Monday, 13 August 2012

Hornby's Spencer (Limited Production)

Well, I did it.  After months of anticipation and excitement I've FINALLY managed to get my hands on a Hornby Spencer!  And here is my review.

First Thoughts
In 2008, Hornby first released Spencer (as well as products to tie in with The Great Discovery).  I didn't really think much of it back then as, like most fans, I was so absorbed with the quality of Bachmann's models.  Two years later, he was discontinued, and again I wasn't too bothered as I'd set my sights on Bachmann's version.

Then, in 2011, I saw one video that changed my mindset completely:
With Simierski's Hornby vs Bachmann review my eyes were opened, and I saw that the Bachmann version was actually quite poor in quality (but extremely accurate to the TV series model), while Hornby's was absolutely stunning, despite the black wheels.  Simon posted a link in the video for fans to ask Hornby to bring it back.  Myself, and others, spoke out and they listened.

A few days in to 2012, Hornby announced which models they would release this year.  But for their Thomas and Friends range, things were actually quite dull.  There were three new truck packs, a set with no real "wow" factor to it and Spencer's coaches.  There were only two engines: both re-releases, with only 1,000 being produced.  One was Stepney (which I won't be getting as I already have him from when he was first released).  I was extemely excited for Spencer - and his coaches - and I couldn't wait to get them.  The coaches I'll be getting soon, and Spencer I got on Saturday (August 11th).

What You Get
My own Spencer!

The model comes in the usual blue Thomas and Friends packaging with a yellow border.  The franchise's logo is in the top corner while next to it is Hornby's logo.  Underneath, there's a yellow "sign" with the word "Locomotive" on it.  Again, I think the model's name should be on that yellow strip, but because of Spencer's bold nameplate it's not much of a problem.  The only real difference is on the right side.  Placed over the packaging is a special piece of blue card, with the same CG Thomas image on the usual Hornby packaging.  Above it are the words "Limited Production, 1000".  While this is a good idea, as it shows that the model is more special, I do think the "Limited Production" could be a bit larger, with the age rating on another part of the packaging.  There's a lot of room for it.  This piece of card DOES come off by removing the piece of sticky tape, but I'd rather keep it there.

The box opens with little flaps at each end of the box.  Once out, the model comes in a robust polystyrene tray and plastic inserts.  It also comes with a set of instructions so that the modeller can keep the model well maintained.

The Model
Spencer shining in the sun

Like Murdoch, when Spencer is out of the box, you can see the stunning amount of detail on this model.  The silvery grey livery is crisply applied.  The buffers are brilliant and, like Murdoch, front and rear buffers are sprung.

The face on the model is fantastic, as good as Murdoch's and better than Bachmann's, despite the lack of a moving eye mechanism, and despite the fact it sticks out a bit at the top to make the model seem like it's looking ahead rather than looking up to the sky.  There's also a vacuum (brake) pipe between the buffers.  Strangely, however, there's no front coupling, a first for the Hornby Thomas and Friends range.  And since there's no dummy coupling (like the Bachmann models have) on the model, there's no way for Spencer to pull trains backwards.  But since many fans usually have tender engines travelling forwards, and the fact that James' coupling made him look odd, I don't really mind this much.  And considering other A4 Pacifics in Hornby's ranges have no front coupling either it's not really surprising either.

The valve gear is stunning, as good as Murdoch's and a lot better than Bachmann's.  It also puts Percy's, Bill's and Ben's valve gears to shame.  The fabulous nameplates also put Murdoch's to shame.  And this is from a model that's FOUR YEARS OLD (despite it being brought back this year).  Which begs the question: if they could put this much effort into a nameplate in 2007/08, why couldn't they have done it in 2010/11 for Murdoch?

Like the one released previously, the 2012 re-release uses the double chimney (funnel) A4 rather than the single.  This doesn't bother me at all, as it just adds to the detail in my opinion.  The top of the boiler and the firebox look great as well.  One disappointment is the handrail is black, rather than silver.  It sticks out against the silvery grey of the boiler, but is camouflaged against the black smokebox.

The cab is absolutely brilliant.  Say what you want about Hornby's models, but you CANNOT deny that the detailing in their cabs (whether the models be goood or bad) has always been top notch (except Bill and Ben, who didn't really have one), while the Bachmann counterparts HAVE no cabs as such, just blocks of plain disappointment (even Donald and Douglas' cabs are non-existent).  The tender coupling also seems a lot sturdier than Bachmann's if you ask me.

The major drawback that fans have with this model has is the black wheels rather than grey.  I, however, don't mind the wheels.  Every real A4 Pacific, other than Mallard from what I can recall, have black wheels and they are perfectly fine.  What's so wrong with Thomas' A4 having the same trait has his siblings?

The tender is also very detailed, the coal especially.  It almost looks real, it's that good.  The black lining is applied perfectly, as is the silvery grey livery, although this does not extend to the top of the tender, which is all black.  Also painted black is the handrail and the wheels.  A pity, but I wasn't really put off by these issues.  Other fans might, though.

 The front of the tender has fantastic detail as well.  Brake handles are present, as is a ladder for the driver/fireman to reach the water tank at the rear.

The rear is great too, but again handrails are painted black, as is the corridor compartment which is also silvery grey on screen.  But again, I don't think it looks too bad. 

Overall, this model is a stunner, and I really do think any Spencer fans, or any fans of the Hornby Thomas and Friends range will be disappointed if they don't get this model.  And with only 1,000 made, and many sold already, you may need to get in quick.

Sadly, as I have no layout, I can't do any speed or strength tests.  But since this model is pretty much the same as the one from 2008, I should imagine the results should be pretty similar to those seen in Simierski's review.

The recommended retail price of this model is £99.99 (127.15, $156.81)*.  Like Murdoch, this seems like a hefty price to pay, and I would agree... because it is.  But considering the fact that, in the Thomas and Friends range, this engine is the same price...

Doesn't seem too bad now, does it? :P.  Not to mention the fact that, when the 2008 version was discontinued, it was selling for anything up to £300, £100 seems quite reasonable.  Not to mention that if you shop around, you could get it for as less as £79.99 (101.71, $125.45).  With all those factors, AND the fact that Spencer is a limited production release, I'd say Spencer is a steal!

Should You Buy One?
Without a doubt, yes!  It's a lot better looking than the Bachmann version, and it's the second best model of the two ranges (in my opinion, second only to Murdoch).  It's the same price as Edward, but a million times better and for a Hornby model, it's extremely good value for money.  The only thing I'd advise is if you CAN afford, and you DO want to buy him, do so NOW.  There are only 1,000 available, and no one knows when they'll all be gone.

And while, I'm sure, there are other Hornby A4s available that are cheaper with the same amount of quality, they are a lot easier to buy, which I think gives Spencer even more appeal.

MODEL: 9.5/10
PRICE: 7/10 (see the "R.R.P." section as to why I think this is brilliant value)

* = Prices correct as of writing of the blog post