The Hornby Class 81-86, early models.

Introduction – the death of Hornby?

Early models of the class 81 included a rare 1964 Hornby Dublo version. The first class 86 electrics to run on the West Coast main line were derivations of the prototype class 81. Consequently, the class 81 (AL1) was first made in model form by Hornby Dublo, in 1964, Cat. No. 2245. This was just before Hornby were bought out by the Lines Brothers (Tri-ang).

Meanwhile, after the amalgamation In 1966 Tri-ang-Hornby brought out their own version, R.753. This used the ubiquitous motor unit from the dock shunter and class 101. Moreover, the Dublo version used an entirely different chassis and is now one of the rarer Dublo models, costing close to £1000!

The Hornby Dublo class 81 costing about £1000

The Dublo E3002 was a crude model by modern standards and pretty bad by the standards of 1964! As a result, Hornby were in trouble, with lots of unsold stock. The worst culprit being the ugly co-bo Diesel electric locomotives that stuck to the shelves like glue. The model railway press were scathing in their verdict on build quality. Consequently, when Tri-ang took over there were literally hundreds of these models in stock.

The Prototype

By Barry Lewis – Kenton Bypasser – 1, CC BY 2.0,

Under the 1955 modernization program for British Railways the West coast main line was to be electrified. As a result, 100 AC electric locomotives were ordered from five manufacturers. The first to be delivered was E3001 built in 1959. Associated electrical industries built 25 examples with two being geared to 80mph for freight duties.

The locomotives operated on 25Kv AC and were only used on the West Coast main line. Finally, The last class 81 was built in 1964.

By 1965 electrification was pushing north. As a result 100 more locomotives were ordered. English Electric and British Rail made them in Newton Le Willows and Doncaster. E3101- E3200 became the numbering. The class 86 was based on the earlier class 81. However, there were differences. The noses were square and not sloped back. Also the second pantograph disappeared.

The class 86’s saw long service and many liveries. By 2002 the last were out of service on the West Coast line. However, Freightliner still operate a fleet of 86’s on intermodal work. While West Coast railways use them on charters.

By Phil Scott (Our Phellap) – English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0,

The Tri-ang Hornby Class 81-86, early models

The Triang-Hornby version of the class 81 came out in 1966, R.753. This model is hard to find, costing £100+ for one in good condition. The class 81 also appeared in a train pack, R.644. The train pack was released in 1969. The first model had two pantographs as had the Dublo version.

The R.644 train pack.

E3001 was the prototype electric loco delivered in 1959.

The Class 81 in the 1968 Hornby catalogue.

The Hornby 1968 catalogue

The Hornby Class 81-86, Later models.

In 1981 Hornby produced a new model with a Ringfield motor. Firstly, R360 number 86210 “Phoenix” was issued. Subsequently, a plethora of models followed. These featured many liveries. Named locomotives also proliferated.

Modern releases of the class 86

More recent models include versions by Heljan. Bachmann also produce a class 85 in BR Blue. At the time of writing (April 2021) Heljan has just released a new class 86 model in 00. This is in the early BR Blue livery, pre and post TOPS.