Review: 6399 Airport Shuttle (1990)
Posted 19 July 2012 - 12:30 PM
Lego 6399 Airport Shuttle
I missed lots of awesome Lego during my dark ages - for me, that was late 80s to early 2000s. Once I got back into Lego as an AFOL with kids, there have been certain missed sets that I just had to get. Some to keep, some just to build, play with, and then sell on to others. One of the latter category was the Airport Shuttle monorail set. Due to the extremely high price, I had no intentions of keeping the set, but I wanted to try it and show it to my kids. I set up a Bricklink and ebay alert and waited. Finally, one came along at a price I was willing to pay.
Name: Airport Shuttle
Set Number: 6399
Price: $140 (in 1990, so that was like a bazillion dollars!)
Theme: Classic Town / Airport
Year of Release: 1990
Links: Bricklink Peeron Brickset
The box is large - easily as big as the largest modern sets like the Technic flagships. The front has a decent photo of the set, although it's so large of a layout that even Lego couldn't get it all to fit the box without an inset.
Inside the Box
Like other old sets, this box has a flip-up panel on the front so you can see inside. I'm sure originally the pieces were nicely displayed under the plastic, but the molded inner part has been lost. Now the pieces just are a jumbled mess.
Under the Lid
The inside of the lid has a nice array of photos showing what the set can do. There's some action shots of the figs using the train and stations, plus a trio of images showing how the monorail can be controlled with the switch tracks. I think the best one though is the top photo with the boy. Having a real child playing with the set shows just how large and awesome this layout is.
The Back of the Box
Now this is what's missing from modern Lego. Suggestions to make your own mods! New station designs, even new train variations! My favorite by far is the safari monorail in the top right. A great open car for seeing the animals, a decent brick-built elephant, and a nice tour guide in the front.
The front cover of the manual (just one manual!) has the same image as the box, plus it shows you the minifigs in a group so you can assemble them correctly. They're easier than modern figs though, since they all have the same head! You can't really see from this photo, but this is a THIN manual. There's only 20 some pages to it. Considering you build two large train stations, a monorail train, and the track layout, things must move fast once you open this book...
Wow, this is so different from modern Lego manuals. Here, in just two pages, nearly a whole train car is built! 5 steps add several dozen parts, rather than the 10 or so you'd add in 5 steps today. They even assume kids have brains - check out the cover for the motor on the right-hand page. They didn't tell you explicitly to put the 1x4 tile and 1x2 grills on the back of the cover! They thought a kid could figure out to do both sides the same!
The last page of the manual is a fold-out so that they can show you the entire track layout.
On the back of the manual are suggestions for a couple alternate track layouts. I rather like the top one myself, although it'd take a little work to make the stations fit.
This set comes with NINE figs! You get an engineer to run the monorail, a white-gloved steward to take care of the passengers on their long train journey (what? Seems so unnecessary!), a dad for the travelling family, a pilot headed to the airport, mom with her red-necklaced torso, a red-headed daughter, two sons with plane and truck shirts, and finally a cook for the hot-dog stand. How many hot-dog stands have chefs with chef hat and formal attire though? He should be in greasy casual clothes. And being from 1990, they all have the same head.
The Monorail Parts
Here's how the monorail itself works. There are special train bases. One end has a thicker spot with a pin hole for the wheels, and the other end has a tab that will connect to the motor. There's no easy way to make a longer train than car-motor-car. You'd have to custom-build a coupling system to extend it. The wheels themselves are fairly complex. The pin lets the bogey rotate, and the pin is mounted on a pivoting section to let it tilt forwards and back to handle the ramps. There's a slot through the underside of the bogey that straddles the ridge in the tracks, keeping the train on the track.
In this set you get a nice array of trans-light blue windows for the train. None were particularly rare at the time, but they're unusual today.
The Battery Box
The red 9V battery box. It's only ever been in two sets (in red; this 9V box has come in black, red, white, and yellow over the years) , but I sorta wish it would come back in the PowerFunctions system. It's so nice and compact. There's a 2x6 section of powered studs on top for attaching multiple things if you wanted, and the raised grey studs at the left end are the power switch. They latch down to turn the power on.
The Battery Box
Here's just how small the battery box is. A single 9V battery just fits inside. Granted, a modern battery box with 6 AA or AAA batteries will last longer, but they're so much bigger. I wish Lego would come out with a rechargeable box this size or smaller. You could get a lot of power in that space using modern lithium batteries.
Building the Train, Part 1
This is how much you build on just the first 2 page spread of the manual. The front of the train has the battery box, two passenger seats, and a cockpit for the driver. A little bit of SNOT at the front gives headlights.
Building the Train, Part 2
Another two-page spread in the manual, and the front half of the train is done. The train opens nicely, although unrealistically, to access the seating.
Building the Motor
In the middle of any Lego monorail is the motor unit. It comes as one piece, plus a cover. The motor has connections for a 9V cable on one side.
Under the Hood
On the bottom, the motor has a metal gear. That meshes with the teeth of the track, letting the monorail handle hills with ease. The points sticking out to each side are a switch. In the middle (as shown here), the motor is off. Pushing the switch in on one side makes the motor go, and pushing in the other side makes it go the other direction. This lets you set switches on the track itself to control the train, as we'll see later in this review.
The Finished Train
The second car of the monorail builds very much like the first, but with extra seating space since there's no battery box taking up half the car. You get another driver's section (since the monorail can run either direction) and three seats. I guess the space in the back (towards the motor) is luggage storage, since it's hard to access.
The Airport Shuttle comes with two large, 32x32 baseplates. The green one appeared for the first time in this set, but showed up 4 times over the years later. The grey version ONLY ever appeared in this set, making it run $15-$20 for used ones.
Building the First Station, Part 1
The first station of the shuttle begins like this. Two smaller green baseplates are added onto the back of the large one to extend the space. They're only attached though by the 2x3 bricks on the outside edges - just 2 studs of each small plate ever attach. That makes it weak and hard to move the station later. Lego really should have put a few plates across the edges here to strengthen the ground.
Building the First Station, Part 2
Just a few steps and the station is nearly done. There's a long platform for the boarding the monorail, steps up to it, a couple storage lockers on the left, a phone booth near the road, and even little ticket scanners at each staircase. Lego did a great job here keeping things simple but very playable. The white curved panels making the base of the awning are pretty cool, and very rare. They've been made in other sets in clear and trans-light blue, but only here in white. So yeah, they're $5 each to replace. And that's not even counting the stickers!
Building the First Station, Part 3
And the station is done. The awning is complete with a nice airport sticker on top (although annoyingly, that sticker is across 3 1x4 bricks), flowers have been added, and the track is in place. You'd think the track would strengthen the extra baseplates that it's on, but you'd be wrong. The track keeps popping off, because it's only attached with a couple studs. (Actually, I'm wrong about that. The center of the switch track is a large attachment point, but I never got it properly attached when I first built the set. When I rebuilt it later, I got it on right and it's much stronger.)
Speaking of the track, let's take a quick look at the Lego monorail track. This is the short straight piece. There are also long straights, short and long curves, left and right switches (aka points), the control switch, and ramp top and bottom parts. All have this toothed rail running down the middle to guide the train. There's studs at the ends on the sides - the track pieces are connencted by adding 1x4 plates or tiles to those studs. On the underside, there are some stud connections. They stick down from the track so that the edges of the track don't hit other studs. However, the small section of connection makes it a weak connection.
The First Station, Complete
The train stops at the station and you can open the doors. The platform is just long enough to reach all the seats, but there's no easy access for the poor drivers.
A Mini-Fig's-Eye View
As a minifig arrives at the station, this is what they'd see. Nice little signs in the center directing them, a town map on the awning, a phone booth, and some random seats near the phone. Oh, and completely exposed tracks with no guard rails of any kind to protect the kiddies from running out onto the tracks and getting hit. Hey, it was the early 90s and lawyers hadn't sued everyone yet.
The Town Map Sticker
On the awning is this nice map. The train track is actually shown as the double loop layout with two stations that the set uses. It even shows the driveway at each station correctly, with the little island splitting the roadway. Even the green vs grey baseplates are correct! The rest of the town and road, though, are not included.
The Schedule Sticker
This is a great little surprise Easter Egg in the set. Those "flight numbers" are actually Lego train set numbers from the 1980s, spanning the 4.5V and 12V era. 7725 is the Electric Passenger Train, 7755 is the Diesel Heavy Shunting Locomotive, 7720 is the Diesel Freight set, and 7715 is the Push-Along Passenger Train. The last two numbers (7719 and 7721) are not trains though. They're Bionicle and Exo-Force sets from the mid-2000s. I wonder if those numbers were used internally at Lego for trains or something? Or train sets that were never released?
The Phone Booth
Ok, it's not a full Superman-style phone booth. But it's still a nice little telephone using a printed slope brick. I love the more realistic red phones (such as in the latest Batcave set), but this one fits this set's style perfectly.
Building the Second Station, Part 1
Time to start the second station. Here again another baseplate is added to the back of the large one to expand the area. Based on the pillars, it's pretty obvious this station is going to be elevated.
Building the Second Station, Part 2
After another page of building, the elevated track supports are more substantial, the stairs are built most of the way up, and a little food stand is nearly done.
Building the Second Station, Part 3
The burger stand is now complete, the stairs have extended upwards, and the upper level is building out.
Building the Second Station, Part 4
Almost done now. Scenery has been added - plants, lightposts, chairs, etc. The platform is built with railings, and the awning is in place with stickers showing a train schedule. Those yellow curved panels may be the rarest pieces in the whole set - in yellow, Bricklink only shows 4 having been sold in the last 6 months! They come in white and several trans colors (including currently trans clear in one of the Friends sets) as well, but yellow was exclusive to this set. Another thing driving Lego's profits down on these old sets... why not use the same white panels as the other station? And then just change the white floor here to a color if you want. Sure, the white ones are larger, but who ever complained about an awning being too large?
The Second Station
The station has a nice layout. A couple trees split the driveway. Passengers can grab a burger and drink from the booth before heading up the stairs to the platform. There's seating for 3 up there (as well as the random pair of yellow seats across the road - why not put them near the burger shop?)
Why a minifig would want to sit way over here I have no idea. Maybe just to be out of the crowds while waiting for a friend to arrive on the train? At least they've got some flowers and lights to keep it from being so abandoned.
The Burger Joint
Below the station lives a small burger shop. The sign is again an annoying sticker across multiple bricks. There's ketchup and mustard on tap, and I love the tiny burgers made from 3 1x1 round plates!
This station has the same stickers as the first, but side-by-side for easier viewing.
The Train's View
As the train approaches the station, it has a nice clear view. Lights (fake, obviously) indicate whether to stop or go - but I think by the time the train can see these lights, it can see if the station is occupied! Still, a nice touch though. Maybe they'd be better pointed inwards so the train IN the station can see them and know when to proceed out of the station?
Overhead View of the Station
You can see here how Lego makes the monorail fit perfectly. The train is 4 studs wide with nothing sticking out the sides (other than the direction switch on the motor). The track is also exactly 4 studs wide. Here you've got the grey (on the left) and white (on the right, front edge of the station) "Plate, Modified 3 x 2 with Hole" using their rounded edges to guide the train perfectly into the station. Keeps everything nicely lined up so the little figs don't get a toe caught between the train and platform :)
Building the Supports
Most of the track will use one-piece support legs, but there's a section near the elevated station where you need track running under other track, so you get to build this little set of supports on another small baseplate. Simple but effective, and continues the light grey stripe from the elevated station's legs.
The Full Layout
It's too big for my normal photo setup. The white surface I use is a 4x4 foot section of panel, and this set won't fit on that. As you can see though, it looks like it really could be a airport shuttle (other than the track's spiral shape, but that was just to give more length in a smaller space for kids to play). I can totally imagine though a parking lot near the green station and and airport terminal at the grey one. The road there would be for taxis and shuttle busses, but the monorail takes people out to the parking lots if they drove to the airport. There's a monorail control switch at each station, so you can have the train run constantly, stop at the station, or reverse when it gets to one.
Getting a Snack
The chef runs the burger shop, providing food and beverage service to these waiting kids.
The Ticket Scanner
Both stations have these cute tiny ticket scanning terminals. A pile of the 1x1 blue tiles are included to use as tickets.
(view on YouTube for full HD version)
The function of the monorail train is fantastic. I know there's always discussion in the Train forum about how much slope a 9V or PowerFunction train can handle (hint: not much! So making a bridge requires LONG stretches of straight track to get high enough) but this monorail just flies up and down these ramps with no hesitation. It'd be pretty uncomfortable to be a fig in the train facing down (think roller-coaster type slope, but slow, so nothing pressing you back in your seat - if they didn't have studs on the chairs sticking into their butts, the figs would fall right out of the seats), but the monorail system works great. Since the gear-drive keeps the train moving at almost exactly the same speed all the time, there's no trouble with traction going up nor runaway speed coming down.
Additionally, the switch functionality is great. You can see it in action near the end of the video. I'd love to have a simple switch like this on the current train system. It'd be pretty simple to modify further as well. I'm envisioning using a Technic liftarm instead of the manual switch there, with a timed motor that puts it in the "stop" position till a train arrives, and then a few moments later, moves the liftarm sending the train on its way. Come on Lego, that'd be awesome! As is, the switches let you have a lot of flexibility with the monorail. The train can run continuously, stop at stations, etc. You can also use a pair of switches set to "reverse" to make a linear track. With just one train, you don't need a loop, just have the train bounce back and forth between the stations. I've seen people use it like that in larger train layouts since the monorail track is rarer.
Wow, what a great set. I bought this thinking I'd build it, we'd play for a few days with it, and then I'd put it up on Bricklink to pass on to another AFOL. However, it's just SO cool! I'm very tempted to keep it and integrate it into our large train layout that we're working on. It could be an elevated train over the main train tracks, dipping down to a ground-level station at one point. Hm, but then I'd wanna buy more monorail track to extend it over more area, so that'd be another hundred bucks. And I'd have to raise the elevated station so a regular train could fit under it. And I'd have to replace most of the supports with arches over existing track. Basically, it'd be quite a bit of work and expense. So will I? Who knows at this point. All I know is this is a great old set and I'm SO glad I bought it. The monorail system Lego came up with here works so perfectly. It handles hills, it runs smoothly, it has control switches so you can have it automatically stop at stations or reverse... I just love how they did this! The playability of this set is incredible. Lego kept it very simple and open on the stations, but look at all they still did! A burger stand, ticket scanners, driveways for cars, plants, lights, seating, it just goes on and on. There may not be the decorative minutia of some modern sets like the Modular Buildings, but it's just how I remember Lego from my childhood.
Value: 10/10 - I'm basing this on the original retail price. With current second-hand sales running $400+, the value isn't as good, but for the original $140 you got a great train set with everything you needed, but still easily expandable into a full town layout.
Design: 8/10 - I love this old-style Lego. It's clear exactly what things are without being too detailed. I had to ding a point though for some of the overkill, like having two different color curved panels. Sure it looks great, but it was too expensive to make. I dinged another point (reluctantly) for the weak baseplate design under the stations. The track doesn't connect strongly, the baseplates are joined together weakly, and that makes it hard to move.
Playability: 10/10 - Could you give it any less? I was tempted to give it more than 10 to counterbalance the two points I deducted on design :)
Parts: 9/10 - There's quite an array here - plants, seats, plates and bricks for the stations, windows... however, it's all in basic yellow, white, red, and black. I know that was basic Lego color back in the day, but I wouldn't have minded seeing some more variety.
Minifigs: 9/10 - I love these simple old figs. They're all obvious as to what they are, without needing over the top details like current licensed figs. They're just cute, classic Lego. And you get a ton of them! The only drawback in my opinion is the identical heads.
Overall: 9.8/10 - This came so close to a perfect 10. I had to go a little lower though due to how hard it is to move. The track through the stations and the baseplates are just too fragile. As I kid, I would have been setting this up on the kitchen table to play for an afternoon, but then it'd have to be moved for dinner. It's HARD for an adult to move the stations without parts falling off - no way could I have done it as a kid. Just a few more pieces would have made a world of difference here in holding it all together. If you can set it up and not move it though, wow, is this a fantastic playset!
Survived till the end (but still lost) as Mary Jane the Jock
Posted 19 July 2012 - 01:16 PM
I wouldn't probably sell it but keep it just in case somewhere in the future you would be able fit it in a scenery.
And my congratulations to Mostlytechnic for graduating to the level of Reviewers Academy teacher.
Just keep those reviews coming.
And thanks to you this set is going on my "wanted-list".
Posted 19 July 2012 - 02:11 PM
Mostlytechnic: this afternoon when I have some time, you will be receiving an honorary Train Tech tag for your EB avatar for taking the time to photograph and review this fantastic set.
Posted 19 July 2012 - 02:40 PM
Too bad I'll never be able to afford a monorail. After this review and having the chance to help set one up at Brickworld, I want one so bad.
Posted 19 July 2012 - 02:42 PM
If you want, I can try to get a picture of the inside of the box with the molded plastic display tray; I think I still have it.
Cheers from Claremore, Oklahoma USA!
Posted 19 July 2012 - 03:19 PM
This is really one of the best sets from the 90s. I just wish LEGO would make a remake of this set...
Posted 19 July 2012 - 03:28 PM
I found this set in my loft today amongst the boxes and boxes of stuff from when i was a kid! just need to sort it all out if i stand a chance of building it, then again its so big i probably don't have the space!
Posted 19 July 2012 - 03:56 PM
Posted 19 July 2012 - 04:29 PM
Level 31 In Heroica RPG, In The Hall
Flickr, Bricklink Store, The Review Spot, Facebook
Posted 19 July 2012 - 05:17 PM
My friend does own one from his childhood that his kids still play with. It is badly yellowed and worn out, but still so beautiful. I even play with it when no one is looking.
Also, congrats on becoming a RA teacher.
Posted 19 July 2012 - 05:44 PM
Oh come on, it's only around $1900 for a MISB one of these! Better jump quick before everyone else reading this review gets them!
Survived till the end (but still lost) as Mary Jane the Jock
Posted 19 July 2012 - 07:51 PM
Posted 19 July 2012 - 11:02 PM
A really excellent Rewiev of one of the most important and classic set..
You have made a great work,good photo,wonderful description, when i say on my comment "NO WORD" is because I like to much the rewiev\Moc\model etc..
And in this case i can say ..NO WORD!!!!
and i'm fan of that set.
I have one and when my parents,
20 years ago can't buy because too expensive,
i enter in the dark age...
Posted 19 July 2012 - 11:28 PM
Extreme Power Bike
Toy Story Trash Compactor Escape
Lava Dragon Game
Technic Mini Container Truck
Technic Mini Mobile Crane
Technic Power Puller
And of course, this one.
The last ones are the big sets and my favorite reviews :)
Survived till the end (but still lost) as Mary Jane the Jock
Posted 20 July 2012 - 12:51 AM
Does anyone know what happened to the Lego monorail moulds? I heard a rumour they were concreted into the foundations of their new factory. I really hope that's not true and one day it will come back. I think kids now days would love it, and it's got lots of playability like Lego look for. And the motor functions very like the PF system (it uses batteries), but with simple controls.
Posted 20 July 2012 - 01:42 AM
Anyway, congratulations on achieving your new rank as teacher! Keep writing reviews!
Edited by Lightning Dragon, 20 July 2012 - 01:43 AM.
"A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step" <--------Random quote that I like ;)
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