Sunday, April 15, 2018

The Airfix Difference

54mm U.S. Infantry by Airfix These poses feel almost animated

Airfix paved the way.

The first waves of plastic soldiers in the 50mm -60mm range were toy figures. The earlier ones by companies like Lido, TimMee, Crescent and Johillco were made as toys. Though some were realistic, the general run of plastic toy soldiers was hardly a scale miniature. The Louis Marx Company took things up a few notches with its 54mm lines. Some were very well detailed and quite realistic. Nonetheless, they were considered toy soldiers rather than military miniatures.
54mm 8th Army

Airfix raised the bar on plastic soldiers. Their 1/76 figures created a whole new field for the toy and model soldier hobby. Airfix pioneered the 1/76 scale in plastic and was the unchallenged leader and most prolific producer of them. The British company did it agin when it introduced its 1/32 scale sets of plastic soldiers. It had taken them from classic army men to quality hobby figures. These were a very different thing than the plastic toy soldiers by such firms as Lido, Tim Mee, Timpo and Crescent. The Airfix figures were scaled properly. had excellent detail and greater historical accuracy. Just as other companies decided to join the small,-scale figure market, so they eventually opted in to the 1/32 range as pioneered by Airfix.
54mm British Commando - another good action pose

The first set of Airfix 1/32 figures that I saw was the British Commandos. They were at Polk’s Hobby, somewhere around $3 a box of 29 figures. The set had seven poses. Sculpting was good. Soon afterward, I came across their German Infantry. Though the pose count was low, the sculpting and poses were solid. The same could be said when I acquired their set of Russian infantry. They were soon joined by the 8th Army and the Afrika Korps. The only complaint was the small number of poses in each set.
54mm German Infantry, circa 1938-1942 

Around this time, Airfix began updating several of its older 1/76 sets. The old Infantry Combat Group was replaced by WW2 British Infantry. The German Infantry, Afrika Korps, 8th Army and US Marines received an overhaul. In each set, several poses were copied from their new 1/32 sets. Other poses were added to the 1/76 scale sets.. I wondered why Airfix never added these poses to the 1/32 sets.

54mm Italian soldier (stonato) and officer (cafone)

British Paratroopers. Next to the Tim Mee "M16" infantry, one of the most cloned and copied sets of figures.
Ghurka and British support infantryman. The British soldier was molded in hard plastic.
54mm German Paratroopers. One of the few sets with more than 8 poses


Crescent, Johillco (Hilco), Lone Star, Herald and Timpo were the British equivalents of Lido, Tim Mee and Marx. They were toymakers. Though some of the later Marx sets, such as the 54mm Marines, were high-quality sculpts, most of their output was toy figures. Airfix offered greater historical accuracy and sculpting. I was suitably impressed when I saw the British commandos in 54mm. They looked realistic and had some of the crispest detail I had even seen in a 54mm soft plastic soldier.
Well-detailed British infantry. A good example of Airfix's well-animated poses and solid detail.

As I have said many times, the biggest flaw in the Airfix 54mm series was the lack of poses. Most have seven or eight poses.

Matchbox came along to compete with Airfix. The 1/76 scale were good, but not as good as the newer Airfix series. The 54mm versions had only one advantage over Airfix: the number of poses. One reason for this is that Matchbox’s sculptors were required to make their figures narrower, so as to make it cheaper to make molds.

More articles on Airfix 54mm figures will be coming

For information and images of the Airfix 1/76 scale figures, click here
Medieval foot soldiers. That is a great pose!
Figures provided by Timothy Hall from the U.K. Thanks, Tim!

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