The Ultimate Collector Series, or UCS for short, of LEGO sets tends to focus on the Star Wars brand. These UCS sets are the gold standard by which Star Wars sets are judged. They tend to have a much higher piece count and are much more detailed than the standard run of the mill sets. In 2000 the earliest Ultimate Collector Series began with the 7181 TIE Interceptor and the 7191 X-Wing. Like my previous article Brick by Brick, Breaking Down Expensive Lego Sets: 10212 UCS Imperial Shuttle we're going to be taking a look at what makes up one of these sets, in this case, 7181 TIE Interceptor.
When looking at an old and expensive set that you want to buy, how do you decide if what you are getting is what you really need to complete the set? Did you spot a killer set in a box that you aren't sure that it is what you think it is? I enjoy looking at those bulk lot auctions and seeing what I can figure out is in there. In this second article of my Brick by brick series, I'd first like to show you something that caught my eye recently.
This particular set is actually what led me to the idea for this series of articles. I found a bulk lot auction that looked like this:
I initially thought/hoped Vader's TIE Advanced, but looking further at the pictures I realized that it was the TIE Interceptor instead.
The blue was what told me that it was not Vader's TIE.
The TIE Interceptor, 7181, was released in 2000. The original retail price of this set was $99.99. Used complete sets sell from $250-$350 while New in box sets sell for $625-$700. The box shows a total of 703 pieces.
The first reason that this set is not one that you could just assemble from all of your kid's loose bricks is because it is pre-2004 pieces. This means that all of the grays are the old gray. These are not the bluish gray found in modern sets. Some of the pieces may be significantly easier to find in the newer colors, but they will not match the pieces that are unique to this set. When purchasing a used set, beware of someone replacing the old grays with the new bluish grays.
Let's take a look at the pieces that are most common in this set. (apologies that the stock photos do not always reflect the color of the pieces in this set, they are for reference only)
Since this set is not significantly large, the numbers involved aren't huge, but will most likely still outpace most sellers. For the higher part counts, there are:
36 black plate 1x8 Element 3460
20 Blue plate 1x8 Element 3460
20 black 1x1 tile modified with clip Element 2555
16 Dark Gray 1x1 plate modified with horizontal clip Element 6019 (only available in 10 sets)
16 Blue Tile 1x8 Element 4162
16 Dark Gray Hinge Brick 1x2 with 2 fingers vertical Element 30365
16 Dark Gray Hinge Brick 1x2 with 1 finger vertical Element 30364
14 Black Wedge Plate 8x4 Wing Right Element 3934
14 Black Wedge Plate 8x4 Wing Left Element 3933
14 Dark Gray Tile 1x2 Modified grill with bottom groove Element 2412b
13 Dark Gray Plate 1x4 Element 3710
13 Black Plate 2x3 Element 3021
12 Dark Gray Panel 1x2x1 Element 4865
12 Black Tile 1x8 Element 4162
12 Dark Gray Inverted Slope 2x3 without connection between studs Element 3747a
12 Blue Tile 1x4 Element 2431
Out of 143 unique elements (meaning different part and color) 41 are the old Dark Gray consisting of 242 pieces. 15 are the old Light Gray consisting of 30 pieces. This includes elements from the above list as well as the unique and specialty pieces in the second section below. Even though most of these elements are common and cheap, most vendors on Bricklink do not carry the inventory to cover your needs for these pieces. You'd have to make multiple purchases, pushing the average cost of these pieces up, due to all of the shipping and handling charges. Of course your savvy Bricklinker will know to either have multiple wanted lists running, to spread out their costs, but still a lot of pieces means a lot of separate orders.
Apart from the common pieces, you also have some specialty pieces that make up a set. The specialty pieces are ones that are either unique to the set or in so few sets as to make no difference. The unique and specialty pieces in the sets tend to have values that reflect a large proportion of the total value. This causes some collectors to forego the piece in favor of a cheaper alternative, whether it is the same piece in a different color or completely different pieces that serve a similar function. Unethical resellers will replace these pieces and not tell the end users who may not know to look. In some cases, people have made fakes. Spotting fakes is important, but not the focus of this article.
You can read more on that topic here Helping to identify reproduction stickers and printed elements
For most UCS sets, one of the most expensive pieces is the sticker. The sticker is unique to the set, large and limited in number. Some people require unused sticker, while others are content to have them applied.
For the TIE/Int there is a single sticker with information about the ship Sticker Sheet
Unlike later sets, the stickers are not applied to a single large Plate, instead they are applied to 8 of the 1x8 black tile and attached to several 4x8 black tiles. This collection of parts consisting of a used sticker usually runs up to about $50 but may be found in the $20's. A New sticker sheet can be had in the $70-$85 range. I will not discuss the moral ramifications of buying or creating a reproduction sticker for a set that may eventually make it back into the marketplace. I will say that any set with a reproduction sticker should be considered incomplete or even altered if it makes it up for sale.
For rare elements I want to start with the big daddy. This piece is the major piece that if it's missing, you've just got a big pile of LEGO. This was the first piece that caught my eye in the above auction. Element 2598px is the Cockpit Windscreen 10 x 10 x 4 Canopy Octagonal with TIE Interceptor Pattern. This piece is unique to this set. They created a different piece for the later Vader's TIE Advanced. This piece sells in the $100 range.
There are 6 Dark Gray Bar 4L Element 30374, the same piece used for lightsabers and wands when molded in different colors. There's 25 different sets with this piece in Dark Gray, but it's used in a lot of early UCS sets, so competition for this piece is high.
Element 4095 is also exclusive to this set. You need 4 Blue 6.6L Bar with Stop. Each one is going to run you more than $12.50 on average. As of the time of this writing, only a single Vendor on Brickpicker has any, and they only have 2.
The next piece is 2 Dark Gray Plate, Round 2 x 2 with Rounded Bottom Element 2654 is available in a massive 4 sets including the UCS Rebel Snowspeeder. They can be had for a low cost because they were available in a very inexpensive set 4097 Mini Robots. The total number of sellers on Bricklink is less than 100.
There is a single Dark Gray Cockpit 10 x 10 x 4 Octagonal with Axle Hole Element 2618 which is also unique to this set. There are currently none available for sale on Bricklink and the last 6 month sales average is just above $21.50, with the highest being $28.
Next, there are 2 Dark Gray Minifig Utensil Sextant Element 30154that is only available in this and 5976 River Expedition. It's available for less than $1 but the average sale price is closer to $1.50 for a used piece.
You also need 10 of a fairly common Element 4151 Black Plate Modified 8 x 8 with Grill. This is notable because of the 32 sets with this piece, only this set, Vader's TIE Advance (16) and the Eifel Tower (13) require more than 4. It averages about $.55 each.
Between 1987 and 2000 Element 3040p01 Black Slope 2 x 1 with 3 Red Lamps, 3 Yellow Buttons, Yellow Border Pattern was released in 8 sets. You only need 1 and it's cheap at about $.25
Another rare piece that you need is 2 Blue Dish 6 x 6 Inverted (Radar) Webbed - Type 2 Element 4285b. It is included in the more recent 10131 TIE Fighter Collection and as an alternate piece in Central Precinct HQ. They average about $.40 each, probably because the very similar 4285a also runs $.40
The Light Gray Technic Brick 4x4 Open center 32324 is available in 10 sets including 2 additional UCS sets and the Cloud City. For a used one, the price averages close to $.50
4 Blue Rigid Hose 3mm D. 20L / 16.0cm Element 75c20 are also required. This piece appears in 4 sets, the most recent of which was 2012's Gungan Sub 9499. The relatively recent availability of this set probably drove the price down.
Element 3960px4 Dark Gray Dish 4 x 4 Inverted (Radar) with Star Wars TIE Hatch Pattern was available with the TIE Fighter 7146 and the UCS Rebel Blockade Runner 10019. The more common Dark Bluish Gray version is available with 8 sets (Surprise, surprise, all TIE Fighter variants.) The Dark Gray variant is about $.80 on average.
Another rare piece, the 4 Dark Gray Bar 1x3 (Radio Handle/Phone handset) Element 6190 is available with a total of 4 sets. UCS Rebel Blockade Runner, UCS Snowspeeder, and 6738 Skateboard Challenge. You're probably going to spend close to $.75 each on these.
Only 8 sets have Element 3039pb014 Light Gray Slope 2 x 2 with Horizon Indicator Screen Pattern. It's only about $.20, but unlikely to be in most people's spare parts.
Element 3040px2 Dark Gray Slope 2x1 Black Crosshair pattern Green insectoid Pattern is available in 7 sets and averages about $.20.
The last thing that many collectors consider when purchasing this set and the most obvious thing that you could see in a bulk lot is the instruction book. Instruction book Bricklink shows 3 of these sold in the last 3 months and 3 currently available. The price guide shows that the sold books range from $25-$35.
As I said earlier, all of the Gray Pieces are the older Grays. 1/3 of the set has not been produced in this color for over a decade. Most people don't have that many older Gray pieces laying around. The rare pieces are truly rare and really expensive for a set that is significantly smaller than most UCS sets. All of the specialty pieces and pieces pulled from a small number of older sets are going to increase the number of bricklink orders that you would need to place. Honestly, if you don't already have a handful of key pieces, you should probably just buy a complete one, unless you really do like a long term project.
I also feel obliged to mention that this set looks old. Comparing it to UCS TIE Fighter 75095 it looks blocky and primitive. There's a certain charm to the older sets, and since this is the only official TIE Interceptor, UCS Completists will always have a place for it. It's doubtful that the LEGO Group will be remaking it soon, but I wonder if they ever will. The used price of this set isn't terrible, probably due to the size of the set.
Just for fun I'll throw up the rest of the auction pictures and you can see if you can pick out the key pieces, and can you make out the other large set that's in there?
In the weeks to come, I will be exploring the pieces that make up each of the Top 25 Most Valuable sets, Ultimate Collector Series, and Modulars.
Images in this article are the property of http://rebrickable.com/, Bricklink and LEGO.
Edited by thoroakenfelder