For a lot of us, part of the fun of modelling is doing our research on the subject of our newest, or at least most recently-acquired, kit. The chance to delve into our area of interest, to learn about the genesis, life and times of the subject at hand is an opportunity that is as much a part of the modelling process as is the sticking together of the little plastic bits. In fact, for many of us, the idea of the journey being half the fun is entirely true!
I’m sure we’ve all gotten our hands on a kit, attracted to it because it’s a subject we know something about, but then are amazed when we do the deeper digging. I think that appreciation for detail, not just physical detail, but historical detail, is a big part of the hobby that non-hobbyists either can’t or don’t understand. However, I’m pretty confident that most of you reading this will get it. A fascination with history is a major part of a modeller’s DNA, whether it’s looking up aircraft markings, the colour and fitment of armoured vehicles, or researching a sci-fi franchise’s canon so we can get that ship or mech “just right”.
But, there’s a lot more history to modelling than just the subject we’re building. Sometimes, the models themselves are fascinating pieces of history too! Models are consumer products, and like all things in a free-market economy, are designed, first and foremost, to make money. That means that models, and their boxes, are interesting windows into the times in which they were created. Styles of packaging and illustrating, art vs. photography, the type of additional information on the boxes and the actual execution of the kits can convey, through time (like old photographs) something of the Zeitgeist of when they were issued. So, old models can be both a trigger for research on a subject, and also a subject to research on their own! No wonder this hobby is so awesome, right?
Now, if you have read anything at all on this website, then you know I have a real penchant for the odd, obscure and old. My lust for Matchbox Planes and Matchbox Armour is well known, and I have a number of kits that go back into the mid-70’s to find their birthdates, making them older than me! It’s the same with cars; my Monza Mayhem proves that! Of course, I don’t stop there; I have my varied Japanese Planes and my Farpros, some of which go back into the ‘60s, which is when my awesome Hupmobile was issued. Each one of these is an interesting look back at how things were done and packaged, and you can clearly see the evolution of both facets of the model kit industry as time progresses.
However, recently, I was able to push back the curtains of time even further, with an awesome score at a local hobby shop! Yes, if you’re wondering, it was indeed the same one that has fuelled the various Matchbox and Japanese plane scores of the past year or so. For, in that same collection, were a bunch of old FROG kits. Of course, despite their inability to compete in current terms, I do love FROGs, and like Matchbox, they made some pretty darned-cool subjects. It should come as no surprise that I have a bunch of them. Some I’ve acquired recently, some I’ve had for almost two decades already. However, most of those ones are from the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. Sure, that’s old, but not as old as they get!
Almost Missing the Boat:
FROG, as a maker of airplane kits, has been around since before WWII, when their non-flying model kits were marketed under the (highly appropriate) “Penguin” moniker. (FROG made flying models primarily, so they named their static models after a bird that didn’t fly. Get it? That’s so British it hurts…) After the war, as these new-fangled “plastic kits” started to appear, FROG jumped on the bandwagon and was an early leader in the British plastic kit industry.
While here in North America we’re more familiar with old Revell and Monogram (and Aurora, of course) kits, there were awesomely “swoopy” kits coming out of England at the same time. Just as the American companies focused on US products, the gang at FROG/Triang patriotically hyped up the latest RAF and Royal Navy technology to the model-crazy schoolboys of England.
Like most ‘50s model kits, the old Frogs are pretty basic, not super-accurate and very clunky. However, I’d only ever seen pictures, or in some cases newer issues, of these “golden oldies”. I’d never actually had a chance to hold one: until now! In with the massive 1,200+ kit stash that my local shop inherited were some very old, very collectible kits. One, that I failed to get, was a Heller Arc-en-Ciel. (One day, it shall be mine!!!) Others, that I ignored for the past year, were some ancient FROGs.
For some reason, I had looked at them, and then discounted them as simply ancient, terrible kits I’d likely never build. So, I left them. There they sat, these survivors of an era long-past, veritable time-travelers that, had I been thinking in less-than-straight-ahead-buildability terms, I should have smartly gobbled up. Thankfully, I came to my senses after reading some wartime airplane books I also recently obtained. It must have been the musty paper that made me realize “HOLY CRUD!! There are awesome ‘50s kits that I didn’t buy… what the heck?” The next day, I was in the car, across town, and loading up. Thankfully, nobody else had bought them.
So, let’s dial the Wayback Machine for a time when jets were still new the British Aero Industry was still a fairly viable and thriving enterprise! Let’s take a look at what schoolboys of the past would have spent their hard-earned pocket money on as soon as they got to their local stockist!
The Ancient Ones:
In this group of temporal throwbacks, I managed to grab five of what were purported to be Britain’s most exciting and dramatic aeronautical products of the mid- ‘50s:
- English Electric P.1: This model is originally from 1956, but my copy could be as new as 1964. This forerunner of the long-serving Lightning series pioneered the use of over-under engines and served as a high-speed test bed. While the kit may call it an Interceptor, the P.1 never went into service in that form.
- Gloster Javelin: Hailing from 1955, this fat and rather aerodynamically unimpressive interceptor was, in many ways, Britain’s answer to the US’ F-102. It may have shared a delta wing, but with a lack of area rule and a wing so thick you can park a bus in it, it was never the equal of its American counterpart. No, I’m not sure why it’s drawn as a single seater!
- DeHavilland DH.110: This one was first issued in 1955, with this copy seeming to be the 1962 edition. The forerunner of the venerable Sea Vixen, the DH. 110 was originally going to be for both the RAF and the RN. However, when the RAF backed out (banking on the Javelin as its all-weather interceptor) the Royal Navy went it alone. While the Sea Vixen was a passable aircraft, the poor DH.110 is remembered for breaking up at Farnborough and killing 31 spectators in a rain of fiery debris. Something of an inauspicious start, then…
- Fairey Delta 2: This model hit shelves in 1957, with this copy being the 1958 version. The Fairey Delta 2 was one of a number of high-speed aircraft used to explore the handling qualities of the then-new delta wing. This particular model even features a droopable nose, which we all know is a feature that made it to the Concorde SST a decade and more later! One of the more successful and spectacular British X-Planes!
- Supermarine N113 Scimitar. The Scimitar kit was first issued in 1957, and this is one of them. It shares a certain pulchritude with the Javelin and its earlier brother the Attacker. Supermarine’s last jet, it gave a rather singularly unimpressive 12 years to the Royal Navy as a nuclear attacker, losing about half its number in operational accidents. A dangerous “meh” in the annals of aviation history!
You can see from the box art style that these things are OLD. They art has a very “book-like” quality to it, like something you’d see in a Bill Peet book. They’re technical drawings, in that they’re generally technically correct (Please disregard the single cockpit on the Javelin…), but there’s a softness of line and execution that just screams “Hey, I’m from the ‘50s!!” The speed lines, the interesting choices of horizon line and the almost “watercolour” look are all indicators of the age of the art.
Some of them are more dynamic than others, of course. The Javelin and DH.110 just kind of sit there, and while the Javelin gets a few wispy clouds in which to cavort (I’m not sure… can one of those pigs even do that??), the poor DH.110 is just there. Another telling symbol of the ages of the boxes is the way in which the call numbers are lithoed on to the box. In some cases, the DH.110 being the most obvious, the numbers are out of focus, or have their own shadow! That’s definitely an “old school” thing!
Despite the varying levels of dynamism on display, all of these boxes are awesome, and are like postcards that got lost in your grandmother’s drawer for 65-odd years! However, there’s more than just the great art that’s neat. The boxes themselves are made out of an almost age-softened cardboard; its’ a thicker, semi-matte type of material no longer used for this purpose. It’s heavy, and just feels old. It’s awesome! The colours are printed right onto it (as opposed to being on paper which was glued to it, a common practice on early kits), but there’s some dullness, like the innate nature of the cardboard is showing through. It’s like the Hupmobile box in a lot of ways!
Note, on the slightly older kits with the three-colour bands at the left side, that there’s a very interesting description as well. There’s mention of “No shaping or sanding” and that the kit is made from “High-Impact Polystyrene”. Now, to you and I, in the 2020’s, that doesn’t sound too interesting. But in the mid ‘50s, there were still a number of companies issuing WOODEN models that required careful shaping and which did not feature “interlocking parts”.
Yes, these kits are so old they’re from the days when plastic kits were still at war with wooden ones! In fact, many “old modellers” of this time would have been contemptuous of how “easy” the schoolboys of that day had their hobby. No more felling trees and hewing lumber to make a replica! (Not that you’d know it from the shape of the Javelin, mind you…)
“Harrumph, I say! Old Boy, if you’re not whittling and sanding a chunk of tree to make a rude approximation of the plane you’re trying to build, you’re not a real modeller!”
Now people say that if you don’t use copious aftermarket on a super-nice plastic kit. See how times change, but yet don’t?
Had to Catch ‘Em All:
One thing that never changes is the cross-sell. Like I said, the goal was to make money, and you need to make sure your audience knows there are other kits to choose from! That’s where the box sides come in. Before it became common to put subject information or UPC codes and the like on box sides, they were used to show other kits in the range. On the earlier kits, those with the tri-colour bands, these are simple outlines. All you get is a white outline and a black name on the red of the box. The art has been saved exclusively for the top of the box.
A few years later, though, and things had changed a lot. Colour printing was more expected, and I’m guessing more economical, because on the slightly newer boxes, there are awesome full-colour renditions of other kits, and these are against an extension of the main art’s background to boot! In most cases, these awesome little cameos are just the box art of the plane for the other kit superimposed on the background. But, there is at least once instance where the art is new! On the Scimitar’s box, the view of the EE P.1 is totally different from the view on the Delta 2’s box, which mirrors the actual original EE P.1 art. For some reason, it’s a top-down view, and that’s a very unusual view, looking like it was copied from an air-to-air photo.
Any Colour You Want – So Long As It’s Silver!
Let’s face it, in the ‘50s, shiny jets were fast jets. There was a lot of natural metal, polished aluminum and mirror-finishes found on the hottest ships of the day. So, it’s only natural that the models would do their best to replicate this with silver plastic. And, that’s what all the early FROGs give you, nothing but parts in silver plastic.
The only parts of the models not moulded in silver are, of course, the canopies. These are “clear”, meaning they are nominally slightly more see-through than calling them transparent, but they are quite heavy and there’s definitely distortion. There should be stands with the kits, too, but sadly, they aren’t in there. Stands were a big thing for British kits, it seems, since early Matchboxes always included them too.
As far as kits go, it’s tough to be kind. These are ancient relics, and they show it. The plastic is SO THICK in spots, the fit is dodgy at best, and in most cases, there are significant gaps in the fuselages along the major seams. That whole “No sanding or shaping” claim… yeah, that’s a bit premature there guys! Nice try though.
The panel lines are all raised, some have raised places for putting on the roundels (the P.1 has this) and there’s some flash to be seen. There are rivets, and they are a bit large for the scale, but they’re a far sight better than Airfix, that used to just puke rivets all over everything; these are only along the panel lines. If you were to build one, they’d be simple enough to rescribe. Once the panel lines were sanded off, you might be amazed that the rivets show up as tiny sink marks. I’ve seen it before! The P.1 was attacked by the “mad trencher” at points, oddly enough, with wide, crevasse-like panel lines in spots.
There are typical period expedients like no engines, too. You can look into, and out of, these kits like a pair of crappy binoculars. I think it’s the Scimitar that has a pair of “walls” inside the intake, but these aren’t quite big enough, so you can still see a lot through there. Again, this is expected of kits this age; you can’t get mad because of that. If you want to build one of these, you have to be ready to either live with it, or work around it. Intake covers and exhaust covers were invented for a reason!
Another bad feature is the landing gear bays, or rather, their non-existence. There are panel lines on the wings showing the gear doors “up” for flight-mode. However, there are also large holes for gluing in the gear legs and doors for landed-mode. Sadly, there are no gear bays for this instance. So, you either have closed doors and big holes in the wings/bodies, or you have extended gear and no bays. Again, that’s just how it was done, and it’s a fascinating look at what was acceptable back then. Accuracy took a back seat to timeliness of subject, and it was more important to get the newest and coolest subjects out there than it was to put in proper gear bays, engines and the like.
I generally buy kits with the intention of building them, although these I just wanted to have to write up for the website, to be honest. In some ways, it seems a shame to me to build a kit that’s survived this long unbuilt when I have others I can work on.
Even I have my limits when it comes to building something collectible, and I’m pretty sure there are a number of kit collectors out there that would like to have these in as unmolested a state as possible. Therefore, I have decided that I will put these up for sale. I actually had someone buy my Mazda Familia kit, since it was also really rare. That one went to Australia! So, it’s not unheard of that I will sell kits if someone really wants it.
One thing about these; a lot of them weren’t issued very many times, and some like the Scimitar, Javelin and DH.110 actually represent prototypes, and are thus the only kits of these forms of the airplane. When I looked some of these up on Ebay, there just weren’t any. I’d seen a couple on old kit websites, but by and large, these don’t show up. Thus, they aren’t cheap.
However, if you do see one that tickles your fancy, you can pop over to my new For Sale page and follow a link to an Ebay auction. If you’re shocked at how much they are, you can email me or post a civil comment. Any rants, rude opinions or the like will be simply trashed. I don’t do this as a business, I just have a few extra kits I thought I’d put up. No one has to buy them. But they are fun to look at! Maybe you know someone who would like them? If so, pass it on!
My initial thought on these kits WAS right. They’re largely crude, especially if you want a decently detailed replica. However, their only crime is in being made when they were. Back whey they were new, they were perfectly good kits, and it’s not fair or practical to judge them by today’s standards. That they seem to suck now is a testament to how good we have it.
What’s most important about these kits is that they still exist, and that their boxes are EPIC! They are more artifact than model kit, and their real value lies largely in showing us how models have evolved and improved. They are a window to the past in terms of both technology and marketing, and it’s easy to see how a boy could be persuaded to part with his allowance to get his hands on one of these sleek, silver beauties!
Seeing these ancient warriors all together is a very impressive and humbling sight. It makes you appreciate what the makers were trying to do; moreso when you realize that we only got to where we are because of whey they were. It also makes you appreciate the craftsmanship in the box art, something largely lost in the new era of digital photorealism.
These models ooze charm and zeitgeist, and you can’t help but hear the echoes of excited young builders crowding around them in long-gone mom-and-pop shops in the end of one of the most exciting decades in the history of aviation. Like other old relics, they help to link the present to the past, and that’s a big part of what modelling is all about, isn’t it?
Have Your Say!
Which one of these kits do you like the best? Which one would you like to know more about? Vote below and the winner will be the one I look at first!