Con-Cor (China) Burlington Pioneer Zephyr

Introduced: 2006 (1934 version) and 2011 (1948 Version)

Con-Cor's Pioneer Zephyr is just about the coolest thing I've ever had the pleasure of running in N scale. This release represents, without a doubt, the apex of N scale achievement for Con-Cor. A model of one of the most unique and eye-catching prototypes ever to grace American rails, Con-Cor's Pioneer Zephyr boasts stunningly exquisite looks as well as performance so sublime that an "A" rating scarcely seems adequate. Hell, even the box is impressive!

The initial N scale release of this model was purportedly limited to 2250 units (2000 in the "Pioneer Zephyr" scheme and 250 in the "Silver Streak" scheme). And so successful was this initial release that Con-Cor immediately announced new M-10000 and Aero-Train models. Talk about carving out a super cool niche! Way to go Con-Cor! And incidentally, when they talk about the "Silver Streak" version being featured in a movie of the same name, they're talking about the 1934 movie that nobody remembers anymore, and not the 1976 Richard Pryor/Gene Wilder "We bad! Uh huh!" flick (hey, how's that for useless trivia?)

Con-Cor released a post-war (1948) version of their Zephyr in 2011; the main difference being its new dual-headlight setup -

The base set consists of an engine, a center car and an end car. Con-Cor also offers a "#4 car" option for this set, which basically slots in in front of the end car. Presumably you can add as many of these as the locomotive will pull, although prototypically speaking I believe four cars (for the entire train) is the max.

One of the package inserts mentions that shipping everything connected up would likely result in damage to the electronic plugs. So, the three cars are shipped separated from one another (requiring that you connect them up yourself prior to operation). So, although not quite "ready to run" when you open the box, putting it all together is not that big of a deal. All you need to do is pop the lid off the #2 unit (very easy to do) and then connect the wiring harness plugs from the #1 car and the #3 car to the PC board on #2. Next, click the "C" connectors on either end of #2 to #1 and #3, put the shell back on #2 and you're ready to roll (this is all covered in the instructions included in the package, I just mention it here to illustrate how simple the procedure is).

There is a small package of bits and pieces that I didn't wind up using for anything. There are four little caps that I guess are supposed to be used when connecting speaker wires to the corresponding terminals on the PC board. Then there's this large plastic, I dunno, thing-a-ma-bracket. It's not mentioned at all in any of the inserts, but I'm told that it's used for mounting a speaker inside your Zephyr.

The engine chassis is metal (albeit fairly minimalistic). The motor is an open-sided 5-poler with dual flywheels. All wheels on all the cars provide pick-up (no traction tires). Wires transfer current from the trucks to PC boards in each car. And as mentioned above, current is then shared between the various lightboards by a system of plugs and wiring harnesses between each car). All 8 engine wheels are geared (with all gearing being plastic). A directional headlight is mounted to the front of the forward unit's PC board. There are no couplers (rather, the units are held together by the aforementioned series of plastic "C" clips concealed inside the plastic diaphragms).

This train is fully DCC-Ready, with an 8-pin NMRA socket in the #2 car. In the above picture, you can see where I've plugged in a Digitrax DZ143PS decoder. All this involves is taking a small screwdriver and prying the cover off the NMRA socket and then connecting your decoder's plug into the now revealed socket. One day, all decoder installs will be this simple (hey, I can dream, can't I?) Unfortunately, Con-Cor didn't build in any sort of mechanism for controlling the interior lighting with one's decoder. Ah well...

As alluded to above, performance is absolutely flawless. Throttle response is smooth and responsive at all levels. Pickup is bullet-proof, and slow speed creep is exceptional. And the sound of this thing (or lack thereof) is simply revolutionary. My Zephyr runs so quietly that the sound of the wheels clacking over the joints in my sectional track is deafening by contrast.

Paint and detailing are outstanding. I love the bright blue/white lighting (in and out). And the red marker lights on car #3 are an example of the kind of detail that puts this model on a whole new level for Con-Cor (and N scale as a whole). Frankly, if you're not running this locomotive with DCC (where the interior lighting is bright and constant), I think you're really missing out on something special -

The only negative I can detect at all with this whole mechanism are those wires between the trucks and the PC boards. This is very 1970s and may ultimately lead to problems down the line (although to be fair, I've been running mine for years and have yet to experience any wiring-related issues).

Con-Cor hedges their bets by declaring that this unit is designed for operation on 18 inch radius curves. That's fine, but I will point out that it operates flawlessly 9 3/4" radius curves as well. Sure, it looks a little strange navigating those sharp curves, but the point is that it does work on them. The only problem I ran into at all was with one of the axles on the forward truck of the #1 car. After it jumped the rails on a couple of my sharper curves I took my NMRA gauge to it and found that it was set just slightly too narrow. So, I took a skinny screwdriver and pushed the wheels out a bit to get them back into gauge. I've since run my Zephyr around in circles for literally dozens of hours without incident.

In summation, this is easily one of the all-time great models of N scale (and one of my personal favorites). From looks, to performance, to reliability, to sheer "fun factor", there just isn't anything bad to be said about this model. Go! Buy one now! Hell, buy two!

Trivia- Back in 1996, Randy Gordon-Gilmore designed a Pioneer Zephyr kit for "Prototrains". And since Randy was actually a major player in the design of Con-Cor's Zephyr, that original Prototrains model could certainly be viewed as a direct ancestor to Con-Cor's ready-to-run version.

To remove any of the various shells, simply insert a skinny tool between the shell and chassis and pry the sides apart a bit. It should pop off readily at that point.

Grade: A

Reviewed: 06/06 Model Railroader ("An excellent replica of a famous early streamlined passenger train - the CB&Q Zephyr is now available in N scale. The drawbar-coupled, articulated three-car model combines fine detail, clever construction, and jaw-dropping performance - our sample crept at just 1 mph! Con-Cor packages its Zephyr in a large cardboard box with the power car and two trailing cars nestled in individual cut-outs in a soft foam block. Reasoning that few modelers will want to disassemble the train to store it, Con-Cor's packaging also has a separate trainset-sized cutout. Illustrated directions are included, as is a nifty reproduction of a CB&Q booklet on the prototype. A modest amount of initial assembly is required...

"Each car contains a PC board. The high-mounted PC boards don't interfere with the model's interior detail. Turning over the PC board in the middle car reveals an NMRA eight-pin decoder socket with room to install a small decoder such as Digitrax's DN143IP... The PC board also has contacts for a speaker... The base of the middle car has speaker holes... The model is an eye-pleaser, with separately mounted tinted windows, crisp lettering, and a smooth silver finish that recalls the prototype's shot-welded stainless steel. The three-car trainset closely matches prototype drawings... Con-Cor's Zephyr puts on quite a light show. In addition to the constant-voltage LED directional headlight and taillight, the model has front and rear marker lights, and its entire passenger compartment is brightly illuminated in a bluish-green that's reminiscent of fluorescent lighting seen through a tinted window. The interior lights are noticeable under normal room lighting...

"The Zephyr continued its winning ways on the test track, with smooth, quiet performance throughout its speed range. As mentioned, slow-speed performance was consistantly under 1 scale mph with just a hint of cogging. At 12 volts the N scale train reached a top speed of 138 mph, about 26 mph faster than the real thing. Although the model lacks couplers, I tested the drawbar pull anyway and recorded .64 of an ounce. That's enough to haul itself up grades and around curves with power to spare should Con-Cor decide to make a fourth car as an add-on... Our sample ran just fine on a figure-8 of 9 3/4" Kato Unitrack. However, the model looks unrealistic on such tight curves. With its excellent detail, lighting, and performance, Con-Cor's Zephyr is an outstanding replica of a historically significant train and a sure-fire attention-getter on any layout. $379")

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