• Universal Building Set 733 from LEGO
  • Universal Building Set 733 Vintage LEGO
  • Universal Building Set 733 Classic LEGO Sets

Universal Building Set 733 from LEGO (1979)

Company: LEGO | Release date: 1979 | Ages: 7-12 | Where to buy: eBay

There’s a popular, misremembered idea about early LEGO sets — that they were just boxes of bricks without specific instructions. While it’s true that the first bricks launched without instructions, the success of LEGO bricks really increased when the company began to include ideas for what to build with the bricks.

733 Universal Building Set is a great example of a box that offered the opportunity for creativity but with some clear guidance as to what the bricks inside could be used for. The illustrations on the box demonstrated the potential — this box of elements could build a helicopter, a truck, a race car, a garage, or a haulage crane (not all at the same time, of course).

The instructions in the set showed how to build any of those five models, while the last page showed even more vehicles that could be built using the set. Those were there to provide inspiration rather than full instructional builds.

What is great about the five main models is that they offered children variety. Children could carefully build the haulage crane model and lower goods into the back of a flatbed truck, then completely dismantle it and build a helicopter instead. Both models used the winch and string pieces, which provided great play opportunities.

It might seem like a small thing, but even the number of wheels included in this set is important — with 14 car wheels, children could either build multiple vehicles at once or build one vehicle with absolutely loads of wheels — more than they were likely to already have in their brick bin.

What’s really striking compared to the LEGO sets of today is how simple the colour scheme was — grey was a relatively new colour, so 733 used it sparingly along with blue, red, and white bricks. The types of pieces were limited compared to today but a few more specialized pieces were being introduced by the late 1970s — the box even explicitly stated: “the specialized pieces in this LEGO Brand Building Set add an extra dimensions of realism to the fun of building”.

733 Universal Building Set was of an era when boxes for larger LEGO sets had a lift-up flap on the front; a plastic window underneath allowed children to gaze at some of the set’s most interesting elements, making the prospect of owning it all the more exciting.

The set was released in 1979, one year after the introduction of the minifigure – but it doesn’t include any of the little LEGO characters. Even though the minifigure sparked the beginning of LEGO play themes, the LEGO Group has always also offered these more open-ended boxes of bricks.

This set is easily found on the secondary market, with brand new samples selling for around 10 times the original retail price of $39.00. When it comes to second-hand samples though, the price hasn’t increased at all — so it’s possible to experience a box of vintage LEGO bricks for a vintage price.

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