EFE 32201 Bristol/ECW RELH Coach - United Automobile Services
Released September 2006

Review by Andrew Glasse

After what for me has been a wait of many years, one of the two model coaches I have been dreaming about has come on the market from EFE, and has even been given the accolade of Showbus Model 2006. An honour indeed for a vehicle which represented the best United had to offer during the late sixties, and which was widely represented throughout England and Wales. The word grace cannot easily “grace” a coach body, but ECW in Lowestoft built a body which not only looked graceful, it was also simple in lines and lent itself to modification in a number of ways, some more successful than others. It also wore many different liveries equally well, something which cannot be said of many of today’s artistic efforts in coach design.

At the time, the Bristol RELH (Rear Engine Long High) with a six cylinder Gardner rated at 150 bhp, was regarded as a comfortable long-distance coach which was also a good drive after  semi-automatic transmission was introduced in March of 1967. Today, we can smile at the almost comical low power-rating, and it’s true, a fully loaded coach would need to change down on the climb from the A1 up to Junction 32 on the M1, but this was more than mitigated by the smooth sound of the engine and the whine of the transmission. Normal speed on the motorway was between 50 and 60 miles an hour, although rumour had it that certain manual gear-box versions could do over 80 if pushed. 1236 was reputed to be a fast mover. I cannot confirm this. These coaches were a pleasure at the time, and a pleasure to remember today, some thirty five years after I ceased enjoying them, moving to the land of the Scania and the Volvo and Vestfold Bil og Karosserifabrikk in Norway!

The chassis came in two versions, Series 1 and Series 2, The difference was primarily one of length, the first series having a 19’ wheel-base, whereas the later version which appeared in April 1967 as an isolated case, but took over all new production in January 1968, was six inches shorter between axles, allowing for a tighter lock. Another difference, crucial to the immaculate ride, was a change from air suspension to leaf-spring suspension, or as Duncan Roberts so aptly describes it, “cart-spring suspension”. This made the product marginally cheaper to buy, but the smooth nature of the ride disappeared and wear and tear on the chassis and body was to cost more in the long run. The Leyland/Bristol relationship is to blame for much of this, but politics of the early seventies is outside the remit of this review.

The model we have in front of us has already been well previewed elsewhere. Some excellent photographs taken at Duxford clearly show that EFE are true to their production traditions. We have a heavy diecast model with all the advantages and drawbacks this model form contains. The question I want to ask myself is, “Does this model embody what I knew and remember about United’s REs?” As a collector and modeller with expertise on ships in 1:1250, I believe there are two factors involved: firstly, the sum of all the details, which make up the general overall impression. You know what I mean, plenty of intricate detail can be fine, but useless if the general impression is wrong. On the other hand, detail is not so easy to spot at a distance, especially with my middle-aged eyesight, but the general shape and colour is, thus making it a vital factor in an evaluation. Generally then, I feel this model fulfils its function for me as being a good representation of a coach I had a fair amount of contact with and remember fondly. Why?

I would like to start by giving my opinion of general impressions. The EFE model is good. The body looks heavy, but the EFE casting technique and thick layers of paint make this unavoidable and it is fine in any case. There is a problem with the front  dome, which is too rounded at the corners and this is accentuated by the corner of the blind frame bending away slightly. On versions such as Royal Blue, this will not be a problem, of course. Otherwise, the body seems excellent and a true 1:76 likeness of the real thing. Even though the all-plastic windscreen has a painted middle pillar, I accept this compromise. Colour is as correct as I can tell, not knowing the colour codes that were used by ECW. Light conditions would make olive green look like anything from green to brown anyway, and cream can look ivory or almost buff so the model is good enough. Everything seems to be there, but it is on examining the detail that I begin to feel an itch in my fingers and a need to plan some alterations!

What is the model purporting to be? It is registered as JHN334D, fleet number 1234. This is a Series 1 vehicle registered in May of 1966 and modelled as was after the 1st of January, 1969. It thus had a long wheelbase, air suspension and manual gearbox. The curve over the model’s front wheel reveals that this point has not been taken on board by the painter of the model. United were alone in this livery type. The curve remained the same on both series, meaning that a six inch cream-coloured gap between wheel arch and bulkhead was visible on Series 2 vehicles due to the front axle being moved six inches back. This is seen clearly on the model and is an important error in my view, one which I will correct, either by repainting, or more simply, by renumbering the coach. It doesn’t matter with all the other liveries; the parallel beading and bright work ran the full length of the coach.

The windows and skylights are also a worry. EFE demonstrates with this model that pressed Perspex or plastic glazing is a problem. The Corgi Fife Lodekka is a similar case in point and the RELH suffers from this same mistake in detail. These coaches had cream rubbers round the windows, (all the windows, including in the doors). EFE have painted this cream on the ridge of glazing around the window and not on the metal frame where it belongs. This makes the windows too small and the pillars too fat and is especially disturbing to the appearance of the model when it is looked at from a three-quarters aft position. This will be even more apparent on the Royal Blue version, for obvious reasons. The four skylights are in fact painted onto the metal. This is a cheap disappointment, and pushes the model very slightly in the direction of being a toy. What a pity that these could not have been glazed. They were in two colours, by the way. The larger front and back skylights could be opened and were glazed a creamy colour, while the middle two were fixed and had a bathroom window type grey/white glazing.

Other details are both good, almost excellent, and some are simply wrong. The fog lamps which are painted in white on the front bumper were in reality raised over the bumper outside the main body-mounted light clusters. The really good, detailed riveting in the wheel arches and the beautifully profiled tyres make the pimples on the front of the model look trivial. These were in fact side lights. The indicators are printed on, and are just begging to be modified with a piece of white polystyrene and some amber paint! Finally, the air intakes over the windscreen are in sore need of sharper definition and reveal the greatest weakness in EFE’s casting techniques. I feel it should be possible to show the holes, and make a better job of recreating the shape of the housing as well as the sharp edge under the destination dome. I don’t think I am expecting too much.

There is more, mostly positive although some negative. Printing of detail is excellent, but occasionally in the wrong position or slightly wrong in size. I know that a great deal of documentation is required in the production of a model like this. This documentation is available, both in the form of literature and pictures, and not least with the people who knew these vehicles. The compromise necessary in producing models should not negate documentary evidence and spoil a model. I don’t think this has happened in the case of EFE’s RELH to any decisive extent, but some of the mistakes I mention here seem somewhat slapdash and do detract from the final verdict.

The model is priced at a reasonable level in my view, although Norwegian spending power may perhaps still be slightly greater than British. I feel I am getting what I am paying for and have no complaints. I am very grateful the model has arrived at long last and intend collecting it in every livery that becomes available. By the way, I am not a collector of models for their investment value, and fully intend to modify and improve detail where I can. Mirrors, wipers, extra fog lamps and raised bright work would make the model more expensive had EFE gone to the trouble of doing it, but I intend adding them as soon as possible. This will probably destroy the model in many people’s eyes. Not in mine. It is an excellent base on which to work and I look forward to seeing the result!


And I almost forgot to mention that the other model is the Alexander M.

The  opinions offered in the reviews on this page remain those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the of views of The Model Bus Website.

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