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By Charlie Pack

The largest set in the current Meccano/Erector Motion System is the Special Edition/Millennium Set. It contains 643 pieces and a manual with full construction details for 11 different models, plus pictures of 13 more. It comes in a two layer plastic storage case identical to the one of the now-obsolete Master Builder Set, except it is silver gray and black instead of red and yellow.

My set did not have the power tool, even though there is a place for it in the case (no big loss). I paid about $65 for my set (discounted from $99) and that seems to be the typical street price. It is advertised in the current MW Models price list for 59.99 (about $99 in US currency).

The color scheme of the parts is attractive in zinc-plate, black and bright orange. While most of the pieces are metal, there are plastic pulleys, road wheels, spacers, steering knuckles, and short three hole pieces which can serve as bearing blocks or spacers.

The standard six-volt motor is included, hard wired to one end piece of a battery holder with built in three way reversing switch. The plastic battery holder can be assembled for two or four AA batteries. Allen head bolts are supplied, and I especially like the P.N.37b bolts in black (all other nuts and bolts are zinc plated). Interestingly, the set includes four wide plastic wheels with internal teeth. There are four rubber tires to go on them when used as road wheels. But there is not a single pinion in the set, and none of the models make use of the toothed road wheels! It should be noted, however, that in some of the models built with other sets in the Motion System, use is made of these toothed parts.

With no gears, how is speed reduction accomplished? It's done in two ways: with pulleys and belts, and with multiple reeving of hoisting cords in crane models.
Most of the axle rods are of the formed, "triple flat" variety; and most of the wheeled parts have axle holes shaped to match. Instead of collars and bosses, various kinds of plastic and rubber friction devices are used to fix things on axles. These work better than the old-style spring clips. In the Special Edition/Millennium Set there is only one brass collar and only two parts with brass bosses: the three-inch pulleys. Incidentally these three-inch pulleys, plus all the plates in the set, are painted in a dark gray crackle finish, and quite attractive. All of the smaller plastic pulleys are bright orange.

The Millennium Set has still another interesting feature, one which allows a single motor to operate two different drives (such as luffing and hoisting) independently, still without gears. Both drives are connected to the motor with reduction belts and pulleys; and with no other hardware, both would operate simultaneously. In the final reduction to each drive, there is a clever over center device which actually lifts the belt off the driving pulley, shifting it to a dummy idler, thus putting the drive in "neutral". Little rubber set collars are used effectively as pulleys in these mechanisms. Directional control is accomplished by reversing the motor with the built in switch on the battery holder.

Although the featured "flagship" model of the set is a stationary crane, the set can build several moving models. All of the models are small: the longest parts in the set are two 19 hole strips and the largest plate is a 2.5" x 5.5" flanged plate. Each model is illustrated by a series of photo-like exploded views in color which are quite effective. The manual has no names for either the models or for the individual parts. How can one learn to communicate mechanical principles without words? Oh well, at least there are part numbers!

I chose to assemble the flagship model, a stationary crane with four legs. It appears to have been designed to sit on uneven ground, as the legs are pivoted and adjustable. Perhaps it was based on a prototype intended for construction of a base on the moon. Nevertheless, it is a clever model with three actions: slewing, luffing and hoisting. The latter two actions are electrically powered, and slewing is on a built up roller bearing.

Although not resembling anything I have ever seen here on Earth, the model is quite attractive. In fact, if a crane could be called "cute", this one comes close to fitting that description.

With a couple of caveats, I found the assembly diagrams easy to follow and the model easy to build. It went together well (in about 8 hours) and worked properly, the only problems being minor and involving things such as spacing washers and unwanted friction.

One should study the illustrations carefully in advance, to see how the different sub-assemblies will fit together. Also, it will be helpful to sort and identify all the parts before beginning any assembly. There are several different lengths of bolts, and one must be careful to use the right ones. Also, there are several kinds and sizes of plastic spacers and friction collars in several colors.

In this model the roller bearing uses two three-inch pulleys, a wheel flange (P.N.137) and 19 cylindrical plastic spacers instead of steel balls. Because the wheel flange is fixed to the rotating structure, not to the base, assembly is best accomplished by turning the crane upside down and blocking it so it can't tilt or fall over while placing the spacers on the pulley outside the wheel flange, and then setting the tower on top--very carefully!

When assembling the upper race (three-inch pulley) to the crane, make sure the grub screw tap is accessible! It has a two-inch rod fixed to it, which goes through the lower race (the other three-inch pulley) on the tower and is held in place by the brass collar. Once the crane is mounted on the tower, the roller bearing works quite well.

The completed crane model works quite well. In spite of it being quite a bit out of balance (there is too much weight in the back), slewing (not driven by motor) is smooth and without friction. Hoisting and luffing work satisfactorily but there is a lot of friction in the multiple reeving. Because of this, hoisting works best with a heavy load (several ounces) to counteract friction and the out of balance condition. The new triple flat axle rods are somewhat loose in the holes in the metal parts; and when driven at high speed, they chatter a lot. I still prefer round axle rods, and pulleys and gears with bosses in my models.

In conclusion, the No.7080 Special Edition/Millennium Set is good value for both novice and experienced builders. The crane model works well and its assembly will provide good educational value in mechanical principles. Some people may not like the system of non captioned, blown up illustrations for assembly. Nevertheless, the quality of assembly documentation has improved a lot since the early-1990s' Calais sets. For those interested only in parts--and not averse to a bit of useful plastic--this set at street prices still offers a good selection of interesting parts, plus a useful storage case as well.

Last Updated: October 2, 2000