Usually, when a classic toy range ceases production, it has gone for good. Occasionally however a range is revived, and in the case of Minic this happened not once, but twice! The 1970s Rovex Hornby revival mainly involved reuse of the 1960s moulds, with only a handful of new items. The revival was not a success, and most observers would no doubt have assumed that this was the last we would see of Minic Ships.
It was something of a surprise therefore, when the range was revived again in the first years of this century by Charles Shave, a private owner based in Hong Kong (though production took place in mainland China). The audience this time round most certainly includes adult collectors, people who are excited at the nostalgic thought of once again acquiring some of the toys of their childhood.
Most excitingly, however, the focus of the new production has been on entirely new items with contemporary relevance – see my story about HMS Devonshire for how this approach is very much in the Minic spirit. The new range has added a series of current Royal Navy and United States Navy warships, plus a selection of modern merchant ships and harbour craft.
So, how do the new models compare to those of the 1960s?
MV Table Bay
If there is one class of ship that represents commercial shipping of the modern era, it is the container ship.
The MV Table Bay was launched in 1977, and was in service until it was scrapped in 2006. Like many ships of this era, it was a Motor Vessel, powered by internal combustion engines. It was a large ship by the standards of cargo vessels then in service, similar in size to one of the great ocean liners of the previous decades. The width of the ship, at roughly 32 metres, was set by the maximum capacity of the Panama Canal. The carrying capacity of the ship was the equivalent of 2,436 twenty-foot containers, stored in stacks on the deck.
The Minic Model
Tri-ang Minic P622 MV Table Bay
Year first produced: 2005
L218 x W26 x H37, Metal 169g, Scale 1:1200, Features: 2
The model is made from the same basic materials as the original Minic range – mazak and plastic – and has a similar breakdown of parts. The main part of the ship is a one-piece mazak hull, onto which a separate superstructure moulding is screwed. To this superstructure are attached plastic radar aerials, mast, lifeboats and davits.
On the deck are rows of depressions, into which the containers can be plugged. For this model, Minic supplied a bag of mazak container blocks in multiple colours, which can be placed on deck using pins on the underside and holes on the top surface to build multicolour stacks as required.
Underneath, the casting shows the traditional Tri-ang and Minic logos, “Modern Edition” to denote a newly moulded ship, and the model identifier, “P622 Bay Class Container Ship”.
Let’s begin with a drawback of the new model. The whole effect of the model stacked high with containers is very pleasing, but it takes a long time to build this from the tiny components, and is more than a little unstable. One nudge and your container ship is unloaded! Still, as I say, once loaded it looks good, and you could always glue the containers in place.
On the positive side, the level and sharpness of detail in the casting and the overall look of the model, is similar to the older range. I think you can see that the Minic ‘family resemblance’ has been perpetuated.
The most noticeable improvement over the 1960s models, however, is the improved finish that the model sports. The older models had simple paint schemes, with one or two base colours, and minimal prominent detail picked out to a competent level by hand-painting. On this model, things are more complex. The base colour (visible on the underside and the container deck) is grey/green, the hull sides are black and the superstructure is white. The forecastle and stern of the ship are brown, with deck structures precisely coloured in white and black. The funnel is blue with a black top, and the crew obviously have use of a small swimming pool, picked out in blue, on the rear port side of the superstructure. On the sides of the ship “P&O” is sharply marked. A red band around the funnel appears to be a sticker, carefully applied after painting.
Hand-painting these details is not an option!
Considerable detail has been captured, the transitions are crisp, and the finish smooth. Clearly, modern manufacturing methods have helped to allow a more intricate and precise (and therefore accurate) colour scheme to be used.
The Container Revolution
It’s nice to see merchant ships being catered for after all these years. Until the modern edition, those fabulous Minic harbours with their cranes and warehouses had to content themselves with servicing warships and ocean liners. But of course, things are rarely that simple…
In a previous story we saw how a typical cargo dockside worked in the 1960s. The process of moving goods between a ship’s holds, warehouses and freight trains was both inefficient and expensive. The work was labour-intensive, subject to delays, awkward, and complex owing to the need to handle different cargoes differently. Bad weather could interrupt work. Accidents and pilfering were common. Because the loading and unloading operations took so long, cargo ships spent half of their time in harbour.
In the 1950s, early experiments were made with containerisation, the process of loading cargo into containers prior to shipping, so as to simplify their handling. The containers protected the goods against bad weather, and secured them against damage or theft. It became obvious that they also dramatically sped up the loading and unloading of ships, as there was no longer a need to manage variable, loose goods.
In the 1960s, containerisation took flight. Container dimensions were standardised worldwide, and in 1969 the first purpose-built long-distance ship entered service. Automation became possible, dock labour could be cut, and cargo handling speeded up by a factor of 10. Compared to a typical 1950s cargo liner, the Table Bay could transport 12 times as much cargo per annum and required only half the crew. A revolution had happened, and there was no going back.
The container revolution required a radical change to dockside facilities. Out went the clutter of traditional quayside cranes and warehouses, and in came the wide-open spaces of a modern container terminal. Containers are weathertight and can simply sit on the quayside, and the huge volume of operations which the container trade generates requires lots of space. Massive new cranes of a different construction, capable of lifting heavy containers from anywhere across the breadth of a ship, dominate the landscape.
As a result, for the typical Minic harbour it is goodbye M837 Crane Units and M840 Warehouses! Welcome M910 Panamax crane!
Minic produced a total of six container ships using the same hull casting. Only one (P623 City of Durban) was a true sister-ship of the Table Bay; the other four were simply similar vessels that Minic decided to represent using the casting. These comprised P624 Maersk Toyama, P625 CSCL Chiwan, P626 Cap Jervis and P627 CMA CGM Azure.
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