Lima S.p.A (Lima Models) was a brand of railway models made in Vicenza,
Italy, for almost 50 years, from the early 1950's until the company ceased trading in 2004.
Lima was a popular and cheap brand of 'OO' gauge and N gauge model railway material in the UK, more
detailed HO and N gauge models in France, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, and the United States as well
as South Africa, Scandinavia and Australia. Lima also produced a small range of 'O' gauge models.
Lima partnered with various distributors and manufacturers, selling under brands such as A.H.M.,
Model Power, and Minitrain. G & R Wrenn resold Lima N scale models in the
United Kingdom under the name 'Wrenn Micro-models'. Market pressures from superior far eastern
produce in the mid 1990's led
to Lima merging with Rivarossi, Arnold,
and Jouef. Ultimately, these consolidations failed and operations ceased in 2004.
Hornby Railways offered Ä8 million to acquire Lima's assets
(including tooling, inventory, and the various brand names) in March of the same year, the Italian
bankruptcy court of Brescia (town near Milan, last headquarter of Lima) approving the offer later
that year. In December 2004, Hornby Railways formally announced the acquisition along with the
Rivarossi (HO North American and Italian prototypes), Arnold (N scale European prototypes),
Jouef (HO scale French prototypes), and Pocher (die-cast metal automobile kits) ranges.
Since mid 2006, a range of these products has been made available under the Hornby International brand,
refitted with NEM couplings and sprung buffers and sockets for DCC (Digital Command Control) decoders.
Lima was founded in 1946 as a parts supplier for the Italian state railway (F.S. Italia) When the railway
started producing itís own parts, Lima switched itís aluminium casting capability in 1948 to producing
toys (boats, trains and cars). In 1953 it started manufacturing a low budget and quite primitive model
range. This gradually improved in detail by the late 1950's. By 1962 it was providing French,
Belgian, Dutch and German models. Less than 10 years later, Lima was one of the largest model
manufacturers of the world serving the modeling needs of the USA, Australia, Britain and South Africa.
In 1977 the British model range switched to 'OO' gauge.
Lima entered the ready to run 'O' scale market in the early 1970's, and soon offered a
range of boxed sets, locomotives, track, passenger coaches and freight wagons to suit British and various
European systems. Locomotives were available in either track or battery powered versions.
The initial products offered made use of tooling formerly owned by
the British manufacturer Tri-ang in their Big Big train products.
From 1982 Lima gradually moved into the higher quality market in mainland Europe with
the introduction of better mechanisms such as Central Can Motors, flywheels and all bogie
power as well as catering for niche markets. Lima focused heavily on the British range in the
late 1980s which had expanded hugely due to the privatisation and diversification of the
then state carrier British Rail. This was possible because of their capability to do small
production runs (c.500), in contrast to their main UK rival, Hornby, who required a minimum run of
4,000. Consequently Riko International, Lima's UK Distributor, were able to provide models within
weeks of rollout of the actual prototype.
By the mid 1990's Lima had a swollen UK product range of over 300 models, some of questionable
quality, while still producing new variations at a rate of five or more new schema a month.
A clearance campaign ran in í95 with a mass sale of the entire range of existing stock. While this
stimulated sales, demand subsequently shifted to the now considerable second-hand market. There was
also an attempt to compete with Hornby and Bachmann by
introducing new paint schema on existing 1980's steam models. The distributor, Riko
International went into receivership in 1999 and their replacement, The Hobby Company,
commenced by commissioning further repaints and a new model, the Class 66. In early
2000 Lima finally delivered an updated Class 67 to match the improved
standards in the market. However, the much-improved motor did not compensate the many other
faults and failed to make an impact. This turned out to be the last completely new model from
Lima and the company subsequently folded, being bought out by Hornby.
The demise of Lima in 2004 left a significant supply gap for some of the key classes of the British
Diesel and Electrical locos range. However, this has been well filled in the intervening 24 months.
Hornby now provides updated models of the Class 08, 31, 50, 52, 60, 67 and 92 also, re-releasing many
of the much sought after Lima originals such as the class 73 and 156 dmu. Bachmann produces Classes
20, 40, 57 and the Deltic 55 (Two Tone or BR Blue). Danish Manufacturer Heljan manufactures Class
33 (Cromptons), Class 35 (Hymeks) and Class 47s.
Lima produced a variety of HO models for the North American market. Initially, the quality was
on par with other brands of the era, but competitors' improvements in detail and running characteristics
soon relegated much of Lima's product to near toy status. At least one round of improvements was made,
but Lima never quite caught up with its competition. The company also entered N scale fairly early
in the game, producing at first Continental and British outline stock, some of which was fancifully
decorated for North American railroads and sold in the States under the A.H.M. brand. Eventually,
Lima developed a small assortment of distinctive American equipment, including four diesel locomotives,
heavyweight passenger cars, several freight cars, and a caboose. Generally, the N scale line suffered
from the same lack of improvements that plagued the North American HO offerings.
Lima's continental outline catalogue concentrated first on
German and then Italian and Swiss equipment.
Their relatively inexpensive offerings doubtless brought many people into the hobby. A modest assortment
of accessories, including operable pieces like grade crossings and an intermodal terminal, as well
as static structures and lineside details, enhanced the 'playtime' pleasure of building and
operating a Lima-based train layout. Lima entered the Australian market in 1970 with models that
matched the railways of New South Wales and Victoria reasonably well. Some models were not true
representations of the prototype (the Lima XPT was just a repaint of the British HST) and all had
NEM wheels and couplers. However the cheapness of Lima models made them popular with beginners and
many models were superdetailed by experinced modellers.
In 2006, Hornby Railways announced that some of the Lima Australian range would be re-released under
the Hornby International brand from late 2007. A unique feature of Lima was its capability to do production
runs of less than 1000 units as versus the norm of 4000-5000. This was because the importer only
ordered a volume that matched the orders received in advance by its retailers. In the mid-1990s,
Lima used this flexibility to introduce a range of "limited edition" models in small quantities
(550 - 850), so as to maintain sales. This commenced with a model of the Class 50, "Thunderer"
issued at £33, which proved very successful, commanding over £100 within a few weeks.
Lima also took on commissions from shops that purchased the entire limited production run, these
being retailed directly through their stores. This began with Cheltenham Model Centre's D1015 Western
Champion. Over 100 different models were produced this way. This commercial practice provided Irish
modellers, via Murphy Models of Dublin, with the only specific Irish scene RTR diesel locomotive that
has been produced to date, the General Motors 201 Class, which due to its rarity is now fetching huge
sums on on-line auction sites (c.Ä1000 for a 201 and three Mk3 carriages).
Link to Lima page at Hornby web site.