s Toy Stories earlier this year, I got quite excited. So it was the work-hard-at-school-and-use-the-report-card-to-get-toy technique. On with the review.

The first thing that distinguishes Meccano (known as Erector in the States) from every other construction toy on the market is it’s durability. The main pieces are made of metal, with secondary pieces made from hard plastic. The metal is stiff enough to not warp or bend too much, yet just flexible enough to at least consider shifting it a bit here or there to get that bolt in.

It’s also highly educational. While Lego only lets you shape it into whatever you want, Meccano really lets you build a scale version of the real thing. The pulleys and mechanisms are a very good representation of the real machines, and almost without knowing it, you’ve just learnt a great deal about real-life mechanics.

The Super Construction Set is one of the more versatile sets available today. Surpassed in grandeur only by the 50 Model Set, it has many more pieces than both it and the similarly-priced 40 Model Set. Although it has only 25 models in its book, there is likely much more you can do with this set, as it has 643 parts, more than any other set. It does lack gears (which I’m not sure if the other sets have), but some tyres can be attached to pulleys, using friction to do the same thing. Like the Meccano of old, it also comes in a sturdy plastic box, with compartments to organise your parts. This is a great addition, as it saves you from having to search through a huge pile of parts every time you reopen the box.

One thing that discourages first-time Meccano boys is the difficulty of the Meccano system. At 14 years old, I’m a good 6 years older than the recommended age of 8, and I still find myself extremely confused with the instructions sometimes. It seems this is common, because on the Meccano website’s FAQ, they recommend children work on the models with a parent. Of course this is a great strategy, because the ultimate Meccano combination is the brain-power of an adult combined with the nimble fingers of an eight-year old child.

The only real downside to Meccano nowadays is that it has largely lost touch with it’s humble beginnings as an English engineering toy. Since its management’s move to France, the friendly instructions and commentary in the old instruction booklets have been replaced by wordless international IKEA-style booklets. The free system of making exactly what you design has now become the more Lego-ish specialised set where the capabilities do not go much beyond what is in the instruction booklet. Also, gone are the days when a cheerful old Meccano dealer would sell you individual parts you needed for your grand crane or train. As a result, the Meccano you would be able to buy now could not be further from the Meccano you see in James May’s Toy Stories.

Old Meccano is still available from second hand dealers on the internet, and though more durable and versatile, comes with often hefty price tags, as you’ll have competition from the huge cult following vintage Meccano has. But if you can snag a deal at a garage sale or pawn shop, then it may be a better choice than getting the modern sets. If you have adequate parts, you can still build many models from old instruction manuals or read the now discontinued Meccano Magazine.

Despite its drastic change of personality, if you are looking for a fun educational toy for your child (or yourself), Meccano, even the new variety, is still a great choice. If you have had experience with Meccano before, then you may be a little disappointed with what it’s become today, but there is no denying that Meccano is still one of the – if not the – best construction toy on shelves today.

List Price: $139.99 | Buy from Amazon

Have you had the fortune to try Meccano out, new or old? Tell us all about it, in the comments?

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