How to detail a Heljan Railbus

20 August 2018
Finished3-20773.jpg Heljan AC Railbus
Heljan's O Gauge AC Railbus is a splendid model, but our step-by-step modifications can really bring it to life.

Heljan’s O gauge AC railbus is a lovely model. There are some niggles, but overall, the benefits of thorough research and development, allied with modern manufacturing techniques, are evident. If nothing else, the baseboard-bending weight of the model would suggest value for money. 

The Railbus could still be improved and more importantly, personalised with a little work. So, in trawling through websites, books and magazine reviews, we have drawn up a list of desirable jobs that wouldn't be too taxing to do. 

One of the most interesting tasks is covering the seats. Usually, so long as they are the right colour, most people aren't worried. However, the large windows and bold seat patterns employed by AC Cars meant that on this 7mm scale model, the work would be worthwhile. 


What you'll need

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White Decal film

Microscale Liquid
Decal Film 

Passengers - Preiser

Driver and guard figures - Dart Castings




Research is the first step with many conversion projects. Spend plenty of time looking at photographs in books, online and in magazine reviews of the model if available. Of course, the final decision on the work required is down to you.


Sections of maquette measuring 25mm x 11mm were cut and fitted to the seats. Home-made transfers can be tricky, but these slid away from the backing after only 15 seconds in water and folded around the seat fronts very easily. Don't get them too wet as even after sealing with matt varnish, the ink can still run.
Model railway Heljan Railbus O Gauge


The white edges of the transfers show in the photo, but aren’t that apparent in real life. These strips only measure 5mm wide.
Model Railway Heljan Railbus O Gauge


Passenger traffic on the rural lines worked by the railcars was never heavy, so a set of four Preiser ready-painted figures (ref: 65351) will be enough.
Model Railway Heljan Railbus O Gauge


The driver and guard are whitemetal figures from Dart Castings. The guard is actually a stationmaster, but he looks like a prototypical railcar guard.
Model Railway Heljan Railbus O Gauge


Inside the railcar, the floor is raised to clear the mechanism which requires some surgery to the figures inside. All the passengers have their legs chopped off below the knee and the crew needed their legs removing too. Painting figures is much easier if they are glued to something. Lolly sticks or chip forks ideal for this.
Model Railway Heljan Railbus O Gauge


To reduce the chance of the guard breaking loose, a length of brass wire is fitted in the bottom of his leg and into a shallow hole drilled in the floor. While looking at the floor, a coat of matt varnish calms the shiny plastic down.
Model Railway Heljan Railbus O Gauge


The first rule of detailing a Ready-To-Run (RTR) model is not to make anything worse than it already is. In this case, the inside of the glazing is flush, so painting the sides the correct pale grey would require accurately masking off the windows - incredibly difficult to achieve perfectly.
Model Railway Heljan Railbus O Gauge


Changing the destination blinds starts by popping out the old ones. Push them from the inside with the end of a wooden paintbrush handle. It might be possible to lever the plastic out carefully from outside but there would be a risk of damaging the roof paint.
Model Railway Heljan Railbus O Gauge


Printing replacements using a computer isn't too difficult. Use shiny photographic paper as the letters have to be very small indeed. Make plenty of spares too. One benefit of this job is you can have any destination you like.
Model Railway Heljan Railbus O Gauge


Heljan's destinations have nice rounded ends. Cutting these perfectly is fiddly but colouring the plastic with a CD marker pen avoids any white showing through if the job is less than perfect.
Model Railway Heljan Railbus O Gauge


As supplied, the buffers are too rounded. Pulling them away from the body and tweaking them with fine nosed pliers improves their look - the buffer furthest away is original, the nearest has been flattened. When they came into contact with anything on the prototype, a certain amount of bending changed the shape even further.
Model Railway Heljan Railbus O Gauge


When the underframes are painted, the axleboxes are left black. They should be yellow with a central red stripe. Those fitted with a speedo counter are pale grey.
Model Railway Heljan Railbus O Gauge


Period images show many DRBs with clean bodies but dirty chassis. Use a piece of cardboard to protect the body while spraying the chassis with thinned brown paint. Using masking tape for this stage would give too sharp a line between the two areas. On the ends, the card is held higher to weather the yellow panels.
Model Railway Heljan Railbus O Gauge


Re-bend the door handrails so the ends that locate in the body are at 90 degrees to each other. Dots of superglue finished the job. Whilst strong enough to hold the metal, they’ll break cleanly if the handrails have to be removed to access the inside of the body.
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There you go. We've taken an already superb model and, in our opinion, made it even better. These techniques can be used on any model, regardless of gauge. A word of warning though, don't risk damaging your model if you're not confident to try what we've highlighted. Maybe you should purchase a much cheaper model for testing techniques. Enjoy...

Want even more easy-to-follow practical advice? Click here to view our full list of How To articles.

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