Aifix Collectors Club
At the Brighton Toyfair in January 1976, it was announced that Airfix would shortly venture into the world of model railways and this was reported in the April issue of Airfix Magazine. For nearly 15 years Airfix had been competing with Scalextric and now they would face the longer established brand of Hornby. Palitoy also moved into the market with its “Mainline” brand. Eventually they would all end up together, but that’s another story.
This was quite an undertaking but Airfix were confident that the market for model railways was strong and did not seem to be suffering as much as other sectors of the toy industry and so it seemed a sound choice to invest in.
From the start, of course, they had the large range of Airfix/Kitmaster kits to provide the ‘infrastructure’ for their new range of trains. These promised to contain the attention to detail for which Airfix was justifiably famous. The Airfix-produced trains and rolling stock were to set new standards for detail and accuracy. The locos would feature separate handrails, for example, which were still being moulded on by Hornby. Also the passenger carriages by Hornby featured the same chassis and bogies for all carriages, whereas the Airfix ones had the correct chassis for each type of carriage. Clearly this was more expensive to produce but more accurate.
The track was made by Peco and the “Wild West” locos were also made by a competitor, but the other trains and wagons were all new Airfix designs. These were initially made in
The first catalogue appeared in the second half of 1976 and contained a price list dated September 1976. Printed like all the subsequent ones to A4 size it was the only one to be printed in landscape format. All the models were depicted by colour drawings so it was not possible to appreciate the fine detail that was incorporated into the models. Dealers' versions were also available. A silver trade folder containg separate pages from the catalogue and an "Engine & Rolling Stock" catalogue were sent to retailers.
1st Edition Catalogue 1st Edition Silver Trade Folder Engine & Rolling Stock Catalogue
The second catalogue contained a price list dated February 1978. The front cover was adorned by a specially commissioned oil painting by Geoff Shaw depicting “Royal Scot” leaving Leeds City Station. The kits were still illustrated by colour drawings but the locos and rolling stock were now photographed on a quality scenic baseboard. And they looked magnificent. There were also cutaway models to show how the drive mechanism worked.
I have a dealer’s version of this catalogue which has a folder with some pages from the catalogue inside it.
2nd Edition Catalogue 2nd Edition Dealers' Folder
The third catalogue came out in 1979; they were now an annual event. There was a price list dated January 1979. I am not aware of any other price lists being issued. Also included was a Multiple Train Controller (MTC) leaflet with August 1979 prices for the MTC. The cover was in the colours of the “Airfix Railway System” packaging and had five photos of models from the range. Cover price was 20p and until recently I believed it was the only one. On eBay I saw one with 25p on the front and then another catalogue with an identical cover but now in the GMR colours. I now have copies of all three and they are identical inside. The 25p copy is obviously a ‘second run’ but the GMR is more intriguing.
3rd Edition Catalogues
Around 1979, Airfix decided to rebrand its Airfix Railway System as “Great Model Railways” using a logo which was the same shape as the then current oval Airfix logo. There was an excellent series of articles a few years ago in a British Train modelling magazine about the Airfix trains. From that it seems that Airfix embarked on a quite expensive overhaul of its train system which even included sending thousands of empty GMR boxes out to retailers for them to put their Railway System trains into. I assume this catalogue was a similar idea.
1980 produced the first definitive GMR catalogue, priced at 40p. I have two both identical apart from the writing on the back, so presumably two print runs. The new Multiple Train Controller took pride of place.
4th Edition Catalogue
So I make it four catalogues or six if you count the repriced ones. I don’t know whether a 1981 catalogue was ever produced or even mocked up. I know that several trains and carriages were at quite an advanced stage when Airfix went off the rails. Some of these would eventually come to fruition but as “Mainline” models.
So that’s it, I think, as regards Airfix Railway catalogues. I was pretty diligent in collecting them when they were first issued but as you have read, I missed a couple!
Of course the other big railway publication from Airfix was “Model Trains”. This ran for several years even after the collapse of Airfix.
This article first appeared in "Constant Scale" No.17 - 2004