Introduced: 1969 (EF-70), 1979 (EF-57 and EF-65), and 1982 (E851A)
Con-Cor was deep into fantasy-land when they decided to import these Kato JNR (Japan National Railroad) electrics into the US and paint them in North American livery schemes. But, they did it, so I guess I'm obligated to provide them with an encyclopedia entry.
First off, I'm told that the EF-57 (painted in GN livery) is the only one of these that even remotely resembles anything that ever actually ran in the United States. So, if you're going to play with any of these, do prepare to face some ridicule from the rivet-counting crowd.
These models are generally pretty scarce these days, so I'm assuming they weren't particularly popular back in the day (although they do tend to sell for premium prices on eBay now - go figure). I'm not sure exactly when Con-Cor discontinued them, but since the E851A came out in 1982 and Con-Cor and Kato went their seperate ways a couple of years later, I think it's pretty safe to say that none of these lived to see the 1990s.
The EF-70 was the first in the series, coming out closely on the heels of the Con-Cor/Kato Alco PA-1 (their first joint project). I guess the PA-1 was such a big hit that they needed something (anything) to put out there as a follow-up to that success. Not surprisingly, the EF-70 chassis/mechanism appears to be a virtual clone of the one used in the PA-1 (albeit a tad shorter).
All wheels on the outer trucks are geared and provide pickup (and with the center truck providing neither). The couplers are truck-mounted Rapidos. All of the gearing (except for the brass worm gears) is plastic. There is no lighting. Like the rest of these models, the pantagraphs are non-functional (although they do move up and down). Like the PA-1, the chassis consists of three pieces - two thin halves on the bottom and one large piece on top. As such, the thing weighs a ton. There is no wiring whatsoever. The motor is a large 5-poler.
Performance is pretty good - about the same as the PA-1. Pickup is good, slow speed creep is fine, the top-end speed is meteoric, and it pulls a ton. And although it does run a bit noisier than we'd like to see nowadays, it's certainly not horrible in that regard. All in all, a very solid little locomotive.
Current is conducted from the lower two chassis halves to the motor via bendy metal tabs on the motor. And one problem I've noticed with these is that said tabs can get squashed down and lose their conductivity. So, if you have an EF-70 that's not running very well, that's one thing to check out. In a similar vein, all of these models make use of bendy little metal wheel wipers that conduct current from the wheels to the trucks. And being bendy, they too can get squashed down and lose their conductivity. This problem seems to be more common than the aforementioned motor tab issue, as I've encountered a number of these models that were a bit jittery in the pickup department until I adjusted said wipers.
In 1979 Con-Cor released two new Kato electrics - an EF-65 and an EF-57
Both models sport virtually the same chassis design (although the EF-57 is about a half inch shorter and lacks the center truck of the EF-65). And wow, what a mechanism it is! In fact, these might just be the very first "modern" Kato diesel models, what with their vertically split-frame chasses. The guts of the mechanisms are pretty much the same as found in the EF-70 (albeit situated vertically rather than horizontally). The motors are new and a bit smaller (not to mention a bit higher-tech looking) than the ones found in the EF-70. Also, the brass worm gears have been replaced by plastic ones. Directional lighting is provided by two PC boards, one on either end of the chassis. The EF-65 has all-wheel drive on the outer two trucks, although only six-wheel pickup (each outer truck now sporting a traction tire on one wheel). Like the EF-70, the center truck on the EF-65 does nothing. On the EF-57, the outer two trucks do nothing. On the inner two trucks, eight of the twelve wheels are geared and six provide pickup (with two of them, once again, being equipped with traction tires).
The EF-57 also has a small capacitor mounted on top of the chassis. I'm told these were used to keep electronically "noisy" motors from creating interference on nearby radios and televisions and whatnot. Kind of quaint at this point in history.
Performance on these models is quite impressive. Either due to the new motor or the new plastic worm gears, they run whisper quiet. Throttle response is wonderfully smooth and slow speed creep is superb. Overall, I'd say these compare quite favorably with more modern Kato diesel models. About all they lack is flywheels. My only real complaint here is with the outer two trucks on the EF-57, which do tend to be a bit finicky about staying on the rails.
In 1982 Con-Cor released the last in the series - the E851A
Pretty much the exact same mechanism here as found in the EF-65 (excepting for the inclusion of a capacitor, ala the EF-57).
Grade: B for all of them ("A" for performance)