Review of the Bachmann Branchline Blue Riband "N" class

N Class

photograph by Tony Cane


The release of a new ready to run model of Southern rolling stock, being rare event, is always something for Southern fans to celebrate. That this piece of rolling stock is the first completely new tooled product produced by Bachmann Branchline's high standard Blue Riband brand is a cause for additional celebration. Furthermore the choice to model R.E.L. Maunsell's N class is upon mature consideration particularly astute. Bachmann could have gone for another top link express passenger engine supplementing their existing Lord Nelson model, or they could have gone for a cute and quirky tank engine. However, to select a medium-powered mixed traffic utilitarian Mogul, with almost system-wide route availability, which as a class spent their entire working lives on mundane duties, and which would otherwise be unremarkable except for the fact that they were exceptionally good at doing what they were designed to do, is a real gift to Southern modellers.

This model is already notorious amongst those who were eagerly waiting for it due to its very extended gestation period, with something approaching three years from the first product announcement until it actually appeared. The first batch eventually arrived at Christmas 1998 for some, but there continued to be delays in delivery with some dealers receiving short-orders. Well was the wait worth it? We shall see......

The Model:

The initial release from Bachmann was of five versions:

  • 32-150 number 810 (the prototype) in SECR grey and number 8124 in Southern lined olive - a limited edition double set celebrating the Kader Company's 50th anniversary.
  • 32-151 number 31813 in BR lined black with early BR crest.
  • 32-152 number 31860 in BR lined black with late BR crest.
  • 32-153 number 1824 in Southern lined olive.

Subsequently there have been further issues (or to be issued):

  • 32-151A number 31816 in BR lined black with late BR crest.
  • 32-153A number 1821 in Southern lined olive.
  • 32-154 number 31843 in BR lined black with late BR crest and a BR Std chimney.
  • 32-155 number 1854 in SR malachite.
  • 32-156 number 31844 in BR lined back with early BR crest and weathered.
  • 32-160 number 1406 in Southern lined olive with slope sided tender.
  • 32-161 number 31862 in BR lined black with early BR crest and slope sided tender.
  • 32-162 number 31401 in BR lined black with late BR crest and slope sided tender.
  • 32-163 number 1404 in Southern lined olive with smoke deflectors and slope sided tender.
  • 32-150W CIE smoke black.
  • 32-150X CIE smoke black.
  • 32-150Y CIE green 3 alternative numbers.
  • 32-150Z CIE cherry black.

...the CIE versions of course being more under gauge than their BR renditions!

Demand for the limited edition set has exceeded the supply, and examples are already commanding an indecent premium on the swapmeet circuit. Prices in the UK for the "unlimited" versions vary between GBP45 and GBP60 depending upon the dealer. Purchasers should be aware that as with other recent Bachmann releases the pictorial insert is the same for all versions and does not indicate the livery of the contents. To complicate matters further purchasers of the initial batch of BR black versions should be warned that workers packing the boxes in China failed to appreciate both the difference between an early and a late BR crest and Roman numerals with the result that those boxes numbered and labelled for the early crest version actually contain the late, and visa versa!

Care should be taken when removing the model from the box as it is tightly packed into the expanded polystyrene insert (though not as tight as some other recent Bachmann models) and damage to the extremely fine details could result. Also note that the tender is permanently coupled to the loco. Use of the finger holes at the rear of the polystyrene tray is recommended to push the model out. Brake rodding for both the loco and tender are supplied separately to be fitted by the purchaser (extreme care is needed when doing this to avoid fracture), as are the front footsteps, tender fire iron rest and steam pipes. A full exploded diagram of the model and a brief history of the class are also included in the box.

The first impression of the model when removing it from the box is extremely favourable. The details are exceptionally fine, with many modellers opining that this RTR version is better than many kit built examples.

N Class N Class

photographs by Tony Cane

The model appears to represent one of the 65 right hand drive locos (identified by the side with the reversing lever), without piston tail rods, without smokebox snifting valves, with front footsteps (if fitted by he purchaser), with the less common vertical handrail/hole on the smoke deflectors, and with the earlier 3500 gallon tender, but the chimney of the U1 type (i.e. parallel, not flared) which was applied to later batch built by the SR in 1932. We have been unable to locate a prototype with this exact configuration (the box insert photograph of 31816 is as above except for the smoke deflector details) and as such it might be a bit of a compromise - albeit an attractive and well modelled one. This aside, when comparing the model to drawings (allowing for detail changes over the class' lifetime) there are no major flaws,  but the lamp irons on the smokebox are of over-scale thickness and the only major omission appears to be the sandpipes! On the overwhealming positive side - handrails, top feed clack valves and pipes, ejector pipe, lamp irons, safety valves, whistle, reversing wheel and lever, and tender handbrake are all separately applied items.  A quick measure of major dimensions without taking the model apart suggests that this model is dimensionally accurate.

The least convincing aspect of this model is the moulding of the coal in the tender, however it is done at such a level to permit application of scale size real coal over it without the tender appearing over full.

The paintwork is of a pleasing matt finish. The lining and lettering are extremely well applied although several SEmG members have commented that the lettering and numbering on the Southern Railway liveried tender are of over-scale thickness with the result it looks too bold. Also on the initial batch Bachmann have slipped up on the BR power rating on the BR black liveried models. The cab sides are printed with 4P3F, however this is the power rating for the U/U1 classes, the N/N1 classes being rated 4P5F (the Ns and Us were all rated 4MT in 1949 but were reclassified in 1953/54).

The cab front is flush glazed, with reasonable backhead detail, and is absolutely crying out for a model crew to inhabit it, which strangely Bachmann have chosen not to supply as with the model of the N's much bigger brother the Lord Nelson class.   The footplate and cab backplate are actually diecast metal adding useful extra weight to the model.

Although not to finescale standards the wheels are commendably of a much finer profile than hitherto endured by British RTR owners. Indeed many have commented that the tender chassis alone is a minor work of art! Wheels and motion are blackened which adds to realism out of the box, and the brakeblocks are in line with the wheel treads. One the model measured the back-to-back measurement of all wheels was exactly correct. The rear drivers are powered (as with the other recent Blue Riband release - the re-tooled Collett Goods) by a vertically mounted Buhler can motor, but without a flywheel which is a backwards step compared to some previous Bachmann chassis. All six drivers provide electrical pick-up via substantial (but not visible from the outside) phosphor bronze wipes which rub tangentially on the rear wheel faces. The front of the loco and rear of the tender are fitted with sprung buffers. The whole model weighs in at about 365 grams/13 ounces.

Couplings are of the new Bachmann slim tension lock type, the rear being in a NEM pocket, but the front screwed to the leading truck. The tender is (semi-) permanently coupled to the engine by a yoke-shaped bar coupler from the loco which engages in a slot below the tender footplate. This can be dis-assembled but you are advised that taking this model apart is not to be undertaken lightly or by the faint-hearted - unless you are gifted at handling almost microscopic self-tapping screws.

It is tempting for SEmG members whose railway modelling interests span the Atlantic to compare this model to another recent Bachmann release - the "Spectrum" series Baldwin Consolidation, an HO scale model which has received much critical acclaim from proud owners. In terms of bodywork the N class probably has the lead, but it is in the running gear that the Consolidation has clear supremacy, since it has a flywheel drive and all wheel pickup including from the tender wheels. True the instructions from Bachmann Branchline recommend that an hour's running in period is needed with this type of drive - but this is sound advice for all model locos - however the Consolidation runs much smoother, and with momentum, straight out of the box.

Bachmann recommends that this model is not run on curves tighter than British trainset geometry radius 2 (17¼ inch radius). However quite a few owners of models from the first batch have experienced problems with the tender regularly derailing in both forward and reverse directions on curves much shallower than the recommended minimum and also through well adjusted non-trainset pointwork. This tendancy has been corrected in later batches and a "fix", which consists of re-profiled tender wheels with slightly more sideplay and a re-weighted tender, is available for first batch models from Bachmann's service department.

N Class

The much sought-after limited edition set photographed by David Lord.

The later batches of this model have been with different BR running numbers and there are even several splendid variations in CIE livery, albeit an incorrect narrow gauge version since if it were modelled true to scale it should run on 21mm gauge track.


So to answer the question posed in the introduction - has the wait been worth it? Well yes. This model is not perfect, and a flywheel drive with all wheel pickup would have been better, but that is not to detract from the fact that this is a very good model indeed. Thanks to Bachmann we have a high quality model of a versatile Southern prototype, and they are only to be encouraged to keep pushing the boundaries of standards and quality. (....but we'd much rather not have had the long wait and the delivery problems....)

This review was the first from the SEmG that was not been written by an individual. It was compiled by Colin Duff with feedback from many SEmG members and major contributions from Chris Gardner, John C Hall, Tony Harker, Keith Meredith, Graeme Pettit, Michael Taylor and Mike Watts.

N Class

photograph courtesy of Graham Plowman

Bachmann N Class variations

Read about Jeff Lynn's tender modifications

Overview of the prototype

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This page was last updated 13 September 2007

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