Red Star Model is a new comer to the ever expanding world of Chinese model trains, boldly choosing a rarer locomotive class as their first project. I'm happy to say on the whole they've done an extremely good job. Both units are powered, heavy, have excellent details and have produced (nearly) all the versions available. They also represent good value for money, a rare thing these days!
The box is superb, a nice two-piece cardboard affair with thick/stiff stock, the type that one would expect with brass models. Inside are three layers of reasonably stiff foam with a base, centre piece and top layer. The models simply sit in cut out sections of the centre piece, with two thin plastic sheets that partially wrap the model and assist with lifting them out. Instruction sheet is provided (Chinese language only).
The model is easy to disassemble for repairs or modification, with four screws holding the shell to the chassis - note these are not the four screws holding the fuel tank in place, but either side of it, above axles 3 & 4. The coupler must also be removed for access. Both units are connected by a drawbar system, which is a little clunky in design. Mine was pretty severely damaged, looking like both units had been crushed, but after disassembly I was able to coax things back into place OK.
The body casting is superbly recreated with very sharp details and edges, particularly around the louvre vents. They are relatively easy to handle, however care should still be taken as many of the components, such as air hoses, are made from a very brittle/soft plastic and are prone to breaking/snapping. Sadly one of my units arrived damaged with two of the three air horns and the antennae assembly snapped off, probably during the shipping process. The drawbar also transfers power between the two units and both must be connected to work. Attaching the units is a bit awkward and they must be aligned perfectly before pushing both of them carefully together (praying the shaft doesn't snap in the process!). They separate by simply pulling them apart. Both drawbars pivot in much the same way as the Bachmann passenger car system (which is based on the old Roco design) and allows for close coupling. I have not been able to test the minimum radius required to operate them.
Some of the finer details include the metal windshield wipers, machined brass air horns, multi-coloured air hoses with taps, multiple unit receptacles, separate metal handrails. One thing that RSM have done extremely well are the side number plates and three dimensional China Rail logos, which I'm guessing would have just been painted on by most other manufacturers. A few extra pieces are included in the box for installation by the modeller including side mirrors and some end body panels for installing around the drawbar area.
The dark green paint work is very nicely applied. The yellow lining is very sharp, with a little bit of loss as it passes over the main louvre vents. The red and white pilots are very impressive also. Lettering and lining is as good as I've found anywhere, with some less than 1mm in height, but still perfectly legible. The builders plates are painted on which is fine for the newer versions as the real ones are made from extremely thin aluminium. From photographs I've seen on the original version, RSM have painted those on as well and owuld have benefitted from separate pieces. The old builders plate version is available only on one of the variants of #0001A/B.
The wheel sets look great with impressive depth and very fine sanding tubes, speed cables, traction bars, etc, etc. I love that they've taken the effort to paint the shock absorbers blue and red. The footsteps have a habit of falling off on my units, but can be pushed back into place pretty easily.
The units are both very heavy and both contain powerful motors, which equates to excellent pulling performance. My samples generated too much noise for my liking, however they are smooth and responsive nonetheless.
The units are engineered to easily accept sound decoders with dual speaker mounts in both units. Lighting is strong and directional.
The model is fitted with scale plastic non functioning plastic couplers. They are a light grey colour which I found a little odd at first, however looking though my photo archives, the prototypes seem to have grey painted couplers as well! Nevertheless mine will shortly be swapped out with KD's. They will require medium shanks (#5) or with scale heads (#58) or scale heads with whisker springs (#158's).
I never thought I'd see a ready to run model of the DF11Z's. I must admit I have a soft spot with these locomotives ever since I had the pleasure of photographing one of them around the Beijing station in mid 2015. Red Star Model have made a fantastic effort for their first model and I greatly look forward to their next project - whatever and whenever that may be.