Armchair R-T-R designers…

The term “armchair modeller” has been about a while in the hobby referring to those who are vocal in criticism and comment but are sat in their comfy chairs tapping away on their keyboards without actually undertaking much modelling of their own. I have noticed more and more on various online forums etc. a new version of the “armchair modeller” the “armchair Ready -To-Run designer”  this breed makes assumptions on what the manufacturers can / should produce in the future on the basis of what they already produced, without really understanding the mass manufacturing / marketing process.

Before I illustrate this below I will accept that in some cases the design of one model can be produced in such away that it can also be used for another. An example of this is Hornby’s original chassis for the Rebuilt Merchant Navy pacific that had an offset rear bearing that can be turned to give the correct wheelbase for the Light Pacifics. Also there will often be some commonality of parts such as tenders and possibly bogies, that will reduced some initial costs, but more often than not the main chassis and body mouldings are complete unique. Therefore to produce another, albeit similar,  locomotive class will require a complete new set of tooling which is where the majority of the development cost will fall.

A Hornby N15 (repainted) Note the 6'7" driving wheels and spacing
A Hornby N15 (repainted) Note the 6’7″ driving wheels and spacing

From a Southern perspective the two most common assumptions for production of one model from another that regularly appear online are: firstly because Hornby have produced and N15 they can simply produce a S15, or secondly because Bachmann have produced a N Class they can easily produce a U class.

A DJH Kit built S15 note the smaller 5'6" driving wheels and lack of footplate splashers compared to the N15
A Kit built S15 note the smaller 5’6″ driving wheels and lack of footplate splashers compared to the N15

In both these examples there  are admittedly some commonality of parts such as tenders, bogies / pony trucks but with the locomotives having differing driving wheel sizes, driving wheel spacing,  varying boiler pitches, different cabs etc. The main body and chassis will need to be completely new and therefore costly toolings.

A kit built O2
A kit built O2

A further example came to light online last week, to be honest is what promoted this post, is this statement “A Western ‘G6’ 0-6-0T is an ‘obvious’ for Dapol because of the common boiler with their ‘O2’.”  Whilst the G6 did in reality share a boiler with some of the O2 class the design and construction of

A kit built, yes the boiler is pretty much the same but the tank and cab etc are all different
A kit built, yes the boiler is pretty much the same but the tank and cab etc are all different

a model is somewhat different and boilers for example are not separate components and therefore there will be virtually no commonality of parts from a model perspective between these two classes other than perhaps the 4’10” driving wheels and buffer heads everything else would be totally new tooling!

A Bachmann N Class, has 5'6" drivers
A Bachmann N Class, has 5’6″ drivers

It also has to be questioned if there is in fact a market to enable the manufacture to get the return on the investment from producing such similar models. Many modellers dedicated to a particular railway company will no doubt create an initial demand.

A kit built U class with 6′ driving wheels and different spacing to the N class among the differences

Indeed I would of course be part of that demand from a Southern perspective (even though I have already a number of kit built examples in my fleet).

To the average modeller / model market an N15 and S15 and N and U possibly  look too alike to gain mass market sales. At the end of the day the main drive of the Ready To Run manufacturers is to make the maximum profit and a return for their share / stake holders.

This does not of course mean that any of the locomotive types above will not be considered as giving a suitable return and therefore be produced in the future. For example Bachmann will be announcing their release plans for the next 18 months in the couple of weeks time and I am sure there will be one or two items of Southern interest (full details of such will be posted on this blog too).

14 thoughts on “Armchair R-T-R designers…

  1. I think very few of the these armchair designers have any idea of the costs involved in tooling up for a model. I saw the one about a common boiler making it easier to tool one loco from another and had a chuckle. I’m sure that a company would say “Well, that’s a tube we don’t have to design, thanks to that saving we can go on and do the easy bits like chassis, cab and fittings. Phew.”

  2. Thanks for that Graham. The N15/S15 illustration particularly pertinent as I have made this error!
    Bachmann have in the past been dismissive of things Southern but seem to be having a bit of a rethink. I suspect you know more than you can let on!

  3. Unfortunately the world [and not just model railways] seems to be full of ‘instant experts’ these days. Part due I’m sure to the availability of internet info, which is all too often incorrect, or not properly analysed or understood. Keep up the good work on debunking myths Graham!
    Peter [Adams 442T]

  4. In the examples given, obviously Hornby can’t easily produce the S15 given they’ve produced the N15 because of wheel sizes/spacing e.t.c. However it would be easier for them to produce an S15 than starting from scratch on another loco. To start with I’m assumming the tenders would be exchangeable as they were in real life.
    The other advantage is the existance of at least 2 complete Manunsell examples and 2 partly dismantled Urie examples.
    I’m hoping rumours of a possible future releas prove true.

    1. Indeed Mark, as i did state in the post the tenders between the N15 and S15 for the Urie versions (but not the later Maunsell flat sided version) are the same. Also the 3500 and 4000 gallon tenders used on the N and U class were also the same. This would therefore save some development costs and every little helps.

  5. Good article, but remember that today’s models are much more a kit of parts than ever before, hence the N class and N15 boilers for one example are translatable(?) to the U/U1/W/N1 and S15 models respectively, should they be attempted.

    I loved your comment: ‘At the end of the day the main drive of the Ready To Run manufacturers is to make the maximum profit and a return for their share / stake holders.’ – so why do Hornby persist in not producing a late crest Battle of Britain, or a follow up to the very successful West Country Wilton; of which I have renamed over one hundred!

    I sometimes wonder, just how ‘commercially aware’ these companies are, I think a good general knoledge of the Big Four and BR are essential to know what should prove popular and what wouldn’t: the forthcoming SR N15 Sir Sagramore for example, sans deflectors.


    1. Glenn

      I agree that often more components are used in locos these days but unless they are designed with more than one loco in mind then it doesn’t really help at all for example the Bachmann N class boiler is also complete with the smokebox saddle which would need to be different for the U class running plate height and boiler center line differences.
      There are of course always examples of loco style / combination that would add to the potential return but unfortunately that is not always obvious to those whom are trying to be a jack of all trades rather than experts in one specific company or area. It can certainly be frustrating at times.

  6. Good points well made here.

    Though I wonder if some of the other options when people say ‘they do X, so they can easily do Y or Z’ could be achieved had the manufacturer planned that from the start of the model, ie making parts interchangeable and seperate etc.

    Whilst it will be nice to have more RTR Southern locos, it seems to be units that have been more favoured in recent years (2Bil,2Hal,2EPB, 4CEP etc) rather than locos. Theres been promises from both Bachmann and Hornby that they’re going to produce the S15 or original Merchant Navy etc though. But with the way their production works they could well be many years away, by which time the costs could mean 3 or 4 kits could be built for the cost of one or two locos (spread over the time period of course for better bugetting).

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