Next up for Review the Heljan Class 17 in BR Blue (Item no. 17081). I bought this a couple of months ago having never bought Heljan before, let’s check it out…
117 Class 17 Clayton Type 1 Diesel-Electrics were built in 1963 in Derby and spent the majority of their short life in the Scottish Regions.
Diesel locomotives of the time had been designed much like steam engines, with a cab at the rear and engine bay protruding down the length of the body (bellow).
By nature the Class 15, 16 and 20 (above) all gave drivers pretty poor forward visibility. The solution to this problem gave the Class 17 it’s unique design with its single centrally mounted cab and shallow bonnets either side both accommodating an individual Paxman 6 cylinder engine. Such a layout on mainline locomotives had never been seen prior to this, nor has ever been used since. This format gave drivers much improved visibility regardless of direction of operation compared to it’s competitors.
Unfortunately, having two smaller engine blocks in this configuration proved monumentally unreliable. Their fate was then hindered by the fact small wagon load freight work, of which the loco was designed for, was fast declining in the mid 60s reducing the need for the Class. Some locos were therefore promoted to heavy freight work and some passenger duties. To achieve the required extra power, 17’s had to run in pairs, however without the facility for train heating they could only do this in summer months.
With terrible reliability and diminishing viable use, BR decided to cut their loses, just 5 years after their built date, and began withdrawing the Class 17 in 1968 – making them Britain’s shortest serving locomotive. Ironically the Class 20’s they were built to improve upon are still in operation today in 2014!
One Class 17 managed to survive the scrap heap, working for Ribble Cement Works before being preserved by the Chinnor & Princes Risborough Railway.
Heljan have reproduced the Class 17 in three different liveries: BR Green with half yellow ends, BR Green with full yellow ends and BR Blue. They have also made locos with different running numbers available in all 3 livery options for multiple working.
I opted for the BR Blue variant as I haven’t yet got any in my collection sporting this livery.
Before I start, let me just clarify why I’m reviewing packaging…
Opening the box is all part of the model buying experience. 99% of modellers will also be keeping their box for display, storage and transportation so it’s an important part of the purchase. Maybe not the most, but definitely worth discussing none the less.
I should make one thing perfectly clear, Heljan know how to do a box. OK, so there isn’t any clear plastic so you can’t easily inspect the model without opening the box. Luckily, where I tend to buy my models from are happy for their customers to do this. This really doesn’t matter unless you want to display the model in it’s box, like you could with Hornby and Bachmann offerings.
Foam inserts hold the model in place but make it easy to take out, with individual slots for accessory bags and notes. The box is made of nice thick card too, Heljan have acknowledged that modellers are going to be keeping their boxes and packaging so why not go the extra effort to make them quality, sturdy and secure.
Sure this is going to add a little to the overall cost but that’s OK and it’ll definitely attract me to Heljan products again.
- NEM pockets for your choice of coupling. Slim line tension locks are provided.
- Sprung plastic buffers.
- Changeable Headcode blinds.
You have to cut these out and fit them yourself. This operation proved exceptionally difficult. I spent some time travelling down a dead end, taking off the entire body off to try and fit it only to be foiled by the LED light mountings (in fact I ended up bending one of the buffer beams in the process). What you actually have to do is take a very fine blade and prize the headcode out of the body, it should just pop out.
- Directional lighting: High intensity lit headcode box and two tail lamps.
The headcode light is really bright. Like really bright. The code blinds dim this down to a more suitable luminosity, although it then almost obscures the two central letters (see clip bellow).
- DCC Ready (but not fitted).
- Bag of accessories including snow plow and vacuum pipes.
Standard features I’d expect to find on a modern model. Whilst I wouldn’t normally take a model’s body off, if you were going to DCC fit this loco you have to take the buffer beams off to do so which is a massive faff. I’ll have to reflect that in the marks. The headcode luminosity might annoy some but you could modify the blind box to reduce the brightness.
Detail & Finish
Starting up front, or back – it’s all the same – you’re immediately drawn to the buffer beam detail. Vacuum pipes and multiple working interconnects come mostly pre-fitted, meaning no fiddly glueing needed. What’s most striking is the addition of some chain coupling. Presumably you could actually use these practically as many wagons come fitted with the appropriate hook. Here though, they make a nice decorative addition, however you may feel the need to remove them as they do dangle in front of them NEM coupling socket. At the front I’ve left the supplied slim-line tension lock adapter off, with the aforementioned chain coupling left hanging in a prototypical fashion. At the rear, I’ve hooked the chain coupler back on itself so it’s not in the way of the NEM workings.
Moving round to the side we have some delicately fitted step ladders and a number of plastic compartment handles, hand rails and hooks – all of which are raised. Some metal handrails would have been nice here, but we’ve still got a really good accurate representation of the real thing.
On now to the under frame and we’ve got coloured axle boxes, tanks, and electrical boxes in all the right places. The small style BR double arrow logo and running number D8507 is nicely applied.
In profile the loco looks great, Heljan have captured the likeness well. You get a single grey grill either side with black foot plates running the length of the engine bay, which looks smart. The fan grills on the top of the loco are moulded and non operational. This is a shame as rival offerings from Bachmann (Class 25) and Hornby (Class 50) do accommodate working fans in a similar price range.
It would have been nice to see some of the other engine grills painted in black as in real life, and it seems most of the detail has been focused on the buffer beams and underside of the loco, but let’s not take too much away from Heljan – this is a cracking effort.
Running & Performance
This is where the model really comes into it’s own. The motor is mounted centrally accompanying all wheel pickups and all axle drive gives excellent traction. Coupled with a decent amount of weight these factors make the 17 smooth and reliable.
At higher speeds the 17 is really quite noisy. I personally don’t mind this in a Diesel loco (I’d go as far as saying I love how it sounds) as it adds an element of realism. However, if you were going to fit DCC Sound to this model you might find the motor noise to be annoying and distracting.
Heljan have geared the 17 much more like a small shunter meaning you’ll get absolutely excellent slow speed running even on DC. I mean, it really is second to none! You can get it down to a near crawl, even with wagons in tow and you’ll hardly get any headlight light flicker either.
So nearly a perfect score. I’m factoring in those who would want to add DCC Sound and may be put off by the noisy motor. I expect this is due to the optimised gearing for slow speed running (where the sound drops to a gentle hum).
I bought mine for £89 at my local model shop. Looking through online retailers this is bang on the going rate for all three liveries. As I said, the price definitely factors in the quality packaging. I can even see a few examples being sold at around the £80 mark, but for this you’ll get the see-through-plastic box more in line with a similar Bachmann or Hornby offering. You won’t regret paying the extra for the better box.
You might be able to find some Class 20’s or 25’s available for around £20 cheaper but remember this is a rather unusual model and nobody else is making it.
Good detail, superior packaging and quality running make for a really good overall package. It’s perhaps let down slightly by being very difficult to take apart and to fit the headcode blinds. I would have been happy if they’d come pre fitted but I do really like the option to choose your own code.
The 17’s limited and concentrated lifespan in real life will heavily restrict it’s use for those modelling specific eras and locations. (Scotland 1963-68!). That being said, you could run this really unique and striking loco in a preservation formation as D8568 does exist today.
Don’t let this put you off though, when I bought the 17 from John Dutfield’s they told me I wouldn’t be disappointed with Heljan – And this model definitely lives up to this claim. If you buy this model for one reason only – buy it for the slow speed running, and get a rake of coal wagons trundling around your layout!
Overall Score: 8.2/10