Review: Heljan O Scale Class 53 'Falcon'

Written by Richard Grigg. 

Special thanks to Scott Rhodes for the loan of his model for this review.

Introduction  

The history of Britain's railways is littered with examples of unique one-off prototypes which were designed to improve both passenger and freight train services. Some proved their worth and went into mass production but sadly however, for every new design that met the required standards, there were many that fell short of the mark for one reason or another. One such example is the Class 53. 

Built by the Brush Traction Company for British Railways in 1961, the Class 53 was the outcome of the 'FALCON' project, whose goal was to design a new second generation, lightweight diesel-electric Type 4 locomotive. Although meeting the required criteria, the lone Class 53 (named 'Falcon' after the project that created her) eventually lost out to another Brush Traction design that would go on to become the Class 47. 

In spite of this set back, 'Falcon' was purchased by British Railways and continued to operate on the network until she was withdrawn from service in 1975. A year later she fell to the cutter's torch at Cashmore`s scrap yard in Newport. A unique class of diesel locomotive now gone for good. 

While 'Falcon' may not have been preserved, Heljan have seen to it that this one-off prototype at least exists in model form. In this review we shall be taking a look at 'Falcon' in BR two-tone green with yellow warning panels (item no: 5351) with an RRP of £699.00. 

Other liveries available are: 

  •     'Falcon' in BR lime green & brown (item no: 5350) 
  •     'Falcon' in BR blue with yellow ends (item no: 5352)

It should be noted that this model is limited to a total of just 750 pieces across all three liveries, which break down as follows: 

  •     5350 (200 models) 
  •     5351 (350 models) 
  •     5352 (200 models) 

Packaging

It's good to see that although Heljan has started to use a new style of packing, they haven't rendered their previous design redundant. The deep blue box is made of tough and sturdy cardboard and comes in two halves in which one half slides on top of the other. Inside the box the model is snugly wrapped in plastic sheeting and held securely in place on three sides by dense foam. Two sheets of softer foam flank the model on either side and protect it from damage in storage. The locomotive also comes with a bag of spare detail parts in case something gets lost or broken and an instruction/care sheet offers help in maintaining the model and, as well as instructions for fitting it out with either DCC or a DCC sound module, it also provides the owner with brief historical information on the Class 53.

Detail  

With this model coming from a company that's renowned for putting care into little details, we're not expecting disappointment. Starting with the roof, the locomotive displays fine metal mesh grilling on the air intakes through which the red air fans are clearly visible. The roof panels each come with separately fitted metal loops. Moving down to the sides, 'Falcon' features metal handrails at either side of the cab doors as well as flush glazing throughout. The sides contain more fine mesh grills but the real eye-catcher is the 3D nameplate and Falcon emblem that was fitted to the engine during a one year upgrade and overhaul in 1962.

Taking a look at the cab ends, the buffer beams are brimming with separately fitted detail pieces including:

  •     Vacuum brake pipes 
  •     Train heat hoses 
  •     Electric jumper cables 
  •     Lamp irons 
  •     Spring loaded coupling hooks 
  •     Sprung metal buffers

The cab ends also have painted metal handrails and plastic windscreen wipers across the front. Looking through the cab windows you can make out interior details in the form of handbrake wheels, dial read-out panels and driving controls as well as the all seats for the driver and the second man.

Finally we come to the bogies which include perfect moulded detail such as the cab steps, sand boxes, axle boxes, spring suspension (which is fixed and non- functional) and brake blocks. 

Livery Application

Of the three liveries on offer, the BR two-tone green is by far, in my opinion, the best and Heljan, as ever, have reproduced it flawlessly. As for the decals the locomotive’s running number is presented in the correct font and the builder’s plates and overhead live wire warning labels are crisp and clear. 

Special Features  

When it comes to special features this Class 53 certainly isn't lacking, in fact the only feature that's missing is a smoke generator but, given that the model is already cammed with motors and electronics to accommodate DCC/DCC sound, the addition of a smoke generator might be pushing it a little !

The visual features of this model are as follows:

  •     Rotating roof fans 
  •     Directional lighting 
  •     Internal cab lights 
  •     Backlit headcode boards 
  •     Optional tail lights 

The tail lights can be switched off or on via a small switch located underneath the locomotive's chassis. This has been done so that when the model is coupled to a train, prototypical running can be maintained as in reality the tail lights would be turned off. This is an excellent option and one I think Heljan, along with other manufacturers, should fit as standard to all their future diesel locomotive releases.

'Falcon' comes as DCC ready out of the box with the choice of either standard DCC or DCC sound. As previously stated, the instruction/care sheet provides a step by step guide for installing either system. 

Performance

In reality, 'Falcon's' propulsion came via twin Maybach MD655 diesel engines generating electricity to power 6 traction motors. With Heljan's model, it is powered by twin 5-pole electric motors with brass flywheels which provide a smooth and elegant glide even when running in DC mode.

As far as traction is concerned, the model weighs approximately 4kg thanks to the motor assembly and die cast metal chassis. This is, metaphorically speaking, a block of lead on wheels: you'd have to put a very long and heavy train behind this locomotive before it began to struggle. 

The only criticism I have is the pick-ups, they rub against the back of the wheels creating a metallic screeching noise which gets worse with tighter radius curves.

Final Thoughts

All I can say is that Heljan have done it again. I've looked at many items by this company in the past and every time I've been completely blown away by the sheer level of time and effort they put into getting their models just right. As I said at the start of this review, the real Class 53 never survived for future generations of enthusiasts to admire and enjoy so the next best thing is to own a stunning smaller scale model of the locomotive. Thanks to Heljan the Falcon flies once again, in 0 scale at least. 

Pros & Cons  

 

Pros  

  •     Smooth runner 
  •     Optional tail lighting 
  •     Excellent moulded and separately fitted detail 
  •     Immense tractive effort 

Cons 

  •     Noisy pick-ups which may need to be adjusted.

With this I give an overall score of 9.5/10