Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Improving the Hornby 4-VEP

Left to right- 3415- my scratch built VEP with MJT components.
Hornby's VEP as it comes from the box.
3810- the Hornby VEP modified as detailed below.

For southern electric modelers the announcement of the 4-VEP was most welcome from Hornby. Finally there would be a ready to run version of these stalwarts of the southern region. I had previously build my own 4-VEP from conversion parts from MJT and was happy with the results- but undoubtedly the running qualities, detail and application of the complex NSE livery model would be better on the Hornby release.

When the VEP hit the shops it was undoubtedly a good looking model- however not everything was right. 
- Something just looked 'wrong' with the front end.
- The 1st class corridor had been molded solid with no doors or windows.
- The bogies had been mounted the wrong way round.
- The roof vents and air horns appeared far too small.
- The orange cantrail strip was incorrect for Network South East livery (at least as far as my pictures show).
- A door handle has been missed from one of the doors on the brake coach.

Original (left) and modified (right) ends on the 4-VEP.
 I began looking for a way to improve the model- without being too destructive! I did not really want to 'hack' into it- or to have to re-paint any of the finely applied livery. I also wanted to updated it to a South West Trains unit at the same time.

The easiest issue to address is the bogies which simply need to be removed, turned around, and replaced. This should not be necessary on a top-end RTR model- but job done.


Internal view of the new 1st class corridor.

Next for attention is the corridors. Personally I think this is an unforgivable error on Hornby's part- after all we saw molded corridors on the interiors of Hornby Tri-ang Mk1 coaches many many years ago! The VEP just looks wrong with the solid walls and it blocks out the working interior lights from one side of the train. To address this the *very* solid wall had to be removed with a combination of mini-drill, razor saw and cutting knife- not a particularly delicate process! There are many options to replace it, I chose to recycle a 1st class corridor from one of the aforementioned Tri-ang coaches which I had in stock for cannibalisation for more EMU's. This is then simply stuck in place where the abomination of Hornbys wall once stood. Even if it looks slightly messy in places the result once the body is back in is a vast improvement!

What a difference some light makes! The Hornby VEP as produced (left) and with the modified corridor (right). Note also the South West Trains branding from precision labels.

Original (left) and modified (right) ends on the 4-VEP.
The biggest job of this project was the front ends. The Hornby version just didn't look right- the corridor appears to have been modelled in the 'extended' position, and the corridor door set flush with the front end panel, when it should actually be set forward. My fix was to turn to the trusty MJT castings (which in my opinion capture the look of the VEP well). I was not about to replace the entire front end, though unfortunately the gangways only come as part of a whole front end kit. I devised a plan whereby removing the plastic corridor and filing any raised plastic would allow the MJT gangway to be pre-painted and fixed to the front of the model. Opening up the metal door would also allow the factory installed headlight and headcode box to continue to function. This method would also save me re-painting the entire front end or needing to carry out any work with filler. 

Original (left) and modified (right) ends on the 4-VEP
In addition to this the end also had some additional painting work to replicate my chosen prototype- 3810 from the South West Trains fleet. This required the jumper cable recesses to be painted black (more dirt than anything else- but what a difference!), and also the cab windows. This particular VEP also has quite a bit of black painting around the cab front which was duly applied. The front end was completed with a re-numbering, up-to-date warning flashes and a cantrail strip above the cab windows. Suddenly the model was actually looking like a VEP!
The final job I wanted to do on this model was the to subtly re-paint the bright orange cantrail strip along the coach tops with NSE Red. It may not sound a lot but this small difference really did make quite a marked change in the appearance of the unit. 

I have not yet decided whether or not I will replace the roof vents (with MJT scalloped dome vents if I do)- opinion is mixed on whether the MJT vents are too large, or the Hornby ones too small- I personally suspect an element of both. I will not replace the air horns as I tend to end up breaking these anyway! 
The missing door handle is not particularly noticeable- though I may add an etched handle or just paint one on.

Not everyone seems to rave about the MJT '63 stock cab front- but it is a casting I have worked with for many years and have always been happy with. To me it looks 'right'- and even if it doesn't at least the VEP will now fit in with the rest of my scratch built 'slam door' stock.

While these improvements really should not be necessary on a ready to run model with an already high RRP I do think they address the issues with the model accurately and without any major 'surgery'. What is left is a well running and very good looking train. Yes- I would buy another one- can we have a release in Stagecoach colours please Hornby???

Nose to nose- the modified front end on 3810 (left) and the original Hornby offering (right).

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