Some AF History from the S scale list online:
Date: Tue, 17 Jan 2006 14:15:19 -0500
From: Rollain Mercier <firstname.lastname@example.org>
To clarify a bit of history - by 1941, Prewar Gilbert Flyer had been converted
from the Chicago O Gauge tinplate to a combination of diecast locomotives and
stamped metal and diecast cars that ran on 3 rail O Gauge track but had S Gauge
bodies. By that year all of the locomotives which were later to become full
S Gauge were offered. (The 0-8-0, Atlantic, Royal Blue, K5, Hudson and Northern).
World War II halted all toy manufacturing and Gilbert produced servo parts (among
other things) for fighter planes. In 1946, they were
released from War production and returned to making toys as well as a number of consumer products. It was then that the loco running gear and trucks for all rolling stock were converted to two rail S Gauge. Some diecast and stamped metal cars remained, but the rest were molded in plastic. (I have a couple of heavyweight passenger cars from that era that were diecast).
Since the prewar New Haven cars that went with the Royal Blue (and other sets) were stamped metal, the Postwar versions were the first passenger stock cast in plastic. It's interesting that some stamped metal cars were catalogued into the fifties, possibly due to metal shortages during the Korean War.
Except for the stamped-metal cars, there is no difference in the quality from diecast to plastic, unless (of course) you like the characteristic 'hump' in the plastic car. Gilbert solved the problem by going to Bakelite for a few years until better plastics were developed
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