Chris’s MOC Engine

Years ago when I built my little Lego engine, I had no idea that building Lego engines was a thing. I was just messing around. And since I decided to turn this into a full sized article, I wonder if I will go overboard and build something unnecessarily complicated to go with my engine? It’s a real mystery. Click the pic and find out!

In the world of Lego builders, the acronym “MOC” stands for My Own Creation. It is a signal to other creators that what they are seeing is not a standard Lego set, but something that came from the mind of the person posting it. MOCs can be as intricate or simple as you desire, and – as I understand it – the only steadfast rule for MOCs is that they are not simply variations of existing official Lego or Lego compatible sets. They are literally your own creations.

I will be the first to tell you that I know nothing about cars. I can explain to you the basic principles of an internal combustion engine, but beyond that I believe car hoods are there to cover up all that ugly machinery surrounding my windshield wiper fluid reservoir. But if you were to google the words “moc lego piston engine,” you would find an absolutely staggering number of Lego engines with working pistons, crank shafts, and other real world automotive systems designed by Lego fans who should probably be designing actual cars.

So when I started building my engine, I was not starting from the point of view of a person who knows anything about real world engine design. I was starting from the perspective of a guy who realized that a 1980’s Technic gear surrounded by a Lego fender/wheel well looks a lot like what he imagines a futuristic fan/turbine housing might look like. And that’s pretty much how it began; the three Lego elements above and the spark of an idea.

Back when I used to build model kits and kitbash Transformers, I learned a very useful term: greeble (GREE-blee). Greebles (GREE-bleez) originally referred to little pieces and parts harvested from plastic model kits and sprue, which are used to add interesting, quasi-technological details to models. And, oh, how my fellow Sci-Fi Guy Mark mocked me when I first used the term in his presence. For years. But despite the derision, I soon realized that “greeble” is an extremely useful word for sci-fi aficionados, because it describes something we see almost constantly. It finally gave a name to a technique common to model makers and special effects artists alike. And nowadays when you say greebles it is generally understood in this broader, more useful sense, which is “small detailing added to break up the surface of an object and add visual interest.”

Star Wars is without a doubt the most greeble sci-fi franchise that exists. If legend is to be believed, the term greeble was actually invented by the ILM builders working on models for Star Wars back in 1975. But from proton packs to Predator technology, greeble is a sci-fi staple. And for good reason: it just looks cool. And when it comes to small, cool looking pieces that can be easily added to a model, as you can see by the spaceship above, there is no toy in the world more wonderfully greeble than Lego.

I would fiddle with my engine while I surfed Netflix in my spare time after work. This was pre-pandemic, so spare time was a lot more spare, but still I’d find a few minutes here and there to add little bits of visual flavor to my engine. With the exception of the fan and cowling I don’t know what any of these parts are supposed to represent. But any time I found a particularly interesting bit of automotive-like greeble to make my engine look more mechanical, I would do a quick rebuild. And here’s what I came up with:

All those curious little textures and surface details make me feel like every piece of this engine does something. Like every part has a function. It’s all just greeble, of course, built by a man who has seen engines but doesn’t fully understand them. Nevertheless, in my mind, it works.

I purposefully overbuilt this engine. I wanted it to look imposing and unrealistically powerful, so I chose appearance, as I always do, above purism. My engine includes Kre-O and Mega Bloks/Mega Construx pieces in addition to Lego. Hell, there may even be some old Tyco in there. I wasn’t really keeping tabs on what did or didn’t make it into the finished model. I was only interested in building something fun, not following the according-to-Hoyle strictures of competitive Lego builds. This wasn’t being built for a win, it was built just for me.

So now that I’ve hauled the old girl out of mothballs and gotten all her parts back in order, it feels like there’s more to be done. Not on the engine, but in relation to the engine. Like I said, I’m no motorhead, and this thing probably doesn’t look like any real world motor. So let’s steer into the skid and abandon realism altogether. Let’s make this engine sci-fi.

While searching for Lego engine images I came across this excellent engine hoist build. The scale is unfortunately inadequate for the size of my engine, but it gives me a few good ideas. Let’s build an engine hoist Sci-Fi Guys style. And because I like this build is so much, I’m making mine red and grey in tribute.

BOOM! My hoist! Or possibly my crane. I’m not sure where one definition ends and the other begins. What I do know is that I’ve FINALLY found a use for these red Technic beams I’ve had sitting around for decades.

In fact, the Technic beams were key to replicating the wide angle supports of the engine hoist. Experienced Lego builders know that you can take advantage of Pythagorean geometry to include angles that don’t conform to Lego’s 90° grid architecture. Here I used two beams and two Technic connector pins with studs to attach the beams to the plates above. The forward two studs of the 2×3 33 degree inverted slope stabilize the back ends of the beams so they can’t pivot. Not only does this lock the beams in place, but it makes for a surprisingly sturdy chassis. This thing is solid.

As in real life, my greying undercarriage reveals my age. The newer blue-grey Lego plastic really stands out against my old light grey 1980s parts. Nevertheless I find that a few well placed pieces of Technic greeble can really set the tone, so I installed a dual drive shaft made out of whatever these things are.

I wanted the hook to be more than just a chain, so I dug around in my newer pieces for some Technic ball joints. These little game changers make it possible to articulate very small models and they have a nice, tight hold, perfect for a gripping claw.

I’m not happy with this claw. Aesthetically, apart from the grey skeleton leg I used to connect it to the line, it’s fine (you can’t see it from this angle, but it has skeleton toes, which I imagine most astronaut engine hoists would not). The problem is that the long grey rod holding everything together is just in the way. And I’ll let you in on a little secret: I’ve already redesigned it. The new design is better looking and more functional, and very much skeleton toe free. But I don’t have a picture yet, so just imagine this but better.

And it holds!

I intend to use this hoist as part of a larger Neo-Classic Space build I have in mind, so I included a lot of extra clips, rods, and other features that don’t really do anything at the moment. One feature I definitely intend to use later is the tow hook. This is going to be a multifunction piece of equipment for my little spaceguys.

I also wanted to get away from seats and cockpits. This is a device meant to be used in a motor pool environment, so ease of use is paramount. Instead of a seated enclosure the operator stands on the control platform. Dual monitors display load weight and mechanical stress data, while the drive controls and hoist are operated via pseudo-analog levers, pedals, and a steering wheel.

And there we have it, my MOC Engine and engine hoist! Of course, no science fiction device would be complete without a science fiction technobabble explanation to help our suspension of disbelief. Allow me to introduce to you my Neo-Classic Space build, the MOC (Multifuel Omni-Carburation) Engine!

The MOC (Multifuel Omni-Carburation) Engine is a vehicular power plant designed to operate efficiently on planets with vastly differing atmospheres.

Multifuel engines are ubiquitous in space exploration, particularly in wheeled surface vehicles and subsonic, low-altitude aircraft. Multifuel engines can run on a wide variety of liquids, gases, and plasmas, provided those fuels are combustible and/or compressible. Fuel flexibility requires a more robust structure to contain and channel differing combustion forces, so multifuel engines are particularly resistant to physical damage, often outlasting the vehicles for which they are built. Their drawback, however, is that most multifuel engines are designed for use in oxygen rich atmospheres where fuel injection systems can manage the optimum fuel/air mix. Lacking enough free atmospheric oxygen (or an oxygen supplementation system), these engines cannot run.

The multifuel omni-carburation engine circumvents this issue by replacing the fuel injectors with an omni-carburetor which separates atmospheric components into discrete gas flows. These gases are purified and enriched by catalytic sieves and temperature conditioning, then directed as needed through the engine for combustion and/or cooling. This allows for efficient engine operation in which most known fluidic fuels can be made to achieve optimum combustion in nearly any atmosphere. And since carburetors operate without electricity, the omni-carburetor reduces engine complexity and eliminates the electrical and computational loads required by fuel injection systems, with only marginal increases in engine weight and volume.

UPDATE: Okay, the sun came up and now I have better light for pics. Let’s see that new claw.

I found a red Technic pin with a stud that’s about half the length of the old grey pin. This provides greater clearance below the hook. You can’t see most of it; it’s hidden neatly inside that upside down 1×1 round brick, a little technique I discovered which works quite nicely. I also found a 1×1 tile with a vertical clip that allowed me to get rid of that stupid skeleton leg.

Instead of the red parabolic dish on top of the previous version of the claw, I put a grey parabolic dish on the underside, which stands out beautifully against the red pin and slopes. I imagine this is a magneto-tractor emitter, which provides the bulk of the gripping power without actually touching the item being lifted. The claw arms are primarily used for stabilization, but also serve as powerful hydraulic grips for lifting nonmagnetic loads, or devices or substances that do not readily interact with tractor beam/force field energies.

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