December 22, 2012

"Post Hornby Announcement: a few thoughts"

The Hornby announcements for 2013 have come and gone, and in that announcement there were some gems. Duke of Gloucester, Cock O' The North and Rood Ashton Hall.

Why these three? Well, if you are selling to people who only know the biggest and most popular steam locomotives in preservation today, the big dark green British Railways standard 8 Pacific is as big a name as you can get.

It's a legendary machine, and it's a continuous regret of mine that I have only got up close and personal with this fascinating locomotive a few times in my life.

Well, there's a view which says, rightly, that this model will appeal to the young, the old, and everything inbetween in terms of model railways. Big, green, named and one exists in preservation. It checks off all of the boxes.

Hornby's Tornado model of 2010 was very warmly received. It's a fantastic model of Tornado, as built and run by the A1 Locomotive Trust. No one is under any illusions with this model: it is a budget Tornado model, intended to be bought by parents, grand parents and train mad kids with pocket money. All sales of the Hornby Tornado go towards helping the A1 Trust maintain the real thing, which lies very close to my heart (as you can read about here).

The difference between Hornby's Tornado and Hornby's Duke of Gloucester models is simple.

Another model of Tornado can be bought, from rival manufacturer Bachmann. This model is not as accurate a model of Tornado as Hornby's, but the differences lie simply in the cab roof profile, and the lack of roller bearings. Otherwise, both models are more or less neck and neck for modelling the new build A1.

The biggest difference lies in the motor/gearbox combination, the detailing and the materials used.

Hornby's Tornado has a 3 pole motor with flywheel. Bachmann's is a 5 pole motor. I should add at this point, that Hornby's motor/gearbox/flywheel combination is excellent, but the Bachmann A1's heavy diecast chassis, with a body which includes a diecast running plate and extra weight at the front end, makes for a heavier, more powerful locomotive.

The Hornby model is mostly all moulded plastic. This includes the buffers, which are very fragile (and have been replaced on both my Hornby Tornado models with Bachmann LNER pattern sprung replacements, which are more durable in young hands funnily enough), the handrails on the smoke deflectors, the cabsides, one set each on each side of the firebox, and a similar affair on the tender too.
There's no glazing whatsoever and the separately fitted details amount to a vacuum pipe for front and rear.

Bachmann's Tornado has all separately fitted detail including sprung buffers, handrails, glazing, oil pots, boiler backhead and similar. It is, after all, based on their main range Peppercorn A1 which could be considered directly comparable to Hornby's A3 Pacific model. The price is also comparable to the latter, coming at an RRP of around £144. It may actually be higher by the time of the Bachmann announcements at the Toy Fair in February, but for now let's call it an even £144 .

Hornby's Tornado does not have the choice of alternate bodyshells. It does, however, have a choice of alternate liveries, and the price for a Railroad Tornado was around £82.49 RRP, compared with the same model, with full livery applied, around £120 RRP.

If you were, say, an actual modeller (who had actually picked up a scalpel and removed moulded handrails, drilled holes, fitted new glazing, replaced buffers, chimneys, hell - maybe even built a few Pacifics using bits and bobs and sourced resin parts to help do so), then you'd be reluctant to buy the Railroad Tornado in the fully applied livery at £120 RRP.

You'd buy the Railroad model (which would need repainting and lining out anyway, given the basic livery applied), and all would be right with the world, content that you didn't ruin a very well applied and complex livery by carving off handrails or similar.

If on the other hand, the intention was to have a model of Tornado with the best level of detail possible, then you'd ignore Hornby's models altogether and you'd have the choice of buying the Bachmann Tornado.

Therein lies the problem for the three new releases by Hornby, for modelling consumers. There's no choice in the matter.

You buy the Hornby models knowing that if you are a modeller (and many people are), then to make it fit in with the rest of your carefully renamed/renumbered, detailed and weathered rolling stock, you'd need to take a scalpel to a Hornby model which - if the "design clever" description is anything to go by - will have more moulded on detail in the vein of Hornby's Tornado, than the separately fitted detail of Bachmann's Tornado.

So in theory, since there's no Bachmann alternative to these three models (except Bachmann's aged Hall - although I have heard good things about their latest one), you have no choice in the matter. It is the Hornby model, warts and all, and to get the detail standard you want, you now need to do some modelling.

(For those of us in the modelling fraternity who have never picked up a scalpel to remove any sort of moulded detail at any time, but are happy to throw in their tuppence worth on kit building and moulded handrails, here's where you should start sitting uncomfortably. 

If you have no experience in doing any of these modelling jobs (even the most menial ones such as removing moulded handrails, never mind kitbuilding), and normally pay someone else to build things for you, why exactly are you commenting on them, and deciding for others what is and what isn't easy to do in terms of modelling? 

That is breathtakingly condescending. It's a bit like me deciding to give a heart surgeon my opinion on cutting into the aortic valve. Meaningless and derogatory to those people who have taken the time to learn how to do the most basic of modelling tasks, or the most complicated of medical procedures).

This is because the three locomotives are likely to only come in the one physical form - Railroad, plus a second "main range" model which includes glazing, etched nameplates and a better livery application.

So, at this point, no "fully detailed model" like the superb Star class locomotive Hornby are showcasing.

(Yes, that one. Another GWR 4-6-0 some have said. I honestly couldn't care less how many 4-6-0s the Great Western fans get: they clearly are getting their voices heard loud and clear, and fair play to them. They've been asking for a top of the range Star for decades and Hornby seem to have delivered, and how. They've finally got one, and if it's anything like the B1, the B17 and the O1 I've had delivered and tested recently, it'll be an absolutely brilliant model).

So if the intention is to do some modelling, this now precludes the option of buying the "full livery" specification model. You might just about get away with it on the Duke of Gloucester, as there's a few British Railways dark green paints which can patch the Hornby colours well, but on a Gresley P2 in fully lined London & North Eastern Railway apple green livery, you won't.

Cock O' The North as drawn by Dean Walker. I'm currently working on a children's book featuring this locomotive, so it's been fantastic to learn that Hornby are doing one. I'll take several, at the right price and quality, for building a P2/3 as was intended earlier in 2012, but delayed after a tip off from a friend. It was a very good tip, and the parts I've acquired will be put to good use on a Railroad P2.

Any removal of moulded detail, whether on the smoke deflectors or on the cabsides will require a complete repaint. Patching apple green liveries (unless you are going to very heavily weather a model) never gives a satisfactory end result. I know, I've tried.

There seems to be some hope, however.

A few forum admins have said as much regarding the Duke of Gloucester's moulded smoke deflector handrails. This may yet change.

For fans of the Duke, I hope this is the case. I hope Hornby realize that the cost to fit a few handrail knobs (or "stanchions" - whatever floats your boat) and some wire to these in particular might win them both sets of customers.

Those who want a Railroad model (who they definitely and rightly should be aiming at), including but not limited to parents, grandparents and children, and then the other side of the coin, the discerning collector or the time and money conscious modeller (who normally ends up buying both anyway. I know, I have several Tornados in various liveries by the two of the major manufacturers).

If Hornby are looking to "design clever" for the P2 in particular, they'd look at what they have already, and realize that they already have the best possible detailed tender appropriate to a P2 tooled up in their range. It's the non corridor eight wheeled tender which has been used behind their A3s (and to this day, only behind dark green A3s. When are they going to do a version of this tender which is apple green or express passenger blue? Both would sell. Guaranteed).

They'd apply this excellent rendition of the Gresley eight wheeled, non corridor tender to their new P2 model (specifically for the top end model), tooling up a more basic tender for their Railroad model. The original Railroad Scotsman and A4 models, after all, shared the excellent 5 pole chassis of the top end A3 and A4 models, albeit with coarser valve gear and the older tenders.

The result: a Railroad P2 which is coarser, but more robust and cheaper, along with a more expensive, better detailed and liveried choice which most modellers would pick over the Railroad one (but end up buying the Railroad one anyone for little Johnny/Billy/Sally/etc because it's big, green and named. Sound familiar?)

If they pooled their resources even further, they'd realize that a slightly modified version of the top end A4 model's tender could go behind a future streamlined P2/3 variant. Just a new tender top based on the original, with the streamlined fairing extended at the front, and over the water cover (and this new tooling could be applied to their A4 models, thus increasing the variants they can offer accurately).

Now, if you think I'm painting a negative picture of Hornby here, I'm not trying to. At all. I am in fact very, very happy that Hornby is making the Gresley P2, and I'm happy to support such a model by buying several for future projects.

I just think if they were to make one in Railroad, and one in the main range, utilizing different bodyshells to different standards of detail, but using the same basic chassis for locomotive and tender, they'd be onto a winner for both markets.

It has proven a perfect pairing for the Hornby Flying Scotsman, and Mallard models, after all. Both a Railroad model and a top end model ensures they have both ends of the market.

They'd cover their backs with modellers and collectors for the top of the range model, and they'd cover the kids wanting a big, named and green engine like Flying Scotsman or Tornado, and those who are up for some modelling and detailing at a lower price.

In short, they'd have their cake and be eating at, much as they could have done with the Tornado model. And I can guarantee this too. If they were to do this for the P2, they'd be able to charge the same amount for the main range model as they are on the main range Great Western Star this year, and it would fly off the shelves. The Gresley P2 is that sort of engine to do it.

So don't get me wrong. I think Hornby have made some great choices of models. I think their plans for 2013 are interesting and I certainly will be investing some of my hard earned dough with them. I do think they've got caught up with their own marketing mantra - "design clever" - and haven't quite thought this through for the potential of owning both available markets for these locomotive types.

If it works for the Tornado model, and for the A3 and A4 Pacific, for the main range and Railroad range class 31s, for the Railroad and main range Schools, and many more besides, it'll work and then some with the Duke of Gloucester and the P2.

If you're wondering why I've barely mentioned the Rood Ashton Hall mode, it's because that's been confirmed to be partly for the Potter license and that makes a lot of sense to me.

Until next time, when normal serviced will be resumed and I'll be showcasing some of my P2 bashing, which was curtailed earlier on in the year. I'm now modifying my plans to build a P2/3, albeit to utilize what will no doubt be a much superior diecast chassis with 3 pole motor and flywheel.

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