When the average UK modeller thinks of plastic kits, it's highly likely he's thinking of Airifx models, an iconic brand that most of us grew up with as kids and whose colourful boxes are themselves works of art.
In fact, like Portakabin and Hoover, the word Airfix has become such a household name. Many people refer to an Airfix model even when they're talking about Matchbox, Revell, Frog or any of the dozens of manufacturers we stock on KitKrazy.com.
We always have hundreds of Airfix kits in stock, many of them brand-new, factory sealed, including all the latest designs. But we also have one of the world's biggest ranges of vintage and difficult-to-find models, gathered together from stockpiles amassed by dedicated modellers and collectors down the years.
We regularly buy whole collections of dozens of kits and offer them to you at bargain prices, including old models no longer available in the modern range, complete with their wonderful box illustrations. They're all available, for delivery to almost anywhere in the world to our customers, online and in the store.
Despite its "Englishness", Airfix was the brainchild of Hungarian entrepreneur Nicholas Kove, who set up shop in a factory in Hull in 1939 to make blow-up rubber toys. The name itself was chosen simply to ensure it came first alphabetically in printed trade catalogues.
After the war, the firm turned to injection moulding to make cheap plastic pocket combs, and only produced their first "kit" two years later, a cellulose acetate facsimilie of a Ferguson TE20 tractor, commissioned by the Ferguson Tractor company as a pre-assembled promotional giveaway for its sales reps. The Fergie "toy" was also sold unassembled to the general public through Woolworths stores.
In 1954, at Woolworths' suggestion, this was followed by a reproduction of Tudor explorer Francis Drake's Golden Hinde, the first model kit to be sold in the now famous transparent bag with its paper label, with details of how to put it all together on the reverse – and all for a pocket money price of two shillings. It was a massive hit with kids – and grown-ups – all over the UK and prompted Kove to abandon his beach balls, combs and other accessories to produce a more diverse range of models.
The first model plane followed in 1953 – the legendary Battle of Britain Spitfire Mk I. It was re-released in 2003, to mark the kit's 50th birthday, but many of KitKrazy's oldest and most-sought after veteran stock dates from the heyday of the Sixties and Seventies – our website branding is based around the box art of the period, including a large number of paintings of Roy Cross – when the company's repertoire grew to include cars – vintage and modern – trains & other model railway accessories, motorcycles, military vehicles and figures, famous ships and spacecraft including the Saturn V rocket and the LEM lunar module, as well as more fanciful creations like the Eagle Lander from the Gerry Anderson's hit Seventies TV Sci-Fi show Space 1999.
But the company's best-selling products were its planes, featuring famous marques of the Second World War as well as iconic Cold War jets such as the Hawker Hunter, the English Electric Lightning and Mikoyan Gurevich MiG-21.
The hobby was now going from strength to strength and the period saw the introduction of many now household model names rivals like Matchbox, offering model kits at a competitive prices.
In the mid-70s, the 1/72nd and 1/144 scale planes were joined by bigger cousins, including the highly-detailed 1/24-scale Spitfire, Messerschmidt Bf 109, Hawker Hurricane and Harrier V/STOL fighter model kits, part of a total of more than 20 million units every year, including more than a dozen new releases. There were also Airfix paints and even an Airfix Magazine for the young modelling enthusiast. We have some of these for sale too in our shop
Sadly, the following decade saw a reverse of fortune. The company had grown through the late Seventies by mergers and acquisitions and the launch of new product ranges of toys, gifts and household goods but the new political realities of the Eighties saw it losing money and fighting with the unions over downsizing. When the export market collapsed in 1981 because of a sharply-rising Pound, the pressure became too much and forced Airfix into bankruptcy.
Still, in this age befoire computer games and the Internet, modelmaking continued to be a popular pasttime and Airfix models were a still a strong brand and the company was soon snapped up by US toy giant Palitoy, part of General Mills – owner of US car kits maker MPC – with the moulds speedily dispatched to their factory in Calais.
Under Pailtoy, Airfix aircraft scale model kits were marketed in the US bearing the MPC label while some MPC kits were sold in the UK under the Airfix name. The company also sold MPC kits based on the first Star Wars film, now better known as Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope.
In 1985, General Mills decided to focus on its core business – processed food – and sold the entire business to Borden Inc's Hobby Products Group – which itself had tried to acquire the brand in 1981. HPG was also the owner of the Humbrol model paints range and the French kit maker Heller.
In 1994, HPG was sold to investment company Allen & McGuire under the name Humbrol but just eight years later Humbrol itself went bust. However, in 2006, Hornby Hobbies Ltd. – famous for Hornby model railways, Scalextric slot car racing sets and Meccano toys – announced it was to acquire HPG along with other Humbrol assets.
It relaunched Airfix the following year, keeping the designers hard at work in the UK – rolling out such popular kits as the TSR2 and Gloster Meteor – but exporting production to India.
2017 is set to see the launch of the 1/72nd scale Handley Page Victor V-bomber and the Me 262 Schwalbe jet fighter.
Plastic modelling is not in as much fashion as it once was, but Airfix model kits still command a major slice of the market in the UK and beyond.