Auto Chassis 8865

Auto Chassis 8865

Thirty-one years ago, in 1989, I was starting my final semester as an undergraduate at Michigan. Suffering from grief over my grandmother’s death, from heartache over an unexpected breakup, from frustration over uncooperative roommates, and from indignation over an imperfection recently introduced to my GPA, I indulged in a bit of “mall therapy” to fulfill a childhood wish. I splurged my meager savings on the most advanced and expensive (USD 95.00) Lego® set available, the Technic Auto Chassis 8865.

I assembled it in a single session after dinner on the floor of my apartment. At a time when I felt like my life was falling apart, I immersed myself in putting this car together. At a time when every day seemed to introduce more chaos, I followed page after page of precise specifications and instructions. At a time when my future felt uncertain, I was confident that every one of the “892 interlocking pieces” would eventually find its place and manifest its function.

Along the way, Auto Chassis 8865 made revelations (nothing particularly profound). There were words and phrases that I had only seen in glossy brochures and magazines:

rear differential


independent wishbone suspension

rack-and-pinion steering

At a time when my education was full of reading, memorizing, and coding, Auto Chassis 8865 brought precision parts together—wordlessly—to reveal the true meaning of those words. The mysterious hidden mechanisms that they labeled could now be seen clearly, manipulated. The benefits they provided could be felt and even unfelt.

When I was finished, four hours later, my fingers throbbed and stung from handling and pressing the freshly-molded plastic. Auto Chassis 8865 gleamed in the dim artificial light. When I worked its features, it whirred and clicked sharply.

Since that day, Auto Chassis 8865 has stayed with me with one notable exception. Over a decade after I purchased it, I worked at a software startup whose CEO was a fellow automotive enthusiast and go-kart owner. When venture capital funding allowed us to move into a brand new space, he decorated his desk with a little Lego® go kart, probably Go Cart 8842. One evening, I sneaked into his office and left the comparatively massive Auto Chassis 8865 on his desk with a sticky note saying, “Thought you’d like to see what the big boys drive. —Milind” He displayed both models proudly in his bookshelf for a few years before he was replaced. I made it a point to retrieve Auto Chassis 8865 before he left.

Years later, I found it delightful to introduce Auto Chassis 8865 to the children of visiting family and friends. Good behavior was frequently assured with the promise of being allowed to play with this treasure. I imagine some knew me only as “the uncle with the Lego® car.” When rough play by visitors resulted in parts falling off or the engine locking up, my own daughters were horrified. I was usually happy to leave dreary adult conversations about corporate life and politics in favor of restoring Auto Chassis 8865 to its normal function.

Eventually, though, the entire engine came loose along with some small parts whose placement I couldn’t remember.

One of my “pandemic projects” has been to disassemble Auto Chassis 8865, following the instructions in reverse, washing 30 years of dust off with water and small amounts of dish soap. (When one of the smaller pieces fell down the bathroom drain, a strenuous plumbing effort was also required.) The parts gleam like they did on that first day, although time has dulled their edges and corners.

All may not be right with the world, but at least every one of 892 interlocking pieces has been accounted for.


Created at: 5 June 2020 4:06 PM