Blast from the Past – The long and complex Lima story

It was with N-gauge models produced in association with G & R Wrenn that Lima first entered the British marketplace, subsequently producing HO, OO and O-scale British outline products before financial collapse. Tony Stratford explains how, under Hornby, the brand has lived to fight another day, while former employees in Vicenza continue the tradition under a different name.

The name Lima is not new to the pages of Railway Magazine Modelling, having first appeared in the May 2017 issue as the supplier of British outline N-gauge models to the then Tri-ang subsidiary G & R Wrenn. These models made their debut in 1967.

Lima (Lavorazione Italiana Metalli e Affini/Italian Metals & Related Processing) was formed in 1946 in Vicenza, north-eastern Italy, some 37 miles west of Venice. The company initially manufactured aluminium and other castings for Italian State Railways (FS) which at the end of the war was eager to get its war-torn railway back to full operation as quickly as possible.

This very early Lima model of steam engine Z936 dates from the early 1950s. Martin Kohler.

When this casting work ceased in 1948, Lima turned to producing a wide range of metal toys including cars, boats and prams made to be sold at competitive prices in postwar Italy.

In 1954 Ottorino Bisazza – who had graduated at Turin University, became an engineer and later worked as a manager in the Marzotto textile company – led the purchase of Lima, which at that time was owned by a member of the Marzotto family.

His intention was to build only model trains using plastic injection moulding to greatly reduce the price of manufacturing. Detail was basic, and the models of that time bore only minimal livery application. Model railways in Italy at the time were dominated by Rivarossi and Marklin; Lima immediately offered a low-cost alternative and business boomed.

Newspaper reports in the 1970s claimed that the company had more than 500 employees and was sending out 3000 locomotives, 12,000 items of rolling stock and 30,000 rails every day.

In 1987 the company operated two plants, at Vicenza and Isola Vicentina, and employed 370 staff.

The first releases for other European countries concentrated on French and German prototypes. These were followed by Italian and Swiss models, but were of very basic construction. By 1962, Lima was also serving the Belgian and Dutch markets.

In 1968, The Railway Modeller reported that RIKO (Richard Kohnstam), a long-established toy wholesaling company, was distributing Lima HO-scale European models. RIKO had started trading in 1875 in Furth, near Nuremburg, and originally carried the name of Richard’s grandfather Moses Kohnstam (MOKO).

For the full article, see the June edition of Modelling – available now!

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