The kits themselves were more reminiscent of Eagle rather than their contemporary, Airfix. It was not just the need to cut down to waterline the full hull, producing to half hulls, which had to be glued together, but the whole format. The Airfix kits tended to be full moulded with many parts being easily clipped together from accurate peg and hole casting. In addition many detailed features were incorporated in the moulding itself giving a clean cut, if often too full a hull, model. The assembly of the Heller reminded one of the Eagle format of none to accurate line instructions with arrows pointing to features which were not always there, with the happy hit and miss selection of placement. In addition there were many very small parts such as gun barrels which had to be glued on, proving the rule that glue will naturally adhere quicker and faster to what is holding the part, be it fingers or tweezer, than to either the piece itself or the desired location. Thinking of size – the other aspect that can prove annoying was the size of print of the instructions. The ability to have access to a photocopier for enlargement proved a godsend. On the positive side the quality of the transfers on the more recent models are excellent. To sum up - they did provide the lucky builder with hours of endless masochistic pleasure!
An interesting digression was the finding of a link between Airfix, Heller and the original ESCI (later Revell) models. Airfix originally moved from making plastic combs to producing their first plastic kit in 1947. In 1971 Airfix expand again by acquiring Meccano from Line Brothers, who had gone bust. The very famous Dinky range of metal die-cast toys was also bought in this year. At this time Airfix was the foremost British toy manufacturer. Ten years later, in January 1981 they in turn went bust. The kit range was very profitable, but Meccano and Dinky were in deep trouble. Airfix was bought by Palitoy, a part of the American General Mills toy group. Kit production was moved to France. Models started appearing with "Made in France" on the boxes. General Mills also owned MPC and so many MPC kits begin to be marketed under the Airfix logo.
In 1984 Humbrol started re-boxing and selling ESCI and Heller kits under the Humbrol logo and in 1986 - Airfix/Palitoy are in trouble again and are bought by Humbrol Limited, their current owners. Such is the troubled ‘conventional’ toy market that again last year (2003) Humbrol finds itself being administered by the Royal Bank of Scotland's Business Development Group (BDG), along with the Airfix and Heller brand names. Difficulties continues until 2006 Hornby bought Airfix for £2.6m.
(information from DB James site: www.djairfix.freeserve.co.uk )
And why is this important? I feel it is important because for many of us 1/1200 kits were our entry into the hobby and without cheap and readily available models how many of us would have known of the existence of 1/1200 scale? If it was true for us then where in the future will new collectors gain an interest and keep the manufacturers alive. It leaves Revell to fly the flag in this crucial part of the market.