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An Introduction To Contemporary British 0 Gauge Tinplate Electric Toy Trains And A Chat With ACE Trains’ Allen Levy

By Jim Kelly

"In 1995 ACE Trains came along to light the fuse that would lead to the rebirth of traditional three-rail gauge 0 trains...ACE has proved that with determination, strange and wonderful things are possible. Sentimentally, gauge 0 tinplate-style trains never really went away but had just reposed in the surviving products of a bygone age. ACE changed all that." - Allen levy

What is it about British outline tinplate 0 gauge toy trains that many admirers of tinplate might find appealing?

When you get right down to it, American prototypes are not really that well suited as the inspiration for many of our beloved tinplate reproductions.

At Steamtown, Scranton, PA - Impressive, but not colorful!

Lionel, IVES, American Flyer, and Dorfan finished their tinplate trains in bright, beautiful enamel colors and in some cases, with fancy lithography, but these imaginary finishes bore little resemblance to the usually quite drab real thing. This is decidedly not the case when it comes to English locomotives and rolling stock. The colorful designs and paint schemes of the prototypes correspond quite accurately to the tinplate toy trains they inspired.

ACE Trains brand new A3 Pacific "Flying Scotsman" at Ladbroke Grove, London

Who knows how an attraction starts, but I recently became aware of British 0 gauge tinplate. Perhaps it was the advent of online toy train auctions conducted in the UK. Browsing the online catalogue of one of these recent auctions resulted in one of my first acquisitions of British tinplate toy trains. Much reading and research followed. I quickly learned that 0 gauge tinplate was popular in Britain until the late 1930’s at which time 00 gauge (most notably Hornby’s “Dublo”) came to dominate the UK market. 00 is similar to H0 with the same track dimension (16.5mm) albeit a slightly different (larger) scale dimension (00=4mm to 1 foot vs. H0=3.5mm to 1 foot.) There was a short-lived resurgence in 0 gauge British tinplate after WWII, but 0 gauge tinplate was not mass-produced.

Life-sized tinplate! - Sir Nigel Gresley's "Mallard" at the British Railways Museum in York, UK.

While 00 gauge has little appeal to me due to its small size, I quickly developed a real fondness for British 0 gauge tinplate electric toy trains. The problem is that there is not that much vintage British 0 gauge electric tinplate out there for people who want to operate their trains rather than simply maintain a “static display.” Also, much UK 0 gauge vintage prewar production was clockwork motor-driven. The great British toy train firm of Bassett-Lowke made wonderful electric toy trains both pre and post WWII, but not in great numbers. Surviving examples are expensive and I suspect difficult to maintain in working order. Hornby also made 0 gauge electric toy trains, but once again, those that survive are few and expensive.

ACE Trains' "Woodcock" A4 Pacific "in foreign fields" (Philadelphia)

Luckily for British 0 gauge electric tinplate lovers, these wonderful toy trains have been “brilliantly” brought back and placed into regular production beginning a decade ago by a new firm, ACE Trains of London, whose motto is “Brilliantly Old Fashioned.”

I recently acquired my first set of ACE 0 gauge British outline electric toy trains and I’m impressed to say the least with the beauty and quality of these true tinplate trains. The fantastic tinplate canopy shown above is also made by ACE.

Best of all, they’re meant to be run, and run well they do!

British prototypes are painted in colorful tinplate-like liveries!

On a recent trip abroad, I had the opportunity to visit the UK. I decided to take the train north from London to York to view firsthand many of the colorful prototypes at the wonderful British National Rail Museum. This is a museum not to be missed by anyone interested in railways or toy trains.

ACE's A4 "Woodcock" - note the rich paint, beautiful lining, steel hand rails and diecast detailing!

I also wrote to Allen Levy, the co-originator of the ACE Trains line of British 0 gauge tinplate toy trains who lives in London inquiring as to the possibility of a visit to the ACE Trains showroom or retail outlet. Mr. Levy wrote back to say that the current primary UK ACE facility is now located about 2 hours outside of London but inviting me to visit with him in London. As a result I enjoyed a most pleasant visit with Allen and leaned much about the ACE Trains endeavor.

Ladbroke Grove - The home of ACE Trains in London

Mr. Levy has just published a very interesting and beautifully done book, “Brilliantly Old Fashioned; The Story Of Ace 0 Gauge Trains,” which is a chronicle of the first ten years of his fine new company.

As Allen and I chatted, one of the most remarkable aspects of his company’s approach became apparent. During our chat Allen and I jointly expressed dismay at the legal wars being waged by the major stateside toy train manufacturers over trade secrets and technologies. Allen’s book actually gives much of the store away in a dare to others to try copy ACE while remaining competitive. Levy is supremely confident in his accomplishment with ACE: “the production of Ace Trains is of a standard that is unlikely to be superceded in the years to come.”

Allen Levy with ACE's finest at Ladbroke Grove

You quickly realize just how high a standard Levy is referring to once you see and operate these extremely well-made, beautiful, authentic tinplate trains. There’s no plastic here, but plenty of real tinplate. The passenger set that I have is beautifully lithographed with nice details like a string of bulbs in each car providing interior illumination.

(Press the arrow to watch an ACE A4 streamliner and consist in action)

The A4 streamlined Pacific locomotive I’m running is heavy zinc die cast metal with tinplate tender. The locomotive is a great puller and impressive slow speed runner with superior tractive effort thanks to the fact that all six divers are geared to the twin can motor power plant. The paint job on the loco and tender is strikingly beautiful. Allen told me that a fellow who spray-paints Mercedes automobiles does the painting!

ACE tinplate wagons - colorful, well-made authentic tinplate!

There’s much more to the ACE Trains story. Allen Levy’s book is a good read with lots of great pictures. Anyone interested in tinplate toy trains or in a modern business success story will find it enjoyable. In the meantime, if you find yourself hooked on British outline 0 gauge tinplate toy trains like I did and want to run them on your layout, you’re in luck because ACE is there with “ready-to-run” 3-rail 0 gauge tinplate trains for you to enjoy!

Contact information for ACE Trains:

ACE Trains web site: Ace Trains

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