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Continental vs. American vs. UK models

1817 Views 8 Replies 8 Participants Last post by  Twiglet
Hello all,

I am not into UK modelling, although I own an Austerity saddle tank plus some open wagons and a brakevan, which is why I ask all those who have first hand experience of continental and American or UK models.

Is there in general a significant difference in quality between continental, American and UK models? I am thinking about both, accuracy and details on one hand and riding qualities on the other hand.

The background is, that I noted that UK models are generally much cheaper than their continental, or German in particular, counterparts. Take a Bachmann BR class 25 which sells at under £50,- against a Trix DB 218 at EUR 199,- which were £160,- until the recent drop of the Pound. Trix now announces a DB V100 (211) at EUR 90,- which is a very good price, but those still were about £72,-, about one and a half times as much as a class 25.

I have a number ideas: Either UK models in general are much simpler, equivalent to the Piko Hobby Line DB classes 182, 185, 189 and 218 allowing cheaper production. Or UK models usually sell in a much greater quantity allowing for economies of scale, maybe because there is less choice for modellers. Or the shift or production to China did the trick alone. Or continental modellers are ripped off. I doubt the latter because there would not have been a collapse of nearly all German/Austrian manufacturers if they made healthy profits.

So what is the truth?

Kind regards

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I think that prices are set by what the market can stand and will accept. In the UK we have a very critical customer base and are not willing to accept high prices...on the continent(Europe) high prices equate with quality and the public are used to paying high prices. US and European types play fast and loose with dimensions of their products( I think)...EG newest US loco has smaller drivers because the large flanges would touch!! Lima were a good example as they sold in the UK for £40(50 euros) and an equivalent European type would be the double(100 euros) All this is my opinion and I have lived in Europe and purchased as own feelings back up my 'research'...

Having a foot each side of the North Sea I have been able to compare mainland HO with UK OO since the 1960's. Basically the UK lagged very badly in design, build quality and detail, particularly when Hornby-Dublo ceased production from 1962. (When Hornby-Dublo went out of business they were perhaps ten years behind Maerklin.) The reason Hornby-Dublo went out of business: UK customers would not pay the price for the better quality they offered, compared to the lower cost Triang product. Then came the years of nearly no progress with only one UK OO manufacturer (Triang, later Triang Hornby, now 'Hornby') dominating the market, while the HO products of Europe and North America improved very significantly. Lima entered the UK OO market, and to keep prices low, quality was well below what the company was capable of achieving, (imagine 1965 trainset HO) right up to the end of production in 2003. Moulded body colour as external finish, a very cheap and noisy power bogie, recessed glazing, moulded on detail like handrails and buffers. Even at that quality level, they were bettering Hornby until production moved to China!

Better product eventually appeared in UK OO from various companies who used Hong Kong (now China) based manufacturing facilities, originally developed to serve the lower end of the US HO market. The advent of the Bachmann product like that class 25 diesel you mention, was the better product that saw off Lima in the UK. Eventually this competition led the principal UK company, Hornby, to shift production to China, and to embark on much better product to match the competition. The best mass-produced OO is now equivalent to mid-market HO, typically somewhat cheaper than similar European made HO product, more expensive than similar North American HO. (All prior to recent currency movements...) Decent scale models, quiet and reliable mechanisms, reasonable prices, is how I would sum it up. Bear in mind also, that UK railway design has predominantly insisted on a clean external finish: there simply is much, much less detail to be represented on a UK steam prototype, which helps keep cost of assembly low; less of a difference with diesel and electric traction.

Size of the market: it's a much smaller hobby than in Northern Europe or North America, both absolutely, and as a proportion of the population.
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Although this subject has been done to the death on MRF some time ago IMHO 34C has really summed it up in one clear concise post.

Lets hope further discussions do not end up in a bunfight though.
I think that generaly the quality across all model is pretty good. Some manufacturers are more course than others.

But ultimately you pay for what you get. Some European locomotives look very expensive (and they are relatively speaking) but there is the added cost of already being equipped with sound chips.

Given todays relatively free and open market the biggest as has been pointed out in determining what the price wil be is what the market will bear.

While the european trains are expensive, are they any better detail wise than others. This is debateable, given that there is a specialist manufacturer (Weinart) that makes detail parts for different locomotives.

Overall most items produced in the last 5 years are of a pretty high quality.

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*** This is one issue where perspective will give different results: handling and pulling all of them apart on a regular basis, I'd say that (These are my personal conclusions, not a challenge to anyone or any brand... for my own layouts, I tend to build my own loco's anyway :) ):

* All are quite OK in the main - and represent their prototypes in accuracy and detail well enough for general credibility.

* "electromechanically" there is little to choose in the mid market position at all. all 3 prototype areas you mentioned have well detailed reasonably accurate models available.

Some brands have more sophisticated motors but overall gearbox/motor/wheel relationships are good.

Generally some EU models certainly look to be overpriced on a pragmatic level but market reaction/demand allows it so who is to say its overpriced really.... it will probably not change.

* Main compromises as I see them:

1/ EU still has unnecessarily large flanges - big flanges do not have any positive effect on roadholding so I think its a carry over habit - some brands are now using some quite nice wheel profiles on some models, but this remains an EU weakness compared to the quite nice current UK wheel profile and the nice but still a little coarse RP25 used on most US prototype. (RP25-88 would be nicer)

2/ Only US has a reasonably prototypical coupler which is well and consistently applied to a good set of standards.

3/ Only EU has a really consistent approach to smoothly operating automatically adjusting close coupling (but otherwise, the couplers are still pretty naff look wise)

4/ Lighting wise UK models are pretty weak, US much, much better technically and EU not bad technically and often very good visually but still mostly wired for "train set auto reversing" rather than prototype operation.

5/ Inadequate cross brand compatibility couplers in UK prototype, better in EU, totally OK in US prototype.

6/ Weakness for traction tyre use in EU prototypes, some cross infection of this nasty feature into UK, very little for US (and where fitted, spare non-tyred drivers always supplied)

7/ I may be wrong here but to me there is far too much use of self coloured plastic on EU models, especially in the area of the red wheel/underframes. Now almost none in quality UK stuff, almost never any now in US prototypes of quality.

Overall, I'd not be influenced by any of the above for choice of prototype to model, but I'd take them into account when choosing the brands I bought.

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At the risk of repeating the points raised here with different standards of U.S. /EU models i haved found the U.S. to be better made with the modeller mind especially in the area of fitting DCC to a loco ..... though i model in N scale the standards are the same in HO/OO couplings are far better allowing auto uncoupling (no electo magnets and messing around bit of metal stuck to couplings) in either Kadees or Mictrotrains they are far superior in operation and more to scale, i haved seen many EU/U.K. models spoilt by the overscale couplings on of the reasonably recent releases being GF class 04.

Body moulding are better defined hand rails seperate and accurate the paint schemes being more varied .. of course the lighting is a big advantage over the U.K. produced stock adding more operational realism with DCC functions your only limitation is finding space for the decoder to fit in.

Running characteristics are far better the pick ups on diesel locos in comparison makes using U.S. over U.K. locos a lot better the contact strips running either side of the chassis solving problems quickly and easily over the contacts inside the chassis needing a break down of the chassis to check all is well.

One reason for me to come out of British locos some of the chassis's old designs long overdue an overhaul.

These are my personel opinions and based on modelling N scale but i have friends who model HO/OO who have found the same, of course if it works for you and you are happy with things stick with it after all its horses for courses.
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thank you all for the replies. I am a bit uncertain now, but it would appear that continental models are slightly better than their UK counterparts and that the continental market does bear higher prices than the UK market. The higher quality of US products at lower prices puzzles me but here economies of scale might come into the equation.

@ Brian Considine: Any idea for a good search to find that old discussion? I could not find anything but I assume my search was too restrictive.

Kind regards

For what it is worth, when I were a lad and first into this hobby in the early 1970s, I remember my local model shop and the 'precious things' in the locked glass cabinet - there were the snazzy American and German locomotives that (seemed) to have astonishing levels of detail and equally astonishing price tags (the German stuff more so than the US stuff). I can remember, from about 1975, being amazed to see a German locomotive priced at £100! That was a lot of money when even the most expensive Wrenn came in at well under £30 ....
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