In 1993 I, Andries Grabowsky acquired the rights and tooling of the famous Darstaed brand of Switzerland from Mr. Marcel Darphin with the purpose of reviving O Gauge tinplate train production that had almost completely disappeared from the European market. Until that time I manufactured Dutch model trains in HO scale two of which won the prize of “Model of the Year” at the Nuremberg Spielwarenmesse in 1991 and 1992.
Mr. Ron Budd, a well known respected collector and founding member of the Hornby Railway Collectors Association (HRCA) and the UK agent for Darstaed suggested to me that the UK market would be very receptive to the idea of producing a replica of the Hornby 4-4-4 as an electric O Gauge locomotive. This handsome engine had only been produced in the 1920’s by Hornby with a clockwork mechanism. Mr. Ron Budd supplied an original Hornby sample and the tooling was duly made and financed by me. This is corroborated by an article that Mr. Levy submitted to Mr. Paul Lumsdon for publication in 2011
However Mr. Ron Budd found it difficult in retirement to handle and launch such a product so in 1994 I contacted Mr. Allen Levy who was introduced to me by Mr. Darphin in 1993 and found him prepared to take on the sale of 250 locomotives in the four pre-grouping liveries LNER, LMS, SR and GWR. The tooling and production investment had already been made by me and the product was ready to be launched. In the summer of 1995 a first agreement was made with Mr. Levy in St. Mawes, I design and manufacture my line of products and Mr. Levy would sell them. At no time prior to or after the launch did Mr. Levy invest in the project, he paid for little stock to be shipped to him each time. The payment terms that remained the same until the split in 2008 were always payment upon shipment. The first product was launched in April 1996 at the AGM of the HRCA heralding the rebirth of coarse scale O Gauge in Britain. The first credit goes to Ron Budd who had the idea, the second credit I claim myself, as I took the full risk by putting up all the finance for tooling and production before I contacted Mr. Levy and Mr. Levy can be credited by making the commitment to sell the first 250 issues, however as the first 250 models were already pre-sold on account of pre-orders, his actual risk was nil. The artwork for this first project was done by Mr. Les Horton who was introduced to me by Mr. Ron Budd. Had Mr. Ron Budd and I not stepped out on this venture, I feel very certain that the subsequent revival of this hobby would probably not have happened and had Mr. Levy not acted as my UK sales agent then another would have undoubtedly been found with ease.
At this time, the trains were to be sold under the brand name “Darstaed” but Mr. Levy thought it reasonable to make a fresh brand name that we would jointly own as he seemed convinced that the success of the project would largely depend on his sales efforts. He suggested the name “ACE Trains” as ACE has the obvious connotation of being the highest in the deck but also was the acronym of the names of himself, his wife and his youngest daughter. The cooperation between Mr. Levy and myself proved for the first years to be very successful and in due course the jointly owned brand name ACE Trains became well established. In 1996 I moved production from Taiwan to Madras, India where the C1 suburban passenger coaches and Electric Multiple Units (EMU’s) were conceived, designed and produced by us. For this purpose I founded the company: ACE Trains India Pvt. Limited of which I and my accountant were the sole partners.
Once it was decided to manufacture the A4 Gresley locomotive, India did not prove to be the ideal location and in January 2000 the entire manufacturing facility was moved to Bangkok, Thailand where a great number of sophisticated Taiwanese manufacturers have settled enabling me to create a new manufacturing and assembly operation under the name of ACE TRAINS Company Ltd (later changed to Vintage Trains Co., Ltd). The name change was prompted by my accountant who felt that the Thai tax authorities expected a much higher sale price if I sold my products under a brand name that I owned as the name ACE Trains was also registered by me in Thailand. We built our own purpose built factory of 700 Sqm (over 6000 Sqft ) and the company had a paid up capital of 8 Mio Thai Baht (Approx. £150,000 ) to pay for materials and ongoing production. This vis a vis the capital of Mr. Levy’s trading company of £ 1000 only.
Top of the line were the rugged die cast bi-motored Gresley A4 and A3 locomotives which rapidly became famous because of their very high tractive power and reliability. Of the A4 Gresley over 1600 locomotives were made and second-hand they command at the moment several times the purchase price. All designs were made by the Taiwan, Indian and Bangkok operations, owned and directed by me assisted by our own in-house engineering. At no time was Mr. Levy or his London trading operation involved in the design and creation of our product, or have they invested in any tooling and production. Mr. Cooper and Mr. Brian Wright supplied some of the artwork that was jointly paid for and jointly owned by Mr. Levy and myself. Anyone making a claim to our Design/Intellectual Property rights is an impostor, claiming the work of others as his own. Of all our models manufactured the Intellectual Properties/design copyrights have been deposited in the EU and reside in my name.
The profit sharing arrangement with Mr. Levy was straight forward. I would invest in the tooling and production. I would bring into account the bare cost without overheads or cost of running the factory. Mr. Levy would sell my products and pay me half of the profit, being the difference of my cost and the retail price without VAT. Neither me nor Mr. Levy would charge our own wages in the costings and Mr. Levy’s cost of operation was deemed nil as he was, and still is, a two person operation being himself and his wife. The cost of selling, advertising etc. would come from his profit share and we on our end paid for all R&D. Out of the first sales revenue (that was to be shared 50/50) the tooling would be reimbursed to me and the tooling was therefore to be jointly owned as was stipulated by agreement. All investment was to be born by me and I would be reimbursed my tooling costs when the product was sold.
Mr. Levy and his UK Ace Electric Trains trading company decided to go their own way in 2008 as buying in China is more profitable; after all he did not have to share any profits with me anymore and he had found through Mr. Len Mills other manufacturers he could buy product from. The successful cooperation between the two companions ended. Our last product sold under our Ace Trains brand was the very successful "Castle Class", a 4-6-0 locomotive in GWR and BR liveries, but Mr. Levy then refused to pay his invoices for product shipped and his full share of the tooling for the Castle Class locomotive. This position of unpaid invoices to the tune of over £400,000 remains the same to this day. Some invoices remain unpaid since 1999.
During the twelve years that Mr. Levy sold our products under the jointly owned Ace Trains label over 6000 locomotives, over 1000 EMUs, thousands of goods stock and over 20000 coaches were made. The only claim ever made by Mr. Levy for faulty product was a claim for £ 3000 in respect of labour charge’s to remove fingerprints from lacquer. This claim was accepted on trust and promptly settled even if the claimed amount far exceeded the value of the goods shipped.
The Ace Trains Electric Train Company Ltd has subsequently continued trading with China vendors and others like ETS whilst the Bangkok operation of Vintage Trains revived and re-launched the dormant Darstaed brand at the end of 2008. The brand name ACE TRAINS remains jointly owned, as was the original tooling made paid for and designed by ACE Trains of India, ACE TRAINS Co., Ltd (in Bangkok) and Vintage Trains Co., Ltd. Regrettably, Mr. Levy has refused the joint registration of the brand name as per two agreements signed by him which has subsequently become a court case before the High Court as directed by the Registrar of trade marks on urging of Mr. Levy.
The Court Case
To be continued …
Since Mr. Levy started trading with China without paying the considerable amount owed to us for tooling and product it was decided in 2009 to sell the factory building in Bangkok to raise capital in order to recapitalise the business and move production to Xiamen in China where my in-laws own a factory for metal stamping precision parts for Japan. Vintage Trains Co., Ltd. in Bangkok was closed in 2012 and substituted by Gauge O Trains Co., Ltd in Hong Kong.
The company intends to continue to design, build and manufacture high quality tinplate and coarse scale trains to satisfy the most critical of buyers. It is the Company's policy to engage in fair competition with traders like Mr. Levy and manufacturers of Gauge O tinplate trains, coaches, rolling stock and buildings.
Furthermore it is company policy never to artificially limit production numbers in order to actively drive up the values of the products. Our models are built to be operated and enjoyed and should not be allowed to become the objects of speculation inevitably depriving would-be customers with smaller wallets. The opportunity to purchase the items of their dreams will always be at the forefront of our company policy.
At every turn we strive to offer our customers a better product at the best possible price giving the greatest possible value for money. Besides that as the manufacturers we have an excellent reputation for the supply of spare parts to keep our products in top condition for years to come.
However, Mr. Levy in his attempt to enhance his stature seeks to demean some of the products manufactured by us in the past even negating the fact that it was us who were at our own risk solely responsible for the revival of operating tinplate trains in the UK whereas the credit for the idea goes to Mr. Ron Budd.
It is not our intention to reciprocate public mud slinging since this practice is both questionable and deplorable.
We strongly believe in fair competition and the goodwill we have experienced from our respected customer base gives us full confidence that our response to Mr. Levy’s allegations will receive fair consideration.
© ACE Trains is a registered trademark jointly owned by Mr. Grabowsky and Mr. Levy.