The no. 277 Superior Criterion Ambulance with Flashing Light (ill.1) was introduced a quarter of a year later, in December 1962, than its basic all cream predecessor no. 263 Superior Criterion Ambulance (2) of September that year. Meccano Magazine announced its arrival in the December issue indeed, accompanied by an illustrated story by The Toyman on pages 490 and 491 (3-4).
Catalogues of 1962 show the no. 263 only, the younger no. 277 joined in the 1963 catalogues, where they were both advertised on one page with obvious differences in colour finishes, flashing/dummy lights, white/black tyres and transparent/closed rear windows (5, 6, 7).
The new style box for no. 277 (8) was considerably more luxurious than the traditional and weaker end flaps box of no. 263 (9), now being lidded and made of sturdy cardboard. A packing piece inside (10- 11) keeps the model in place in its spacious box, pressing down the bonnet and tail, and the body is covered on top by a semi-cut-out tag piece as an extra protection and separation from the added information sheet, an instruction in three languages for fitting the battery and bulb. As an extra protection for the light on top an often missing tiny cardboard roundel should be inserted in between. The all-yellow underbox can be either glued and smooth (like the one illustrated) or stapled at the short sides. A nice new style model illustration and an action scene are visible on top of the lid (12) and some more information about the real-world prototype is supplied, printed on the sides of the lid. Also an advice is printed there for using the 1961 introduced smaller 13 mm treaded tyres, especially for use on the new small spun hubs (13-14). An instruction sheet should be included, but it is missing with mine (could anybody add a fine picture of that in this thread + actual size, please?). Below that there is a recommendation for using a 1 ½ V VIDOR V0036 penlight cell battery for the flashing light (although the instruction sheet mentions a Vidor V16 – an intermediary renumbering?).
The working flashing light is shown in a dramatic way in the first attractive, colourful advertisement of the model on the back cover of Meccano Magazine (15). Looking down on the roofs of the congenial models it is apparent that the solid, dummy light of 263 needs a considerably narrower round hole than the new red transparent flashing light of 277 (16). I wonder how this was practised during the long period 1962-1969 in which these models were in production simultaneously. Was an exchangeable temporary casting adjustment available or was the wider hole drilled out after diecasting?
The opening back hatch gave access to the interior of the sleek body, for the patient on stretcher of 263 … and what for at no. 277? Here I have a problem. Although my example is a beauty, the photo (17) shows the only less pristine element of my beauty: the back door of the 277 has been slovenly fixed with some glue by a previous owner, for an unknown reason. Could anybody please tell what the official situation and function should be. I only borrowed a photo found on the internet to show the open back door and a view on the battery berth (18). Besides this deficiency the top rear lights too show some slight paint damage. What happened there?
The base plates of both models are essentially the same. Just an extra, small rectangular hole has been cut out for 277 in order to accommodate a small plastic excentric wheel. For the rest it’s the same (19, 21). Surprisingly, I found an illustration of another example’s base plate, which shows the patent statement upside down in relation to the rest of the embossed text and orientation of the base plate (20). In addition, there are four tiny round holes, as seen on the photos, which have to do with the inside mounting of the battery berth. Remarkable to observe that on my example only two of those holes are in use, filled with tiny round staples, whereas the other example shows all four in use. There are also differences in finish. My 263 is very glossy, the 277 is a kind of satin, and the third one shown is virtually matt. A screw replaces the initial rivet for the 263. By turning it the base opens and offers access to the bulb and the battery, for possible replacement.
Returning to the tiny excentrical wheel, this serves to produce the flashing, alternately switching the light on and off when driving the vehicle. In order to accomplish this the wheel is firmly fixed onto the rear axle by which it is driven. The main rear wheels, on their turn, are understandably also fixed onto the axle for direct propulsion. That’s why the rear axle ends look exceptionally flat. The wheels have simply been pushed, pressed, clamped onto the axle ends. This function of the rear axle excludes the possibily of suspension, so that only the steering front axle is provided with this feature. For hiding the battery from view the rear and back door windows are blinded. Still, the ‘ambulance’ transfers and their positioning remain the same (6-7).
I have added two pictures (22-23) for demonstrating that my 277 must be a very late production, as the die has experienced quite some wear in the mean time: flash, irregular lines and small die adjustments testify to that. Moreover, the initial double side strips have been united to one, filled in (or in fact cut out from the wearing die), a well-known adjustment. To get back to the base plate: the unused tiny holes in the base plate may also testify to some later deliberate simplification and reduction of costs.
Finally, I have always appreciated this model very much for its nice shape, and its sophistication, without losing exactness and attractiveness. Still, I also love its iconic predecessors, the pre- and post-war no. 30f (Bentley) Ambulance and the no. 30h/253 Daimler Ambulance of 1950. The latter must have remained immensely popular, as it was still mentioned in price lists of 1964 and pictured in many 1963 catalogues for the last time, the sturdy British early 1950s Daimler in the unique combination with the flashy American 1960s Pontiac / Superior Criterion ambulances (24).
I could not resist putting the whole three generations family in one still-life at the end (25).
As usual, corrections and additions very welcome! Kind regards, Jan