These models were originally imported by Atlas, a relationship that lasted up until around 1982 (at which point Atlas dropped all of their Roco imports and began focusing on their new line of Kato-made locos). Roco began selling them in their own packaging (shown above) starting in 1987 (with Walthers as the importer). They basically vanished from the face of the earth sometime in the early 2000's.
This model is noteable in that it was the first N scale locomotive to employ a flywheel. We wouldn't see that particular feature again until the Kato GP38-2 (released in 1987). The mechanism is fairly impressive looking, but unfortunately it's a pretty mediocre performer. Like most Roco locos, this thing makes a lot of noise (especially the earlier Atlas releases). Pick-up is somewhat iffy (no doubt owing to the traction tires on two of the driving wheels), and the ride is just plain wobbly (once again, I blame the traction tires). Worse still, current is ferried around via wires (yuck).
The lighting is non-directional and basically toyish (spewing not only from the headlight, but also from all of the cab windows). The couplers are truck-mounted, the traction tires cause various problems, and.... Well, basically not much to get excited about here.
The initial runs of these engines lacked the upper set of weights (shown above, partially covering up the motor), as well as the traction tires. Atlas sold the weights and traction tire equipped drivers as ala-carte mods for a while, after which they became part of the standard factory issue -
Roco made further minor modifications in later releases -
The upper weights are cut a bit differently, allowing more of the motor to show through. Also, the motor itself looks different (or at least it's a different color). The later Walthers imports do seem to run a little quieter, so it's possible the motor was upgraded slightly.
Micro-Trains has a coupler conversion kit for these models that not only replaces the couplers, but also replaces the pilot. As you can see, the Micro-Trains pilot has a bit more prototypical detail to it -
Trivia - the Roco FA-1 shell reportedly fits pretty well on a Atlas Classic RS-3 mechanism (the RS-3 fuel tank isn't exactly right, but it's not too far off).
Reviewed: 7/79 NMRA Bulletin, 9/78 Railroad Model Craftsman, 5/78 Model Railroader ("The Atlas N scale FA-1 is an accurately scaled miniature that captures the prototype proportions quite well. It has the characteristic squared nose design with details that are typical for most of the real engines. The model has dynamic brake equipment on the roof, but the casting is thick enough so modelers wanting to remove this detail can do it easily. The body is a one-piece styrene plastic casting with separately attached air horns. Mechanically, this model is very different from earlier N scale locomotives. It has a 5-pole can motor that draws very little current and a printed circuit board system of wiring. All of the axles are powered through a series of nylon gears using an arrangement that is very similar to that of the Atlas line of HO locomotives. The worms are connected to the motor through tiny universal joints and the whole mechanism is smoothed out through the use of a heavy flywheel on the armature shaft. All 8 wheels are used for electrical pickup, so the FA-1 is less affected by dirt than any other N scale diesels. The main frame is cast zinc-alloy for additional weight... The painting and lettering on our sample were very well done, with sharp, clear lettering and sharply defined color separation lines. Our sample unit was extremely smooth running and throttled down very well. It was capable of very low speeds right from the start, and running it for some time on our N scale test railroad made it operate even smoother. The overall speed range is a bit high for a freight unit, but it is right on the money for a typical passenger FA. This makes it an excellent dual-purpose locomotive for most layout applications. The flywheel helps the unit through dirty track areas, so it is one of the best-running N scale engines we have tested. Overall, this is an excellent locomotive. EL, MKT, Reading, GN, Frisco. $30")