BR diagram 1/204 vans

upgrading the Airfix van

by Duncan Wilcock

This is not intended to be a blow by blow account, more of a guide, with details and references, on how to convert a mass market model into something more refined.

The Airfix model   These vans were produced by Airfix in a variety of liveries including British Rail bauxite and 'Persil' green amongst others.  Whilst no longer available they can be obtained very cheaply at 'swapmeets' and toy fairs across the UK (try the boxes of trucks tucked under the tables of stall holders). In his book 'Detailing and improving ready to run wagons', Iain Rice details one of these vehicles incorrectly as an LMS built example. The body however, is a fairly good representation of a BR diagram 1/204 box van. The underframe from the Airfix model is not suitable and should be discarded.

Lot noQuantityRunning nosDate

History   British Railways diagram 1/204 box vans were built in Wolverton works during 1949/50.

The vans followed LMS practice, and were planked versions of BR diagram 1/200 plywood vans, built in 1949. As built the vans were vacuum fitted with LMS style 8-shoe clasp brakes, 'J' hangers to the springs and BR pattern W-irons. Buffers were the standard fitted stock variety and vacuum pipes seem to be either of the 'underslung' variety or the 'upright' variety. The corrugated ends to the vans were built up in two or three separate sections.

No.Location/dateRoof ventsAxleboxesVac pipesRef
B751405Marshmoor early '70sNBR 'square'underslung#3
B751707Dinton 1969?BR 'plate front'upright#2
B752153Currie 8.10.60YBR 'split'underslung#1
DB752335Rugby 3.1.88NBR 'square'underslung 
B753473Lackenby 20.3.93NBR 'square'upright(041185)

Adjacent is a list of noted examples with cross-references to published works where appropriate. All the wagons noted in the table have three-part corrugated ends. In addition, I've located another picture of a diagram 1/204 van. It was taken at Bellingham on the Border Counties branch of the North Eastern Region in 1950. The print shows a passenger train in the station and a row of vans behind. One of these vans is B753645, which makes it a brand new vehicle from lot 2109. However unlike the other vans listed this one has a two-part corrugated end! It also has roof vents (4 of them) and BR split axleboxes. The print is copyright to C H A Townley and the negative number is 858.

It would appear that the vans were most probably built with underslung vacuum pipe connectors (LMS style), some being later converted to the upright version (LNER style). Only one van from Lot 2013 appears to have roof vents (4), however some vehicles may have had them removed during subsequent repairs.

The scale model   The Airfix body is a fairly good overall representation of a Diagram 1/204 vehicle. The corrugated ends are modelled as two-section formings, not the three sections as per many of the prototypes. With care, the latter type of end can be produced by removing the offending corrugation just below the end ventilator, and the split line and row of bolts can be modelled.

To finish the body I used the following components, MJT cast upright vacuum pipes (they also do the underslung variety), 'Kenline' shell vents (which seem slightly smaller than most others) and thin wire to replace door grab handles and lock handles. The underframe was completed with etched BR W-irons, 'Parkside' underframe kit PA16 (underframe, brakes, 'J' hangers, springs and slightly modified axleboxes). The buffer beam was fabricated from a suitable section of styrene 'U' channel and the buffers were 'Fourmost' fitted stock buffers with the side webs suitably carved to match the prototype. The wagons were built with screw couplings – the modeller has a good choice of screw couplings available, depending on whether they are cosmetic and/or how detailed you want them to be.


BR Diagram 1/204 vans:
#1 British Railway Wagons, Don Rowland, David and Charles
#2 BR Standard Freight Wagons, David Larkin, Bradford Barton
#3 British Railway Vans, Geoff Gamble, Cheona Publications

LMS 8-shoe clasp brakes and underframe details:
#4 Official Drawings of LMS Wagons (2), R J Essery, Wild Swan
#5 An Illustrated History of BR Wagons, Paul Bartlett et al., OPC

Modelling techniques:
#6 Detailing and Improving RTR Wagons, Iain Rice, Irwell Press
#7 Getting the Best from Plastic Wagon Kits, Iain Rice, Irwell Press


© Duncan Wilcock
April 1999