East Sussex Finescale  

Improving the Hornby 2 BIL

(including conversion to P4)

by Ian Sneyd


2021 P4 Redhill Ian Sneyd 063.jpg


Fellow finescale modellers!

Firstly, a detailed history of the 2 BIL units can be found here.

I have now finished the conversion of the first of my 2 BIL units and thought you might be interested in how it went and some observations of the model.


It is easy to get the body off the chassis but not quite so easy to remove the interior which is clipped in by 6 evil clips. I added the cream vertical panels that are typical for Maunsell coaches of this period, also painted the seats and added passengers and posters etc. That's the easy bit but makes a vast difference, particularly to the Southern ones.

The trailer coach is completely unpowered so both bogies spring out (relatively) easily. To my surprise the dummy bogies is quite different to the unpowered motor bogie from the 5 BEL and the 8' steam bogie is different to that on the Maunsell coaches. In fact, the whole chassis is a huge advance on anything Hornby have done before. The underfloor detailing is superb, we even get brake rodding now.

With some filing it was possible to get P4 wheels into the dummy power bogie but not always possible to save the outside brake rigging. As it is necessary to add a cross shaft at each end anyway it was not difficult to replicate it.

I decided this coach looked too light and, given the vast probable overkill haulage capacity of the power car, decided to add as much weight as I could.


The 8' steam bogie is absolutely lovely and a doddle to convert as P4 wheels go straight in. Just remove the end of the pinpoints as Hornby's axles would appear to be 25.6 mm rather than 26 mm. I did not think it remotely practical to remove the plate holding the brake shoes but it is possible to get in there with a small circular file and then bend the shoes of the way.

The motor brake third (MBT) chassis is one big heavy casting into which clip the bogies. To get them off it is necessary to unsolder the wires from the bottom of the DCC-ready circuit board.

The sheer weight of this item makes it unlikely that one motor could haul two trailers plus an unpowered but de-geared MBT. Add to that the impracticality of through wiring and so I have resigned myself to two decoders and complicated multiple consisting.


The 8' steam bogie has pick-ups fitted but is otherwise identical to that on the trailer. If converting to EM or P4 these pickups will reach a solid wheel such as Hornby's, and those available from Branchlines. However, these are so very expensive and so difficult to paint that Gibson wheels and top acting stylus pickups look a better bet (and indeed work well).

The motor bogie comes apart by levering off the keeper plate (with brute force) and dropping out the wheels. The keeper plate is attached to the frames which then need the same attention with files as that on the DTC. When the cross shafts are in, the brake rodding repaired and the whole thing painted it really looks excellent. Hornby's bizarrely coloured shoe beams rather detract from a superb piece of modelling.

The wheels pull off the axle leaving the plastic centres behind to be removed with a knife. The gear wheel is then drifted out. To my surprise the motor bogie has actually been changed since the 5 BEL units to reduce the huge side play. Using Gibson wheels, I loctited on the gear wheel and made 2 mm spacers from 1/8 brass tube to take up the side play from narrow gauge steam rollers to P4. New top acting pickups added as, although this bogie has a much, much better pickup system than the Bel, it is still acting on the backs which is just not practical with Gibson wheels.

Whole thing reassembled, testing as I went. I fitted a DCC chip to save opening it again. I used a Digitrax 135 and having removed the blanking plug I pushed 0.5 mm wire into the holes on the chassis socket and soldered the leads to them.


The distance between the coaches looks almost scale (should be 7 mm) but I suspect that in running it will open out. When I get it on the track, I'll take a view and maybe shorten the bar.

As with the Maunsell coaches they are a b*** to renumber as they are using no font known to HMRS and it's completely wrong for the SR anyway.

However, unlike, say, the Bachmann N-class where you only have to look at it and the lining and numbers fall off, these numbers are very well attached and it took cellulose thinners and a sharp scalpel to get them off. A touch of satin varnish afterwards and you wouldn't know they had been played with.


I thought the detailing was generally excellent though I was dubious about the black rail on the guard’s van (which I left) and the green wipers (which I didn't).

Crew is a problem when you're going to run in multiple, but on balance I think better to have than not. By chance I was talking to the owner of Falcon Figures at the Horsham show who had just bought a 2 BIL unit with the intention of producing a motorman specifically for it. Falcon Figures are best known for their excellent loco crew (I have dozens) and I went off with three suitable looking drivers. Should be ready for Scalefour Midlands in September 2014.


So how do I link units together?

I'll probably run this 8-car as two 4-car units, but I think the bar will be rather unsightly between units. I was going to have Kadee couplers, but they are not very prototypical. Maybe I'll araldite in some screw links. I have no problem being the man between the tracks doing the hook up. I'm just a bit overscale.


Lastly, I can't get too hung up about tail lamps but I do like my headcodes correct. I glued small but strong magnets behind the headcode boxes and will put a sliver of steel behind the stencils.

It was an easier conversion that I thought and the model is pretty good, particularly where it doesn't notice and hasn't yet been commented on.

I have it sat next to one of my Kirk 2 BIL units. It's very nearly as good. For RTR that's magic.


Kind regards,

Ian Sneyd

2 BIL P4 Redhill Ian Sneyd 085.jpg

Front model Hornby 2 BIL – rear Kirk 2 BIL

2 BIL P4 Redhill Ian Sneyd 079.jpg

The Kirk 2 BIL was built as an unpowered unit and runs
as half of a 4-car train (hence the permanent coupling).


Click for ESF home-page


This website is kindly provided by www.BloodandCustard.net


Return to EastSussexFinescale