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Talk: The Airfix Story – 18th Jun 2021

I’ve always associated Airfix with the plastic model kits of planes and boat’s which generations of (mainly) boy’s made and proudly displayed in their bedrooms. But at our Friday Zoom meeting on 18th June, John Webb explained that Airfix had quite a history.

Marius Klein, a Hungarian Jew, was sent to Siberia by the soviets in WW1 and on his release, changed his name to Nicolas Cove. He moved to Italy and set up a company call Cellulose Based Plastics making a patented product called Interfix to stiffen collars. Threats from Mussolini made him relocate to Italy, which turned out to be a bad move when Italy fell in with Germany before WW2.

By now married, he relocated to England and in 1939 set up a factory in London called Airfix, which meant fixed with air. His first product was a comb moulded from acetate which was quite successful and in 1940 bought his first injection moulding machine from America with moulds for the comb and brought over an American engineer to run it.

Because his salesmen were selling to the toy and gift warehousing companies, he realised toy’s was a potential market, so he produced a toy F N Rifle and a Tommy gun from hard moulded plastic. Another was a model submarine which, when filled with bicarbonate of soda, would dive and resurface. Bath time had never been so exciting!

The first model kit he made was of a Ferguson tractor. Harry Ferguson paid for all the production costs so that his salesmen could demonstrate to agents and potential customers how the different implements could be interchanged on the hydraulics and power take off.

Weebles were another successful Airfix product and they were first in the field for slot cars, although they missed out when Scalectric modified the design and produced a better product. Due to poor advice from the marketing team, Airfix missed the chance to make Action Man and the game Mastermind, both of which sold in their millions.

Unfortunately, due to lack of consultation with customers, the board made some very expensive marketing mistakes and when their main customer, Woolworths, went bankrupt, the company closed and its products are now made mainly in China.

And Nicolas Cove? Sadly he had died of cancer at his London home in 1957, soon after the company went public.

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