Review: Hornby Railroad Class A1 “Tornado”

Next up for Review I’ve got a loco I’ve had in my collection for a couple of years now, the Hornby Railroad BR Class A1 Tornado 60163 (R3060). Despite a few flaws this is now one of my favourite steamers in my collection. Let’s find out why…

Overview

Image from Roger Cornfoot

49 British Rail Peppercorn 2-6-2 A1’s were built in 1948 in predominantly Doncaster (some being built in Darlington), and were based on the LNER’s former 1922 A1 & A3 Nigel Gresley design of which the famous Flying Scotsman is a member. They are named after their designer, Arthur Peppercorn (what a wonderfully British name!).

The Peppercorn’s were built to handle post WWII passenger express traffic on the East Coast Mainline and were capable of hauling 550 tones (15 coaches) at a regular speed of 70mph.

These mighty beasts had largely been withdrawn by the mid 1960’s due to the ongoing conversion of BR to Diesel and Electric traction. The last of the class, Saint Mungo, ran in 1966 and followed the rest of the A1’s to scrap. Sadly none found their way into preservation.

Image By J Neish

In 1994 a group of enthusiasts, private finances and promotors known as the A1 Steam Locomotive Trust began constructing a brand new A1 locomotive based on Peppercorn’s designs. The build was not to be an exact replica and the locomotive features improvements and developments that would have taken place had steam traction continued in the UK. 60163 Tornado (named after RAF GR4 Panavia Tornado) took a whopping 14 years to build, mostly down to the fact that all parts had to be specially built.

The loco rolled fresh out of Darlington works in 2008 – And if you’re going off finish date, this actually makes it the most modern locomotive in my collection! It’s 8 years younger than the Class 67 I reviewed a couple of days ago.

60163 now spends it’s time operating heritage and charter services ran by The A1 trust, and can achieve mainline running speeds of 100mph* carrying a slightly shorter rake of coaches than it’s predecessors. It also notably featured in the Top Gear Race to the North.

Model Options

As A1’s go there’s really no shortage in options as this design has always proved very popular. Naturally you can pick up the 1922 and 48 versions, Flying Scotman, Cock O’ North etc from both Hornby and Bachmann in a variety of specs and liveries.

As for 60163 Tornado: Bachmann do a premium version in BR Brunswick Green, and I believe there’s a Blue variant around too. Hornby make this budget version for their Railroad line in BR Apple Green which also appears in a couple of off the shelf sets like the Tornado Express Pullman. Like Bachmann they also do premium spec versions, in Brunswick Green, Apple Green or Blue.

As you already know I’ve got the Railroad variant, bought for me as a gift on Christmas of 2012.

IMG_2932

As part of this section of the review I’m going to start suggesting what prototypical train formations you might like to make up with the model in question.

As 60163 predominantly services heritage and charter trains a rake of Mrk I’s in a BR livery of your choice would be most suitable. It also wouldn’t be unfeasible to see 60163 run with some heritage freight wagons for demonstration although this probably wouldn’t have happen too often during the original A1’s life. I’ve even heard of preserved Steam locos being deployed during winter months to rescue stranded EMU’s in the Southern Region where DC 3rd rails have iced over – so how about it towing a dead Class 450 in a winter scene?!

Packaging

So let’s begin!

IMG_2923

Packaging isn’t going to set you alight here. It’s Hornby style of old, windowed box with styrofoam insert.

Not a lot more to say really, I’m glad Hornby have mostly moved away from this type of packaging – getting the loco in and out of those styrofoam inserts is never easy – but this is their budget range so it is still prevailing. It’s intended marked however, young novice modellers won’t care all that much and it does the job.

Score: 5.5/10

Features

  • NEM Pockets for your choice in coupling, Slimline tension locks come fitted
  • DCC Ready (but not fitted).
  • Two slots for a closer Cab-Tender coupling.IMG_2939
    Really this is only for display purposes and unlike some Bachmann models you’ll have to run the A1 on the wider spacing otherwise it won’t make tight curves.
  • Accessory bag with Vacuum pipes and Brake rods to be fitted.

OK, not a massive amount of extras – no sprung buffers, no removable coal load and there isn’t a lot of accessories to add. The wheels underneath the cab are also fixed to the unit and are merely there for show.

IMG_2940

This doesn’t disrupt running at all, but it means they swing out beyond the gauge widths of the track and this looks a bit odd.

Let’s not be unfair though, a lot of Hornby’s Railroad range still come with nasty old Lima D-ring couplers so getting NEM pockets is a real plus. The electric motor tooling for this model, baring in mind this is not a premium edition, is actually excellent as we’ll get onto talking about in Running & Performance.

Score: 5.5/10

Detail & Finish

IMG_2925

Starting at the front you get nicely coloured buffer beams and buffers, although not a lot else in the way of extra coupling detail – the headcode disc I’ve added myself. There’s some nice additions on the smoke box accompanying the running number.

IMG_2924

Tender under close coupling for display

Moving onto the side you’ve got a really nice Tornado logo and name plate on the Smoke Deflectors although not etched or raised. The profile of the A1 is nicely captured and you’ve got a plastic hand rail running the length of the loco. There are a few more of these in real life, along with piping and rivets too, but they’re not too distracting of an omission. You do get a gold painted whistle which is a nice touch.

IMG_2928

The cab, well that’s nothing really to write home about, all moulded plastic, but the roof does have some nice riveting. The tender is pretty basic too, all large pieces of moulded plastic especially on the under frame, but I do like the coal chute detailing.

IMG_2926

The wheel linkages and valve gear is by far the best part of this model. Exquisitely fine moving parts have been accurately recreated and are absolutely mesmerising to watch. This will be a score booster.

You’ll get a lot more from a premium model of course but for a budget version aimed at the novice this is a really good offering.

Score: 6/10

Running & Performance

I’m happy to report that the beautifully put together running gear runs as good as it looks. The A1 is smooth, quiet, highly capable and glides over my layout as elegantly as it’s real life counterpart.

Hornby Tornado A1

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HOWEVER… this was not always the case!

When I first got this loco it suffered frequent derailments when running over diverging points. Despite a good amount of weight over the bulk of the boiler and driving wheels, there’s hardly any over the guide wheels. These bounce about erratically going over points and end up ridding up and out over guide rails. Annoying!

IMG_2938

Offending Guide Wheels

What can be done?

Well you could try adding weight to that front truck. But this is fiddly and you might have to take it apart to do that.

I had read reports at the time that the guide rails on older Hornby points (of which I have lots) are not adequate enough for models released today with finer wheels. I therefore added a small plastic strip to the point’s guide to force the wheel onto the running rail (bellow). I go into more detail about the process here, but am happy to report that with this modification the A1 now glides effortlessly over my track.

IMG_2934

Whilst this mod has actually helped a number of my other locomotives I do feel that for a budget model aimed at novices with little experience it really should work perfectly out the box.

'Gradient kink'

‘Gradient kink’

I still have problems with this loco running on my outer loop which features a gradient. I’m not going to penalise it too much for this as it’s down to my slight inadequate track design (above) where the grade starts to fall sharply after a curve. This makes some locos with a middle 6 wheel configuration derail.

Tornado Slow Speed

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Hopefully you won’t get as many problems as I have because I really do love how this loco runs and looks. You’ll eek some really smooth slow running out of it too (above), and I’d go as far as saying it outperforms premium Bachmann rivals in this department. Perhaps I like it more because I had to work to get it to run so well (and I like fixing things) but sadly I’ve got to mark it down through all the grief it gave me.

Score: 5/10

Price

As this was a gift, I’m not entirely sure, but I recall Leah telling me it was about £65-69 from Modelzone at the time. For that price it’s incredible value. Considering how well this loco (can) run, with that beautiful gear linkage, it’s a real bargain. A quick Google shows me that you can still pick these up on eBay and Amazon for around that price.

IMG_2930

Alright, so it’s not the most detailed model in the world, but that’s reflected in the price. You’ll really struggle to find a big steamer worth having like this one at such a good price.

So what would you get if you bought premium?

Bachmann Premium Version

Lot’s more detail of course, note the pipe work and hand rails. There’s a nice red trim around the running gear and naturally the cab wheels are on a bogie. To get all this though you’d be looking at upwards of double the cost.

Score: 10/10

Conclusion

Hornby have gone to the effort of revamping the tooling and some of the features on this, likely former Lima, model. Even before I put it on the track and had teething problems with it I was really impressed with this loco. Most serious modellers would shy away from the Railroad range because of the lack of detail and the perception of lower quality. Far from it – It’s well built with a nicely applied livery.

Don’t let the lower overall score put you off. Unless you have up to date (preferably Peco) points, sure – you may have to rebuild your track somewhat – but I love this loco and would definitely recommend this to anyone* on a budget or for a novice starting out in the hobby (as well as seasoned modellers!). *Just get a good set of points!!

Overall Score: 6.4/10

*UPDATE 4/6/14: Whilst Tornado may be capable of running at 100mph she’s actually only currently mainline certified for a top speed of 75mph.

More Reviews Here

7 thoughts on “Review: Hornby Railroad Class A1 “Tornado”

  1. Nice review, I have essentially the same model but it came in a train pack in BR green (or Hornby’s attempt at it anyway) and is apparently slightly better than normal railroad, came with 3 railroad pullmans (which to be fair are quite nice) all for £100 as the packaging was a little tatty. for £150 it would have been a bit much, but with a third off, can’t complain!

    A couple of points though if I may – although there have been claims Tornado ran at 100mph, she is not authorized to do so (yet) so I’d doubt she runs at 100mph regularly! Also I can’t imagine the railroad tornado bing a lima cast-off, simply because neither Lima or Hornby made Peppercorn A1 models before Tornado was made!

    • Thanks for your comment, glad you liked the review, and I’m always happy to receive some feedback! I will add an addendum about Tornado’s top speed, didn’t know she wasn’t fully approved – thanks. As for the Lima comment, although they didn’t make any Peppercorn A1’s they did make Gresley A3’s at least and whilst they’re obviously not the same they may have opted to reuse some of the internal workings similar to other Railroad stuff.

      £100 is a really good deal considering you get some coaches too. Good work!

  2. […] Well it’s OK, this is about as slow as I can get it with coaches in tow whilst the speed remains constant. As a general rule steam models don’t perform as well as diesels when it comes to slow speed. This makes sense – there’s many more moving parts putting up a resistance to the tractive effort. Don’t be fooled though, there are great slow-speed steamers out there, and in this instance Bachmann’s Jubilee Class falls way behind the likes of Hornby’s Tornado. […]

  3. Hi,

    Nice review, I certainly agree that for the price it is good value despite lacking ‘bells and whistles’, as it were.

    I hope you don’t mind but I did want to add a couple of comments of my own. The fixed Cartazzi truck does look odd on tight curves, it was the direction Hornby went when they completely re tooled the Gresley Pacifics c2004/5. I’m still surprised they didn’t give it any sideplay as Bachmann have done with the A2 model.

    There is, thankfully, no Lima heritage to the model. Whilst I’m not sure they ever made an A3 (I’m aware of an A4) the differences between the Peppercorn and Gresley designs mean there is very little detail in common besides general shape and wheel sizes/arrangement. The moulded hand rails are due to Hornby’s brief and now abandoned flirtation with ‘design clever’ intended to reduce costs. The chassis is actually the same as the main range premium version, which is why it is, as you noted in your review, so finely produced.

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