27 March 2019
Looking at the continued popularity of this modelling stalwart
Looking at the continued popularity of the Flying Scotsman
Of the many thousands of British locomotives built, none has attracted the attention of model train manufacturers more than Flying Scotsman. What is the reason for its popularity and why have so many models been made of it?
The class A1s and A3s of the LNER were almost all named after racehorses and were based on a 1922 design for the Great Northern Railway by Nigel Gresley. At the 1924/5 British Empire exhibition, class A1 Flying Scotsman was displayed alongside the Great Western Railway’s smaller Caerphilly Castle locomotive and, much to the annoyance of Gresley, the ‘Castle’ was being claimed to be the most powerful locomotive in Britain. Unhappy with this, the LNER directors agreed to a locomotive exchange which, sadly for them, proved the GWR claim to be correct. So why is Caerphilly Castle not well known by the public, while Flying Scotsman is?
Work immediately started on improving the design of the A1 and the result was the A3 class. Eventually almost all A1s were rebuilt as A3s.
The Gresley A1/A3 class totalled 79 locomotives and yet only one of the class is well known to the general public and was so, long before it was bought by the National Railway Museum. Many think that it was the world’s fastest steam locomotive, but that honour belongs to its Doncaster cousin Mallard, which in 1938 established the still unbroken world speed record for a steam locomotive of 126mph. True, in 1934 Flying Scotsman was recorded as being the first steam locomotive to have exceeded 100 miles an hour, but even that is challenged by Great Western fans who claim that particular honour belongs to the GWR’s City of Truro which achieved it as early as 1904.
In the Leeds Model Company catalogue it was suggested that the model was famous because it was the locomotive selected to represent the LNER at the Wembley Exhibition during 1924 and 1925; a fact unlikely to be remembered by many people today. Flying Scotsman had been the third of the class to be built, so it was not the class leader. It was not even earmarked for preservation for the national collection and was preserved privately by Alan Pegler, who bought it from British Railways.
Pegler restored it to the striking LNER light green livery and added a second tender to carry water. Under the purchase agreement, he was allowed to run the locomotive on the British Railways network, pulling enthusiasts’ specials. As it was the only express steam locomotive with this right, its fame increased in leaps and bounds. No doubt this had much to do with its present popularity and why models in this LNER livery sell better than those in the correct later BR livery.
Another possible attraction is its name, especially as the same name was adopted for an express service that had been operating between London and Edinburgh since June 1862.
Whatever the reason for its popularity, the Leeds Model Company, Milbro, Bassett-Lowke, Exley, Ace Trains and Hornby all produced models in 0 gauge, while Cimco, Trix and Tri-ang produced 00 scale models. Kitmaster was working on a Flying Scotsman when production of its range of kits ceased and both Minitrix and Graham Farish provided models of Flying Scotsman for the N gauge market. Added to this, Dapol has an N gauge model planned. There were also larger scale models built by Bassett-Lowke, Exley and Marklin while Bonds offered a model in five different scales. The Marklin steam version was rather Germanic in appearance, including as it did a number plate on the side of the smokebox. In addition to ready-to-run models, varieties of the locomotive class have been produced under nearly 20 different brand names, in various gauges.
Despite the fact that Flying Scotsman was only one of a class of 79 similar locomotives, model manufacturers have tended to favour this name (although others have been produced), releasing it either as No.4472 in LNER apple green or as No.60103 in BR Brunswick green. Even Hornby, at Margate, which has produced 76 variations of its A1/A3 model, has produced 39 of these carrying the name Flying Scotsman! Hornby, like other manufacturers, was responding to public demand, and in business it is sensible to give the public what it wants.
The modern Hornby company (formerly Tri-ang) introduced its first model of Flying Scotsman in 1968, but since then has gone back to the drawing board seven times to improve the look of the model or alter it for economic or functional reasons. Therefore, there have been eight distinctly different models designed in the Margate drawing office in the last 45 years. With the second set of tooling, used from 1981, it offered double tender versions, like the preserved locomotive operating on the rail network. In 2005, using the third set of tooling, a version was produced based on the Flying Scotsman character in the Thomas & Friends stories. That same year Hornby also introduced a live steam model, with a two tender version following three years later. The eighth model Hornby has designed is in its ‘design clever’ series for the RailRoad budget range and train sets. This looks good, has excellent running qualities and is a lot cheaper to produce than earlier ones.
So, why is Flying Scotsman so popular? Perhaps the enormous amount of publicity the locomotive received during the early days of preservation helped to make it a legend. Perhaps it was the evocative name which it shared with a famous express service. Perhaps we will never know.