Monday, 24 October 2011

Hornby vs Bachmann (2/3)

It's been one of the biggest merchandising talking points that I've ever seen.  Which brand makes the better models: Hornby or Bachmann?  This blog post will analyse the pros and cons (from my point of view) of each brand and it will, definatively, conclude which brand I would buy.

Bachmann Industries have been making HO scale models since 1970, but only started making Thomas and Friends models in 2002, one of - I'm guessing - HIT Entertainment's first acts in charge of the brand.  Their first three models were, naturally, the show's biggest characters: Thomas, Percy and James.  Unlike the Hornby models, the Bachmann versions were handbuilt to the specifications of the TV series.  Also, each engine was given a nifty moving eye mechanism, to bring more life into their faces.  Sadly, they weren't really up to scratch.  Thomas was the best looking of the three, only let down by the face, which looked like one he had in a magazine (as did Percy's and James', although his looked a bit like his usual face).  Another problem with Thomas was the gap that is usually seen between his tanks and his splashers was filled in.  The Hornby model didn't have this problem.  In fact, the ERTL toy didn't have that problem and it is A LOT smaller.  Also, neither of the first three models had a coupling on the front.  With James, that wasn't much of an issue, with Thomas and Percy, who are designed to go backwards and forwards with no trouble, it was a bit confusing for me.

Percy was very detailed, especially the valve gear.  That is a thing of beauty.  It's just a shame that the stepladder leading to his cab is on the outside of his valance rather than under it.  But the biggest problem was that the bunker was far too big - mostly due to the coal.  What was worse was the bunker itself was grey rather than black.  But the worst one was James.  While I admit that the shapes are all there, the colours are not.  The wheels and axle boxes are grey rather than black and the part under the smoke box is red, rather than black. To buy a model that needs a lot of work to get it looking right is ridiculous, bordering on criminal.  The main disappointment though is the cabs of the tender engines.  There is absolutely no detail in them, and it's a shame.  Hornby extracted a lot of detail from their cabs so there was nothing stopping Bachmann doing the same.

Annie, Clarabel and the Troublesome Trucks were released this year too.  These look a lot better than Hornby's versions, but the issue I have with Clarabel is she's styled as a composite coach, like Annie, when she should have a little compartment for the guard.  The grey running plate is a bit disappointing as well, but not unexpected cosidering Percy and James.  Bertie, Harold, Cranky and Sir Topham Hatt were also made this year, as were sets including Thomas (with Annie and Clarabel) and Percy (with the Troublesome Trucks).

In 2005, the range was enlarged by Gordon and Henry, as well as a shedload of rolling stock including Red Express Coaches, tankers, Scruffey, red, blue and bright brown trucks as well as a brake van.  From Gordon and Henry onwards, all engines were fitted with front couplings as well as the rear ones, but the lack of cab detail was still evident.  The faces also matched the TV characters a lot more, but they were no longer fitted with the lamps that Thomas, Percy and James were given.  I didn't have a big problem with Gordon, he's a great model.  Sadly, Henry's tender was too short, which made it look longer than it actually was.  I would have loved to have bought the Hornby alternative, but its high price tag put me off.

The tankers were better designed than the Hornby ones too as they are the perfect size and shape, but the Hornby ones had much more visible detail.  The brake van looked good, but it seemed like the grey was too bright.  But the worst one was Scruffey.  Yes, the face was spot on, but there is no orange lining to be seen at all.  The Hornby one is a lot better.  Another set was introduced, featuring James, a blue truck, fuel tanker and a brake van

In 2006, Toby and Spencer were added to the group.  Toby looks a lot like his TV counterpart and is a better design overall compared to Hornby's.  He isn't very fast, nor is he very strong, but then he's neither of these things in the TV Series as well.  The only disappointment was that the cowcatchers were seemed to be fitted around the coupling, whereas with the Hornby version, the coupling was cleverly moulded into the cowcatcher and there was no hole to be seen.  Spencer's design is rather disappointing.  He looks rather tall and square, which makes the tender look too tall at the cab end.  Whether this be down to lack of attention to detail, or the motor and eye mechanism, it is Bachmann's poorest looking model since James.  Sadly, this is the only one available as Hornby's equivalent has been discontinued.

Emily's Coaches were also released, which was strange as there was no Emily at the time.  Green Express Coaches were added to the line for Gordon, and the inevitable set with them and the Express Engine was released too, but discontinued soon after.

In 2007, the Bachmann range welcomed its first female engine: Emily.  She was, in my opinion, the best Bachmann model at the time.  Strangely though, one of her front bogies was used, as well as the drive wheel, to power her.  But then it may've been because it would be too complex to wire up just one pair of wheels.  She was joined by a cattle truck, a well wagon, a pedestrian bridge, water tower, salt wagon, signal gantry, an RF Container wagon, a 6 ton wagon, a station, coal wagon (with load), coaling station and signal gantry.  More tankers were released with more detailing than the first few and, yes, Emily and her coaches were included in a set.

In 2008, Bachmann released two models that fans had been longing for: Henrietta and a better looking Edward.  In fact, I think that Edward is still my all time favourite HO/OO loco I have (even though I had to buy two as the dome fell off the first).  Spencer's Coach (an express coach with the red livery) was introduced for Spencer and a mail van was released for Percy.  I love the mail van, that's probably my favourite piece of rolling stock.  A conductor was made this year, and so was Mavis, Bachmann's first diesel.  Fans were a bit shocked with the first picture they saw as she was grey, the same colou grey as James' wheels and Percy's bunker.  Happily, this was fixed when the final picture (and model) was released.  But the couplings left a gaping hole in the cowcatchers, like Toby.  Two new sets were also released: Thomas "Holiday Special" set which included Thomas with Christmas hat and snowplough, (Emily's) coach with Christmas decoration, (red) truck with Christmas tree and a candy cane tanker and also Thomas' "Fun with Freight" set which included Thomas, S. C. Ruffey, red open wagon, cream tanker, cattle van and a conductor

2009 saw the release of Bachmannn's second diesel, Salty.  He looks really good, but he looks too clean as, in the TV Series, he has a weathered look about him.  I also thought the wheels were quite small and, like Mavis and Toby, a gaping hole was seen in the bufferbeam where the coupling was.  But overall, he looks really accurate.  Bachmann also released Terence the Tractor with a detachable snowplough (or plow in America), a flatbed full of paint drums (ala Calling All Engines!), a ventilated van and a signalbox.

2010 was a quiet year, with only Tidmouth Sheds (with an add-on pack so more berths could be added), Farmer McColl, a third Troublesome Truck (a green cattle truck with a face and Salty's Dockside Delivery set (featuring Salty, 6 Ton wagon, Raspberry Syrup tanker, Salt Wagon and a custom conductor) were released.  Sadly though, the 6 ton wagon, the RF Container Wagon and the Red Express Coaches were discontinued this year.  Well, I say "sadly" I've always preferred Hornby's express coaches and always will.

This year has probably been the biggest year for Bachmann's Thomas range, with FIVE engines being released, more than any other year.  Bill and Ben early in the year, Donald and Douglas last month and Diesel about two weeks ago.  I've managed to get Bill, Donald and Douglas and I plan to get Diesel and Ben next week.  Bill and the Scottish Twins look absolutely exquisite, epecially Bill's valve gear.  I shall review them once I get the other two.  Also released were Knapford Station and the Lighthouse.  The lighthouse looks good, but Knapford is disappointing, as it only allows one track per platform rather than two in the TV Series.  There also aren't any buildings to go with it.

Compared to Hornby, they're cheap and much better in the "value for money" stakes.  And these days, with the recession, you want value for money when you buy anything, especially luxuries like model trains.

They're based on their TV Series counterparts, so they are easily recognisable to children compared to Hornby's

They CAN run on Hornby track using Hornby transformers (controllers), so for those who are mad on Hornby but fancy a change, you can safely choose Bachmann and know that you won't need to buy new track.

The moving eyes, a big win for me.  They bring the face to life more (those who enjoy the model series will get what I mean).

They are only really available in America and Canada.  Brits that want to buy them can only do so online.  As I said before, why don't HIT allow both companies to sell their models to everyone and let people make their own choices?

The range has been around for 9 years now and Thomas, Percy and James still look the same.  Considering the high standard models they're producing nowadays, I think they should go back to the drawing board with those three (and possibly Spencer) to improve them.

That's the two brands fully scoped when it comes to what the two brands have produced.  Next time, you shall see my final verdict!


  1. The thing about the Bachmann models is that the gearing for the eyes makes the motor housing stick into the cabs on the smaller ones. Edward has an open cab, but it doesn't do much because there's no room for his crew to stand.

    And as for Clarabel, her TV counterpart doesn't have a distinct guard's compartment either (something which, combined with Awdry's tendency to refer to the guard's compartment as a guard's van meant a brakevan had to be coupled to her in "Percy's Promise"), so that's bang on.

    1. Maybe, but Clarabel should have only 11 windows each side (the rest is just a block, really) on TV.