Monday, May 5, 2014

DB Class 103 in N Scale - Part II

In this part, I will summarize the N scale production of models of the 103 and include some general comparisons. Eight different molds of this locomotive have been made in N Scale by Minitrix, Fleischmann and Arnold so far, four each of the pre-production series 103.0 and of the production series 103.1 with the short cab. Just recently, Minitrix and, shortly after, Fleischmann finally announced what will be the first ever N-scale models of the lengthened, later version 103.1. Both are expected to be released later this year, but no reliable pictures are available yet of either one. All earlier representations of models with production numbers 216 and higher are inaccurate since a genuine long cab 103.1 mold was not previously available.

Most molds date from the 60s and 70s and range from abysmal to still acceptable by modern standards, the more excellent ones having remained in production and having been updated with newer electronics and motorization. Arnold, in the 90s embarked on a complete rebuild of both its pre-production and regular series molds, and these remain optically the best representations of the 103.0 and 103.1 in N scale. Minitrix likewise in 2004 produced a new mold of the 103.0 pre-production model that is likewise very good.

I have included some comparison and individual model photographs. Please excuse the quality - most of these were taken with iPhone. Some of the comparison shots as well as the pictures of the Minitrix loco, feature models I have since sold off and which were therefore not available for reshoots when I wrote this post.


Minitrix produced its first model of the pre-production 103.0 in 1967 (item number 2954 or 51 2945 00). This was a very robust, all die-cast metal model powered by two (!) motors with traction on all six axles. It didn’t have traction tires and thanks to its weight and excess power didn’t need them. By modern standards, though virtually indestructible, this is a completely inadequate model, visually, mechanically and electronically, and is best avoided. The bumpers are oddly attached to the bogies instead of the body, resulting in a very unseemly seam, the top speed is ridiculously high and low speed control next to non-existent. It was designed as a toy and many of the (often overpriced) models that flood eBay have been treated accordingly.

103 132-7, a model Minitrix produced in 2002 on the same old
mold it has been using since 1976. The printing is good (though
lacking some possible details such as black seals between the
roof hoods). The insides are up to date with new motor with two
flywheels and 6-pin digital interface. But the nose shape is
unsatisfactory and the roof details very clunky. The DB logo is
merely printed.
In 1976, Minitrix introduced its first model of the series production 103.1 (various item numbers ending with 57, loco serial 103 133-5), with a plastic body, a single motor and traction to the two outer axles of each bogie. The initial run remained in production for ten years. As with all N-scale locos of that vintage, the motor lacks a flywheel and the print is not as fine as you would expect today. Amazingly, Minitrix continues to use this 1976 mold to the present day, despite its many flaws. It is generally optically quite accurate and all body details that you would want to see are appropriately embossed/engraved, though in some cases too thick. However, next to the competition, the Minitrix remains decidedly third choice for three main reasons: Firstly, the electrical equipment on the roof is depicted in clunky plastic that is too thick and not anywhere near to scale. Second, the nose shape just isn’t quite ‘right’. In particular, the ‘forehead’ above the windshield seems to droop a bit too low. It looks OK in profile, but in front view it doesn't get wider around the top as it should and in 3/4 view the curvature of the nose is just all kinds of wrong. Thirdly, Minitrix previously only made one type of bogie for the 103.1 and it comes with (somewhat undersized) skirts that were removed by the early 80s from the real world counterpart. Fine if you want mid-era IV, inaccurate for anything later, and completely wrong on any orient-red 103s. Only major plastic surgery will fix this. 

Minitrix's 103 109-5, made in 2004-2006 with new motor and
electronics but on the same mid-70s mold. Why both pantographs
are up is a mystery. (Trix - catalog picture)
Nevertheless, there are a few Minitrix issues on this old mold that are worth mentioning and perhaps owning. Starting in about 1996, all Minitrix 103.1s were equipped with newer motors with two flywheels that vastly improved low speed handling while delivering a more realistic top speed. Among these later issues, there are a few variants that only Minitrix produced and for which Minitrix unavoidably remains the only choice. Firstly, Minitrix is the only manufacturer so far to have produced an orient-red 103 with the more common grey field around the vents (item number 12651, loco serial 103 147-5). If you can live with the inaccurate bottom skirt or are willing to do the surgery to remove it (or are unwilling to repaint a Fleischmann model), this is a good model to have. Likewise, Minitrix is the only one to have produced 103 109-5 in its original delivery scheme with the silver area around the vents (item number 12539). This model also offers a NEM 651 socket for a digital decoder.

This is the catalog picture released by Trix of the announced
16301, their first DCC Sound equipped 103.1, which from the
pic appears to have no skirts on the bogies and no bumper
cowlings. The latter would suggest a new mold, but the rest
looks just like the old 1976 mold, with the same clunky roof-
top wiring and inaccurate nose shape. The gap between bogies
and body seen in this pic doesn't help either. (Trix - catalog
In 2005, Minitrix produced a new mold of the pre-production 103.0. I have never held one of these in my hand, but from what I have read and seen, these are nearly as fine visually as the newer Arnold model (see below), apart from retaining the overly thick, plasticky roof details common of earlier Minitrix models. They all have new motors and digital interfaces.

At last year’s Nuremberg toy fair Minitrix announced a DCC sound-equipped reissue of the 103.1 (item number 16301), which appears from the catalog pictures to have new bogies without the skirts, as well as another first in N scale: no bumper cowlings. On the original, these were removed towards the end of the 103’s career, as it was found that rainwater would collect inside them, accelerating corrosion.

This is the catalog pic Trix issued for the upcoming 16341. It
has finer roof details but the same old curvature of the nose.
The close coupling mechanism interferes with a reproduction
of the rail sweepers. (Trix - catalog picture)

Likewise, Minitrix announced a completely new mold of what will be the very first ever N-scale 103.1 with the extended cab (item number 16341). This DCC-ready engine depicts 103 235-8, one of the last surviving operational 103s, as it appeared circa 2012, with two different pantographs - one for cross-border trips to Switzerland - though in the case of the Minitrix model they appear to be the same standard Sommerfeldt pantos used by all manufacturers, merely with one colored grey, the other red. It appropriately has no front skirts. A new short coupling mechanism has been announced (in contrast with the bogie mounted couplers on the older models), but from the pic it looks like the realism of the rail sweepers has been sacrificed to accommodate the mechanism. (There are larger photos in the 2013 new items catalog.) Unlike its other Minitrix-103 brethren, this new 103.2 finally seems to have fine metal roof electrical lines. However, the nose shape sadly seems to be the same as all other previous Minitrix 103.1 molds. Both 16301 and 16341 were announced for 2013 but delivery has been pushed to 2014 at the least, so we will have to see whether this extended cab 103 will be a serious competitor for the announced Fleischmann version.

A further 103 was announced by Minitrix for 2014 under item number 16342 with built-in DCC decoder, but while the serial 103 245-7 suggests the longer version, the pic shows the short version. Likewise announced is a model of 103 220-0 in Touristik livery.
Arnold was the original N-scale pioneer, but what was supposed to be its great model of the DB flagship was a complete dud from the start. Its first mold of the 103.0 from 1967 and the first series 103.1 mold from 1972 are simply abysmal even by the standards of that time. The nose shape is completely off, the window inserts have square corners that don’t fit the round corners of the housing, and there is a huge gap between the bogies and the body showing a clear view of the upper half of the wheels, which view simply doesn’t exist in the original. Inexplicably, Arnold continued to produce these hideous clunkers through the early 90s.

Arnold's gorgeous E03 004, here the Hornby reissue as HN2018
from 2007. Note: Arnold somehow managed to screw up the
isolators around the pantographs and installed horizontal models
only found on prewar electrics like the E18. I replaced them with
spare parts for an Arnold E10. In every other respect this is the
best N scale reproduction of the pre-series 103.0.
Before its insolvency, the old German-based Arnold tried to revive itself with a few new and reengineered models, which included what remain the best 103.1 and 103.0 in N-scale. Thankfully, both molds have survived the Hornby takeover and are being reissued from the Chinese production facilities Hornby uses these days (Kader?). As far as I am aware, there are a handful of versions each of the 103.0 and the 103.1 on the new Arnold molds. From the original German/Italian production there are item nos. 2370, 2371, 2372 and 2374 for the 103.0 and 2373 for the 103.1. The item numbers for the current Chinese Hornby production are HN2018 for the 103.0 and HN2131 for the 103.1. There are some slight (mostly internal) differences between the German/Italian pre-insolvency production run and the newer Chinese issues. Firstly, the German made versions feature a failure-prone flexible silicone tube connector from the motor to the bogie gears, which was replaced with a more durable plastic universal joint rod in the Chinese production. Secondly, the Chinese made models have an updated motor, as well as a NEM 651 socket for a digital decoder, though to the chagrin of all digital railroaders the entire circuit board is located idiotically (as on so many newer Arnold models) underneath the metal chassis, requiring complete disassembly of the loco for installation of a (very small) decoder. Some 103.0 models have the center hood on the roof installed the wrong way resulting in a disconnect of the rooftop wiring, but that can be fixed easily. Both versions feature traction on the outer two axles of both bogies.

Arnold's new 103 mold as reissued under Hornby ownership,
depicting 103 113-7 (HN3231). The shade of the lettering on
the red skirt isn't quite accurate and the box between the
bogies belongs to the pre-production 103.0. But otherwise this
is a gorgeous model.
All that said, the Arnold mold is simply stellar, though not without some issues. The nose shape is as perfect as you can expect it to be in this scale. The curvature is as close to the original as possible, all proportions seem accurate and all windows fit snugly. In addition, the Arnold model features removable skirts on the bogies, so you can switch between modeling 70s TEEs and 80s InterCity trains with a simple removal of two snap fit parts, though the skirts seem to be a tad too far forward. The five-pole motor with two flywheels gives the Arnold model the best handling, especially at low speeds, of all N-scale 103s. The roof detailing is plastic, but is very filigree and nearly to scale. One main point of criticism is, however, that Arnold carried over some elements of the 103.0 that are inappropriate for the 103.1. For instance, the “underbelly” parts between the bogies are from the 103.0, some roof details like the placement of the whistles reflect the 103.0 layout, and the bogies themselves are missing the anti-roll damper installed on the series production 103.1.

The sleek lines of 103 113-7.
As an additional note, HN2131 is a replica of 103 113-7 which remains in active duty, albeit with the buffer cowlings removed. Unfortunately, Arnold seems to have not been able to decide whether to model it in Era IV or Era VI lettering. The lettering and logos seem to have been printed entirely in white. This would be partially accurate for the current scheme of this engine (see the white serial number contrasted with the beige body and logo on the image I posted in the previous post). But it should have been beige (like the rest of the loco's body) for proper Era IV lettering. And both the buffer cowlings and the inspection dates suggest Era IV. Also, Arnold swapped the numbering of the cabs.

The earlier pre-insolvency model 2373 which featured alternatively locomotives with numbers 103 169-9 and 103 149-1, has a black frame and otherwise typical Era IV livery and none of the printing errors of the new Hornby/Arnold model. However, the production run seems to have been very limited and the few models one sees occasionally on eBay fetch very high prices (EUR 150 to 190 is not unheard of).

The insides of Arnold's latest build of 103s under Hornby ownership. A new five-pole motor has replaced the older Arnold model and plastic universal joints transfer power to the gears, where the pre-insolvency Arnold version from German/Italian production had failure-prone silicone hoses instead. The two flywheels give Arnold's 103 the finest handling characteristics. Admittedly, Arnold's model is not maintenance-friendly at all. The body sits extremely snugly and all parts that you could pull below (bogies and center box) can and will detach if you pull too hard. The circuit board (and the six pin connector for DCC installation) are *under* the chassis. The motor-gear joints are very small and will go off on their own when given an opportunity. Space for a decoder is extremely limited between the bogies.
Fleischmann so far hasn't produced a pre-series 103.0 model, though it did announce a brand new 103.0 (with and without sound) for delivery later this year (the catalog just shows images of the Roco H0 scale model). But Fleischmann's regular series 103.1 mold, dating from 1972, easily outclassed the contemporaneous Arnold mold, as well as the later Minitrix mold, and (with updated motorization and circuitry) remains one of the top choices in N-scale despite the competition from the outstanding newer 90s Arnold mold.

Printing on nearly all but the very first issues is crisp and clear, and any models from 1996 onwards have updated (three-pole) motors with (one single) flywheel. Unlike Minitrix and Arnold, the roof of the Fleischmann model features fine plastic insulators and actual metal wire, though the center hood is painted in too light a shade of grey. The insulator on the main transformer has been widened disproportionately and serves as the switch that allows the user to choose between running the loco with electricity from the rails or from the catenary. The nose shape is close to ideal, quite a bit better than Minitrix, though not quite as convincing as the new Arnold. Fleischmann made two types of bogies (at least for the earlier versions), one with skirt and one without, so finding the right representation for the epoch you are modeling is possible (or can be accomplished with a simple swap of parts). As a nice touch, Fleischmann actually has two variants of the mold, one with an embossed representation of the cast iron “DB” logo and one without, while all other manufacturers simply printed the “DB” on the nose. The one optical flaw on the Fleischmann model is the side cab windows, which do not fit very well on most issues and show a sizeable gap between window and frame. On all but a handful of the newer issues, Fleischmann neglected to print the headlight frames in silver, but this can easily be touched up with a fine silver permanent marker.

The innards of two generations of Fleischmann 103s. You can hardly tell that more than 20 years separate the two models. 103 116-0 has a newer three-pole motor with a sizeable flywheel, which improves handling considerably, but doesn't reach the performance of five-pole motors with two flywheels, like Arnold. The older 103 142-6 handles remarkably well for its age. Replacement gears and digitalization can considerably improve the handling of these robust old Fleischmann motors. The latest models have a six pin DCC connector.
Confusingly, Fleischmann continues to mainly use the same item numbers despite many updates of the innards of its 103s and despite different paint scheme and loco serials, so I will give a little bit of a buyer’s guide here. Generally speaking, no loco serial was produced in more than one production run, so that will be your ultimate reference when browsing out of production models on eBay. The Fleischmann item numbers are basically meaningless. Following are all of the different N scale 103s produced by Fleischmann so far:
- 103 101-2 the only good N-scale representation of the LH Airport Express livery as Fleischmann item number 9351 in a set with three coaches, making a complete prototypical train composition.

- 103 110-3 issued as part of a commemorative set "30 Years of InterCity Trains" (item 7802) with three coaches, meant to replicate a '71 InterCity in the first years of this new train product, with two blue 1st class compartment coaches and a restaurant coach in TEE livery. This is a very fine Era IV depiction of the 103, but incongruously with scissor pantographs (correct for 1971) but no skirts on the bogies. This model likewise has the newer motor.

- 103 115-2 this was the first orient-red 103 and was produced in similar numbers by Fleischmann in the late 80s like 155, not only individually as item 7377, but also as part of the updated InterCity Start Set. Again, visually fine representation, but with the old motor.

Fleischmann's 103 116-0 - the only N scale 103 in red/beige
with new DBAG logo, as operated in the 90s and early 2000s.
- 103 116-0 produced under item no. 7375. The only N scale representation of a red-beige 103 with the post-privatization DBAG logo that I am aware of. This model has the newer motor with flywheel.

- 103 118-6 is the earliest version of the Fleischmann 103 made in two production runs between 1972 and 1979 in classic Era IV red/beige livery with black frame, scissor pantographs and skirts. The first run had hideously clunky pantographs and the printing on this one isn’t as good as on the later models. (The original 118 was the locomotive that was modified for high speed testing, reaching up to 265kph.)

- 103 142-6 issued under item 7375 in the 80s. This is visually and mechanically actually a fine loco. Just be aware that it is among the older Fleischmann 103s on the market. If you find one in good condition, great. But it will still have the older motor without flywheel and run at ludicrously high top speed (that applies to all the older models as well). That aside, those old motors run very smoothly and (with proper maintenance) are nearly indestructible.
- 103 150-9 the only correctly liveried/printed Era IV 103 with red skirt produced by Fleischmann. This is a newer model with flywheel.

- 103 155-8 this is probably the most produced Fleischmann 103, as it was included in many InterCity Start Sets (with four coaches, track and power pack) as well as in form of an individual issue under item number 7376. Many of the units included in the Start Set had quality issues with dying motors. Secondly, the representation of the prototype is inaccurate as no. 155 never had the red bottom frame that Fleischmann decided to give it (both in N and in H0!).

- 103 163-2 this was a special limited issue under item number 837375 in classic Era IV red/beige livery. Apart from featuring more detailed printing than the regular issue 103, this model came with pre-installed DCC decoder and also has switchable illumination of the engine room (visible through the dome skylights on the roof). Due to the limited production run and the special features, this model is in high demand and regularly fetches well in excess of EUR150 on eBay despite being now ten years old.

- 103 184-8 also currently available from retailers as item 737602. This is a replica of another survivor. The original is still operational. Note, that, contrary to the catalog description, this model has Era VI, not Era IV, lettering.

Fleischmann's 103 197-0. Probably the finest orient-red 103
currently available.
- 103 197-0 orient-red, but unlike 115 with the newer DBAG logo, however, incorrectly without the dark grey box around vents worn by the real 197. (The original survives alongside E03 002 without innards in a park in southern Germany in classic old red/beige livery.) New motor with flywheel.

- 103 233-3 item 737601. Fleischmann reproduced the only traffic red 103. Sadly, 233 is a later version with the longer cab, so the mold is inaccurate for this livery. Maybe they will redo it when the new stretched mold is available.

In addition to the 103.0, Fleischmann has announced a new release of a 103.1 with the longer cabs for later this year (again, with and without sound), but only as an exclusive webshop item (one would think that there will be subsequent regular issues as they can't possibly recoup the investment in a new mold from webshop sales alone). As with the 103.0, the current catalog pictures only show the Roco H0 scale model, so it's anyone's guess what the actual model willl look like when it arrives.


Here are a few direct visual comparisons of representative examples from Minitrix, Fleischmann and Arnold.

A comparison of nose shapes: Arnold's 103 113-7 (HN2131) from 2013 in the back, Fleischmann's trusty 103 142-6 from 1982 in the middle (note: I touched up the headlight casings with silver), Minitrix's 2002 model of 103 132-7 in the front. The Fleischmann model still features the clunky older pantographs, while the other two use Sommerfeldt pantos now used by all three manufacturers. Note the nicer detailing and more accurate nose shape on the Arnold model. Fleischmann has an embossed DB logo on some of its models like this one. Window fit on both Fleischmann and Minitrix leaves something to be desired. The Arnold's windshield wipers don't extend below the window frame.

Rooftop views. Again, Arnold in back, Fleischmann in middle, Minitrix in front. The thick, plasticky wiring and the oversized isolators of the Minitrix model are overly apparent. Fleischmann has the finest wiring, but Arnold is not much worse, despite being plastic. Note the printed details on the Arnold, including the rubber seals between the hoods (Fleischmann did this on a handful of its newer models, too, and catalog pics suggest that Minitrix might soon as well). Arnold also modeled the pantograph actuator cylinders as separate parts. The whistle on the left side is in the wrong place, however, reflecting the pre-production E 03 layout. Note the clunky main switch isolator on the Fleischmann, which functions as the switch for catenary power.

Front views. The Minitrix on the right with its large forehead and weird windows is the odd one out. The other two at least look like they're from the same family. Note the better cross section shape on the Fleischmann.


  1. Thanks for the comparison, Misha. BR103 is in my to-get list but I am not sure from which manufacturer. Your post gave me some insights. As I am planning to get the Fleischmann ÖBB passenger digital starterset, one BR103 would compliment the ÖBB coaches. The latest issue of Züge (magazine of Eisenbahn Romantik TV series) reported more about BR103.


  2. Jimmy,

    You just missed a teriffic sale. DM Toys was offering the four new Fleischmann ÖBB coaches as a set in combination with Arnold's new 103 118 at a discount for EUR219. They still have them separately and the 103 is still offered at a discount for EUR 119. If you want to model the current IC 118/119 which is pulled by a 103 for most of the way with ÖBB coaches, I would try to get one of the currently operational 103s (i.e. Arnold's 103 118, Fleischmann's 103 184 or one of the new stretched 103s depending on whether they come out week and have one of the right numbers).


  3. MK, that's a good deal. Looks like Daniel of DM Toys has a new sales strategy - piecemeal sale of items from starter sets. He is also bundling items from various manufacturers to form complete train sets esp. for passenger services.

    Will take a look at them again.

  4. Thank you for the wonderful introduction to the 103's and comparing the 3 N scale models, you've just helped me make my decision to get the Fleischmann. Keep up the great work!