Review: Bachmann Class 20 – GBRf and London Transport

A special double review for you today – two Bachmann Class 20’s!

Overview

Image by Dave Hitchborne

228 Class 20‘s were designed by English Electric and built between 1957 and 1968 in Newton and Darlington. They were initially intended to service light mixed freight work and were fitted with the English Electric’s 8 SVT Diesel engines capable of producing 1,000 horse power and a top speed of 75mph. For today’s standards the Class 20 is unusual in the fact it has a single cab at the rear of the loco giving the driver poor visibility in the ‘forward’ direction. Despite this, English Electric’s design proved more successful than their competitors of the time: Both the Class 15 and 16 by Thompson-Houston and North British Loco Company respectively featured off-set central cabs giving poor visibility in both directions; and although the Clayton Class 17’s (of which I reviewed last week) had better visibility, their reliability let them down. BR therefore continued to order the ever reliable class 20’s coupling them nose-to-nose in multiple to solve the visibility problem. This practice effectively gave you 2,000hp of tractive power enabling the 20’s to be utilised in heavier freight duties. Some were also retrofitted with train heating and were deployed on passenger routes in the Scottish Highlands.

Modern Flask Formation – Image by Joshua Brown

For nearly 60 years the versatile Class 20’s have been a mainstay of freight and departmental operations in Great Britain. Throughout the 70’s and 80’s they worked heavy coal trains in the North and Scotland whilst in London were used to move coaching stock between depots. Post privatisation the Class 20’s have found themselves work in a variety of guises – hauling raw materials for Channel Tunnel construction as well as being deployed on weed killing and maintenance trains. More recently you’ll frequently see 20’s operating nuclear flask formations for Direct Rail Services. The fact the units operate in multiple with provision for redundancy make them ideal haulers of these sensitive loads.

The 20’s have also proved very popular with enthusiasts, being nicknamed ‘Choppers’ for their distinctive engine noise resembling a helicopter. A number have found their way into preservation and despite their age many still operate on the mainline today for DRS and the Harry Needle Railroad Company. Unit 20301, built in 1959, is the oldest diesel locomotive in regular commercial revenue earning service in Great Britain having racked up 55 years service.

Model Options

You’re not short of options for the Class 20! Bachmann, Hornby and Lima have at some point all had a go at creating replicas. Whilst Hornby don’t currently seem to be making any, you’ll find eBay awash with red-stripe Railfreight and BR Blue additions (to name but a few) based on the old Lima toolings.

Bachmann do versions in BR Blue and BR Brunswick Green as well as the two I’m going to review: GBRf Blue/Yellow (based on a loco on loan from HNRC) and London Transport Red – released exclusively by the TfL Museum in Covent Garden to commemorate 150 years of the London Underground. (A further TfL corporate livery is also available from the Museum shop).

If you want something a bit special Olivia Trains will do you a respray and refit to your choice, perhaps in DRS Compass Blue.

Nuclear Flask Formation

Nuclear Flask Formation

As these loco’s have been operational for so long will suit nearly every era or location since the late 50’s. You’ll also have no shortage of running formations to choose from: heavy freight loads, flask runs, empty coaching rakes and maintenance trains are all at your disposal. Although GBRf don’t run such services I do have a nuclear flask wagon (Bachmann), so just use your imagination!…

If you do want to be properly prototypical both 20901 and 20189  have very recently been used by GBRf to deliver the new S-Stock tube trains to Neasden and Ruislip depots.

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Tube Stock Delivery Formation w/ Barrier Wagon

Nobody currently makes any S-Stock replicas so I’ve had to use some artistic license.. but this is as near to the actual formations as you’re going to get!

Packaging

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This is the typical Backmann packaging. A smart matt blue cardboard container and sleeve with plastic ice-block inside. Easy to get in and out of and always will keep your model nicely secure, even if it is a little bit messy. Some background info on the box is always welcome and it’s something Hornby, Heljan and Dapol don’t usually do. It would have been nice if the exclusive from TfL was in some way different but I’m not going to knock anything off as it would have pushed up the price. Both will score the same in this instance.

Score:
GBRf: 7.5/10
London Transport: 7.5/10

Features

  • NEM pockets, of course, for your choice of coupler. Slim line tension locks are provided and fitted.
  • Sprung metal buffers.
  • All wheel pickup and all axel drive motor.
  • DCC Ready (but not fitted).
  • Headcode discs to be fitted at users discretion with guide on code arrangements (GBRf version only).
  • Headcode boxes displaying ‘150’ to celebrate London Underground’s anniversary (London Transport version only).
  • Accessory bag with vacuum pipes and coupling detail to be added.

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You’ll be noticing one glaring omission… No directional lights! I was quite surprised at this, as so many of Bachmann’s Diesel and Electric locos come fitted with directional lights and/or cab lighting. I’m guessing it’s because the tooling of this particular model has been around now for some time and therefore directional lighting may have been less common when this was first produced. Even so I’m disappointed it’s not been added since.

Points off for no directional lighting, but points on for the nice headcode touches on both models.

Score:
GBRf: 8/10
London Transport: 8/10

Detail & Finish

Although the running gear and internal workings are no doubt identical, their bodies and detailing are subtly different…

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Starting at the front of 20901, you’ll be instantly drawn to the nose detail. Bachmann supply you with a number of headcode discs both open and closed to fit at your discretion. This gives the model a really ‘complete’ look and distracts from the fact the head/tail lights are painted on! The metal bollards on the buffer beam are true to real life, but I’m not sure what they are for! Maybe lamp hooks? Do correct me if I’m wrong..

IMG_2961

There’s less to see on 20189, the headcode this time is of the 4 digit domino box style and displays ‘150’ to commemorate the London Underground’s birthday of the same number. The ‘L189’ is a tilt of the hat to former London Transport’s numbering conventions of  their past steam fleet. Bachmann have missed the high intensity headlight on the LT version. Oddly it is fitted to the GBRf edition.

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Moving onto the side and there’s still plenty to see. Both models have intricate metal handrails running the length of the engine bay.

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Although the main fan grill isn’t see through like the Class 67, there’s still grills, compartmental casing and handles all moulded into the plastic in the right places. There’s also plenty of underframe colour, trim and warning notices finishing off the model nicely which I really like. The detailing is subtly different on each model!

IMG_2953

Proper raised windscreen wipers and recessed metal hand rails at the cab end. Look at the tiny GB Railfreigh logo on the rear end too! – Excellent. There’s the high intensity headlight I was talking about, just to the left of the lower white headcode disc…

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…which again has been left off the LT version, which isn’t the case for it’s real life counterpart! The white handrails are a nice touch though.

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The livery of 20901 in GBRf Blue and Yellow has been wonderfully reproduced, the two tone yellow on the front of the loco in particular is spot on. Everything down to the multiple-running symbols, and fine orange engine bay stripe is perfect.

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As well as missed headlights, the red of 20189 – the TfL Museum exclusive – doesn’t seem quite dark enough for me – it’s perhaps too pale.

Slight discrepancies aside they both look fantastic and I really do like that Bachmann have gone to the effort of detailing both models differently.

Score:
GBRf: 9/10
London Transport: 8/10

Running & Performance

Class 20's in Multiple

A post shared by @callingallstations on

I feel you can rely on Bachmann Diesel’s to always be reliable smooth runners, and these two 20’s are no exception. I did have a slight de-railing problem with one particular set of points prior to my modifications I made to help the Hornby Tornado run. However this seemed to be a one off and I didn’t experience the same problem in other point locations. (It was also fixed once I made the modifications). As it was only in one place I’ll therefore chalk this one up to poor track laying on my part, but do be aware these models have very fine wheels so make sure your track and point work is up to scratch!

You’d think that having both the same innards they’d run at identical speeds, but you can find – even with same batch models – that this can vary significantly. Despite this, both models are speed matched well, and I feel comfortable running the units in multiple safe in the knowledge I’m not putting any extra strain on one particular unit.

Class 20's slow speed

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To run them in multiple on DC layouts the slow speed performance does suffer slightly, yet it’s still very impressive. Run them as single units and they are as good as the Heljan 17’s! What’s more, if you choose to top and tail or push-pull a formation these models will glide up and down gradients as if they weren’t even there. Excellent performers.

Score:
GBRf: 9.5/10
London Transport: 9.5/10

Price

The GBRf version I received as a present but I believe it was around the £70 mark from John Dutfield – that’s certainly the going rate on the eHattons website. In time, I expect this price to fall slightly as Class 20’s are never in short supply. If you’ve got your heart set on the GBRf model, £70 is reasonable but you’d certainly be able to get a Class 25 for that price with working lights!

The London Transport version, only available from the TfL Museum shop and website is listed at £99. I actually got this for a little less as I had a discount voucher for the shop from my Aldwych Station visit. (I’m actually surprised they let me use a 10% off voucher on a high ticket item – so credit to them for that). You’ll often find similar Hornby limited edition models have huge price tags so for this exclusive £99 is pretty reasonable, certainly considering the TfL Museum Shop is an expensive place to shop as it is. Having said that, you don’t get anything extra from the limited edition experience, no certificate or additional paperwork and there’s nothing different about the box either. I would have considered paying a bit more for a presentation box had that been an option.

Score:
GBRf: 7.5/10
London Transport: 7/10

Conclusion

I love Class 20’s and I’m a fan of Bachmann’s reproductions of them here. Despite no directional lighting they score highly in Detail and Performance to make up for it. If you’re more serious about era, location and prototypical formations then perhaps you’d be better off with a BR Blue or Railfreight option – but I’d still recommend considering these two, especially 20189 as there’s something very unusual about it!

IMG_2969

I do hope Bachmann get round to adding lighting to their 20’s soon – then they’d not be far off the perfect model!

Overall Score:
GRBf: 8.3/10
London Transport 8/10

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