The Mysterious 1978 Meccano Starter set "A"


by William Irwin

During the 1978/79 dark blue and yellow Meccano period, the standard range of sets was completely re-designed and drastically reduced to sets 1 to 5, plus the previous set 9 (Master Engineers set) and set 10. The new range of sets was announced and described in the Meccano Magazine for April 1978.

However in 1980 my daughter received a Meccano Starter set “A” as a prize for a model she had built at a Cape Town hobbies show (see fig. 1).

 Fig.1 Meccano Starter Set 'A'

I could find no reference to this set anywhere in the Meccano literature or trade catalogues and wondered why. Much later on when HCS vol. 6 (The Meccano System by Bert Love and Jim Gamble) was published in 1986, the Starter set “A” was mentioned on page 417, and in fact the contents list from the back of the Starter set “A” manual (code 160048) was reproduced on page 416. This list included the set A contents, whereas the list from the back of the set 1 manual (code 160043) did not include the set A contents (see fig 2).

 Fig.2 Meccano Starter Set 'A 'contents

Recently as I started to investigate the history of this period I began to wonder which came first, the Starter Set A or the Set 1. After all, the manual models are identical for both sets (see manual cover, fig 3). A sheet of extra models (code 100391 and dated 1977!) was included in the set 1 manual using the extra parts included in this set. Initially I assumed that Set A had preceded set 1 as a pre-production set, but then I noticed that Set A had the more accurate contents list, i.e. it included the hook, part no 57c, which was included in all the sets I have seen (yet never used in any of the manual models!). However there were still several puzzling features, such as the manual code number 160048. The other manuals for sets 1 to 5 were numbered 160043 to 160047, which implied that the “A” manual was tacked on afterwards. Also there was the puzzling extra set 1 sheet of models dated 1977.

 Fig.3 Meccano Starter Set Manual Cover

 Sequence of events:

To cut a long story short, after a lot of recent detective work the following sequence of events has emerged:

In 1976/77 the move away from zinc plating reflected the installation by Meccano Ltd. of an updated and largely automated paint shop at a new site where there would be no means to dispose of the harmful waste products from the plating process. This paint shop was geared up to produce powder-finished parts. The Unions did not approve of the large reduction in required man-power and prevented serious production from going ahead. In fact the 1977 box lids (with pictures of boys and girls) show clear signs of being ‘touched up’ to change the illustrated blue strips back to zinc! Also in 1977 the entire range was re-designed for release in 1978 using the new dark blue / yellow colour scheme, spray painted in the normal way. 

The Set 1 set was originally going to have the contents as per the Set A (i.e. consistent with the models in the manual). The Managing Director of Meccano Ltd at the time pointed out that the contents of the Set 1 and the Set 2 looked rather sparse in the box and insisted on the Set 1 contents being beefed up (i.e. the 12 1/2" girders, 7 1/2" strips, 3 1/2" x 2 1/2" flanged plate, etc.), and a motor being added to the Set 2. Note that none of the models in the set 2 manual make use of the motor! A sheet of extra models was then designed for inclusion with the set 1 manual as mentioned above. These are the sets released in 1978 and announced in the April 1978 Meccano Magazine. The initial sets were released in matt finished Dark Blue, the glossy Dark Blue finish appearing later. 

So where does the Starter Set A fit in? We speculate that it was released later on in 1978 in the form that the Set 1 was originally meant to be in, by reprinting the box cover and the manual covers, hence the code no 160048 for the manual. All examples of Set A that I know of have gloss finished dark blue parts. We also speculate that it was meant primarily for export purposes as the set was never mentioned in any U.K. literature. Also Geoff Wright has confirmed that he never sold the Set A! So far examples of the set A that I know of have turned up in South Africa, Canada, USA and Hong Kong. Joel Perlin in California recently had some sets for sale. At the time when Geoff Wright purchased unsold S and L extension sets from Airfix (to be broken up for spares), he was offered a pallet of Starter Set A’s, but he did not buy them! 

Tentative Conclusions: 

1. The FIRST small set to be produced in the 1978 range was the Set 1. 

2. The only thing pre-production was the original intended contents of the Set 1. This was beefed up, following 'management interference' in 1977 before the official release. 

3. There was no difference in packaging of the Set 1 between pre and post production. 

4. The Set A was deliberately produced later in 1978 (probably for the export market?) in a form that the Set 1 was originally intended to be in. 

5. The first printing was the Set 1 manual, listing the contents of sets 1 to 5 only. Later on came the Set A manual. The set 1 manual was later re-printed to include the same contents lists as the A manual. 

Has anyone else out there come across these sets? I would like to hear from you at irwins@ihug,co.nz Incidentally the Set A has one extra part no. 160, Channel Bearing, which is quite visible on fig. 1, which is not listed on the contents list! I wonder why? 

Acknowledgements: 

I would like to thank my research collaborators for their contributions, namely Tim Gant (who made contact with Geoff Wright), Richard Payn, Clive Weston, Don Blakeborough and Geoff Wright himself who provided the background Meccano Ltd. Information.

 


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