Oh, Spy Jet Escape, how much I wanted to like you.
From looking at the box art, this set had a lot going for it. Nowhere was an unnecessary backdrop set to be seen. You just get cars. And a plane. That's it. And for the most part the set does not disappoint in that regard.
Undercover Finn McMissile looks great. He keeps his signature medium blue head element, but most of his other body parts are replaced with white equivalents for his undercover disguise as a Tokyo International airport security personnel. The two printed tiles are printed correctly, meaning they are mirrors of each other and not the same element x2 like they copped out on for Fillmore. You get a normal Holly Shiftwell as well without any fancy spy tech.
And there's Mater, who is somewhat unique to this set. His eyes element is what differentiates itself from the previous versions of him and only appears in another set, 8639 Big Bentley Bust Out, though he comes with spy gear and a stickered element in that one. Otherwise, he's built exactly the same and is as great as before.
You get two bad guys in this set: Acer and Grem. Acer is supposed to be an AMC Pacer while Grem is an AMC Gremlin, two of the worst cars of all time. As a LEGO vehicle though, you could do worse. The quality of the build is right up there Luigi, Guido, and even Professor Z. Simple overall, but a great use of the parts library to come up with designs that look like their on-screen counterparts. The only issue I have with these is that their windows aren't represented at all. They are just one smooth flat color all the way around except for the windshield for the eyes. It may not have been possible with the parts selection without STAMPing stickers, and they are pretty inconsequential to the actual character. But it's a bit disconcerting to go from Lightning McQueen's overdeco'ed body elements, to an almost too clean look of barely any printing on two cars that are supposed to be run down, worn out, and barely running.
Siddeley, Siddeley, Siddeley. One thing that many people don't know about me and LEGO is that I have a soft spot for LEGO sets based on aircraft. I was really looking forward to building Siddeley since it combined two things I liked: LEGO aircraft and Cars. And it started off excellently. Based on the pictures, there was just enough space in his cargo hold to squeeze one vehicle. It would have to be Sally obviously since in the scene this set represents, she was already on board. Siddeley is undersized which is understandable given the constraints of LEGO's element library and what would realistically be achievable, so no points docked for that.
I guess I didn't look at the pictures enough, though, because once I finished building the cargo hold and attached the ramp, that's when I let out a few expletives that I won't repeat here. The cargo hold isn't even sealed. The ramp goes up and sits at a 45 degree angle or so while in the up position leaving these huge gaps on either side of the jet's fuselage. I mean, seriously? With all the SNOT techniques known to man, the designers couldn't find a way to construct the sides? It's not like it can't be done; they managed to do it for City set 4439 Heavy-Duty Helicopter:
This just absolutely killed it for me. As nice as the little cars are, Siddeley was the biggest draw for me and the also the biggest disappointment. The design is so half-assed I could barely believe it.
What I liked: Undercover Finn McMissile is the best part of the set. Unfortunately, he's not available as a cheap $7 dollar set like Mater and Lightning are. All the other cars are unique as well making the value a little better than other Cars sets.
What I disliked: This is probably a more general opinion about the Cars line up until now, but the more sets I review, the more disappointed and angry I become. For the majority of the sets, I feel like the designs are so loosely based on the source material that there is barely any semblance. In others, the inaccuracies scream such laziness that its hard not to feel completely ripped off. LEGO is not cheap, so to spend hard earned money on a set, there is a fair level of expectation that the set should be satisfying at some level in either cost value, play value, or representation. Having Siddeley with huge gaps at the tail end of the plane is unforgivable and detracts from any merits the set may have had. I had really high hopes for the line, but that hope has faded into cynicism.
Verdict: Like most other Cars sets, if you're hard up on collecting all the characters, its a must-buy since it contains all unique cars, which is great. No repeats. Just try to get it on sale, though, so that a good deal can offset the terrible design of Siddeley.
Buy 8638 Spy Jet Escape from Amazon.com: