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The Next Ocean Liner Kit?

Nothing raises the blood of a dedicated ‘ocean liner modeler’ to a boil quicker than the discussion of the unavailability of subjects to add to their collection. As beautiful a creation the ocean liner may be, compared to military vessels their popularity (hence, availability) has always taken, and probably always will, a back seat. The reasons why this is so is beyond the scope of this discussion; however, as expressed many times on the Debris Field, model companies possessing existing molds should be encouraged to re-issue, even if a limited production run, kits to an wanting nautical modeling community. Past campaigns to do so have had favorable results, one example being the re-issue of the Queen Elizabeth, in 2000.

Yet, what of new subjects? Over the past 10 years or so several model companies have issued new kits, however these, for the most part, tended to be the repackaging the same old familiar (read: safe, proven market) subjects. The Titanic immediately comes to mind. With exception of Revell’s 1:1200 AIDA, to my knowledge there has not been the release of a new / original ‘liner subject’, one that has not been previously offered in one scale or another, since the release of the 1:350 Titanic and Lusitania by Entex during the late 1970’s. The 1:700 Japanese ‘water-line’ ocean liner kits may be more recent, I do not know for certain.

The question: What should the next ocean liner kit be? always results in a spirited debate, most often focused on one’s passionate desire for a personal favorite and / or, regardless of obscurity or mediocrity, ships that have unfortunately suffered a tragic demise resulting in loss of life. Granted, ships that have met disaster (blood ships) are more familiar to the general public and some become historical icons in their own right; however, the fact that the Greek Oceanos (or whatever) sank is a weak argument in support of developing a model kit of her. The significance of a particular ship, and as a potential model kit candidate, must be substantiated on criteria much more significant than how it met its end.

Thus, with the writing of this article in mind, I have conducted a quick survey of the ships to date have been represented in model form. My aim was to discover a pattern, or better still, a void in the evolution of the 'ocean liner' that is not represented in plastic. The results are revealing, but in no way surprising. In this survey I have restricted the 'kit count' to the following criteria:

-Plastic assembly kits only. This, by default, eliminated resin kits, including the 1:600 scale Normandie.

-Passenger liners / cruise ships only. Passenger - car ferries, such as Finnjet and the two Sunflowers, and riverboats, were not considered. Some may take issue with my inclusion of the hospital ship Hiwakamaru, and her sister the submarine tender Heianmaru, yet as designed and built these two ships were passenger liners, the kits representing only an alternative (and temporary) service role.

-Although both Modelcraft and Revell presently market the 1:570 Queen Mary, it is the same kit thus counts only as ‘one’ The same for the 1:450 QE2, marketed at different times by various companies, still only ‘one’ kit. However, although the 1:500 Oriana appears twice (Modelcraft / Revell) the two kits are completely different, thus counts as two ‘distinct’ offerings. This is also true for the 1:600 Titanic (not to be confused with the poorly detailed 1:570) offered by both Trumpter and Academy. It is my understanding these were not produced from the same molds, thus they count as ‘two’ offerings.

This results in a total number of 24 ship subjects, represented by 38 kits, the difference in number resulting from several subjects being offered by more than one manufacturer or in more than one scale. (39% redundancy if we take the position that a single kit of any ship should be sufficient.) The ship subjects (and frequency of issue) follows in alphabetical order:

AIDA, Argentina, Batory, Brasil, Canberra, France x 2, Great Eastern, Heianmaru, Hikawamaru x 2, Kasugamaru, Lusitania, Mauretania, Nittamaru, Oriana x 2, Pilsudski, President Cleveland, Queen Elizabeth, QE2 x 3, Queen Mary, Savannah x 2, Southern Cross, Titanic x 8, United States x 2, and the Yawatamaru.

Now for the number crunching / statistical findings:

Nationality: 11 of the 24 ships (46% of total subjects; 22 kits, or 58% of total) are British. Japan, with 5 ships (21% of total subjects; 6 kits, or 16% of total) ranks second. No German, Italian or Dutch liners have been offered as a model (AIDA is presently owned by P&O).

Era (year of entry into service): Only one ship, the Great Eastern, represents pre-1900. The years 1900 - 1912 are represented by 3 ships (13% of total subjects, yet owing to ‘Titanic overkill’ kits these 3 ships (10 kits) represent 26% of total kits). No ship entering service between 1912 and 1935 has been produced as a ‘plastic assembly’ model. 12 ships (50% of total subjects) represent the period between 1936 and 1960 (13 kits, or 34% of total). 7 ships (29% of total subjects) represent the period from 1960 to the present day (13 kits, 34% of total).

Funnels: Functional or decorative, the number of funnels has always been regarded as a reflection of the technical progression of the ocean liner. The full spectrum is represented, from 5 (the Great Eastern, although Revell represents her during her lying days with 4) to the ‘no funnel’ of the NV Savannah. In between these two extremes 10 kits (26% of total) represent 4-funnel liners, 1 kit (3% of total) represent 3-funnel liners, 10 kits (26% of total) represent 2-funnel liners, while 13 kits (34% of total) represent single-stackers. (I consider Canberra’s twin stacks as being ‘one’ as they share the same base are joined near the top.)

Scale: Although 1:600 (1"¨ = 50’) has been long regarded as the ‘industry norm’, this scale only represents 24% of the total number of kits (9 kits) subject to this survey. Advances in tooling (CAM, or computer assisted manufacturing) has resulted in a finer level of detail at smaller scales (13 kits / 34% of total) and greater detail at larger scales (15 kits / 39% of total). It is obvious that 1:600 is no longer the industry standard, even though it tends to be the most affordable.

So, what does this reveal with respect to the question: what should the next ocean liner kit be? To reflect:

Nationality? Ships of British origin are extremely well represented by the kits presently available, followed by Japanese liners. Losers: ships of German, Italian, Dutch and to degree French design, a nation that built some of the most beautiful liners ever to sail the world’s oceans.

Funnels? Although it has often been expressed that the ‘next liner model’ should be Cunard’s Aquitania, I somewhat disagree. Only fourteen ‘4-stackers’ have ever been built, 7 of which were British. Considering the ‘Titanic kits’ can be converted to represent either the Olympic or Britannic, the available kits represent the potential representation of 5 different liners (or 36% of the total 14), which also represents 71% of all British 4-stackers ever built. In spite of Aquitania’s illustrious career, spanning two world wars, IMHO the number of kits presently available on the market adequately represents this class of vessel. However, if another 4-stacker was to be considered, I would prefer to see one of the early Germans if only for the uniqueness of their paired 2 + 2 funnel arrangement (as it stands, 100% of 4-stacker models represent British liners). The big looser in the funnel count are the 3-stackers: two identical kits represent one ship only, the Queen Mary, as if one incorrect kit was not enough.

Era? Of interest is not which era is best represented, but rather the era that is not, this being the years between 1912 - 1935. No ship entering service during this period, perhaps the most interesting with respect to ocean liner style and technical advancement (the introduction of streamlining and the shift from coal to oil as fuel) is represented by a model. A curious oversight, perhaps a reflection of Anglo-prejudice towards German / Italian liners on the part of the major model manufactures following WW2.

Although my informal survey is far from being scientific it does cast light, with respect to what has and what has not been developed as a model. Personal preference aside, the survey suggests the following specification / work order as representative of the ‘void’ in the availability of ocean liner kits:

A German, Italian or Dutch liner, entering service between 1912 and 1940, featuring 3 funnels.

Considering, for the moment, the satisfaction of at least 2 of the 3 criteria above as meeting the minimum ‘passing grade’ the following liners would fit the bill. Again, in alphabetical order:

Bremen, Conte-de-Savoia, Empress of Britain, Europa, Ile de France, Niew Amsterdam, Normandie and Rex.

All represent the period between 1912 - 1940. In terms of funnels: 2 stacker, either Bremen or Europa (the differences between the two are significant enough to disallow a ‘base model’ with decal options), The Rex, and Conti-de-Savoia, would rank a close second, even though their overall design was not as radical as the German twins. Three-stacker: Normandie, no question, although the famed Ile de France would also be a strong contender.

Again, personal preference aside, these are the ships we should be lobbying model manufactures to produce in kit form, in any scale. I would love to see them all, yet would settle for just one, or two. Perhaps a future project of the DF could be to invite all major model manufactures to share with us the process of developing a new subject in kit form: the factors in support of to do or not do, the R&D investment involved and the minimum sales required to ensure profitability. I can not imagine the R&D costs involved in producing a new 1:600 liner subject would be insurmountable compared to producing still another battleship at the same scale.


Arjay ~ 10/03



PS: My personal preference? This would be a 1:350 model of British India’s UGANDA. As an educational cruise ship between 1969 and 1982 she carried thousands of students from all over on voyages of historical and international discovery, myself included. And considering her honorable service as a hospital ship, and later trooper during the Falkland’s War, I believe one would be hard pressed to find a ship that has meant so much to so many. Again, a personal preference, and in the boardrooms of model companies personal preferences probably account for little…..