Food for Thought - Tracking down Airfix / Dapol / Hornby Centenary coach errors

Many modellers will probably be familiar with the ex-GWR Centenary Coaches currently produced by Hornby. Prior to Hornby inheriting these models, they were produced by Dapol, Mainline (Palitoy), GMR (Great Model Railways (GMR) was a brand of Airfix) and originally, in the late 1970's, by Airfix. Only a brake and a composite were ever produced.

A few years ago, I purchased a pair of the Hornby versions of these coaches, one brake and one composite, in Maroon, to add to my 1960's modelling period.
What particularly attracted me to them was the quality of the finish and the application of the toplight windows - something which Airfix never did with these models, even though the prototype was fitted with toplights within a year of introduction. For all intents and purposes, the Airfix version was only applicable for the first 2 years of life of the coaches in GWR livery. Because of the lack of toplights, the BR maroon versions which Airfix produced were incorrect because the prototype had long since been fitted with toplights.

I still have are rake of these coaches in GWR livery from my 1980's purchases when they were marketed under the Airfix, GMR and Mainline brands and a later one under the Dapol brand.

While in the process of painting the underchassis of the current Hornby coaches recently, I made some interesting discoveries which are the subject of this article.

Starting with the composite, I observed that it had step-boards (ringed in red) moulded on the chassis for which there were no corresponding doors:

'Oh' I thought, I wonder if this coach has got the chassis for the brake fitted ? So I looked at the other side:

But guess what ? No extra steps on this side - it has only got the steps at the two ends as it is meant to have.

So the coach is correct on one side, but is incorrect on the other side.

So let's have a look at the brake. On one side, the red rings indicate the correct steps. On checking with photos of the prototype, the step ringed in blue is actually correct. I presume it assisted when coupling up the gangways.

And on the other side, we have no steps where they should be in the areas ringed in red:

So what can we conclude so far ?

1) Both coaches have exactly the same chassis (which they shouldn't)

2) On one side, the chassis is correct for the brake

3) On the other side, the chassis is correct for the composite

4) In entirely, the chassis is not correct for either vehicle

What became really interesting was when I started comparing these models with the original Airfix / GMR / Mainline and Dapol models, because this actually tells us the point in history where the error crept in.

On comparison with my older models, I found:

1) The original Airfix brake and composite both have the steps in the correct places on both coaches. Both coaches are correct because they both have a different chassis, purposely designed for the correct coach.

2) When the coaches became rebranded under the 'GMR' label, I found that the brake and composite both have the steps in the correct places on both coaches.

3) When the coaches were taken over by Mainline, I also found that the brake and composite both have the steps in the correct places on both coaches. Both coaches are again, correct.

4) But when I looked at the coaches under the Dapol label, it could be seen that the error had crept in and the incorrect 'hybrid' chassis, which Hornby inherited and is now using, first made an appearance.

It appears that changes were made to the tooling while under Dapol's stuardship and that the mould which is currently being used by Hornby is one which Dapol cobbled together using a brake for one side and a composite for the other - what a mess!

I have been told that it is probable that the change occurred when Dapol had a fire at their factory and presumably, sufficient moulds were salvaged and put together to at least 'create' a model which otherwise wouldn't be produceable.

It also seems that both the correct brake chassis and the correct composite chassis have disappeared, further supporting the idea that loss in the fire may be the reason for the current models being the way they are.

Food for thought ?

If anyone knows more information on this subject, please feel free to contribute to the 'Reader Comments' below.

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Graham Plowman (Created 27/12/2020, updated: 27/12/2020 3:16:11 PM +11:00)

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