Excitedly awaiting Bachmann’s Birkenhead trams.

This forthcoming Bachmann model represents Birkenhead heritage tram 70. Thanks go to modeler and tram enthusiast Paul Derrick for providing this official Bachmann image.

Model-makers Bachmann have released images of their forthcoming OO Birkenhead heritage trams, which like the prototypes are based on Hong Kong originals. They reportedly are due out in March or April 2012, but there has been some buzz in the UK after specimens recently were displayed at the Warley National Model Railway Exhibition, including this thread in RM Web.co.uk’s tramways forum.

These new models represent an interesting variation on a longstanding Bachmann approach to producing model trams: Take one casting and paint it in as many liveries as possible, whether prototypical or not. The purists may rail against such an approach but clearly it makes economic sense, as generations of modelers have purchased Bachmann trolleys in all their forms. Witness the popularity of the firm’s omnipresent Brill and PCC models, as well as their newer Peter Witt cars — the latter based on a unique design which ran only in Baltimore yet successfully sold by Bachmann painted in the colours of many other cities. (N.B., I received my first HO Bachmann Brill as a gift way back in 1984. It still works.)

Here is Bachmann's representation of Birkenhead 69, again an official photo forwarded to me by Paul.

Here, with minimal modifications, we see Bachmann’s successful new Hong Kong cars adapted for sale in Britain, in entirely appropriate paint schemes representing the two cars built in Hong Kong for heritage operation in Birkenhead. It is a true example of art imitating life — unlike, say, a model of a Baltimore Peter Witt car in Toronto livery. The two Birkenhead cars are illustrated and described in this post on the Trams of Hong Kong (香港電車) blog.

The firm also says it will offer two undecorated cars for the British market, in plain red and blue paint. According to Bachmann’s UK website, the new offerings will be:

CE00607 — Tram Car Blue (£62.10 RRP)
CE00608 — Tram Car Red (£62.10 RRP)
CE00609 — Tram 69 Birkenhead Corporation Tramways (£66.55 RRP)
CE00610 — Tram 70 Birkenhead Corporation Tramways (£66.55 RRP)

Cheers to Bachmann for finding a prototype which can represent actual vehicles on two continents, thereby tapping into the lucrative Chinese market as well as opening the door to something so many of us have been longing for, namely a quality ready-to-run British tram at a reasonable price.

This begs the question of what they will do next. Clearly, the number of special liveries and all-over advertising paint schemes give the firm an opportunity to produce a large number of Hong Kong cars. But what will they do in Britain? There really aren’t any other British paint schemes in which to appropriately paint the Hong Kong cars, and the hope of many modelers is that Bachmann will adapt the mechanism and techniques developed for these models for production of vehicles based on true UK prototypes.

One of my British models: A Corgi Blackpool Balloon tram motorised using the mechanism not from a tram, but from a Bachmann locomotive. I imported the kitbashed car from a UK ebay seller. It is seen logging some rare mileage on the New York Museum of Transportation's HO railroad layout.

Modelers of British trams have spent years hacking up Bachmann’s Brill and PCC trolleys to install their mechanisms inside other firms’ bodies, notably in the case of Corgi’s wide range of die cast Blackpool trams as well as their London, Leeds and Sunderland Feltham cars. Such kitbashing, together with small-run production of distinctive British cars, has been the standard for British tram modelers over the years, resulting in some impressive specimens. Still, not all modelers have the skills or desire to build their own cars, and look longingly at their railway-enthusiast comrades who can buy highly realistic off-the-shelf rolling stock representing everything from vintage steam to models of contemporary British railway equipment in complex corporate liveries.

I believe there is a vast, untapped market for British tram models of similar quality, as witnessed by the diverse collection of UK tramway enthusiasts of all ages — many of whom are not even old enough to remember when trolley wires were festooned over the streets of Britain.

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