Heljan ‘Crompton’: So near and yet so far…

With the launch of our new model taking place, we reproduce extracts from Philip Sutton’s first review of the Heljan Class 33/0 model. This item appeared in Rail Express magazine No. 116 (January 2006).

UP UNTIL DECEMBER (2005), the BRCW Type 3 represented one of the few remaining gaps in the market for a mainstream diesel locomotive in ‘OO’ gauge. The Lima product, now discontinued, was of 1970s parentage and despite minor tweaks, doesn’t really bear close inspection today. Being a Southern machine, one would have thought it might have caught the eye of Margate-based Hornby but it is the Danes who have jumped in, following on the heels of the acclaimed ‘Hymek’ and less well-received ‘Western’. Clearly they see the potential with numerous detail variations, liveries and devolution into the similar Scottish Sulzers (already announced as future releases).

“The tremendous amount of high
quality, accurate, detail work that has clearly gone on is completely negated by the fatal flaw in the roof shape that ruins the look of this model and prevents us from recommending it.”

This model includes some significant developments for Heljan, so what is the initial reaction? After much badgering, the company has now provided a more durable heavyweight card box befitting of a high quality product. This has no window but provides much more security in storage or transit. However, on removing the model from its lovely foam-clad ‘home’ there are several things that really do jar. The factory-fitted separate lamp irons are in unpainted black plastic as is the nicely moulded see-through radiator fan roof grille. However, of considerably more importance is the fact that the ‘face’ of the loco just doesn’t look correct!

Leaving these issues to one side for now, the bodyshell is extremely well executed with a refined touch in the tooling, which leaves other manufacturers’ bodies feeling a little crude. Rivet and bolt head detail abounds.

A cut above

The roof fan grille is the only concession to the modern day trend for see-through detail and it has been well accomplished, even if the mesh has to be overscale in plastic. This grille is glued over a recessed fan sunk into the roof, which is almost impossible to see - perhaps it could have been picked out with painting? The actual detailing is excellent and represents the modified design of roof adopted in the late-1960s with clip catches, lifting lugs and resited exhaust port. This extends to the catches correctly overlapping the cantrail air intake grilles which themselves are superbly moulded with a fine mesh pattern. The air-horn housings are modelled with the cover plate removed, a common feature to ease maintenance in BR blue days. The horns and a pipe are even moulded in half relief - a nice touch. The covers can easily be added with a rectangle of plasticard if you so wish.

Moving down to the bodysides, the plain utilitarian feel is well captured and, again, the side radiator grille is excellently reproduced with its distinctive internal framing and bolthead surround. Despite this, Heljan can be perceived as being left behind, as this would have been the ideal opportunity to excel with a high quality blackened etched metal fitting giving some three-dimensional form to the internals. And at this price, customers expect it as the norm. The sides, especially around the cab windows, are superbly ‘Crompton’-like and are off-set by the metal handrails which are in 0.5mm diameter wire - thicker than normal but a great wheeze to represent the oval section

of the prototype. The handrail securing points are even moulded on the body alongside the handrail entry points. The simple cab front also keeps up the good work with great looking marker light mouldings, smashing separate double-arm plastic wipers and the four rivet heads that stand out on an otherwise smooth curving surface.

Proven mechanism

‘If it ain’t broke don’t fix it’ seems to be the Heljan philosophy as far as mechanisms go and the Class 33 is no different in this respect. It closely resembles the ‘Hymek’ with a heavy cast chassis housing a powerful five-pole motor driving through twin brass flywheels to all axles via standard worm and spur reduction gearing. Pick-up is from all eight wheels via rear surface wiper contacts. A top mounted PCB neatly covers the motor and provides a home for the DCC socket and lighting circuits. These allow bulbs to illuminate the central headcode forwards and marker/tail lights to the rear. Performance levels are what we have come to expect, although we still have the problem of poor lighting on DC at slow speeds.

Perfect pipework?

Onto the heavy metal lump that encloses the motor we have a number of sub-assemblies that ingeniously interlock. The solebars are the most surprising of these but it is clear that this proves to be the ideal solution for representing the detail tucked under the body in this area, as well as the characteristic drop down frames near the centre of the bogies. It is clear this area has been designed to accept alternative frames for other loco types.

The bufferbeams are also attached to the chassis block and have to rank amongst the best to date. They come with fine, flexible, metal screw-link couplings and (improved, finer) pipework pre-fitted. The requisite sprung buffers are there, with metal heads and nice soft springs, but they do protrude a touch too far. A silly mistake has also seen the 27-way jumper receptacles glued in upside down! The detail pack includes engine control pipes (no locating holes) and snowploughs that clip in from the rear of the beam.

Tanks a lot

The underframe tank area is equally impressive - simple but effective. It incorporates pipe runs, filler points and air reservoirs but retains the see-through effect above the fuel tank and battery box making them look as if they are actually underslung and not just stuck on as an afterthought. The early style of tank and battery box is modelled with corner cut-out and no safety clips respectively.

The bogie side frames are a little lacking in depth and incorporate the brake gear, actuating cylinders and sandboxes which would all have benefited from being separate items. There is, however, a nice speedo cable on one axle and separate cab steps, although these were deformed slightly on our sample as they fouled the brake cylinders and could easily catch on the underframe causing a derailment on less than flat track. NEM coupling pockets are provided and accept a set of provided tension locks.

Finishing touches

All the liveries are extremely accurate and well applied, down to the correct typefaces for running numbers and nameplates. The blue star multiple working codes are there as are subtle variations in data panel, presence of warning flashes, cantrail stripe and DCE flashes. The flushglazing is smart, the front windows being an interference fit into their black painted frames which represent the characteristic rubber surrounds. The sheet of headcodes provided (for fitting behind the centre window) are disappointing, having obviously not been output correctly as the codes are bitmapped and the lines above some codes are far too thick. Inside the body there is a simple, grey, cab interior which fits around the light guide for the headcode.

A fatal flaw

The main dimensions are pretty much nailed. This and the tremendous amount of high quality, accurate, detail work that has clearly gone on is, however, completely negated by the fatal flaws that ruin the overall look of this model and prevents us from recommending it. This can be pinned down to two areas - the curvature of the roof and the spacing of the windscreens.

Taking the roof first, it is clear that the radius is much too large over the apex making the roof appear ‘flattened’ or squashed down. This is accentuated by obvious changes in radii on the cab roof shoulder area, which are picked up as highlights. This area should be much more ‘domed’ with transitions that are almost imperceptible (see Lima’s model). Less serious are the windscreens, which are set too far apart by approximately 0.4mm resulting in the corner pillars being too narrow and a wide-eyed look from the front. The latter is correctable but the former error rules out this release for the serious modeller.

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