Hornby seeks new market with 'Steampunk' models


By Howard Smith

06 January 2020

The manufacturer adapts its range to feed a growing trend of goggle-wearing, fantasy-loving, steam and cog enthusiasts. But will it send the gears of the manufacturer into a spinning frenzy? Howard Smith explains...

As part of its 2020 new model range announcements Hornby is to produce a range of locomotives, coaches and wagons around a common theme - Steampunk. For model-collecting traditionalists expecting their annual dose of upgraded, re-visited or entirely new locomotives, they're likely spitting their tea back into their mugs, but fear not, many core products for the railway enthusiast market were announced, too. More importantly, these products aren't aimed at railway modellers - they're not even being labelled as 'scale specific'. It's Hornby's way of targetting what it sees as an untapped market of potential model collectors.

What is steampunk?

Steampunk is a fantasy genre, largely inspired by the works of H.G. Wells and Jules Verne. Or, as Wikipedia says, it's a 'retrofuturistic sub-genre of science fiction or science fantasy that incorporates technology and aesthetic designs inspired by 19th-century industrial steam-powered machinery.' A bit of a mouthful. In essence, it's a world set in the 19th century, where electronics haven't really been developed and everything continues to be powered by steam - circuit boards are a big no-no.

Steampunk mask

A 'steampunk plague mask', anyone? Hmm....

The trend appears to be growing and steampunk enthusiasts take it seriously, wearing goggles, leather outfits and gears as they attend conventions, exhibitions and gatherings around the world. Turn up to one of these venues dressed as a cyborg with nano-circuit technology, and you're likely to be shown the door!

Why is Hornby making steampunk models?

Like many fantasy genres, all the creations of the steampunk genre are fuelled by the imagination. Plus, all of the inventions are supposedly steam-powered. For this reason, it shares common ground with model railways. Many steampunk enthusiasts plan trips to heritage steam railways in the UK (and around the world), and Hornby is banking on there being potential cross-over between these and its models in accessible miniature form.

Meet Laurie Calvert, a model railway, turned steampunk, enthusiast who has featured in BRM magazine. He regularly attends model railway exhibitions with one of his steampunk-themed model railways, 'Cato Pass' and always keeps a crowd of young and old entertained:

Hornby is using its Bassett-Lowke name once more, feeling it's more appropriate as a brand name to the would-be steam-powered Victorian machinery. Branding is to be different from traditional Hornby packaging, though not for the first time this year. If the manufacturer is to broaden its horizons and gain access to more varied retail outlets (just look up Games Workshop's net income), it certainly seems a wise move.

Packaging is different from the main Hornby range, with a nod to the theme...

Steampunk World Bassett Lowke Hornby

Steampunk World Bassett Lowke Hornby

Steampunk World Bassett Lowke Hornby

Steampunk World Bassett Lowke Hornby

As can be seen from the packaging concepts above, a range of acrylic paints and figures is to be made available, too.

It would appear that Hornby is minimising its risk, re-using existing tooling where possible with these new creations. For its locomotives, we see its veteran 0-4-0 chassis wheeled out. The plastic bodyshells are replaced with a moulded resin unit, armed with a wonderfully-eccentric combination of pipes, ploughs and spikes. Coach and wagon bodyshells too are modified, equally inspired by other-worldly Victorian creations.

Laurie Calvert steampunk layout

Wheeled out in time for the launch presentation and made by Laurie Calvert; a steampunk layout, featuring a selection of Hornby's forthcoming offerings.

Steampunk layout

Note gears added to buildings from its Skaledale range, plus 0-4-0 locomotives, coaches and wagons.

I felt the locomotives, wagons and coaches were convincing for the genre, though for its buildings, the gears did appear a little odd. Search for Reginald Pikedevant's song 'Just glue some gears on it (you can 'google' that one, too...)

A new door has been opened for Hornby and I hope it pays dividends - though I know very little about Steampunk, from Hornby's video presentation below, it's an exciting, refreshing and brave world with new opportunities... what do you think? Visit www.rmweb.co.uk and join in the conversation.