Airfix is the oldest UK manufacturer of scale plastic model kits and has been producing kits for the mass market since 1952. Airfix produces a wide range of kits aimed at all types of scale modellers with subjects such as military aircraft, civil aircraft, ships, galleons, cars, space, figures, dioramas and military vehicles.
From Combs to Model Airplanes
Airfix was founded in 1939 by Nicholas Kove, a refugee from Hungary who originally manufactured rubber inflated toys. The name Airfix was chosen because part of the process involved fixing air into products. Kove believed that all successful companies should have their names at the beginning of business directories and consequently the name Airfix was born. After the Second World War he switched to producing plastic combs, and was the first manufacturer in the UK to introduce an injection moulding machine.
In the late 1940s Airfix was approached by Harry Ferguson (the tractor manufacturer) to make a cheap model of one of his tractors that could be used by his sales team as a promotional tool. At first there were problems making the model, so it was decided to make it in a series of parts to be assembled by a team of skilled workers.
This ready-built tractor proved to be popular and Ferguson allowed Airfix to produce them as toys and sell them under the Airfix name. It soon became obvious that more tractors could be sold if they were cheaper, and to achieve this they sold the kits unmade with instructions. This proved to be successful, and shortly after F.W. Woolworth approached Airfix suggesting that, by using a more stable polystyrene plastic and poly bags with a card header, it would meet the Woolworth's retail price of 2 shillings. The small scale Golden Hind was launched in 1952. Woolworth's buyers then began to ask for more subjects, then soon after Airfix began to produce a wider range of polybagged model kits – the all famous Spitfire model appearing from 1953.
The boom and gloom of Airfix
Airfix grew throughout the 1960s and '70s as the plastic kit modelling hobby became ever more popular. The range then expanded to include figures, trains, trackside accessories, military vehicles, engines, rockets, large classic ships, warships, liners, modern cars, vintage cars, motorcycles, spaceships and more.
In the 1980s the plastic kit modelling hobby went into decline, this was blamed on a number of factors such as the introduction of computer games, precision die-cast models becoming available, a rise in oil prices (which affected the price of plastic) and declining birth rates. Due to this, and heavy losses in Airfix’s other toy businesses, the company was forced to declare bankruptcy, and were later bought by General Mills. Four years later, General Mills decided to abandon toy production in Europe resulting in Airfix coming back onto the market.
This time it was bought by the Hobby Products Group of Borden who also owned other brands such as Heller (the French based plastic kit manufacturer) and Humbrol (producer of modelling paints and accessories).
In 1995, Borden then sold the Hobby Products group (which included Airfix) to an Irish Holdings Company called Allen McGuire and continued to operate under the Humbrol name. In 2006 Humbrol Ltd went into administration resulting in Hornby Hobbies Ltd buying both the Airfix and Humbrol brands in November of the same year.
Under Hornby Hobbies Ltd. ownership
Since the beginning of 2007 a huge investment programme has been undertaken to rebuild the brand and bring some fantastic high quality models to the market. This strategy, along with a complete packaging and illustration update has proved to be just what this famous and much-loved brand needed, and the response from all its fans across the world has been extremely positive.
This strategy continues today, meaning plenty of new and exciting models and themes to come. Airfix celebrates its 75th anniversary in 2014 and the hope and expectation is that it will still be a strong part of many people’s lives for decades to come.