Spreading out all 1,677 pieces of the LEGO Ferrari 488 GTE AF Corse #51 racing car on my living room table, Lao Tzu’s “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” echoed in my mind as I struggled to fathom how I would finish this project.
A thousand miles? More like a thousand toilet breaks.
But first, what I’ll be building. The real-life Number 51 Ferrari 488 GTE AF Corse race car, under the pilotage of Alessandro Pier Guidi, James Calado and Daniel Serra, competed in the 2018/19 FIA World Endurance Championship.
After 70 races, the team had clinched 26 wins, 18 pole positions, 70 podiums and four championships, proving the 488 GTE to be a reliable and robust race car.
LEGO has taken that race-winning greatness and distilled it into a set that has been crafted by veteran designer Lars Krogh Jensen, who has been designing LEGO Technic models for 28 years.
(With that experience, I’m pretty certain he’s being modest when he says it was “challenging” to capture the real race car’s lines.)
That information is all in the thick book that accompanies the LEGO version of the racing car, with plenty more informative nuggets nestled within its 321 pages, together with highly detailed technical drawings and guides that will prove their worth very soon.
But thousand miles, single step, lots of LEGO. Right.
LEGO Ferrari 488 GTE: GETTING ORGANISED
If you have not built a LEGO project of this size, it pays to first lay out all your large pieces as I have done – and grab some bubble tea.
The advantages of doing so go beyond the aesthetics – this helps you visualise what part needs to be fitted next and also helps you see if you need to grab more pieces out of other bags.
For the assorted joints/locking pins, grab a few plastic bowls and sort them out by colour.
Also, this project took me 15 hours to single-handedly put together. If you have a child, or an adult equally keen to share the same space with you for any length of time, get their help.
But if you – like me – are of the OCD sort, you might find more satisfaction doing things yourself.
First up: part of the rear differential. The clear, concise instructions in the Lego booklet are a huge boon to novices like me, who up till this time have only ever built something a quarter of this size.
It’s a well-built component, with the gears made out of high-quality plastic and with nary an injection seam.
It’s then connected to the rear suspension assembly, complete with working shock absorbers and control arms, the ends of which are attached to the beginnings of the wheel assembly.
Next, the engine. The real-life 488 GTE is powered by a 4-litre version of Ferrari’s turbocharged V8, producing over 600hp and 700Nm of torque in racing form.
To handle the stresses of motorsports, the 488 GTE’s V8 has redesigned components like pistons, shafts, connecting rods and turbochargers.
In LEGO-world, things are much simpler. There are still eight “cylinders”, but the inner workings of the engine have all of 25 moving parts.
I say moving parts because the pistons do indeed move up and down inside the cylinders, and it’s a great moment to show, perhaps a younger one, how an internal-combustion engine (ICE) reciprocates.
(Take this chance to educate your child about ICE vehicles before we all end up driving electric ones.)
From the rear/middle of the car (where the Ferrari 488’s engine is), we head to the front, where the instructions show us how to build the steering rack.
As with everything on this car, the steering rack is connected to the steering wheel and moveable, though I suspect the handling on this plastic model is not quite as incisive as the real-life one.
Once that’s done, it’s time for the union of both front and back ends. This is where the chassis of the car really starts to take shape, and where a large sigh of relief can be released.
The result is a large, rigid, albeit still shapeless form, but it again helps to visualise all that goes on beneath a car’s sheet metal.
This stage is also where the first stickers are applied on the car. The stickers come together on two sheets in the box and applying them correctly is a matter of matching the numbers in the guide and the sticker sheet and having a pair of steady hands.
Up to this point, some ten hours have already passed. It might sound like a large chunk of time, but it’s incredibly important to ensure you use the right parts and line up the correct little pins into the right holes. One wrong move would be literally a disaster.
The front of the car now goes on, but not after a small scare where some pins did not line up. That might sound trivial, but when you have just spent the last two hours assembling it, it would have been another two hours to undo whatever mistake you made.
Thankfully, all that was needed was to push the whole front assembly rearwards, and everything fit.
Things now move much more rapidly as the large parts come into the picture.
The roof, made in one piece first, goes on next, followed by all four wheel-arches, together with part of the rear fascia. Stickers get liberally plastered on, including those with the three drivers’ names, as well as some sponsor decals. The car is really starting to take shape.
Now, the finish line is in sight. The rims and tyres are squeezed together and mounted on all four corners. For the first time, the car can sit properly on its wheels, and you can even push it down on its suspension.
After this, there’s not much left but to fit on the rear spoiler.
At this point, the elation of completing the build should be accompanied by the theme song from Rocky, as you vanquish nearly 15 hours of shoulder and butt pain, to finally emerge victorious after this marathon build.
It’s not quite a thousand miles, but it’s still an incredible feeling, after 15 hours, to see the final product come alive. At 48cm long, the model captures the essence of the real-life race car well, and it’s also one of the best-looking LEGO models around.
Be very organised, thorough and methodical in your approach. Many pitfalls await if you misalign any part. The mistake will only reveal itself towards the later part of the build, and it’s a painful process to backtrack to fix the error.
But get it right, and you’ll have something that can take pride of place on your shelf – and a build you can boast about.