Sunday, 9 October 2016

"Hornby King review"


This is a little different from the norm on this blog! Instead of locomotives from the Late and Never Early Railway (L.N.E.R.) we see one from the Gresley Was Right line, or as we really know it, the Great Western Railway. 


Hornby's King class model has been a few years in the making and replaces the older, tender drive era model of years past. Announced on Facebook (a first for the company?) a few years previously, I'm a little behind the curve with the production batches of Hornby's King, but when 6011 King James I became available in thislivery, I knew I needed to look into this model towards my own model railway.

For one King ran on the Eastern Region during the 1948 exchange trials, and the intention is to run one such model together with my model of the LNER's Dynamometer car.


I've borrowed a few books, drawings and looked at photographs closely for this review. I've really gone above and beyond for the research stage of this review, because there will be at some point two ready to run King models from two sources (Hornby and DJ Models/Hattons) and I want to be sure of any facts or figures before giving my personal view on which is better.


There's a lot of debate on the online forums about a number of the detail parts fitted, including and not limited to the superheater headers, questions about the livery including and not limited to the route indicator discs on the cabs. On this particular model I believe it should have the red discs on the cab sides, however I'll leave that to more knowledgeable people: though I have enjoyed very much trying to work out what I need to do for my chosen locomotive, King Henry VI.


So how much do I really need to do? The answer is: not a lot. I need to change the branding on the tender, primarily, add some wiring for the Dynamometer car to the rear, weather it, add appropriate lamps, real coal and so on and so forth.

Changing the nameplates and numbers is going to be a literal doddle compared with what I am used to! The superheater header appears to be on the correct side too which is a relief. I don't need to change the steam pipes either. So far, so good.


I've never been much of a Great Western fan before, but the King really does have a presence all its own. There's little things, like the coupling rods and slide bar brackets that are much better designed and much bulkier than older offerings (which not so long ago were plastic in the mid 90s, with the older tender drive derived King).

There are sprung buffers all around. The new arrangement for the front bogie is a significant improvement on models past. The front bogie itself is very nicely done and has both a weight and look that makes it look as heavy duty as the real thing, older models tending to look like they had skateboards attached at the front end.

The levers to the inside valve gear is modelled for the first time and is very convincing.

The overall face of the machine, and all major dimensions, seem spot on. The buffer beam detail is surprisingly fine and I did have to look twice at photographs of the real thing to compare. The cab detail is excellent. I cannot believe how good the water gauges are on this model.

I know it's a really rarely seen bit of any model, but on Great Western engines which tender to have more open cabs (like the City class) it is something you see quite clearly. I wouldn't call the King footplate "exposed" but with that tender design, unlike my LNER locomotives, the cab can be seen much more. It adds that extra layer of realism to the model and lifts it higher in my view.


The tender seems to match all of the various drawings and photographs I have amassed for my chosen locomotive. The livery application throughout is just exquisite. The lining out on the frames in particular are very fine. hough I am unsure at this stage of the colour of the dome. It looks a bit too...I don't know, lemon-y, as opposed to a shiny metallic colour.

That was one of the things I always admired on the older king models, the metalwork did look like the metal it was supposed to be (brass or copper). They are meant to shine, after all, and here the matt finish doesn't really look the part for me. This is a very minor point, I hasten to add.


There's just one other problem with the model, for me anyway, and again it's about the choice of the colours used. It's the shade of the colour green. I've taken photographs of the model in every light source imaginable, I've um'd, ah'd and procrastinated over it but the truth of the matter is that the Great Western Railway green used is wrong. It is far, far too light and lacking in the deepness of colour that the real thing has.


The truly odd thing is that this shade seems to match the same paint that Hornby were putting on their open cab Pannier Tank locomotives some ten years ago, and it looked odd back then too. It also matches that on the recent Hall and Star models, neither of which in their GWR liveries looked the part to me.

Is this a huge deal? No, it's not a deal breaker. Yes, it does offend my particular brand of obsessive compulsive perfectionism in railway models, and yes I do think my King could potentially benefit from either weathering or a complete strip and repaint. Is it so bad that you shouldn't buy the model if you need a King? I don't believe so. It annoys my eyes but not to the extent that I couldn't put up with it in some form.

Can Hornby do better with the colours? Undoubtedly, it just takes some of us to be constructive and polite when asking them to do better next time. The green needs to be better. That's pretty much the full extent of the problems with Hornby's Kings. That's not bad frankly and shows just how far Hornby have come with their models of the Kings.

And to be frank: I have managed to make one of my Hornby B17s in the BR dark green look more accurate with careful use of T-Cut and a cotton bud, and a coat of Johnson's Klear floor polish afterwards. So I don't believe it is beyond my scope to potentially improve my King model with a little modelling...


The King has the presence, the power and the detail to be a contender for one of Hornby's best models in their range. Put a better livery finish on it and it is elevated to one of the best models they've ever produced.

The running qualities were unbelievable when I ran it in at the Erith Model Railway Club. I cannot stress enough how impressed everyone was. It was quiet, smooth and powerful, taking on 13 Bachmann Mk1 coaches with ease, no mean feat. This wasn't on the level either so there's no doubting the performance.

If I had one criticism of the running quality, I felt the front bogie looked like it wiggled somewhat as it ran. I later discovered the back to backs on the wheels were out, and having sorted this I feel it runs more smoothly.

When the DJ Models/Hattons designed King emerges it'll be interesting to compare and contrast these releases. In my view I think Hornby has pretty much nailed the King, giving Great Western fans an express locomotive with the looks and performance they've missed out on for some time. We LNER fans have been pretty lucky with all of our ducks (ha ha) lined up in the form of the A4 and A3 for some time: and we are set to get another stunner next month in the form of Hornby's B12.

Truly a golden era for Hornby's research and development team, and a welcome recent announcement from Hornby about looking into how they interact with their retailers. A great development which I hope will result in a number of our most cherished model shops getting things back on track. All parties need a win in this difficult post Brexit economic climate and I am encouraged by the rumblings at Hornby.

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